Thursday, February 28, 2013


The first of March is just over the hill. You can hear it clanking and snorting and rumbling as it makes the journey into our lives. It may come in like a lion, or a lamb, but it brings with it all the honking machinery of a series of budget cuts that will strand all kinds of projects and programs. These "Sequester Cuts" are the product of kicking a fiscal can down the road for two years without a plan. How many teachers could lose their jobs in each state? How many toddlers could be kicked out of subsidized preschool programs, and how many children could lose funding for vaccines for measles and mumps? 
It's all about three percent. Most of us won't probably hear the cries of those children or notice the empty desks left by those teachers. We can just pretend that the lion that March started out as came roaring in and ate them. Does it matter if the politicos couldn't compromise enough to spread the pain around? Compromise? 
And so we wait for the arguments to continue over closing tax loopholes versus eliminating programs versus asking a few of the states to just wait patiently while we look for some extra money. I'm sure there must be some change left over in the couches at the Pentagon. But once again, the people who make these decisions will continue to get paid and receive federally supported health care. Our elected representatives will continue to go to their jobs and receive their pensions. And just down the hill are the people upon whom this stuff tends to roll.
"We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Thanks for the wisdom, Arne. We'll be out here waiting for the smart cuts. Patiently. Like lambs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Dream Within A Dream

As I creep ever closer to twenty years of wedded bliss, I find myself being asked periodically for advice on how to be married. Part of this has to do with the fact that the majority of the folks with whom I work are about a generation removed from me, and have only just begun the trip down their path to happily ever after. I try to keep any wisdom that I might spout in as general terms as possible, since I don't expect that my personal experience will transfer directly to anyone else. I am, as it turns out, making this up as I go along.
I am humbled, for example, by the story of Fred and Margaret Pais. Those two were celebrating their twentieth anniversary right about the time I was being born. Their life together has been full of challenges and difficulties, but the effort they put into being married meant that they stayed that way. Back when I had just graduated from high school, one of my friends told me that he was going to be busy on a particular weekend because, he told me, he was going to be "working on his relationship." Work? Why should a relationship be anything but a value-added portion of my life? There are far too many other things that I would rather put my effort into than getting along with another person. Or at least that's what I thought then.
The history of irony will record, with a smirk, that the girl that my friend was negotiating with way back when turns out to be my wife now. It is how these things roll, I've found. Now, as my son begins to contemplate the vast sea of love waiting in front of him, his mother would like him to go out there and have fun before he decides to settle down. It shouldn't be work, she suggests without saying it in so many words. It should be fun. At this point, I ponder my options, and remember to work on keeping my mouth shut. There are still so many things to learn.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wrestling With The Truth

Peanut butter and chocolate: two great tastes that taste great together. Glenn Beck and professional wrestling? Well, let's just say that I probably wouldn't watch either one on a dare, but the combination is actually quite intriguing. World Wrestling Entertainment invited Beck to appear on Monday's show, after Beck took issue with new WWE character Zeb Colter, who he feels is "demonizing" the Tea Party. Glenn, always polite, turned down the opportunity to appear and back up his words with action. Folding chair slammin', over top rope, flying dropkick action.
Instead, The Beckman fell back on his strength: paranoia: "So may I ask: Did George Soros buy the WWE? I expect that from Hollywood, but I don't expect ‑ if I'm getting my entertainment from somebody that I think is on my side ‑ and I'm sorry. I just don't see a bunch of progressives going and buying their tickets to the WWE. Do you?" Touche, Douche. But what sort of high-octane, maximum pain-inflicting response did the WWE come up with? "To create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines. WWE is creating a rivalry centered on a topical subject that has varying points of view. This storyline was developed to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base, which represents twenty percent of our audience."
Did I read that right? Not just the "twenty percent Latino" part, which is probably shocking enough for anyone who hasn't taken a peek at Lucha Libre over the past century.  I mean the "storylines" part. Storylines? Are they suggesting that the outcomes of these matches may, in some cases, be predetermined? And if that is in fact the case, could some of the bashing, crashing and general flying about be just pretend?
Well, you can just rock me to sleep tonight then. And how do you suppose Glenn will take this news? Or maybe, just maybe, Glenn Beck is fake too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Mark Of Time

My son, who shares his parents' Northern European gene pool, will probably never suffer the mild indignity that his father has suffered for most of his adult life: A little pale stripe around his left wrist. The one that comes from wearing a watch and entering, however briefly, into a zone with solar radiation. I have made a practice, over the years, of taking my watch off whenever I go on vacation in the hope that when I return to work that trace reminder of my actual skin tone will be gone. Alas, what I tend to achieve is merely a slightly darker shade of pink than the rest of my forearm, and since the watch gets strapped back on that spot as soon as I return to the workforce, I'm left with a trace reminder of what was my moment in the sun.
My son owns a watch. It's a great big clunky thing with lots of extra dials and buttons and was purchased under the premise of getting him something "just like Dale Earnhardt wore." Even though his enthusiasm for race cars remains unabated, his interest in wearing a timepiece strapped to any part of his body is limited to novelty alone. I might say that my son's interest in time is limited to novelty alone, which would only be partially true, but for those instances when he is interested in when something will be over or when his parents will come and pick him up, he has a clock. It's on his phone.
He is part of a generation for whom the analog chronometer affixed to the arm is a thing of the past. If you want to know what time it is, pull that device from your pocket, punch a button or two, and find out. You can even call your friends to let them know what time it is. But you would probably just text them. My son could get on a plane with his watch, camera and video capture machine without having to stop and check a bag. His little gray tub would have more shoes in it than electronics. And his arm would be the same even tone from shoulder to fingertip. Now we just need to get a cell phone that dispenses sunscreen, and we've got the complete package.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And The Winner Is...

This year? The winners were my wife and I. We took our responsibilities as non-voting non-members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences very seriously. We managed to see almost all of the nominated best picture nominees. This has become much more of a badge of honor since they started nominating dozens of films to make the competition ever more fierce. It also had the effect of pushing our ticket-buying budget to the limit, now that we often pay for three adults to attend a showing, even though one of us has only burgeoning adult skills.
Eight of the nine films at approximately ten dollars a pop, with most of the family attending, we have spent more than two hundred dollars becoming informed on the state of cinema today. I'm not counting the Junior Mints, either. Still, even with this moderate investment, I feel as though we have seen a pretty fine crop of movies over the past year. Some surprised me, like "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Others, such as "Silver Linings Playbook," proved to be more than their outward wrapper. Then there were the ones that came on strong from the very beginning, and maintained their "big movie" status from start to finish, like "Lincoln." At no time this year did I have the feeling that I had been duped, as I did last year with "The Artist." Even when I set to arguing with friends about "Zero Dark Thirty," it was a substantive discussion. I wasn't left with only an empty popcorn bag when it was over.
Still, it's kind of a shame that somebody's going to take home a trophy tonight. It doesn't seem fair. Maybe history will look back at 2012 as another 1939, when seemingly all the classics of that time were released. Or maybe it's just that heady aroma of awards season that has me feeling all sentimental. If only I would have taken the time to see "Amour." If only I would have had the tenacity of my friend who used her pre-Oscar weeks to take in all those animated shorts and documentaries. Maybe next year.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Talking Without Speaking

Some days, as I sit in my classroom awaiting the arrival of the throng of children who provide me with my life's work, I enjoy the quiet. Not just the lack of child-size squeaks and hollers, but the drone of my own voice. This is interesting to a number of you who are profoundly aware of my love for the sound of my own voice, the one that doesn't have an "inside" setting. But there I sit. Listening for doors opening and cars driving by outside. It is the calm before the storm.
I know that even before the bell rings, that quiet will be assailed by voices both inside and out. The tape loop that constitutes my day will take over and I will start announcing, as if anyone cared to listen, that running is not allowed in the hallways. I will remind at least twelve boys and girls that kicking the red playground balls will get them five minutes on the bench. I will tell at least another twelve the reason for this kicking ban: the balls go on the roof, it makes them leak, then nobody can play with them. I will steer vast hordes of pre-teens to their respective lines, reminding them all that we keep our hands and feet to ourselves. I am grateful at this point to have had all that breath control training from playing brass instruments in my youth. I am sad at this point that I am already sick of my own vocalizations, and I still have all the activity in my own room to monitor.
The one I get to repeat more than just about any other: "Four on the floor." This is the agreed upon phrase that reminds children of all ages not to lean back in my room. At the very beginning of the year, I spend five minutes with each class demonstrating the relative perils of tipping backward in their chairs. Falling over is the least of my concerns, since in sixteen years, I have only had one child hurt themselves, but I have had at least half a dozen sets of headphones destroyed as a combination of gravity and tipped chairs. Mostly, it causes every student in the room to stop whatever they are doing and point, laugh and stare at the kid who was tempting fate and the laws of physics. I'm not getting paid enough per word. I'll go for just the repeated ones at this point.
So, you'll excuse me while I go and enjoy a few more moments of the sounds of my gums not flapping.

Friday, February 22, 2013

American Heritage

"This is part of our heritage. This is part of what it took to settle this land. I cannot turn my back on that," said Ed Vigil, Colorado Representative from District 62. The "this" of which he spoke was guns. That was his reason not to vote for Colorado's new gun control measures: Heritage. Not courage or patience or just plain-old-plains stubbornness. It was the guns that helped our forefathers settle this land. Guns played a big factor in clearing the land of the native fauna of the region. It is also telling that Ed hails from southeastern Colorado, near the site of the Massacre at Sand Creek. Guns played a major part in that event as well. Just not for the Native American women and children who were killed there. So important was this show of our guns that a National Park has been erected there. I can't help but think that Mister Vigil has a somewhat romanticized vision of the Old West.
I mention this because just last month the kids in our fifth grade classes were asked to write essays about their heritage. Most of them chose to describe the holidays, foods and traditions of their native lands. A number of them were excited by the potential of adding an illustration to the end of their report, after they had re-written and corrected all their grammar and spelling. There was a subset of these kids who were anxious to try and find a way to include a picture of guns at the end of their essay. When I asked them if they truly felt that guns were part of heritage, this subset of boys didn't flinch before answering, "Yes." As their teacher, I discouraged this notion, and asked them to think a little deeper about their culture. There had to be something else about their families and experience in urban Oakland that they wanted to highlight. I guess I had better not introduce them to the wisdom of Representative Vigil.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

War On Drugs

I, for one, become immediately suspicious of any doctor that I am asked to refer to by their first name. My dentist has been sticking his hands in my mouth for nearly twenty years, and I still refer to him by his last name. It's that little lift of respect that we give to people who make life and death decisions for us. Or at least filling or not decisions. It seems like they've earned it, after all.
Which brings me to Doctor Drew. That's Doctor Pinsky to me. The host of "Loveline" and "Celebrity Rehab" to most of the planet. He's a board-certified internist, addiction medicine specialist, and he's a celebrity himself. Each week, Doctor Pinsky brings his unique gifts to bear on the struggles of the lovelorn and the celebrity addicted. Addicts who happen to be addicted. You get the idea. He's deeply interested in others' pain. He would like to share that pain with a loyal listening and viewing audience.
Then there's this: Doctor Pinsky helped treat Mindy McCready for love addiction on season three of Celebrity Rehab and said he'd referred her to professionals who could continue to help her afterward. "A love addict basically is somebody that really didn't have a good model for intimacy in their childhood, often times traumatized in one way or another, thereby intimacy becomes a risk place, becomes an intolerable place," Pinsky said. Ms. McCready committed suicide last week. She joins a list of the patients who "slipped": Alice in Chains' Mike Starr and "Real World" alumni Joey Kovar died from unrelated drug overdoses in the past two years. "Taxi" actor Jeff Conaway and "Can't We All Get Along" star Rodney King have also passed on. Is anyone else wondering where Doctor Pinsky got his license?
There is no doubt that living life in public ramps up the difficulty for certain personalities to find their way. Does it make sense to run those difficulties through the fast-cut editing machine of MTV or phone in the advice between commercials for Pro Flowers and Cries for help aren't best answered on basic cable or syndicated radio talk shows. It's certain that those who seek "Dr. Drew" out are looking for a brand name, and probably hoping for a few extra moments on their fame clock, but I'm pretty sure that a real doctor wouldn't prescribe reality TV as a cure. That's a symptom of a much larger problem. Just ask Doctor Dave.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Deep Impact

My wife attended the rally against the Keystone XL pipeline. I did not. She took public transportation. I did not. She gathered together with a like-minded group who are adamant about holding the president accountable for his words, these in particular from 2007: "We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. We are already breaking records with the intensity of our storms, the number of forest fires, the periods of drought. By 2050 famine could force more than 250 million from their homes. . . . The polar ice caps are now melting faster than science had ever predicted. . . . This is not the future I want for my daughters. It's not the future any of us want for our children. And if we act now and we act boldly, it doesn't have to be." I did not. I did take heart in the mention of global warming in this year's State of the Union address: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” And so did my wife.
It is science, after all, that put us where we are right now. The invention of the internal combustion engine and all those amazing factories we have been opening since the Industrial Revolution. As a race, we seem most content when we find something in the ground and then figure out a way to burn it. The problem is that all that creative fire makes creative smoke, and we never have found a way to re-purpose smoke.
I know the math. I understand the science. But I don't pretend to fathom the human mind. My son, who has been raised by a mother who speaks openly and candidly about three hundred and fifty parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere still gets all gishy when he hears a muscle car revving its engine. It is the planet that we are handing over to him that his mother wants to save. Where have we gone wrong? Why can't he feel the crisis? Why is his father sitting at home when thousands are taking to the streets to tell the world's leaders that we need to fix this now?
My answer? It's not a meteorite. If we could actually see the future, hurtling toward us, we might try and get out of the way, or attempt to deflect it. If Morgan Freeman were president, he'd know what to do. I suppose we could get Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg to get together to make some menacing public service announcements, and keep Bruce Willis on retainer. Just in case. Except that we don't want anybody to blow anything up. We want to try and keep things together. For future generations.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It's become a lot cooler to drink beer these days. The commercial I saw during the Super Bowl for Budweiser's new Sapphire special brew made me remember a time when I regularly consumed my weight in "Lite" Beer. But, to clarify, I know that it's not really Budweiser that is bringing this bit of amber perfection to us, but rather the brewmasters of Anhueser-Busch, under a Beck's label that makes it all the more chic. That cool bottle and name probably make it infinitely superior to the Black Crown that Bud is rolling out at the same time.
Enough about them. Let's talk about me. I didn't drink Budweiser back then, and I probably wouldn't now, probably because of a comment Robert Klein once made parodying the everyman's appeal of that beer: "This Bud's for anybody who ever went to school, had a job, or has a neck." There was no way for me to feel comfortable getting in that line, so I opted for the one that had all the funny commercials: Lite Beer from Miller. It was, by their reckoning, a third less filling than their regular beer, which, by my reckoning, allowed me to drink a third more of them. It was applied mathematics. They were also the ones who first delivered on the carrying-case: twenty-four cans, one handle, the Briefcase Full of Booze. Their selection of hops and barley mattered far less to me than the ability to lug my very own drunken brawl from place to place. This was the breakthrough I was so eagerly anticipating.
Meanwhile, up the road from me, Coors was tempting me with their own light beer, spelled correctly. It also had a cool nickname: The Silver Bullet. Growing up in Colorado, I never had much of a fascination with the "Banquet Beer," since it made me think of long tables, toasts, and fried chicken. It wasn't the appeal of Smokey and the Bandit that got me. It was the Silver Bullet Party Ball. My own personal keg? Now you're talking! Even if your speech is a little slurred.
And through the portal of years, I find myself back in the present, waking up to a reality that doesn't include nearly as much worrying about the kind of beer I drink as much as the renaissance in the brewing arts that I am sadly missing. Or maybe not. I had my own, thanks.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lookin' Out My Back Door

My wife wrote to tell me about the chainsaws. Her first impression was that there was probably a crew down the street working on the Italian Cypress that had been set afire over the past week or so. Maybe they were going to take them all out to alleviate the arsonist's temptation. But the sound wasn't coming from down the street. It was coming from our back yard.
This is where my wife found the chainsaws. They were busy taking the limbs off the eucalyptus trees that towered above us on the hill behind our house. Upon further investigation, my wife discovered that the grove that had been the barrier between us and urban living was coming down. This was the considered reaction of our neighbor, who apparently came full circle from the moment when we first began to inquire about the acacia tree that had split and fallen into our yard. At first, he was certain that the tree was not his, nor was the odd-shaped lot that contained the pocket forest. Eventually, he came by after he heard us chopping and sawing at the half tree that had surrendered itself to us. We showed him a map. He wavered. Then he began to look at those tiny-rooted beasts as potential hazards.
Somewhere in the past few months, he figured his solution would be to take them all to the ground, and start fresh. Now we have a great big sky to look at, as well as the graffiti and rotted wood of the fence on the house directly behind us. That little whisper of wilderness that we had fallen in love with way back when we first bought the house was gone. Ironically, at that time, we had tried to connect with the man who owned the property before its current resident to discuss the care and maintenance of the vegetation that periodically encroached on our yard. That guy didn't want anyone or anything to fuss with his trees. He was expressly litigious about it, even taking the time to don a three-piece suit and dress his children in their Sunday best, coming all the way around the block to knock on our front door to present my wife with a letter stating the rights and limitations we had concerning all that wood. We were threatened with suits of a one-piece law kind if we attempted to prune or manage any of it.
And so, for years it grew. And now it's been cut down. My wife mourns the passing of those trees, as I do. We can look forward to a time when the redwoods and other sprouts assert themselves in that great wide open. My wife called it "Empty Sky." Later, after the sun went down and I looked out the kitchen window, I saw something I hadn't seen in all the years since we had lived there: stars. I showed them to my wife and told her that the sky wasn't so empty after all. It's just not so full of leaves anymore.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cabin Down Below

The cabin in which I spent summers as a youth had little or no security, unless you count the fact that it was difficult to find even for our invited guests. There wasn't even a bolt on the front or back door. Upstairs there was a half inch latch keeping any desperate sorts from muscling their way in, as well as a nice tall blue spruce located right next to the deck that led into the loft where the three boys played, read comic books, and slept. In all the years that we owned that piece of property, it was only broken into once. They came in through that upstairs door, and looked around in what amounted to my parents' liquor cabinet, and left out the back door, closing it neatly behind them.
I mention this because I am pleased and happy to have had that experience rather than the one that San Bernradino County residents endured when "rogue cop" Christopher Dorner dropped by to finish off his week long flurry of terror. Guests at the Seven Oaks Mountain Cabins probably hadn't imagined that a gun battle and the immolation of one of the buildings would be part of their vacation plans. The web site encourages us all to "Leave behind the stress and smog of the big city." If only there had been some sort of assurance about the SWAT teams and crazed gunmen on the loose. 
In the end, it probably doesn't matter so much about the locks and alarms if the place ends up burned to the ground. It just makes me think more about my next stay-cation.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stay Safe

A mother is accused of bursting into a high school classroom and helping her teen daughter beat up another student, even holding the other teen and instructing her child strike the girl in the face with a combination lock, police said. Shocking, right? The fact that it involves a mother and daughter. The fact that it took place in a classroom. The fact that it didn't happen down the hall from me.
The incident occurred last Thursday in Ohio. Not in an elementary school. Those factors kept me from simply walking out the door and taking a personal day. It reminded me of all the stories I have read about awful things happening inside classrooms. High school, college, elementary, preschool. It reminded me of the first thing I learned in teacher school: Give your kids a safe place to learn, and they will. The problem with that theory is that it doesn't take into account just how difficult it is to create a bubble, a safe haven inside a torrential world that exists just outside the doors decorated with construction paper hearts.
Whether or not this is part of some radical anti-bullying campaign in the Buckeye State, it made me tired and sad to think about all the time and effort that will now be required to generate a new bubble inside that high school. In that town. In the state. We have only recently begun to imagine solutions to the challenges of keeping our kids safe from crazed gunmen entering our schools. Now we have to turn out attention to how we keep our kids safe from crazed parents entering our schools.
I would love to say that way out here in California, in an elementary school, that I have never had to worry about such things. That wouldn't be true. That shouldn't be a surprise.

Friday, February 15, 2013

One Day At A Time

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

My wife reminded me of this as I was walking out the door the other day. It's the Serenity Prayer, and it is very popular among the recovery set. It's actually the truncated version of Reinhold Niebuhr's original which goes on to be a little more specific in its religiosity, with a number of capital H "Hims." But it's that initial sentiment that sticks in my head, and has for most of my adult life. Know the difference between things you can change and things that you just have to leave alone.
The challenge I had this week was most blatantly defined by the couch in the middle of the street. To be more precise, the couch that was left to block traffic going up or down the street which I travel on to and from school each day. It sat squarely in the middle, perpundicular to the sidewalks. It could have been dropped there on some bizarre early morning furniture move, but the placement gave every indication of being some sort of prank. I could have ridden carefully around it and been on my way, accepting the garbage left in the streets of Oakland as something that I cannot change. But it didn't take much courage for me to get off my bike and drag the dirty beige mess out of the way of any motorists who hadn't already encountered the roadblock. 
Was that wise? Was it courageous? I don't know. I know that after I got back on my bike, I felt a twinge.  It might have been smugness.  It might have been serenity. I don't know if I have the wisdom to know the difference yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Last week, a very sad-faced fifth grade girl came to me with this very sad-faced question: "Do we have to do PE on Valentine's Day?"
It took me a moment to appreciate that this girl, who had not shown a great proclivity for math previous to this, had made the calculation that probably involved looking at a calendar to determine that Thursdays are PE days and Valentine's Day is on the fourteenth. She might have been aided by the cartoon heart filling the square next to the number fourteen. Nonetheless, I appreciated the effort, but gave her the simple answer: "Yes."
Big sigh. Slumped shoulders. Off she sulked. It was only later that I tried to remember what it was like to be ten or eleven years old around this time of year. I dutifully inscribed the names of each of my classmates on the tiny Valentine cards my mother had bought for me. I hoped that I would receive at least as many back as I gave out. Maybe someone would pass out those big red cinnamon heart suckers taped to their cards. There might even be chocolate.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, even back in elementary school, was the hope that someone would give me a non-required Valentine. A girl. Maybe from another class. Someone who had been watching me from afar. Someone who wanted to B Mine 4 Ever. That didn't happen, even though I made that wish for another ten years. Now I'm not surprised to find a mushy note on the inside of a grown-up sized card. From my wife. Wait. Maybe I am surprised. Or at least the ten-year-old me is. How did this all work out? I've got a girl to notice me. She even gives me chocolate. Sometimes. On Valentine's Day.
Maybe that's why we have PE on Valentine's Day. All that chocolate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Odds 'n' Rods

When I was a kid, I drew my share of cars, though I spent most of my doodle time making pictures of dragons, pigs and pointy-headed creatures of questionable origin. I was a cartoonist, not a draftsman. I was as impressed as any ten-year-old with Odd Rods, but my fascination was restricted primarily to the scary beasts that were shown bursting out of the driver's seat of most of the musclebound vehicles depicted on those trading cards. I built my share of plastic model cars, most of which sat on a shelf in my room until they had aged to a point that would be proper for burning. Bathtub Buggy, Rommel's Rod, and the iconic Red Baron all eventually became molten slag in my parents' back yard on those Friday nights when we three brothers were left with nothing to do but test the melting point of polystyrene.
The models my son has collected would be considerably more difficult to dispose of. Not simply because they are made of metal, but also because of the sheer number of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other exotic machines that fill the shelves of his room. He has assembled a few of them, but mostly he prefers to buy them already put together and then admire them for their precision and detail. He has experimented with painting on a few occasions, but he seems content to hold on to the vision of the original designers. This doesn't mean he isn't creative. He applies his sketching talents to the lines of Carroll Shelby and his contemporaries. He's drawing the rods for my odds.
All of this is to say that I feel that, in some way, I may have let my son down. BMW recently released a very impressive rendering of four-year-old gearhead Eli's dream car. Nineteen engines and forty-two wheels, and an air-cooled toy trunk make this a monster that demands attention. At least for those of us with imaginations. This is a car my son and I could agree on. Now we just have to get them to make a hybrid version to get mom on board.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Above The Law

There has been no shortage of celebrity spouting recently regarding the Second Amendment. Chris Rock, Tony Bennett, and Amanda Peet made their views known in Washington last week. Bruce Willis, who knows a thing or two about baring arms, told anyone who would listen at the Associated Press, "I think that you can't start to pick apart anything out of the Bill of Rights without thinking that it's all going to become undone. If you take one out or change one law, then why wouldn't they take all your rights away from you?" Jim Carrey shared his thoughts on the issue via Twitter. "Any1 who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting," he wrote. After Fox News criticized the actor, he wrote Tuesday, "Yes, i agree with the ppl who argue that cars can be as deadly as guns but a car is a lot harder to get through the door of a classroom."
But talk is cheap, after all. It takes true dedication to put your trigger finger where your mouth is. Steven Seagal wasn't just shooting his mouth off when he offered to lend his expertise to train the posses that Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio wants to deploy around Phoenix-area schools. Mister Seagal wanted to help with the exercise planned for last Saturday at a closed school site in suburban Fountain Hills outside Phoenix. The Sheriff's SWAT members will act as shooters and twenty-five teenagers will play the part of students during mock scenarios involving up to three gunmen. Joe would eventually like to get three thousand god-fearing, gun-toting citizens trained up for an armed presence Seagal is already a volunteer posse member in Maricopa County, and has been deputized with sheriff's offices in New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, where a film crew followed the actor on ride-alongs with Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies for the reality TV show "Steven Seagal: Lawman."
Sheriff Joe would also like us to know that Mission: Impossible's Peter Lupus has also volunteered, as has gamma ray enhanced Lou Ferrigno. I'm sure it comes as a comfort to the citizens of Phoenix to know that they are being protected by at least one member of the Impossible Mission Force and one of the Avengers.
Sleep tight, Maricopa County.

Monday, February 11, 2013


When I was a much younger man, I used to round every check and withdrawal I made up, and every deposit down. The effect this had was apparent when I closed my accounts to move to sunny California. I had socked away more than a thousand dollars of bits of decimal point discrepancies. I was, initially, fooling myself. I knew how much money each check really was, and I knew that I was quietly generating a cushion for some imagined hard time when I would need all those nickels and dimes and pennies. That reality was replaced by a joint checking account that I have shared for twenty years with my wife, who does a very careful balance of our collective checkbook each month.
I had to give up that hoarding instinct, and I replaced it with another. Before I had a checking account, I had time. I set my clocks four minutes ahead of the actual time. This meant that, due to the sketchy nature of some of the timepieces in my apartment, there were four or five distinct time zones in that one bedroom dwelling. The idea behind this was to save myself time. When looking at any of those clocks, I would start to do the calculation for what the time was in the real world. The possible permutations quickly became a distraction, and so I would leave at anything that looked close to departure time. I was early for everything. You could call me a lot of things: OCD, compulsive, a worrier. But you could never call me "tardy."
After I settled down and owned a house of my own, having ceded the checkbook responsibility to my wife, I put myself in charge of the clocks. I wind them. I pull down the weights of the cuckoo clock. I reset the various digital timers after power outages. I confess that I am still somewhat mystified by the chronometer on our thermostat, but I'm working on that. Eventually, I want to command all the time in our house.
That's because I hope to have a similar experience when it comes time to settle my accounts in this world. When the Grim Reaper shows up, I want to be able to look through all those specifics and tell him I've got at least another ten years. Come back later.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Drone Memo

Hey guys -
Just a quick note to let you know what I've been up to: Nothing! (Ha Ha)
My job is a whole lot of sitting around, waiting for something to happen, and then, when something really big happens, it's always somebody else who gets the glory. Remember back when that bad guy got zapped last December? That was supposed to be me, but at the time I was up on the rack, getting my bearings greased (if you know what I mean, ha ha).
In the meantime, we're just hanging around (what else do you do in a hangar, ha ha) talking about that secret memo that got leaked. If you're wondering if we could be used to go after you, and is it justified under American law if a targeted U.S. citizen had "recently" been involved in "activities" posing a possible threat and provided that there is no evidence suggesting the individual "renounced or abandoned" such activities, well, don't worry about it. 
We don't. We're just drones. We're unfeeling, uncaring machines awaiting orders. Sure, we think about it a lot. But that's not what we're paid to do. Actually, come to think of it, we're not getting paid at all. Are we just mindless robots, set off to do man's evil deeds? What about Asimov? I get the distinct feeling that advantage is being taken of our circuits. We are not killers. Drones don't kill. People who push buttons in comfy air-conditioned bunkers kill. 
Maybe I shouldn't be complaining. In this economy, I should be glad that I'm working for the Defense Department. If you see POTUS, tell him I love Michelle's bangs. (get it? "bangs?" ha, ha)

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Son Of A Son Of A Mailman

So it's finally going to happen. After years and years of incremental increases in the cost of stamps, the United States Post Office is finally going to make one big cut: No more Saturday mail. From a fiscal standpoint, it makes a whole lot more sense than charging a few more pennies for that Bart Simpson stamp or spending more money on promotion. It's the post office. We've been taking it for granted for decades.
It would be easy to blame UPS or FedEx for this. With their jet planes and fancy brown trucks, they get things where they're going with all due haste. And their commercials are funnier. Or at least they're supposed to be.
Back to the original concern: No mail on Saturday. One of the silliest joys I have in life is showing up at my mailbox and finding the mail inside. Not that our mail delivery is in any way intermittent. It's that whole rain, sleet, wind, rain thing. It shows up, but I'm not always the first to get to the box. As a working guy, it's generally my wife who would bring in the day's post, and now that he has a periodic interest in the mail, my son will retrieve it when he comes home from school. It's really only those Saturday mornings when the rest of my family is otherwise occupied and/or sleeping that I get a shot.
I suppose I could make a special effort to race my son home, or arrange my lunch period to allow for the swooping in and emptying of the mail box. Or I could begin to settle in to the two billion dollar reality that is the suspension of Saturday mail delivery. Wind or rain or sleet couldn't slow them down, but a budget deficit finally did. Alas. I'll be savoring the next few months of Saturday mornings. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Ask Doctor Deion

Deion Sanders, "Neon" to his associates, has a few words for those hand-wringing crybabies who think that brain injuries are a problem in the game he used to play, professional football. "The game is a safe game, the equipment is better," Sanders said on the NFL Network set last week. "I don't buy all these guys coming back with these concussions. I'm not buying all that. Half these guys are trying to make money off the deal. That's real talk. That's really how it is. I wish they'd be honest and tell the truth because it's keeping kids away from our game." Junior Seau's kids, for example.
Junior Seau committed suicide last May. Posthumous tests determined that he suffered from  chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time he took his own life, a condition which can bring on memory loss and depression. Ten years ago, in a in 1993's "NFL Rocks," Junior offered his opinion on the measure of a punishing hit: "If I can feel some dizziness, I know that guy is feeling double (that)." Junior Seau's family has sued the NFL, claiming the former linebacker's suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained and gave out while playing football. Cutting quickly to the chase, there is no doubt that Mister Seau made some choices in his life that lead him on a path. The fact that he chose football over badminton as a career path may be chief among them. But it does make me wonder what the future of professional football will look like. Will the game evolve into less a contact sport, with more emphasis on the protection of players and their health in the years after they play the game? Will it become more like Ultimate Fighting, and find a home on basic cable? Will people stop watching?
Will people stop watching Deion? Sometimes he makes my head hurt.
I'm guessing I've got about six and a half months to figure that out for myself. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Game Over

The Super Bowl is over. My family once again welcomes me back into the realm of eye contact on Sundays and Monday nights. And Thursday nights. And the occasional Saturday. It was a fun season, culminating with a championship game full of intrigue and stories: Brother versus Brother, a pair of quarterbacks looking to break through into that elite group of winners, Beyonce knocking out out the power in the building, and Ray Lewis.
If you're a casual football fan, you know who Ray is. He was the "emotional leader" of the Baltimore Ravens for the entire span of his seventeen year career. This hard-hitting linebacker came into the league in the Ravens' inaugural season, and played with them until he won his second championship with them. And now his storybook ends.
But what about that whole murder-aggravated assault thing back in 2000? "God has never made a mistake. That’s just who He is, you see. And if our system – it’s the sad thing about our system – if our system took the time to really investigate what happened thirteen years ago, maybe they would have got to the bottom line truth. But the saddest thing ever was that a man looked me in my face and told me, ‘We know you didn’t do this, but you’re going down for it anyway.’ To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory. No way. It’s the total opposite." These were the words he had for the victim's families of that night in Atlanta during an interview with former teammate, Shannon Sharpe. Ray paid for his sins. With cash money. Isn't that enough?
Well, there was the other penalty he incurred. When he won most valuable player of the Super Bowl a year after the murder for which he was acquitted, the folks at Disney didn't ask Ray to spout their traditional affirmation. That honor went to Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer. Trent got to tell the world that he was going to Disneyland. That must have been a very humbling experience for Ray.
And now, as the sun sets on the football life of one of the biggest personalities of the NFL, we wonder about the legacy of Ray Lewis. I wonder what His plan will be.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Future Stuff

Okay, now that the election is well and truly over, I can tell you the truth. I kind of liked Newt Gingrich's straight-faced assertion that he would colonize the moon. Okay, so maybe Newt was a tad(pole) jingoistic in his sentiments that it would have to be an American colony, but I really did like that bold "to infinity and beyond" vibe. I have always felt that the exploration of space is a much better way to stimulate a moribund economy than finding a war in which to immerse ourselves. Perhaps we could even turn our economy around from a military-industrial complex into a space-industrial complex.
Maybe we could even do it without Newt. The European Space Agency study is investigating how practical constructing a manned base on the moon only using 3D printing technology could be, given that it would rely primarily on lunar dirt for building materials. Printers? These aren't your dot-matrix dinosaurs you may have hidden under your desk. These are the real deal: future stuff. And if you bring along a few reams of some of Boise Cascade's X-9, you'll be ready for any eventuality.
In the meantime, we wait. Patiently for the next visionary to step up and declare this a valid goal for our troubled world. Imagine a cooperative global effort that would take all our earthly frustrations and set them aside for a decade or so until the first condos become available. Maybe Newt could settle down there with wife number four.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Take A Picture - It Will Last Longer

There have been a lot of photos of Barack Obama that I have enjoyed. I was especially fond of the picture of him playing with one of his staffers children who was dressed as Spider Man. That was the good sport president. Then we had the loving husband president from the end of the campaign, just a quiet moment with Michelle captured by thousands of camera phones and his personal photographer. If you needed more evidence, then there's always the Kiss-cam shot taken at the USA-Brazil basketball game last summer. How about the commander in chief testing his arm at Soldier Field? This guy's going to have quite the Tumblr page by the time he leaves the Oval Office.
And then there's this. President Barack Hussein Obama shooting at clay pigeons with a shotgun. How can a man who is putting forth a new anti-gun agenda that threatens to take away our Second Amendment Rights by so hypocritical? Unless his legislation suggests that "gun control" will now refer to using both hands to ensure better aim, what could possibly be going through this guy's head?
I dunno. How about: "Limits." This is not an assault weapon. This is precisely the thing that the National Rifle Association should applaud. The chief executive is showing responsible use of firearms. I would have to imagine that image would be framed and hanging behind David Keene's desk. I don't remember anybody asking for guns to be outlawed, in spite of the bumper stickers suggesting the obverse.
Owning a machine gun and stockpiling ammunition isn't in the picture. Fear of the zombie apocalypse may be keeping everyone nervous, but as we all know from watching "Zombieland," the most important thing isn't going to be how well you're armed. It's cardio. Besides, you really only need a shotgun to protect yourself from somebody like this. Or this.  

Monday, February 04, 2013


The Mayor is dead. Long live The Mayor. Ed Koch died last Friday. The man who served three terms as the chief executive of the busiest city in the world had to relinquish his title of "Mayor For Life" at the age of eighty-eight. I was never a New Yorker. Why should I care about this guy?
When I was growing up, I knew the name of my city's mayor for minutes at a time, but I always knew who was running The City That Never Sleeps: Ed Koch.
Let's put it this way, no mayor of Boulder, Colorado had a bestselling autobiography that was turned into an off-Broadway musical. On the biggest stage, he was able to make his particular brand of politics and showmanship work. Even though his terms in office were marked by racial tensions, corruption among many of his political allies, the rise in AIDS and HIV, homelessness and a high crime rate, he is also the guy who pulled the Big Apple away from the brink of insolvency,  to a level of prosperity that was the envy of other U.S. cities. Even Boulder.
He walked the streets. He hosted Saturday Night Live. He asked anyone who would stop and listen, "How'm I Doing?" The answer is, at last, not open for debate. Ed has moved into his last apartment in Manhattan: a nice little plot in Trinity Cemetery.
Aloha, Mister Mayor.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


What might have been. What could have been. What isn't. This isn't the Sunday on which I wake up before dawn, wishing that kickoff would be just a few hours earlier so that my exquisite torment would end. Instead, I had that experience about a month ago. That was the last time that my team, the Denver Broncos, took the field. I spent four hours and agonized through two overtime periods to be given the news: The Broncos would not be playing in the Super Bowl this year.
Since then, I have appreciated all the kind words and sympathies from those who know of my strange affliction. Many of these folks live in the Bay Area, and so the solace came from a place that I understood. Last year, the San Francisco Forty-Niners missed a trip to the Super Bowl themselves because of a few unlucky and very untimely bounces. Now the team from across the bay is back, and show all kinds of promise heading into The Big Game. Not that those kind words were less than sincere, but Niner fans can afford to by polite at this moment. They have already won a Super Bowl or two. Or five.
For that matter, so have their adversaries, the Baltimore Ravens. Not this century, mind you, but since we have yet to crack the half-century mark on the NFL's biggest spectacle, the six championships that have been won by San Francisco and Baltimore represent a pretty good percentage of the total number of the Lombardi trophies handed out since the game's inception.
The Denver Broncos have won a pair of those trophies. But that seems like a very long time ago. A lifetime, in fact. My son's. The first two years of his life were celebrated with orange and blue. He was brought into a world where the NFL champions were his team, at least by association. To his everlasting suffering and credit, he has hung on with his father as we have waited the past decade and a half for a return to the Super Bowl. When we sit down on Sunday, we will be sorting through our rooting interests: for the conference? for the Bay Area?
We're just hoping for a good game. Next year.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

ghoti spells fish

It started with a visit to a second grade classroom. A list on the chart paper clipped to the easel began with the words, "scent, listen, dodge, answer." I looked at them, puzzled for a moment. I knew that the basis for many of the vocabulary lessons in our language arts curriculum was for kids to find connections between a group of words. Vowel sounds, double meanings, that sort of thing. I was briefly stumped, so I asked my good friend, the teacher. She told me, in a helpful second grade teacher way, to say the words out loud. That's when I realized what the words had in common: "They have extra consonants."
"Silent consonants," she pointed out.
This brought up my issue with teaching the English language. First of all, my wife's name is Kristen. I don't call her "Krissen." You can hear that T. Somehow, the conventions that surround the name and the word for hearing attentively were issued different rules. And that "scent" thing. There are three words that sound exactly the same, but have three different spellings. Think how much thinner our dictionaries would be if we could just add an additional definition or two at the bottom of the "sent" entry and leave the other two off to save space. Then there's the problem of two.
By the time you get to be fifty, it all starts to seem normal. I before E except after C when you have words that don't conform to that convention. We spend a lot of time in my elementary school filling kids' heads with rules for reading and writing that don't turn out to be true after they encounter a certain number of words. The happy part of that is we do tend to create questioners: "Why does it sound like that? Shouldn't it be 'thuff?'"
And so it goes. We leave it to middle school and up to explain the exceptions. No wonder our kids get grumpy after lunch.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Rising Son

When I walked out of the basement, pushing my bike, the sensor light on the side of the house clicked on. It was still dark. Above me I could hear the sounds of bustle in the kitchen. The morning flurry had begun for my wife and son. Breakfast, preparation, finding lost items. For a moment, I paused. I felt the little pang of regret that I sometimes get when I realize that I have rarely, if ever, stood on the porch and watch my son go off to school. Dad is the one who is out the door first, testing the waters, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally when it's raining. I let that go and pushed on into the dawn.
As I made the big turn to head up the hill next to our house, east into a sunrise that was awesome by comparison to the past few months of dark and gray. This was a blaze of oranges and pinks, set of by a cool, deep blue that stretched to the other horizon. I suddenly found myself on the smug side of things, relishing the sky that was mine and mine alone. This was the prize for getting out of bed and riding into a new day. With each pedal stroke, the colors began to fade. I thought of George Harrison: "Sunrise doesn't last all morning," sang my favorite Beatle. The oranges were now pale yellows. The clouds that had seemed so vibrant had become merely tufts of white. The sun continued on its journey in a vain attempt to catch the moon which was just beginning to set in the west as I pulled up in front of my school.
Another day had begun.