Thursday, December 31, 2015

When Is A Lemon Not A Lemon?

Long before I was ever a conventional sports fan, I was a Harlem Globetrotters fan. I suppose you could make the case that I was being fed basketball through a comedy tube, but I didn't see it that way. I knew what these guys were doing. Long before I ever stopped to consider whether or not wrestling was real or fake, I knew that the Washington Generals were the paid patsies for the Globetrotters to dribble and dunk around. I understood fully that what I was watching was an exhibition, not a a competition. I would have discouraged wagering. I knew that there would be a basketball game going on somewhere during all those antics and chicanery, but the game was not what I paid to see.
I wanted to see Meadowlark Lemon. I wanted to see him move that ball all around the court. Behind the back. Over the shoulder. Into the stands. It didn't matter from where the ball was launched. It was going to find its way through the hoop. All that skill and talent made me forget that what I was watching really was magic, to the tune of Sweet Georgia Brown. It was Meadowlark's half court hook shot that was the inspiration for my own driveway court specialty. Never being a great shot, I used the feel and the chatter of the Globetrotters to make it feel more like a goof if I made it, or not. I wasn't playing basketball. I was clowning around. Just like Meadowlark Lemon.
There were other Globetrotters, to be sure. like Curly Neal and Marques Haynes, even Wilt Chamberlain played with them for a year, but I watched the Globetrotters to see the Man. Meadowlark made me laugh. He was the one I tuned in to see whether it was on ABC's Wide World of Sports or to see them land on Gilligan's Island. He was their leader. The odd thing about this for me at the time was how much I wanted to take sports seriously. As the kid most likely to be picked last, there was a great stake placed on my own performance and the rigors of competition. So much so that I once fled a showing of Football Follies in tears because I felt it was doing a disservice to the athletes to be making fun of them.
Meadowlark Lemon would have laughed at that. He would have been right. There is something inherently funny about watching grown men toss themselves and various shaped balls about. We should all benefit from this lighthearted attitude. Meadowlark took him red, white and blue ball and dribbled off into the sunset this week, and I will miss him on the court and in the stands, and I will think of him whenever I see a great hook shot or a bucket full of confetti. Aloha, Mister Lemon. You stomped on the Terra.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Little Knowledge Can Be A Dangerous Thing

It was my older brother who first pointed out to me that in space, no one can hear you scream. Or belch. Or even ask why it is that in space no one can hear you scream. Sound doesn't exist in a vacuum. At the time he told me this, I was pleased and happy to take this realization around to all my friends who were initially confused by this bit of physics in, then quietly impressed by my knowledge of the universe. My older brother is also the first person to wonder out loud in my presence why we would assume that all beings from other planets or galaxies would be carbon-based life forms. I never worried much about the source of all this new learning. It could have come from research, or all that higher education, or comic books. It didn't matter. It informed my vision of my galaxy, specifically those elements I watched on movie screens.
There was, in my neighborhood, a lot of fuss made about "fakey." For instance, most of us were happy to go along with the world run by super-intelligent apes for the first movie or two, but by the time they got to the fourth, where budgets had dropped along with expectations, the chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas were not made up with the care that they had been at the beginning of the series. They looked fakey. It was also thanks to my older brother that I learned the limitations of green screen and rear projection. Those dark lines around Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Fakey.
Then, around 1977, all that doubt was replaced with awe. I didn't worry that all those characters in a galaxy far, far away just happened to speak English. And I sure didn't fuss about  the sound an exploding Death Star made. Not at first, anyway. I satisfied myself with the burgeoning distinction between science fiction and science fantasy. Why wouldn't the laws for physics be different in a galaxy far, far away? I used this defense when explaining away my new favorite movie to all those friends I had once tried to convince of a universe ruled by Isaac Newton. Looking for the strings on the X-Wing fighters was not something I was willing to do. I was able to point out to my older brother that the orcs and dragons in Middle Earth were just as big a stretch, unless you were willing to suspend your disbelief. His love of the Tolkien saga earned me that extra bit of room to escape into space opera.
Which is why I flinched so hard when celebrity astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson started tweeting about all that fakey stuff in "The Force Awakens." He wants us all to know that BB-8 would have skidded uncontrollably on the sand of that distant planet. He even pointed out that TIE fighters wouldn't make that cool screeching sound in the vacuum of space. In a world full of seven foot tall collies with crossbow blasters, he wants to pick nits about how these computer generated ships couldn't really fly around at the speed of light. I appreciate and respect the science that comes so effortlessly to Neil. I do wonder how he got along with his big brother.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Out In The Open

How do you prepare for the New Year? Some of us make a list of resolutions, goals to achieve as we turn the page on the calendar. Others look back and reflect on the way things went in the year just completed. There are those who gather together to celebrate both what was and what will be. Opportunities await for those who wish to gain perspective. If you're a law enforcement officer in Texas, you might possibly take this moment in time to reflect: wouldn't it be easier to do their job in a state where everybody wasn't carrying a gun.
In 2016, Texas will become the forty-fifth state to make it legal to to carry a pistol in plain sight. Interesting, since you might have expected that the Lone Star state would be pioneering the rights of its gun toters. It should be noted that after initial concerns were expressed, officers won't press the issue when it comes to asking residents if they have a license to carry that gun. In plain sight. They aren't doing this out of laziness. They're doing it to avoid harassment lawsuits. "Hey, mister? I don't want to be hassling you or anything, but is that semi-automatic pistol you're carrying on your hip accompanied with the proper paperwork? Or are you just glad to see me?"
A little law enforcement humor there. There are still five states that that continue to ban open-carry: California, New York, South Carolina, Illinois and Florida. Texas will be the biggest state to allow its citizens to pack visible heat. In 2014, there were eight hundred twenty-six thousand concealed permit holders. To get that open-carry permit, applicants will have to complete the same requirements as those with concealed permits: be twenty-one years old, have clear arrest and psychological records, and complete a training and shooting course. Totally worth it, right? Especially since officers won't be hassling you about the paperwork, since Tea Party types fretted about the Second Amendment, and Democrats worried about racial profiling. Law enforcement has quietly agreed to avoid such entanglements by letting those they have sworn to serve and protect to help them out by not shooting up the place. Sure, they can ask, but you never can tell.
How do you know when somebody is driving without a license? Usually it's after they've run into a tree. Or another car. Let's hope for all their sakes that this will be easier to enforce. And less dangerous.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Whither Football?

Baltimore has had a couple of chances at football. Good for them. Cleveland too. St. Louis gave its team away to Phoenix. Colts became Ravens. Browns became Ravens and they were rewarded with a new set of Browns. St. Louis gave up Cardinals in exchange for Rams. Houston had Oilers that became Titans in Tennessee and got Texans in exchange. It's a swirl of franchises that makes people like me who have a fondness for sameness a little nervous. That image of tractor trailer trucks pulling out of Baltimore in the middle of the night, taking all the gridiron hopes and pigskin dreams of a city with them. Cleveland fans cried when their team left to fill in that Baltimore void. And they broke stuff. Not that there was a lot of damage that would be noticeable to the casual observer of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.
Because that's the bottom line. These highly paid athletes need state of the art facilities in which they can showcase their talents. A strip of grass with lines on it and benches upon which to sit and take it all in is no longer the standard. You need luxury boxes with video screens. And more video screens to make you feel like you're in a luxury box. It's a feeling you might want to savor if you paid the average price for a ticket to see an NFL game. Go ahead and do the math for eight home games in a regular season, and then you understand that this game isn't being played in front of average fans. They are being played in front of folks who have a considerable amount of disposable income, especially when you consider that going through a "broker" to get your seats will cost you at least twice that. Your average fans? They're the ones sitting at home, watching on television. Unless the game is sold out, which used to mean fans would have to figure out some clever way to view the blacked out game that is taking place just down the street from their local venue for major league sports. Not anymore. That's because the powers that be have figured out what we all did a while ago: Buying a ticket doesn't make you a fan. Wishing you could buy a ticket does.
Soon, you might not be able to buy a seat for a game in Oakland. Or San Diego. Or St. Louis. In the case of the Raiders and Rams, this is starting to feel like the refrain to an old song. Both of these franchises have already done some time in Los Angeles, a city known for their less than rabid attention from the hometown fans. The folks filling up the stands at the stadiums in Los Angeles don't tend to be native Los Angelinos. That's why the parking lots empty out before the game is over. They all have to find their way out of the basin and into the hills before darkness falls. Charger fans will probably feel the loss most deeply, losing the tenants of Qualcomm Stadium and all that history. And will also miss out on the opportunity to fund a new facility for what up until now has been the home team.
Thanks to cable television and satellite dishes, we don't really have to worry about missing a game. We are not bound by space and time. We can catch events from a previous day in another time zone on our DVR. Remaining loyal to a group of millionaires who are employed by a multi-millionaire or two seems like a fool's game. Which is okay, since that game doesn't tend to sell out and you don't need a GPS to keep track of the team.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What I Don't Know Would Fill A Great Big Book

The list of things I don't fully understand seems to grow daily. For example, I cannot understand why I live in a country that has to debate whether or not a person who is not allowed to fly on a commercial airliner should be allowed to purchase a gun. Okay, maybe it makes a little sense. It would keep that person from using that gun on a commercial airliner. 
I am also confounded by the way that same country has chosen to expand gun rights in the wake of the massacre at Sandy HookIn Kansas, gun owners can now carry concealed weapons without obtaining a license. In Texas, those with permits will soon be able to carry openly in holsters and bring concealed weapons into some college classrooms. And in Arkansas, gun enthusiasts may be able to carry weapons into polling places next year when they vote for president. In the three years since twenty elementary students, aged six and seven, and six adults were killed states have done little if anything to limit the chances of something like that happening again. Unless you're a fan of the "good guy with a gun" program, because if that's your vision of the future then you're all set. 
Me? I'm still confused. Especially when I hear the story of Mohammad Tariq Mahmood. Mohammad was traveling, or he had hoped to travel, with his brother and nine of their children from their home in England to the Happiest Place On Earth. They wanted to go to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, perhaps out of fear that the one in Paris might be a little too dangerous right now. They never made it. They were told that immigration officials stopped them at the gate. In a statement, the US Customs and Border Protection authority did not refer to Mahmood's case, but said there were more than sixty grounds for inadmissibility to the US, including health reasons and prior criminal convictions. "The religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs of an international traveler are not determining factors about his/her admissibility into the U.S.," the statement said.
Oh, did I mention that Mister Mahmood was a Muslim? That probably means that not only does he already have a gun, but he is ready to use it, along with his nine children packing Mickey-shaped wads of plastic explosive into the House of Mouse. Which would probably be fine with the very impressive security force at The Magic Kingdom, since they can handle just about anything. Just don't let them catch you with a selfie-stick
I don't get it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

One Day, One Week, Six Thousand Years

Here we are, smack in the middle of Winter Break, and I can't stop thinking about my job. That's probably a good thing. If I simply forgot what I do for a living over a two week period, I might just forget to go back. I am a teacher, and therefore when those "teaching moments" arrive while I am supposed to be relaxing in my palatial estate, I have to find something to do with them. Like this one: I just learned that the earth is six thousand years old
Six thousand years is a long time. That goes way back to before we were printing calendars and things had proper dates assigned to them. It goes back before Jesus. Way before. It's not like the people who figured this out didn't give it the time and consideration such things require. Six thousand years leaves room for the Sumerians' initial scribbling  about their floods, famines and wanderings almost three thousand years before the birth of Mister Christ. Whatever happened before they got it into their heads to start writing things down is of little consequence, since we all know that if something is really important, it will be written down
All this talk of clever apes aside, the challenge to this view of the earth's history suggests that the time before humans who wrote things down was very short. Maybe a little more than a thousand years? Of course all those good words that tell us that even though Rome wasn't built in a day, it only took a week to make a planet. And what a planet it is, where a woman can be elected to a seat in the Arizona senate and defend her views on protecting the planet, which in her view, "has been here six thousand years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn't been done away with." Sylvia Allen, a member of the Grand Canyon State's legislature since 2008, has now been named the chairperson of the Senate Education Committee. This could be for her work uncovering the vast chemtrail conspiracy, or her plan for compulsory church for all Americans. It could be that her brain is two sizes too small.
And so I find myself sitting here, half way through the break our schools are given to contemplate the birth of Jesus Christ, wondering how someone who must have at least driven past the Grand Canyon can not take a moment to reflect on the enormity of what God or any creative force might have wrought over time on what used to be a nice flat piece of desert. Six thousand years ago. No need to panic, if you happen to live in the Valley of the Sun: Democratic colleague Senator Steve Farley said people shouldn't worry too much. In fact, he told the Arizona Republic he thinks she'll do a good job: "She's made some interesting comments to the public, but it's not like she's going to be teaching," he said. "We have accredited teachers for that."
One more week of vacation. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Big Turn

You can see the end of the year from here
if you stand on your toes
and stare into the light
Behind is is the wreckage of another one
folded, spindled and mutilated
broken parts and broken hearts
Why then do I feel this need to hold on
when it was so awful
and made such little sense?
Maybe there were some diamonds
hidden way down
amid all that rust
Triumph over tragedy
laughter mixed with tears
we celebrate every day above ground
All that sadness
all that pain
gave rise to that thing with feathers
If we break it
we can fix it
it is what we do after all
It's what that New Year is for
all shiny and new
full of possibility
Sure things could be worse I know
there's always room
for movement up or down
This is the gift of tomorrow
and the next day
and the next
We work our way back to the beginning
to start anew
to start fresh
You can see the end of the year from here
and another one coming fast
right behind

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Rich And The Rest Of Us

"Affluenza." Have you heard of it? Not a new strain of any known virus or something for which we can all be inoculated,but rather "the guilt or lac of motivation experienced by people who have made or inherited large amounts of money." It is a real enough thing that the Public Broadcasting System did not one but two shows about it. I would be remiss if I did not at this juncture point out that PBS has also done a number of shows about a seven foot tall yellow bird and his fuzzy brown elephant friend. At the same time, it should be further pointed out that there is no "Big Bird Defense."
Not yet.
But back in 2013, attorneys for Ethan Couch successfully used the "Affluenza Defense" to get their client probation for the crimes he committed: killing four pedestrians while driving drunk. Prosecutors had argued for a maximum sentence of twenty years, but Couch was given four years on probation instead. At the time chief prosecutor Richard Alpert  suggested, "There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here." Witnesses said during the trial that then sixteen  year old Couch and friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a store. He had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. His pickup truck slammed into the four victims. It was an expert defense witness for the defense who painted the picture of Mister Couch as the victim. A victim of affluenza.
Two years ago, it was suggested by the presiding judge that the boy would not get proper care and treatment from the system if he were locked up, and pointed out that the prescribed twenty year sentence would make him eligible for release after two years. Well, guess what? Eric Couch is free. Not because he was set free, but because he violated his parole and is suspected of being on the run with his mother.
Violation of his parole could result in a ten year prison sentence. This might be the right time for the Couch family attorneys to mount that Big Bird Defense, with lead counsel Mister Snuffleupagus. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Good Sports

The report I read was making a big deal about the amount of fines assessed to a group of five NFL players after a particularly fractious game held in Cincinnati back on December 13. More than one hundred thousand dollars worth. These fines were handed down after a series of flagrant fouls, most of which fell under the heading of "unsportsmanlike conduct." In the course of the game, there were penalties that corresponded to those incidents, but sometimes those fifteen yarders don't really have the impact that the league would like. That's when they go after players in ways that it is hoped that will have an impact on them after the game is over: making them pay for their bad behavior. Win or lose, you have to pay if you do something that catches the eyes of the league office. In a game that tends to reward players for playing hard and delivering hits that knock big men down, sometimes hurting them in the process. It's all a matter of how and when that hurting takes place.
There were also some players who were fined for their celebrations after plays that didn't involve brutalization of others. They were asked to pay for their bad sportsmanship. In some ways it makes sense that a game between these longtime division rivals would result in a reverse payday for the National Football League, but it set me to thinking: Where exactly does that money go after it has been deducted from the very large and at times excessive salaries of these athletes? According to the powers that be, all that money goes to "charitable causes," including a fund set up for their retired players. Some players have made requests where the money be sent, but that's not they way the ball currently bounces. The front office is the place that decides where the money goes, and we just have to be patient and trusting with that.
But why doesn't that money get spent in the communities where they would do the most good? Sure, I appreciate the NFL looking after its own, but what if that  $118,649 had landed in a Cincinnati food bank? Or a homeless shelter? Or a youth football program? It sees to me that the National Football League, which certainly has where others have not, could really do themselves proud by giving something back to the communities that buy their tickets and their swag, the ones who make all that unsportsmanlike conduct possible in the first place.
Or maybe that's less of a Vince Lombardi kind of idea than a Bernie Sanders kind of thought. But that's a lot of money for excessively celebrating yanking someone's facemask.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anatomy Of A Hoax

Oh those nutty kids and their wacky capacity for technology. The other night I was peering at the screen of my smart phone, looking for some random bit of information, when my son reached over and slid his finger across a line just below where I was reading and suddenly the light coming from my palm decreased by a third. "Save your eyes," he told me.
This was the younger generation using their powers for good, and not evil. Not all these young turks are as benevolent in their use of tubes and wires and transistors. Like twenty-one year old Vincent Canfield, who was running a server through which a flurry of threatening e-mails were sent. A boatload of messages that suggested that schools in a number of very large school districts across the United States were in danger of "a massacre of epic proportions." Bombs that would be detonated by jihadists via cell phone. Maximum carnage. Turns out that none of them were based on anything but tweaking the fears of the people receiving those emails. What did the district officials do when they got those emails? Did they have time to figure out what was real and what was made up. The emails were real.
So was the fear.
It was that fear that closed the schools in Los Angeles. It was the hoax that kept schools in New York City open. When somebody sent similar threats to Miami-Dade county and Houston school officials, they decided to go ahead and have classes as scheduled. Even though there was no way to be sure, at the time, from where those messages originated they went ahead and opened the schools anyway. The young pranksters who figured out how to route those communications through all those various components were some of the same kids who grew up with cheat codes and easter eggs. Shortcuts that were built in to constructs to make it easier to get from A to Z allow us to bypass the "flyover letters" that don't get us any bonus points or extra lives. If you wanted to be a real terrorist, you would have to gather together an arsenal of automatic weapons and explosives that would back up your jihad. Access to a keyboard and some IP addresses allows the clever nerd the opportunity to generate terror without all that overhead.
My son is a very clever boy. I'm glad he's using his powers for saving his father's eyes.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Darth Vader Was The Name Of Luke Skywalker's Sled

Spoiler alert: My family and I made it out to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Thursday night. This will probably come as no revelation whatsoever to any of you who have experienced my own fascination with the popular side of culture. The driving force, if you'll allow the pun, was this: I didn't want anyone telling me anything before I sat down in my seat and was forced back into the spare cushion by the opening fanfare. Additional spoiler alert: This is not a review of the film, but rather a recounting of my experience leading up to that moment previously mentioned.
The makers of Star Wars, producers, directors, stars, caterers, best boys and grips did such an amazing job of keeping this great beast of a film under wraps for so long that I could not imagine that once the cork was officially out of the bottle that there would be any way to avoid getting the odd hint or additional footage that would make my own viewing anything but pristine. I live in a world of smart phones and Twitter and TMZ and Al Gore's Internet and four hundred kids on a playground who have access to all of that an more. There was, in my paranoid fantasy of a Friday morning, no way that I was going to make it through a day much less a week until my family and I had quietly discussed going to see "a movie" on Christmas Eve. We had made similar journeys in years past, traveling to the exotic foreign land of San Francisco to take in a holiday blockbuster to distract us all from the night before Santa makes his deliveries.
I was so impressed by the embargo placed on the reviews and the tight lips of the crew who made it all happen but I was sure that the lid was just about to blow off Mos Eisley spaceport. I couldn't imagine going into that theater with any preconceived notions. Well, that's not exactly true. I had a boatload of preconceived notions, most of which were based on the sour taste I had from the last flurry of movies, the ones we now refer to as My Son's Star Wars. Those first three were the Star Wars of My Youth. And now, later on a Thursday night before the last day of school before break than I had a right to be out, I was about to watch what we agreed can be Our Star Wars. Yes, it was a school night, but I decreed it to be totally worth missing that extra couple hours' sleep to be a part of what will surely become the next big thing. When I look at that first weekend's box office tally, I will have the absurd connection to thirty-six of those dollars. That and two hours and sixteen minutes of rollicking good fun in the cinema.
Oops. Sorry to anyone who hasn't made it out to the movin' picture show to see The Force Awakens, and you were hoping not to have the running time revealed. My bad.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

From Whence They Come

When campaigning for office, you do a lot of unsavory things. Kissing babies should probably be considered a perk. Compromises have to be made. You might shade your convictions to the left or right in order to gain traction in a particular segment of the populace, or have your picture taken with someone with whom you secretly despise. Even with the protracted election season offered here in the United States, it would be impossible to create consensus between each and every person who might end up casting their vote for you. Sometimes we end up, on the voters' side, picking what we call "the lesser of two evils." 
Good news for those of you shopping on the Republican side then, since there are lots more than two evils from which to choose. Today I will choose "none of the above," but focusing on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Both of these gentlemen are sons of Cuban emigres, running for their party's shot at the highest office in the land. They are doing this with the full and seemingly unflinching GOP stance against immigration. For his part, Marco Rubio is currently backing away from a previous commitment to creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Ted Cruz double down on his narrow perception of the situation this way: “The frontline with ISIS isn’t just in Iraq and Syria, it’s also in Kennedy airport and the Rio Grande.” Cruz said. “Now we’ve seen what happened in San Bernardino. When you’re letting people in, when the FBI can’t vet them, it puts American citizens at risk.”
American citizens like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, for example. Men who are currently a generation away from arriving on the shores of the land of the free and the home of the yadda yadda yadda and currently engaged in a struggle for the wild-card position in the playoffs for President of the United States. You might remember that this was the party, the one with the elephant for a mascot, who wanted all kinds of insane proof of the citizenship of our current president. I can now imagine a future in which a future President of the United States is left outside our borders because his or her parents had the bad taste to imagine a future in a country where anyone can grow up to be President of the United States. It sounds a little like a forgotten episode of Star Trek, but maybe that's a good thing, since it would be science fiction and not public policy. 
Does it make any more sense that Donald Trump, son of an Italian hairdresser, would be so vehement about restricting the way people become part of the fabric of our nation?  Okay. I made that last thing up, but if they can, why can't I?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Snow Day 2015

Okay, we all need a day off. It's time for us to fold up our tents and move on up the road, getting ready for that long stretch hall we call 2016. Those of us in elementary education are gleeful at the moment of disembarkation, teachers, students, administrators. The only ones that are perhaps less full of the joy of this season are the parents, who have discerned that they now face half a month of their progeny 24/7. The four hundred plus children that make our school their home away from home five days out of every week will now be camped out at home while we all take a much needed break from one another.
That is as it should be. But in the City of Angels last week, students in that district got an unexpected bonus to their Christmas Break. That is because authorities needed all of last Tuesday to search more than one thousand campuses for what they had been told by "credible sources" was a threat of some nefarious goings-on. I can remember back in my youth in what was a more relaxed time in the suburban setting of Boulder, Colorado where there was the occasional joker who would pull a fire alarm to keep him from having to take that physics test. There were even those who we heard about who went to the extreme of calling in a bomb threat to get everyone out on the back lawn for an hour while the expected thorough investigation took place.
That was before Columbine. Now any sort of threat puts parents, students and staff on high alert. Schools in Los Angeles reopened the next day, but not until every student in the nation's second largest school district got an extra day off. A day to sit around and wonder how credible "an email routed through Germany" can really be. Two weeks after the events in San Bernardino, nerves were a little frayed just down the road. Closing the schools just in case ISIS wanted to send a little holiday message to the unbelievers seemed like a pretty good idea. Err on the side of caution, anyway.
Like in the event of a hurricane, or some other natural disaster, we now close schools not on account of inclement weather, but terrorist threats. Every time we have to close the schools because of a threat, the terrorists win. And so does that guy with the physics test.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Long, Long Ago

There was a time when it wasn't a cultural phenomenon. Star Wars was a little movie that opened in the summer of 1977. Its pedigree at the time was that it was the new film from the director of American Graffiti. Those of us who had yet to see THX 1138 did not know what to expect. If I had already taken all those literature and film classes, I might have made all the connections to The Hidden Fortress and the dozens of other movies that are alluded to throughout the two hours and sixteen minute running time. If I had ever read any of the Dune books, I might have had a hint for where this was all going.
I didn't. I began reading the hype during its opening week or two, and I found myself being sucked into the vortex that was a movement. That was the summer where everyone went to see Star Wars. That was long before it had an Episode number attached to it. That was long before we were asked to allow Harrison Ford to carry the burden of two pop icons into a new century. If there is a God in Movie Heaven, he won't allow Han Solo to avoid being blown up by hiding in a refrigerator, but that's a discussion for another time.
Another time was when we didn't know that Darth Vader was Luke's father. And please don't tell me that this was a spoiler because if you look it shows up in the top ten of all time and George Lucas had to take a summer off and hire a screenwriter to make it work. If you think about it, the whole thing is a little too simple: All good and evil in the galaxy is found in this tiny knot of people, and I can only assume that Luke may have had certain feelings for his mother because he definitely wanted to kill his father. But that's a story from another time.
What we should all remember and appreciate is that there was a time before there were seven ever-expanding episodes of this myth. There was a time before commercial tie-ins to every car, soft drink and phone company. There was a time before "summer blockbuster" and "opening weekend." It was a rehash of the Flash Gordon serials and all those images and stories that were wedged into the mind of that kid from Modesto.
I spend a lot of time sneering at the accomplishments of Mister Lucas. His vision of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is what we will all be lining up to see. Blockbusters aren't just for summer anymore. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to change into my X-Wing tennis shoes and my Wookie T-shirt and head on out to the cinema. It's time once again to embrace the cultural phenomenon.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


My mother once taught me that being lost isn't always a bad thing. Actually, if I were to break it down just a little more precisely, this is something that my mother said and I chose to learn from her. When she said "being lost isn't always a bad thing," we were lost. She was doing something that most of us do in situations like that: we narrate a predicament so that it takes the edge off being confused, worried, angry, sad or overjoyed. Talking to yourself gives perspective in moments when it is needed. Like the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy suggests on the cover: Don't Panic.
Still, it turns out to be a pretty valuable piece of wisdom. When applied to those moments when you realize that all roads eventually lead to Rome, and you can probably find your way home from there. With the proper travel documents. When you are lost, there are all kinds of sights to see that are, as my mother likes to say, "off the beaten path." This was coming from someone who also gave me a profound appreciation for the beaten path. Routine and ruts are powerful things and should be appreciated and mined for all their intrinsic value. Knowing the way from place to place means you don't miss those important connections with other people on their way to other places. And sometimes, when that incredibly dependable part of you fails and that left turn at Albuquerque doesn't take you to Pismo Beach, you have to let yourself be lost. Embrace that moment. Knuckles white on the steering wheel, peering out into the distance for that next familiar sign, embrace the moment.
On the other side of that nugget was the assertion that things were always found in the last place that you looked for them. It was meant as comfort, but it always felt a little like someone being oh-so-clever for the purpose of making themselves just a little superior. That's what parents do. Comfort while maintaining just the slightest edge of superiority.
These were the homilies I heard in my mind the other day as I raced about my home in the pre-dawn hours searching for my keys. I make such a profound habit of leaving my wallet and keys in the same spot on my dresser each and every day that even when I travel I tray and approximate that same placement in any new environment I might find myself. Finding my keys should be the least of my worries. Lost isn't always a bad thing. They turned out to be sitting in the last place where I looked. I felt my patience being tested and realized that it was all just an exercise that I had been prepared for years before. Thanks, Mom.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Making History

History is made every day. We get to hear about it all the time. Sometimes it's on the big stage, like when nearly two hundred world leaders gathered together to hammer out an agreement on climate change. Since there are one hundred ninety-five countries, one hundred ninety-six if you count Taiwan, that means that pretty much everybody got together and agreed that we would all like to work on limiting greenhouse gasses and slow global warming. "We've shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge," said our President, the leader of the Free World. This was history, every bit as much as the time we beat back those aliens who came to bury us and consume our planet.
Of course, that could be because that whole alien thing was fiction, and it was a whole lot more exciting to watch science and the military-industrial complex come together in the forms of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum to figure out a way to blow up those creepy looking crawlies than watching all those suits and ties yammering on about parts per million. The good news is that nothing blew up in Paris while they were busy negotiating. It should also be pointed out that when all those space ships that came crashing down, there was probably a pretty massive impact on the environments of the cities nearby. It probably looked a little like Beijing. In real life. If you look at pictures of China's capitol, and don't find yourself wondering about how science fiction figures into our current history, you probably don't know the main ingredient of Soylent Green. Spoiler Alert: It's not measured in parts per million.

With Charlton Heston dead, we are left to figure this mess out on our own. President Obama will now set about the mundane task of trying to convince a Republican dominated Congress of climate deniers that we really do need to stop doing some of the things that we had been doing prior to this and start doing things in a more environmentally clever way. There won't be a lot of laser battles other special effects, but there will be some history made. It just won't be as cool as the kind they make in Hollywood. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Really Good

I gain weight just sitting here thinking about it. At this time of year for as many winters as I can remember, my family put together plates full of cookies and candy to pass out to our neighborhood and beyond. It was primarily the job of we boys to take these plates around, up and down the street and a couple around the block. We waited patiently at the kitchen counter as my mother carefully arranged our assortment of sweet treats on paper plates. Each one would be covered with plastic wrap, taped at the bottom, with a bow and a label, and the plates would be more or less full depending on how many cookie craving mouths lived in that particular house. We loaded up the wagon and headed out.
My family lived at the end of a cul de sac, and these Christmastime delivery trips were pretty systematic. We knew everyone on our street, and they knew us. The houses with kids were the easy ones. The little fiends would be waiting at the door, salivating. We knew that most of the yummies would be devoured before the plate every made it to the kitchen. That plastic wrap and bow may have been consumed along with the intended treats. It was the older folks we worried about a little. What if they don't want all that sugar? What if they're mean to us? What if they slam the door in our faces? You kids get off of my porch!
That never happened. Everyone wanted my mom's Chocolate Crinkles and Snickerdoodles. Her green Divinity and Chocolate Chip cookies. But most of all, they wanted the fudge. And my father's peanut brittle. For all those years, when the snow and the temperature started to fall, the machinery started to wind up, and by the second or third week of December our laundry room would be full of various containers filled with what would eventually be disseminated to the neighborhood. It was a dangerous, horrible temptation. All that deliciousness with three boys left to stand guard? Better to put porcupines in charge of a balloon factory.
We sneaked our share of cookies and candy out of that politely controlled inventory. But I'm pretty sure that my mom knew there was a certain amount of loss. Acceptable loss.
Because we would earn it all back in those trips up and down the street. We were the delivery crew. And the quality control group. The taste testers. It was, as they say, all good. Really good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Feeling Left Behind

No Child Left Behind is dead. At last! Now we can start leaving children behind again!
Just like that, with a one swoop of his pen, President Obama put us all on a path toward ignoring kids and their progress through school. Educators everywhere rejoice. Standardized testing is over. All that high stakes pressure to fill in the correct bubbles to avoid a future in vocational training can now cease. School is now optional. If you don't feel like coming, just send us a text and tell us what grade you think that you deserve and we'll just stamp that on the bottom of our free-form learning is fun form.
Or maybe not. Over here in the seat perhaps furthest away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on the continental United States (a concept that might be lost on those who were not compelled to study geography), things don't seem that different. We still test our kids. We still ask a lot of questions and we keep track of their answers. And so I thought I had better check in with the Head of Administration, the guy who signed the Every Student Succeeds Act“I want this not just because it’s good for the students themselves, the communities involved, and it’s good for our economy, but because it really goes to the essence of what we are about as Americans,” Obama said at the White House signing ceremony. “There is nothing more essential to living up to the ideals of this nation than to make sure every child is able to live up to their God-given potential.”
The idea that every child will succeed is certainly the ideal we all hold. We also know that the obstacles to that success are different for every child. So are we going to have a sliding scale on those newly created assessments that will allow all children to succeed while they are being oh-so-carefully monitored? We won't ask kids to take a dozen tests each year. More like ten. Or eleven if we're not exactly sure. But not twelve. That would be ridiculous because then we teachers would spend all our time teaching to the test.
Teaching to the test. 

What does that mean? We want kids to learn material so that they can be successful when they run up against whatever measure is put in place to assess that success. By making the number of tests smaller, we make the pressure on those remaining tests even higher. Or maybe I missed something back in teacher school where they taught us how to test kids to see how they were doing with that whole potential thing. And maybe I missed the part where we are still going to be held responsible, as educators, for the progress those kids are making toward their God-given potential. Because we are. No pressure left behind. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Greatest

It is probably worth noting that the reason that Muhammad Ali lost his title the first time because he refused to fight. In 1967, three years after he beat Sonny Liston to become boxing's heavyweight champion, he was stripped of that title because after he converted changed his name from Cassius Clay and declared that he would not join allow himself to be drafted into the army and be enlisted into the fight against North Vietnam. Until 1971, when his conviction on draft evasion was overturned by the United States Supreme Court, he was not allowed to pursue his chosen vocation: fighting.
Ironic? Sure it is. Complicated. Like trying to unravel the truth about Islam and whether or not its followers are all bloodthirsty murderers. Actually, it's not so hard at all, unless you apply that same litmus test to Christianity and we start labeling an entire religion and its adherents psycho killers. Like Robert Dear, the self-appointed "warrior for the babies." There aren't many Christians who would make this guy the poster boy for their club.
And that makes sense. Just like once upon a time, Muhammad Ali stood up for the Nation of Islam, and everyone shuddered what we don't know can hurt us. It turns out that, in hindsight, he was exactly right. Being a conscientious objector in the war against Vietnam turns out to have been the exact right call. And then he went back to beating people up in the squared circle.
Like I said, it's not a straight line.
Below are the words Muhammad Ali used to describe his feelings about Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States:
"I am a Muslim.  I am an American.  As an American Muslim, I want to express my deep sadness and anguish at the tremendous loss of life that occurred on Tuesday.
Islam is a religion of peace.  Islam does not promote terrorism or the killing of people.
I cannot sit by and let the world think that Islam is a killing religion. It hurts me to see what radical people are doing in the name of Islam. These radicals are doing things that God is against.  Muslims do not believe in violence.
If the culprits are Muslim, they have twisted the teachings of Islam. Whoever performed, or is behind, the terrorist attacks in the United States of America does not represent Islam.  God is not behind assassins.  Anyone involved in this must pay for their evil.
Hatred caused this tragedy and adding to the hatred that already exists in the world will not help.  Instead, we should try to understand each other better.
Americans are warm, loving and hospitable people, and we share many of the same values.  I ask that churches and synagogues all across the nation invite representatives of the Islamic faith into their places of worship, to better understand Islam.  This could help us all respect each other more. 

I pray that God blesses the people and families of those who were killed, and our great country."
Thanks for the perspective, champ.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dangling Conversation

"Hey man, whatcha got goin' this weekend?"
"Oh, I dunno. Not much."
"You wanna hang out at the mall."
"I dunno. I'll have to see what the old lady has in mind."
"Yeah. I get that."
"Which reminds me: do you think you could pick up a couple AR-15s for me?"
"Assault rifles? Whaddya need them for?"
"Oh, I dunno. Skeet shooting."
"Yeah. Heh heh. Skeet shooting."
"Seriously, man. Can you hook us up?"
"Yeah. Okay. And maybe later we can get together and play Pictionary."
This isn't an actual transcript of the conversation that took place in late 2011 or early 2012 between Enrique Marquez and Syed Farook. It is my wondering about how such a discussion would begin. About four years ago, Enrique bought his friend Syed those high-powered rifles without, one would assume, a clue that they would be used in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Four years went by, and there must have been some sort of follow up.
"So, how's the new belt sander working out for you?"
"Oh, I dunno. I haven't really had a chance to use it yet."
"Which reminds me: how are those assault rifles working out for you?"
"Oh, I dunno. I haven't been out to the skeet range recently. Heh, heh."
"Heh, heh."
And so the neighborhood barbecues and the Wednesday Pizza nights continued until the call went out a week ago that fourteen people had been murdered at a community center with those weapons, and suddenly the "doing a bro a favor" facade fell away. No longer in the "favor" category, hopping the fence into "aiding and abetting" along with "accessory." I don't know what the conversations were, but at this point, they don't really matter because what was done is done. It just makes me hope that there will be another conversation between two other friends in the future that goes a little something like this:
"Hey man, whatcha got goin' tonight?"
"Oh, I dunno. Not much."
"You wanna go out and buy me some automatic weapons so they won't be traced to me?"
"Well, no. I don't. Especially because they are illegal and I am sure that the thorough background check required for all firearms purchases would turn you up as a suspicious connection."
"Hey, you know, you're right. I should really consider taking my concerns and grievances to a higher level of discourse. I should look for peaceful solutions to my conflicts."
"Yeah. Sounds good. Wanna play some Pictionary?"

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Campaign Promised Land

That voice in the wilderness cried out for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” If that voice sounds familiar, it's probably because it hasn't shut up since long before last June 16, when he descended from the heavens via an escalator and let us know that he was available for the next open position at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump (rhymes with "chump") has been spouting his particular brand of hate-filled rhetoric to anyone who will put a microphone in front of him since then, and his lack of shame is nothing short of astounding.
Remember when he jumped on the immigration issue with a fever back in July as a family mourned the death of their daughter, who was shot by Francisco Sanchez. Francisco was most definitely here in the United States illegally, prompting all the sound and fury of the Vox Tumpula: Trump added that the "senseless and totally preventable act of violence" was "yet another example of why we must secure our border. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it," he said. "The American people deserve a wall." Donald's got the guts. And the gall.
There was no discussion of any other solutions to "senseless violence." Gun control? Mental health? Sorry. This was an immigration issue, and there was no one willing to stand up to the torrent of Trump. At that time, the Republican Party was trying to find its platform and seeing what headway the Trumplemeister was making with his angry wall talk, the rest of the herd of elephants got in line pretty quickly.
Now fourteen people are dead. What's Donald Von Trumpish got to say? Keep the Muslims out. That will take care of things. A completely rational response to a completely rational event. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. A completely irrational response to a completely irrational event. What sort of solution can be gained by generating more Islamophobia? Fear and hatred make such fine bedfellows, why not chain them together and launch them into the sky? Let the world see us for what we are: frightened and vindictive. Or maybe not. “As a conservative who truly cares about religious liberty, Donald Trump’s bad idea and rhetoric send a shiver down my spine,” wrote Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina GOP, “American exceptionalism means always defending our inalienable rights, not attacking them when it’s politically convenient.” And he wasn't the only one on the right feeling a little fighty with Mister Trump (rhymes with dump). “It goes against everything we believe in,” no less a personage than Dick "Dick" Cheney told conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt. “It’s a mistaken notion.”
And so, at last, it could be that the honeymoon is over, and we can get back to business as usual. Which would seem to be let everyone in, but suspect them mightily as the cause or case decrees. Welcome to the Promised Land. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015


It's a bandwidth problem. That was the way my wife chose to describe it. My inclination was to argue the point, but my understanding of the situation and the comparison seemed accurate. "The range of frequencies within a given band, in particular that used for transmitting a signal." That was the first definition. The second was "the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation." I related more to the first, since I spend a good portion of my life explaining to children why they have to sit in front of their school laptop longer than the one they have at home waiting for to load. I had a hard time accepting the second definition as applied to me because I tend to see myself as endlessly open to input from any and all inputs, no matter what the frequency. Metaphorically speaking, that is. I'm listening.
Except when I'm not. There are a number of people and things that have fallen off my radar over the years, perhaps most profoundly because of the attention I am giving those things most proximal to my field of vision. When they say, "Out of sight, out of mind," they aren't necessarily talking about me, but it comes closest to the way I deal with those people and things. I am expressly grateful for email and long distance, since they allow me to reach out and give the appearance of touching someone just about the time they might have thought I had forgotten them completely. I am not good about getting out and around, visiting all those friends and family that I might once have signed up on my phone plan. 
Most of the time I am busy holding together the life in front of me: Mother, brothers, son, wife, and a solid fistful of friends that I can trust to fuss at me if I forget to pay attention to them. And now I find myself at that time of the year when I send out Christmas cards. What do I say to those relatives that I have ignored for three hundred sixty four days prior? Life intrudes would be my excuse, but I know that I could do better if I tried. I like to satisfy that hurt part of my karma with the salve of quality over quantity, and then I hope that there aren't people I hold dear who are making the same choices about me.
And they are. I know that. Kids I knew in school. Teachers I have worked with. Friends who were there with me when things got weird. Friends who left or were left by me. They dropped off my bandwidth. At least that's the way I am currently explaining it. Except that it sounds a little cold and analytical. That's not how it feels inside. It feels sad. It feels empty. Babies have been born. Marriages have blossomed and faded. Kids have been born and grown. Parents have passed. People have gotten sick and most of them have gotten better. I hear about them when their Christmas cards make it to my mailbox. Or their email reaches my inbox. Or my wife tells me what she just read on her Facebook page. 
Life goes on for all of us, and I apologize for having a limited number of frequencies which I am able to maintain. But there is something I remember from my youth: the way distant AM radio stations could be heard skipping through the cool night air on my transistor radio. If you're wondering where I am, listen late at night. I'll be thinking of you.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


The National Institute of Mental Health did us all a favor and surveyed our deepest fears. They asked Americans what they were afraid of, and they came up with a top-ten list of phobias. What are we afraid of? According to the poll put out on the Interwebs by Ranker, we are most scared of heights: acrophobia. I will pause for a moment to let you be amused by the fact that this one sits at the top of the list.
Then comes arachnophobia, which means we get creeped out by spiders. Of all God's creatures, they get singled out for number two. Third on the list is a fear of enclosed spaces, claustrophobia. It makes sense that if you trapped in a box full of spiders at the top of a flagpole, you would be scared out of your mind. Come to think of it, that's the sort of thing David Blaine would probably do. This list will probably serve him well moving forward, finding ways to tap into our heebie jeebies.
Ophidiophobia keeps us away from snakes, which is probably just as well, since they don't really care for us either, unless you happen to be Britney Spears. Thalassophobia keeps us out of the deep end of the pool. Necrophobia and glossophobia help keep us safe from death and public speaking, both equally terrifying. Then comes coulrophobia, a fear of clowns. We have apparently slipped down the list far enough for people to start goofing with us. If the clown in question happens to be taking his marching orders from Stephen King, then sure, be afraid.
Be very afraid.
Needles and insects finish off the list: tryphanophobia and entomophobia. Little things. Like the spiders up at the top, we seem most concerned with things we can barely see. This seems odd to me because when I was a kid, the scariest things in the world were the things that were impossibly large. A fear of gorillas? Sounds reasonable enough, but a fear of forty foot tall gorillas seems much more reasonable. Somewhere in the 1950's, Hollywood figured out that being afraid of creepy crawly things made sense, but if those creepy crawlies were bigger than a house, then it would be truly terrifying. A Tarantula, or a Deadly Mantis? Scary if you could step on them, but horrifying if you need an atom bomb to blow them up.
Or maybe that was how we kept ourselves sane. Let's be afraid of giant bugs and not the atomic weapons that could destroy them. And us. Which makes me wonder why kerblooeyphobia didn't make the list. How about a forty-foot tall clown with needles for fingers?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Gonna Fly Again

My wife tells met that her first journal entry came directly after she came home at the tender age of thirteen, right after her family had attended a screening of Rocky. This was the seventies, and she had this to say about it, in her journal: "What a feeling!" She was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only person to be inspired by the story of this nobody from nowhere who was suddenly given a shot at the title. That underdog story wasn't exactly a brand new invention, but it became a trope all of its own after 1976. Back in those days, before video and before Star Wars demanded all of my movie-going attention, I went to see the story of the Italian Stallion going the distance at least five times. At that time, I firmly believed that Rocky was the best movie I had ever seen, and this guy Martin Scorsese and his Taxi Driver was just a bloody mess standing in the way of world domination by Sylvester Stallone.  
Myself, I went home and got my older brother's barbells out and started working at what I assumed would become my regular workout regimen on the way to my becoming the next heavyweight champion of the world. Or at least I would "get my shot" at "going the distance." Before I owned a Walkman or any kind of personal stereo, I heard Bill Conti's theme in my head whenever there was any kind of physical exertion involved. Gonna fly now, indeed.
And somewhere in those intervening years, Sylvester Stallone started reading his own press, and he became a product of his own imagination. Eventually he needed to genetically engineer a nine foot tall Russian killer boxer to kill his friend Apollo and then be avenged by a one-man American flag draped Glasnost ambassador from Philly. Who would have imagined that after four decades I could still be moved by all that hooey?
The recipe for Creed is so simple, it's almost embarrassing. Apollo's forgotten son decides to chase his father's legacy, and he wants Rocky in his corner as he does it. Will the kid get a shot at the title? Of course he does. Why make the movie if he doesn't? But taking great big chunks of the Balboa myth as a base of operations, it is a formula that works. It works because of that feeling we all get when we see someone succeed, especially when they aren't supposed to. Again, if they aren't going to get a shot at redemption, why make a movie about it?
I was surprised by how well it worked, and how much I took in: hook, line and sinker. I came right home and wrote about it. How about that?

Monday, December 07, 2015

Every Day

I have quoted it here before, but it seems to bear repeating: The death of one is a tragedy. But the death of millions is just a statistic. And here are the statistics: More than thirty thousand people are killed by firearms in the United States each year. One half of them are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. One third of them are under the age of twenty. More than thirty people are shot and killed in the United States every day.
Every day.
As a matter of fact, in 2015, the United States is averaging more than one mass shooting every day. As of August, there were two hundred forty-seven murderous rampages in two hundred thirty-eight days. This past week the headline grabber was San Bernardino, where fourteen people were killed and seventeen more were injured when a married couple decided to push that envelope just a little further. This was not the only mass shooting in the USA last Wednesday. If you take as a definition that anytime more than four individuals are injured or killed, then the first mass shooting that day was in Savannah, Georgia. Brandy Council was shot and killed early that morning. Three others were wounded. Authorities are still looking for a suspect and a motive. Terrorism? Drug deal gone bad? Profoundly confused attempt at promoting "right to life?"
Thou shall not kill. It's in that book, the one that folks like to use when they are looking for answers. They use it to help them pray. They pray for the victims. They pray for their families. For the record, I pray too. It couldn't hurt, but I don't know if prayer alone will be what it takes to keep us from killing each other by the dozens.
I suppose I could pray for common sense gun control. I could pray for the whole thing to have been an awful dream. In the meantime I will keep flinching in anticipation of each new tragedy. Each new statistic. And hoping that I don't grow numb from the experience. Maybe I won't have to keep writing about this mess anymore either. I can dream, can't I?

Sunday, December 06, 2015


I believe the world needs more happiness mongers. If you have already made this assertion in your life, feel free to skip reading the rest of this entry, since it will not necessarily dwell on the glad but try to explain the fascination with sad. We, that is those of us still mired in the fear and war mode, are stuck with the dark side. It has only now occurred to me that when Star Wars folks talk about "The Force," they don't tend to discern the "light side." They only reference the dark. Probably just an anecdotal reading on my part, but it seems to fit in with the way many of us look at the world.
Like so many Americans, I went home on Wednesday evening and turned on the television to see what additional information I might garner from watching the split screen, breaking news, talking head, bottom of the screen crawl that was issuing forth from the twenty-four hour news cycle. Details. I wanted details.
Another mass shooting had taken place, this one in San Bernardino, and knowing the body count wasn't enough horror for me. I wanted to stick my head inside that trash can and sniff around a little bit. What other horrors awaited me as I watched the city's law enforcement attempt to come to grips with the war zone that had erupted in their midst. I watched a press conference where the city's police chief tried to give direct answers to reporters who seemed most interested in finding out just how awful things were, and how much worse they might still get. They wanted to know if there were subjects still at large. They wanted to know the ethnicity of the suspects. They wanted to know if there were explosives. Most of all, they wanted to know if it was time to start using the "T" word. Can we call this "terrorism?"
That's when my wife showed up. She came into the room and I felt as though I had been caught watching a dirty movie. "Of course it's terrorism," she said, "They all look terrified." Which was a pretty solid assessment of the situation. When was it going to happen again? How can I avoid becoming a victim? Should I start suspecting my neighbors because of the lack of Christmas decorations on their lawn? Suddenly I realized that it wasn't the idiots with guns that were frightening me. It was the crowd of cameras, lights, and microphones. How much worse was this going to get before it ever got better?
Not for the first time, I wished that they could have spared one camera crew to head on over to the zoo to take pictures of the new lion cub. Or dropped by my school to catch the after school program I have been running with fifth graders cleaning up our neighborhood. That's not where we live. Land of the free? Home of the brave? Homeland of the terrified.
How about a twenty-four hour cat video cycle?

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Going For A Walk

A boy and a girl.
Ten years old.
Walking their dogs.
She has a brown dachshund at the end of her leash.
His is black.
They are friends. The dogs. The boy and girl. Not boyfriend and girlfriend.
They are ten. That would be way too complicated. And icky.
They have been making this same walk for a couple years now: Up to the end of the street and onto the path that circles the great big field called "Long's Gardens." It's not much of a garden these days. It's a great big field that used to have row after row of colorful iris. There are only dried stalks and weeds. Not much to look at. Not much to talk about. But somehow, two or three times a week, the boy and the girl find themselves and the trip around the field completely worth it.
They walk. They laugh. They talk.
At the start of the trip, the dogs strain at the end of their leashes, urging the boy and girl along. Somewhere around the halfway point, the need to stop and sniff becomes more important. The traction supplied by those short legs and low center of gravity is often too much for the boy and girl to overcome, so they stand and wait for their dogs to do their doggie business.
And they talk some more.
Walking the dog is a chore, but not for these two. It is a treat. An opportunity to share time away from the standard issue ten year old world. They imagine and plan. They scheme, however briefly, and before they return home, they have returned to their normal lives. No one else knows what they say on these walks. Everyone else is just happy the dogs are getting out for a walk.
Sometimes the boy and girl feel just a little adventurous. They take and extra turn and go around the block behind their street to extend their walk. They make a stop at the home of their school's music teacher. When they ring the doorbell, their teacher answers the door and welcomes them in, even when it is cold and wet outside. She asks after them, and gives some love to the dogs. She offers them each a piece of hard candy from a dish on her coffee table. The interaction doesn't take long. The dogs are tired and they want to go home.
So do the boy and girl.
It has been a lovely walk.
One of dozens they will take.
Before they grow up.
It is their time.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Morning Lite

Do I resent getting to see another sunrise? No. I'm pretty used to watching the day begin around me as I bike my way to work. Some days are easier than others to take. I am a lite sleeper, meaning that I get about a third less sleep than our regular human, but it still tastes great. For me, waking up to an alarm is very much the exception rather than the rule. I tend to lay in bed, winding up for the next thing, awaiting whatever seems like a reasonable time for me to toss off the covers and move into a house that is generally as dark and cold as I left it when I closed my eyes on the other side of the night that is now over.
Do I resent getting up to face the day? No. It fits in too well with my vaguely persistent Protestant Work Ethic. We vaguely persistent Protestants are famous for our work ethic. I get up and out of bed with a solid sense of where I am going next: To Work. This is generally true of my days off as well. Each day has a purpose, and even if I am not the first one up, I am aware of what is going on around me: another day has begun and I want to be part of it.
Do I resent being part of each new day? Sometimes. This call of duty, not to be confused with the best selling video game that has less to do with responsibility than carnage, has plagued me off and on throughout my life. It is the part of me that hears the ticking of the clock and anticipates the heater coming on. If there is such a thing as being over-prepared, I am the poster boy for it. Fifteen minutes early is my "on time." Since I was a kid, I have looked for ways to streamline my morning process to provide me with the most available time to sit and wait for those around me to trickle in, as I seethe with totally unfair resentment. Totally unfair. I know it and I still purse my lips and roll my eyes. I need to lighten up.
Do I resent needing to lighten up? Sure I do. Wouldn't everything be great if I were the one who showed up late and everyone else would have to wait on me? No. It would probably cause me to burst into flame and melt into a pile of messy sludge for someone else to have to clean up. Also unacceptable. So I keep on keeping on. I keep this rationalization in the front of my mind so that I can "keep it real." I know that sleeping through my alarm is not one of my skills, and the three times I can remember doing it in my life are the exceptions that prove the rule. I don't resent the morning. It is what it is. It's a chance to see another sunrise.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Toast To The French

The Treaty of Versailles, signed nearly one hundred years ago, brought peace to a world that had just endured "the war to end all wars." That was the one we eventually had to redefine as "World War I," since it turns out that our world is plenty big and strong enough to withstand more than one world war. Like the eventual and inevitable movie sequel, if it makes money, there's bound to be another one. I'm looking at you, Jurassic Park. But back in 1919, this was the agreement between the factions who were fighting in  the corner of the globe called "Europe." It was very polite of the French to provide such an austere setting for such a monumental event. When the world sat down to negotiate peace, we went to France. That agreement, which set up payment for reparations also helped bankrupt Germany and make a fertile breeding ground for what would become Nazi Germany. Besides giving up all its colonies, Deutschland was also asked to pay a reduced sum, talked down from sixty-three billion dollars to the low, low price of just thirty-three billion dollars because that was the cost of doing that kind of business in 1919.
Fifty-some years later, the world's eyes turned again to Paris to see what sort of peace could be made out of the quagmire of Vietnam. If you are keeping score at home, this would be one of those conflicts from which we did not emerge victorious. It may also be noted there that France's involvement in the peace process could have had something to do with their own involvement in that quagmire, some years before the United States jumped in lock, stock and smoking barrels. The deal was a pretty sweet one in comparison to the one they came up with for Germany. The United States needed to get out of Vietnam, advisers, troops, bases, and so on and in exchange we got our prisoners of war back. In effect, we didn't lose anything, except that big game of metaphorical dominoes that was going on in southeast Asia at the time. Well, that and the reminder that Vizzini gives the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride: never get involved in a land war in Asia.
Now it's 2015. The war on Terrorism, Drugs and Christmas wear on, but the leaders of the world are hanging out in Paris once again to try and reach a settlement. This time it's all about the carbon. How much should we have to breathe? The Kyoto Accords are about to expire, and so we need to have some sort of arrangement by which we can avoid destroying our planet once and for all. That way, if we still have anyone left to fight, we can get back to having wars so that every so often we have a really good excuse to visit the City of Light.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

You Can Go Home Again

I made a point of sitting down with my son within the first few minutes of the time he came home for Thanksgiving break. He came home on a Tuesday afternoon, and so I knew that the clock was ticking until the next Sunday when he would be heading back down the coast to return to his regularly scheduled program. I knew that if I didn't get my parental licks in before he packed up his clean laundry that I might not have a chance. I commenced to deliver Daddy Monologue Number Seventeen, during which I attempted to address any and all concerns we might be having with the continuing status quo with our college freshman. For the record, I did let him get a word in edgewise. I am truly invested in the progress we are making as a family on this whole college thing. I'm just not abundantly clear on how to go about that.
So I talked. I asked questions. None of them were particularly difficult. I wanted to know how things were going in school. And I wanted to know about his personal life. How was he getting along? Was there anything we could do to help out?
The answer? Refreshingly, it turns out that we were doing pretty good when it came to keeping a respectful distance. We had spent last year fretting over how we were going to keep him moving and succeeding, with the eventual acceptance to the college of his choice. A year ago, we were talking about all kinds of options, including a gap year, where he would have wandered the highways and byways while he tried to sort out just exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up.
As it turned out, we didn't have to use that option. At the moment that all seemed darkest, that letter of acceptance appeared in our collective email and there was a corresponding collective sigh of relief. Another chapter was being written. Now we find ourselves in the middle of this new adventure, wondering just how we would all come together again when we did.
And we did. This was a few days of getting back together and sharing a few meals and watching him sleep. Some things haven't changed a bit. Some things have. He's older. Wiser. I guess that's what we get for sending him away to school. It was good to sit down with my son, even if it was for just a moment.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Head Case

There I was, minding my own business, sitting on my couch and watching college football two days after Thanksgiving. I wasn't shopping. I was sitting. Okay, to be completely up front and transparent, I wasn't fully minding my own business. If that were true, I wouldn't  have been tagging along on the annual rivalry between the universities of Michigan and Ohio State. I had no real rooting interest, but it was certainly a holiday experience for which I have become attuned. It used to be that the weekend after Thanksgiving offered up the rivalry game between the universities of Nebraska and Colorado. I was on the Colorado side of that story. These days, with the shift of teams in conferences in hopes of making more money for those academic institutions, the Buffaloes and Cornhuskers no longer cross paths. Somewhere in Utah, the Utes would be playing against CU, and it would be my chore to try and track it down on my cable listings.
It was so much easier to just turn on ABC and watch The Game of the Week. That was where I saw, during one of the many television timeouts, a commercial for a movie came on. I had heard about this new film, starring perennial favorite Will Smith. This time, instead of battling aliens or trading quips with other A-list stars, he was arguing with other men in dark, but not black, suits. He wanted to know why nobody else wanted to know the truth. The truth about Concussion.I had heard that Sony Pictures had the temerity to run that same ad during the Detroit game on Thanksgiving day. Having been busy cooking and ignoring the drubbing that the Lions were putting on the hapless Eagles, I missed this full frontal assault on our American Way of Life. How dare these Hollywood types leap into my line of sight with their confrontational interrogative about the relative safety of this game we all love? With no shame whatsoever, Luke Wilson was doing his best impersonation of Roger Goodell, insisting that the study of head injuries in football was "still an evolving science." Ouch. In a lot of ways.
But here's the deal: Do they really think that we will think about this mess while we're watching those head injuries occur? I believe they do. I also believe we should. As hard as it is to mind my own business while I am watching athletes put themselves in danger for my entertainment, I really should pay attention. It's getting pretty serious. Now back to our regularly scheduled gladiatorial trial.