Saturday, April 30, 2016

Terminal Velocity

There are these things called "Darwin Awards." If you are not familiar, it is a collection of those things that don't necessarily prove the evolution of our species, or any other. Instead, they are a way of tracking just how effectively we can ignore our programming and progress to say and do incredibly stupid things. There are plenty of sub-categories in this wide-open competition, but so many of these individuals who are working so hard to prove that Darwin was wrong were doing so on a dare, or to do something "just like the movies," it's disappointing.
Sure, the argument could be made that a percentage of the folks who find themselves in the running for each year's top prize are doing their idiot best to make their name surge to that pinnacle of Al Gore's Internet fame. Or infamy. Oscar Wilde would have loved the message boards. The opportunity to rise above the general anonymity of the online world may be reward enough for some. To this end, I blame the brain trust behind "America's Funniest Videos," or as I prefer to call it, "America's Funniest Pending Litigation." You can hear the voices ringing out, "It should say on the label: Warning - wading pool not for use as parachute."
And then there's the Mythbusters, who may have been high-minded and careful to remind us at the beginning of each episode that these are trained experts and not to try anything they attempt at home, but the number of seed that were planted in tiny minds is probably impossible to comprehend. Not the least of which would be the cannonball Adam and Jamie sent through a house in Dublin, California. What we do because we didn't fully understand or prepare is the stuff that winds up on television. Or YouTube.
There is a whole corner of the virtual world set aside of massive fails. Video evidence of which makes for thousands, if not millions of views. There have always been crowds of teenage boys willing to sacrifice potential fatherhood for a chance to ride that perfect rail or launch themselves over their parents' house via some hyper-slip-and-slide. And there's always someone hanging just off to the side with a smartphone waiting for their buddy to look up as the dust or canola oil is settling and say, "Didja get that?"
Just below this barely defensible "we wouldn't put it on if there weren't people dumb enough to do it in the first place," there is the "we are making it easier for people to lower their expectations of themselves" response. Then there's this: Snapchat has a filter that shows how fast your phone is moving. It's all a part of the too-much-information world that gives you the opportunity to confound people with posts that say five hundred miles per hour when traveling cross country by jet after weeks of posting five miles an hour when running around the block. The borderline evil part of this is how it immediately turns into "how fast can I make my phone go?" Christal McGee's phone was going one hundred seven miles an hour when the accident occurred. The one in which she struck another car with her Mercedes, causing permanent brain damage in the driver of the other car. Brain damage may be discussed during the pending lawsuit against Snapchat and McGee for creating an environment where going fast wins you prizes. Not real prizes, mind you, but that instant gratification that only emojis can bring.
I suggest a different strategy, if you really want to find out how fast your phone can go, drop it out of a window. You can decide if you need to follow it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

What's On?

A few months back, I was straining my spine to pat myself on the back for the way I had managed my cable TV account. I had utilized my connection with the Customer Loyalty department to haggle my way back down to what I felt was a reasonable price for seven hundred channels, about a dozen of which I watch with any frequency. Or fidelity. I had grown accustomed to a certain amount of "premium" in my channel lineup, and I wanted to believe that I could find a way to afford Home Box Office, HBO to us insiders, and Showtime was the cherry that my friends at the Customer Loyalty department dropped on the top of this video sundae. I ate it up greedily until this past Sunday. That is when the HBO and Showtime dried up and went away.
As it turns out, somewhere in the midst of negotiations way back around Super Bowl L, the deal that was made turned out to be a three month conditional deal. Just a taste. To keep me on the line. Going Cold Turkey with my expanded cable lineup would be untenable after I had established viewing patterns and favorites. My son, and many others, would scoff at this notion, pointing out that all that programming that I am so desperate to have come pouring out of that coaxial cable in the wall is available through all manner of methods. The least of these would be an antennae that would allow me to get a great mass of airborne signals that I had been avoiding for more than twenty years. The idea of twisting rabbit ears and moving things around until the picture was not a scattered mass of pixels did not appeal to me, having recently suffered through this experience with my mother-in-law's entertainment center. I had taken it upon myself to free her of the bonds that shackled her to the cable company along with its attendant fees. Free at last, except for that whole mess about tuning in her favorite channels.
I am a child of the video explosion. The MTV generation wasn't exactly me, but I got it. Television that never went off came in handy for a college student, and when I found myself working in a video store, the deal was sealed. I couldn't just turn the thing off.
And so, last Sunday, when the HBO and Showtime stopped, I called my buddies at Customer Loyalty. They were oh-so-sympathetic, but the line where it said "limited time offer" was lost on me. I wanted to keep the deal I had. The nice man on the other end of the line told me that I was free to send comments to the Vice President in charge of Customer Relations, and so I did.
The phone rang an hour later. It wasn't the VP, but one of his underlings. Still, it was a step up the food chain from all that loyal customer smoke and mirrors. This was the real deal. I imagined that this call wasn't coming from that endless row of cubicles but rather from a nicely appointed office. A vase with fresh cut flowers at the corner of the desk. This is where I wanted to make my stand. The rhetoric I got was of a higher and less rehearsed caliber. This was a customer service professional. I was soothed and then told that I could look forward to a whole year of those shows and channels I had come to love. Then I would be free to renegotiate with a special note on my account that said I was due a half-price deal on all that TV that I barely have time enough to watch. When I hung up, I felt used, but happy. I had gone fifteen rounds with the champ. I had gone the distance.
When I came home the next day, I was getting HBO and Showtime. On the bedroom TV, but not in the living room.
Back to the phones.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pick Your Path

Maybe you really do have to be a rocket scientist to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in our American society. As Ben Carson has recently exhibited, being a brain surgeon may not have enough attendant brilliance to keep one from embarrassing oneself in public. The good doctor took all that education and mixed it up with his street cred and hoped to push himself out into the raging torrent that was the Republican Presidential field. He probably should have brought a paddle. That his campaign lasted into March certainly makes him more credible than non-brain surgeon Jeb Bush, but maybe a deep understanding of the mechanics of what goes on inside our skulls isn't what really matters to the race for the White House. It could be all about the Benjamins. Not the Benjamin Carsons. And you might think that a brain surgeon might have the kind of money that could be thrown around in some sort of concerted effort to become president, but those kind of dollars are found more regularly in the war chests of tiny-handed real estate moguls and cuckolded former Secretaries of State.
So what good is being a brain surgeon if you can't get elected President? That could be the reason Jethro Bodine chose to give up that particular career path to pursue his dream of being a double-naught spy. If your uncle is a billionaire oil tycoon, you can have your pick of what is out there, and running for President was pretty far down the line for the Clampett nephew. It could be that there is some sort of corollary to the "those who can't do teach" rule that suggests that those in the most desperate need of brain surgery become brain surgeons.
Take for example fourth year neurology resident Anjali Ramkissoon. She of the viral video shot back in January showing her assaulting an Uber driver in Miami. Doctor Ramkissoon made a scene for the pervasive camera phones as she screeched and tossed things around until the police showed up. The driver chose not to press charges, but the damage was done by the viral video: the doctor is no longer "in." The local hospital will no longer be requiring her services.
Maybe she could get some work as a medical consultant for the Trump campaign. She'd fit right in.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What Goes Up

Back when our wars were less hot, and the concepts with which we found ourselves at odds were at odds were not drugs or Christmas, or even terror, I was terrified. I was terrified of the Cold War. For my entire youth, I lived in constant fear of The Button. The Button that would bring about Armageddon. End of Days. I was pretty sure that  it was only a matter of time before someone lost their temper or reason or both and the missiles would be launched. I was in elementary school when I learned about Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea that there were enough bombs to melt the citizens of Soviet Russia and the United States along with a good deal of the rest of the planet's population creeped me out as much as any movie about giant insects crushing cities and the people in them. Of course, those giant insects were generated via some sort of nuclear explosion or "accident." Those big bugs were generally subdued in with the same big booms that brought them on in the first place.
I didn't expect that when the bombs started falling that they would be in the service of destroying a giant mantis or tarantula. I was pretty sure that all of that defense would turn into offense and the way a nuclear war could be won was pretty simple: the vaporization of the other country. That's why I finally decided to take some solace in my proximity to Cheyenne Mountain. For those of you who grow up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, that's where the North American Aerospace Defense Command had their bunker dug to keep the bombs away. It was a big hole in a big mountain, but I had an idea that it wouldn't matter once all the silos had been emptied by both sides. I had pretty much decided by the time I was sixteen that, given the time, I would just as soon drive down to Colorado Springs and hang out there waving for a fair catch when the fire dropped from the sky.
These days, NORAD and their Space Command buddies aren't as concerned with watching for missiles coming up over the polar ice caps or running scenarios that come under the heading of "limited nuclear exchange." They are now more interested in tracking aircraft that have gone off course, that kind of thing. Missiles aren't the worry they used to be.
Neither are giant mantises.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Science Guy

I don't follow a lot of people on Twitter. That would require that I pay more attention to Twitter. I'm pretty good for a once-a-day peek at the tweets of those whom I continue to find fascinating, or at least worth a look at once all the important business of the day has been done. The business that is transacted with  more than one hundred forty characters. When I'm done doing all that high-minded, verbose stuff, I take a moment to catch up on all the twittering, and the place I find myself most often is the account of one Neil deGrasse Tyson. You might know Neil from his frequent appearances on The Daily Show, That was back when that old guy Jon Stewart was hosting. I don't follow Jon Stewart on Twitter. He has a great big bag of degrees and it is doubtful that, in spite of all the all the fun TV appearances and glib one-liners about our place in the universe that Sarah Palin might suggest that she was as much a scientist as Doctor deGrasse Tyson. Ms. Palin, who has said plenty of which got my dander up, never said anything that made me doubt my own existence. 
Doctor deGrasse Tyson did. It didn't come to me in a tweet. It wasn't a nice compact thought like, "The elevation difference between the Marianas Trench & Mount Everest’s summit is a mere twelve miles. Manhattan is a mile longer." These are the "oh wow" moments that I can take. The "that's kind of interesting" stuff that impresses in daily conversation. Factoids about our planet and its place in the universe that are just thought-provoking enough to remember them. This one, wasn't a tweet. It was a position held by my friend the doctor at the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate. As to the question, "Is the universe a simulation?" Neil deGrasse Tyson took up for the affirmative. Sure, he says, it would be difficult to prove but he felt the likelihood of such a thing being true "may be very high."
Well, okay then. The words you are reading right now may just be the figment of somebody or something's imagination. We aren't stardust. We aren't golden. We aren't even billion year old carbon. Getting back to the garden won't be necessary because that garden is only real in the story of the creation of the universe that turns out to be a simulation in the first place. We haven't figured out how to simulate an entire universe. Not yet, but a very clever creature with plenty of spare time.
Maybe I should be following that creature with a great imagination on Twitter. But does that mean that Twitter isn't real?
You can just rock me to sleep tonight.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Not The Blues - The Purples

"Life is just a party, and a party wasn't meant to last." That's one of the challenges that comes with using words for your living. Prince was not a fatalist. Hedonist, maybe, but when you start to listen the words a path emerges.
But before we go too deeply into that, I should make this confession: I bought just two Prince CDs in my life. The rest of the Prince music that came into my life came as gifts and fortune. Good and otherwise. I bought 1999 from the bargain bin. Five dollars and ninety-nine cents. I had the triple disc hits and B-sides offered up to me by my brother-in-law as he converted his music collection to the cloud. The other CD of Prince tunes I owned was the Batman soundtrack. I confess that it was purchased more out of a sense of obligation to my Batmania than Prince fandom, but it was always a nice piece of purple obscurity to work into the mix.
The rest of the Prince pieces I enjoyed came to me via my buddy Darren. My college roommate and Okie from Muskogee was a Paisley Park aficionado. He was the guy who bought the first album. He didn't wait for the hits to be unveiled. He went out and tracked them down. He went to see Purple Rain on its opening weekend. He bought records by Morris Day and the Time and Appoloania. I lived with that record collection, and I confess that there were times when the steady stream of Minneapolis scene wore on me. It did until the PMRC started poking around Prince's music. My buddy Darren, besides being a Prince fanatic, was a proud and sometimes conflicted Baptist. What he told me was that he respected his idol's faith. All that dirty stuff that was being cherry-picked by senators wives was just the tip of a much more profound and thoughtful iceberg. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Prince couldn't be bothered to testify in front of Congress. He just kept on making music. Some of it was self-obsessed and nearly inaccessible, but even the forgotten bits you can dance to.
It's a shame my buddy Darren didn't live long enough to see Prince perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl. The sky opened up during Purple Rain, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the millions watching. Nor did it quell the fire burning from that guitar. It was magic. It was amazing. It was Prince.
Now Prince is gone too. Hard to imagine that such a force could be missing, but that seems to be the sad trend these days. So much loss, and still so many ears that haven't heard that sound. Here's something else the artist formerly known as Prince had to say:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life. It means forever and that's a mighty long time. But I'm here to tell you there's something else - the afterworld. A world of never-ending happiness. You can always see the sun, day or night. So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills, you know the one, Dr. Everything'll-Be-All-right, instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby. 'Cause in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld. This life you're on your own. And if de-elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy - punch a higher floor."
Aloha, Prince, danced across the Terra and you will be missed.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

No Parking On The Dance Floor

Zero tolerance for parking violations. It's an easy enough stand to take, especially when the parking ticket isn't under sticking out from under your windshield wiper. Then you have to consider the way some of those signs are unclear: No parking the first and third Wednesdays of every month. This requires a working knowledge of a calendar and the date, which for many who have spent hours circling the block until desperation has set in and the only spot on a curb within a mile of your intended destination. All of that frustration wells up and becomes the cloud in front of your reason. It becomes that little voice that tells you that even numbered months allow you to park on the sidewalk on top of a fire hydrant.
Then there's that whole "speed limit" thing. What exactly are the parameters? If I can drive a stretch of road doing one hundred twenty miles an hour on two wheels, that would seem to be the limit. That's the Autobahn way. Fiery crashes tend to set their own limits. Here in America, we prefer to keep ourselves in check with that more mild reserve: posted miles per hour, signs with the suggested safe speed. Not that there are plenty of drivers and vehicles which are unsafe at any speed, but it creates another version of that reckoning we have with parking. How fast can I go before someone recognizes that I am going fast? How fast can I go before I reach that magic number that sets off all the alarms and dispatches a dozen patrol cars to bring me to justice? There's a whole branch of mathematics devoted to calculating how many miles above the speed limit one can travel before the bubble lights show up in your rear view mirror. I had been told that four miles above the legal limit would be safe. Later I was informed that radar was only accurate withing nine. This was around the time when I was told that the idea of speed being checked by aircraft was a silly thing. The bottom line is this: The posted speed is the law. Give or take, depending on the weather and the prevailing conditions. And excuses: "I was trying to get away from the cops."
Some laws aren't as easily enforced. Like the no-refills statute at your favorite fast food restaurant. Be careful in Arkansas. As suspect ordered water at the drive-thru window at a Springdale McDonald's. He then went inside and poured soda into the alleged water cup. His accomplices followed suit. The manager ordered them to drop the purloined pop, the two passengers complied. The driver of the car took his soda and ran, hopping into his car with his buddies and racing off into the night. Police later apprehended the youth at a nearby bowling alley where eighteen-year-old Cody Morris will face felony charges.
My guess is that he was probably parked on the wrong side of the street, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Shooting Back

I remember where I was. It's not much of a stretch, since so much of the past twenty years have taken place for me at or near this place I call "school," but that's where I was. I was in the computer lab back in 1999. My son was at home with his mother. He wasn't in school. Not yet. On April 20, 1999 I was the one in our little family who went to school every day. Just like those kids at Columbine High School. I was still a baby teacher back then. I had lived through a couple of campaigns, but when the news came down that there had been a shooting at a Colorado school, I felt it in my bones. There was still so much Colorado left in me that alone was enough to put me on high alert. The elementary school I had attended in my youth was named for that state's flower. It wasn't uncommon, since there were appliance stores that shared this same convention, but I was drawn to this story like so much of the country.
This was back when September 11 was just another date on the calendar. The world would change more fully for everyone in two years, but there were teenagers being shot and killed in the hallways and library of a school in Colorado. And a teacher. This was all going down in a time zone an hour ahead of me, so it was all playing out on the creeping Internet speeds Al Gore had invented just a few years before. The news was not aided by the twenty-four hour saturation that would become the norm after 9/11. The idea that it could be terrorists didn't enter the picture, since we all understood that we were safe from such events here in the land of the brave and home of the free. When the identities of the killers was made public, it was a shoc, but it wasn't terror. It was a sad reality, but it wasn't terror. It was impossible to comprehend, but it wasn't terror.
Not then.
It is now. That's why Douglas County, just down the road from Columbine High, has purchased semi-automatic rifles for its security guards. Though these officers had already been carrying handguns, they now have access to assault weapons. Seventeen years later, the lessons we have learned from that awful day in April is that we need to be able to shoot back.
At least that's how it's playing out in Douglas County. Here in Oakland, where I watched it all go down, I learned to listen to the kids who are angry or sad or depressed or combinations of the above that I can only begin to fathom. I work in an elementary school. This one isn't named for a flower or a tree. Since 1999, I have flinched each an every time the words "school" and "shooting" have come through my ever-increasing bandwidth. I take no great solace in the idea that security guards are now armed with assault weapons. It feels like a surrender to the things that made Columbine happen so long ago.
I have grown up, as an educator, in a world where school shootings are no longer an aberration. They are part of the fabric of our nation. We now have lockdown drills along with our earthquake and fire drills. We wonder when it could happen to us. We hope it doesn't. I wish it wasn't a question of shooting back.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Turning The Page

Somewhere back there in the past week or so, this blog ran on past the four thousand post mark. I have commemorated plenty of the milestones achieved here, so I won't belabor the obsessive-compulsive streak on exhibit at this web address. Instead, I want to briefly marvel at the number of pages that is. For presentation's sake, let's say that there is a nicely laid out post per page. Four thousand pages puts me in a Stephen King league, although I don't tend to crank these tomes out over breakfast as Maine's favorite citizen seems to. It took me years to climb that hill, and from way up here I can see those below me, who scramble to keep a page or two together, or change media or method to try and find just the right fit. There are so many ways to put your thoughts and words out into the world these days, it can be a little intimidating.
Or freeing.
When I was a much younger man, sending publishers my stories and poems along with self-addressed stamped envelopes, I dreamed of a life when those envelopes would be returned with not just acceptance but with cash. Wads and wads of money to make the effort that put each syllable in some sort of equation that was understandable. I was going to be a writer. I was going to be an author. I was going to get paid to write. It was going to be my life's work. That was the direction I was driving in my twenties. I wanted to get to live in a place where I knew where my typewriter was and there would be someone else in charge of finding a place to put all those wonderful ideas that came pouring out of that office. In exchange for the previously mentioned wads of cash. That would be my agent. My literary agent. I could afford to have such a person in my employ because I had run out of things to spend my wads of cash on and needed to hire someone to look after the way that the money rolled in.
I truly believed that it would be just a matter of time before the world beat a path to my artistic door and started begging me for more clever bits of scribbling. Then, somewhere around the time I turned forty, the dream got put in a box and the real life closed in a little tighter. I was going to have to work at a job that didn't necessarily involve enthralling readers to make ends meet until my big break. I was going to have to be something other than what I am, technically: a published author. That doesn't mean I stopped putting words together. On the contrary. In many ways I am more prolific now than I ever was back when I aspired to be a full-time writer. Something about being able to create in the empty spaces life affords me makes it so much more special.
Like that four thousandth blog - whatever it was. It was a celebration.
And so is this.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

C'mon And Get Over It

Caught in all the hubbub that is the Ted "The Cruiser" Cruz and Donald J. Trumpfudd, one can easily gloss over another one of God's Wonders: John Kasich. He is the governor of Ohio. He is running to be his party's nominee in the race for President. Before he lived in the Big Buckeye House, he was a member of Congress and served as chair of the House Budget Committee. He's a man of big ideas and even bigger dreams. You may remember him as the candidate most likely to make an executive order to reunite Pink Floyd
On this particular trail, he shows up like Mister Rogers compared to the evil clowns on either side. He is also that guy that once mimicked the convulsive shaking of a Parkinson’s sufferer—in his State of the State speech. He calls his own legislators “knuckleheads,” “thugs” and “bullies.” He publicly called the police officer who had given him a traffic ticket an “idiot.” He's the guy who wants to defund Planned Parenthood. For John, the stories in the Bible are historical facts. He was happy to have fracking in Ohio. The NRA recently changed John's grade from an F to an A. Probably all that studying over the summer. And still, this guy shows up as the kinder, gentler Republican.
It's all a matter of perspective, see? Like this past Sunday when Governor John appeared on CNN's State of the Union. During his portion of the show, Kasich was asked about the outcry over recent anti-LGBT popping up all over the country. He had some advice for all those feeling the sting of discrimination: "If you feel as though somebody is doing something wrong against you, can you just, for a second, get over it, you know, because this thing will settle down." 
You know, like Rosa Parks did. Like Doctor Martin Luther King. Or Gloria Steinem. Or Susan B. Anthony. They pretty much just waited around for a second and realized that they were just making a big deal out of nothing. They should have taken a second and, you know, gotten over it.
Which is pretty much how I'm feeling about this whole Kasich thing, Pink Floyd notwithstanding. He may be the lukewarm water between the hot and cold of Trumpf and Cruiser, but that water's pretty nasty, all the same. 
I'm pretty much over it right now. Thanks for the advice, governor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Go With What You Know

Let's start with Rush. Maybe one of the most "oh wow" of the "oh wow bands," they represent the best of what Canada has to offer in prog-rock. Which is a surprisingly long list. It's a little like the list of funny people who hail from the Great White North, not the least of which would be Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas who hosted as show of that title within the show SCTV. Bob Doug, or Rich and Dave, were just part of an ensemble that eventually found their way across the border to tickle our American funny bones for years after that: Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy. Legends, right? When you stack on top of that names like Dan Aykroyd and Jim Carrey, you might get the impression that the late twentieth century was all about the comedy genius coming out of the frozen tundra of Toronto and other such amusing spots up there.
I am suggesting that there are a lot of reasons to pay attention to our neighbors to the north. Neil Young came from up there. So did the first captain of the starship Enterprise, William Shatner. Some of the  sexiest men alive began their being sexy and alive in Canada: Ryans Reynolds and Gosling. I am continuing the assertion that we might want to keep an eye on how they're doing things yonder up there so we might all lead better, sexier lives.
Take for example Canada's current Prime Minister, Justin "sigh" Trudeau. Let's not get stuck on those looks, just yet, but rather let's focus instead on his age, forty-five, and his resume which includes a masters degree in environmental geography, a stint as a teacher, and oh yeah the leadership of his country's Liberal Party. And there's the part where he responded to a reporter's smart aleck question about quantum computing, which Mister Trudeau responded to abruptly and accurately before moving on to the reporter's actual concern. Schooled, but in a way that it would be hard to imagine any of our current crop of presidential candidates managing. Calm, assertive, polite. Canadian.
It reminds me of a time when my wife and I were out watching our favorite Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies, and the crowd cried out for an encore. As happens in many such situations, some in the crowd shouted out a tongue-in-cheek request for "Freebird." To which the band responded in a very Trudeau-esque way, by launching into a very faithful and earnest version of the Skynnrd war horse. About three minutes in, Ed the guitarist, paused and asked if that was what we all really had in mind. Funny guys, those Canadians. And wicked smart, eh?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Whatchoo Talkin' About?

Why, in the name of all that is holy, won't Sarah Palin shut up? Here's what fell out of her mouth hole last week: “It’s something our candidates should be talking about and giving us their view on and hopefully acknowledging that it needs to become, in the science community, less political. Otherwise, it leads us to believe that so many things coming from perhaps the scientists could be bogus. If this is bogus, you know, what else are they trying to tell us and trying to control us around if they can’t get this one right?” The former vice presidential candidate was speaking about something she knows a little about: Climate change. She doesn't think that it should be politicized, and she further fretted that public figures are "controlling the narrative" and keeping parents from teaching their children to question global warming. This line of logic makes approximately as much sense as most everything else that the one-time Alaskan governor has ever said on this or any other subject. 
And why would this public figure declare that we should stop listening to public figures on the topic of greenhouse gasses and the like? It probably has something to do with Bill Nye's recent suggestion that he is open to jail time for climate change deniers. Bill was responding to a comment made initially by environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. that those who insist that nothing strange is happening with the weather should be locked up like war criminals. You might recognize Mister Kennedy's name from his radio show and his family's dabbling in politics over they years. Bill Nye? He was just agreeing with the guy on the radio. 
Ms. Palin doesn't think it's responsible, especially since she believes that Bill Nye "is as much a scientist as I am." Pretty tough words from the former hockey mom and former sportscaster and former, well, you know. The thing is, Bill has a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell, where he regularly returns as a guest lecturer. He worked for Boeing, where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor. He has been an aeronautics consultant. He never got to be an astronaut, even though he applied to NASA several times. But not because he was as much of a scientist as Sarah Palin. Maybe it's because they both had their own TV shows. Bill's ran for one hundred episodes. Sarah's didn't. So, I figure it's okay if we all agree that Bill Nye, the "scientist" stops running his mouth about climate change, as long as Sarah Palin never speaks about anything again. Ever.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Who Let Them In?

The show's over. They are sweeping up the confetti. The glasses are washed and put back into the racks until the champagne flows into them next year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has new occupants and a promise for even more fun and acrimony next year. This year's group of inductees will likely keep things buzzing until then.
Starting with my guilty pleasure of a favorite band, Cheap Trick. It wasn't until the boys from Rockford, Illinois got their ticket punched to the big party that I started hearing about all the acrimony between them. How they had parted ways with Bun E. Carlos, their original drummer and the flurry of lawsuits that kept them as busy as their touring schedule. It made me remember that I was in my fifties, and while I remember jobs I had when I was a teenager, I don't tend to hang around with my co-workers as much anymore. The idea that Cheap Trick is still a functioning rock and roll band after more than forty years together is probably worth some sort of an award. This is an industry that seems to allow for a certain amount of longevity, in spite of the "better to burn out than to fade away" spirit that was asserted once upon a time. Before there was a Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
It seems that Cleveland is a good place to air your dirty laundry. The good news for Cheap Trick fans is that the original members managed to put a good face on their performance and for a night they played nice. The guys who were, by name, from a few cities over didn't manage the same. Chicago showed up without Peter Cetera, which was a relief for some and a tragedy for others. This is the type of thing that makes these shows so interesting, since the soap opera that goes on behind the scenes all the time in the music business gets a chance to play out in front of the whole world. And they, the ones on the stage, know it.
That's why after years of rolling his eyes at the notion of the sour grapes called Hall of Fame, Gene Simmons of Kiss now feels the need to defend it. Gene is putting everyone on notice that letting NWA in didn't make sense since he doesn't believe that his group would be admitted into the Rap Hall of Fame. At least the surviving members of NWA had the good taste to show up together for the ceremony. They acted like they belonged there. Which was different from Steve Miller. The Joker, the Smoker, the Midnight Toker was graciously introduced by The Black Keys. Then Steve stepped up to the mic and dropped it. Thanks, but no thanks, said the Space Cowboy.
Next year, I suggest the folks at the Hall induct Groucho Marx. Or at least his son Richard.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Thanks God

Thank you god for not letting that pickup roll back over and crush me on my bicycle. Thank you for letting that computer I was working on run its setup routine without getting stuck in that loop of system updates for the forty-third time. Thank you for taking the time and energy in your busy day to assist me in the trivial pursuits of my day to day existence. You created me, after all, so I think it's nice that you continue to take an interest in my life and all its wonder. I don't feel bad about asking for help in times of struggle since I figure an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful god can take just a few blinks of an eye to smooth out the path in front of me.
But I do wonder, sometimes, why it is that a member of one professional sports team can be pointing to the sky, or the roof of the arena in which they are playing, while the guy on the other side is looking sadly at his shoelaces? I can't imagine that an all-knowing god has a rooting interest in team sports, unless that god is making sure that the grand scheme of things drops enough probability into the scheme of things to keep mathematicians happy. Records were made to be broken, by god. The records were all part of some vast, unknowable plan, set by mortals to set a standard until such time as a very minor miracle needed to be tossed into the mix, and this team or that franchise was allowed to mess with the fabric of the divine universe.
Or maybe the reason we see these demonstrations of genuflection is that they aren't that at all. They could be hubris. A finger pointed at the sky could be a sign that the individual is taunting god, or the gods, sending a message of defiance. These are the athletes who aspire not just to greatness here on earth, but in the heavens as well. Their talents may exceed those of mere mortals, demigods who are able to mess with natural laws of time and space. They bend matter with their minds and create scenarios where solid objects gain or lose momentum or mass. They are the mutants, the heroes, the exceptions to the rule. Rather than fearing them, we tend to put them on high, happy that they keep using their special abilities on balls and hoops and one another, rather than destroying our known universe.
All of this being said, somewhat tongue in cheek, I would still very much like to see a physicist throw down his dry-erase marker at the completion of a lengthy derivation and point up to the stars, or at least the acoustic tile in the lecture hall. Praise god, and thanks for the help on that particular theorem.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Days Are These?

While I have been sitting around waiting for the "Evolution" to commence, I confess that I have been enjoying the way I can walk in and out of a room while the music plays on the radio. I have not been distracted by the periodic need to rush to a telephone and be the first caller. Nor have I needed to prick up my ears in anticipation of the traffic that has little or nothing to do with my two mile bike commute. Somewhere out there, a war is being waged against terrorism, and I don't have to be a part of it. Somewhere out there a campaign is being run on half a dozen different fronts for President of the United States. Not here. I sit in my quiet musical oasis, interrupted only briefly by a few commercials every twenty minutes or so. I ignore the ads because I am not being implored by some half-known voice or personality to check out this or that deal. This is radio by machine. This is de-evolution.
I know I won't be challenged by what I am listening to because we are currently undergoing the phase in which listeners are being gathered. Sure, there will be plenty of us who don't stick around to hear what finally becomes of KFOG. There will be plenty of us too lazy to switch the preset buttons on our car radio. There will be plenty of us who look over our collective shoulder wondering who is still listening to terrestrial radio at all. My son scoffs at his parents who haven't discovered the magic of Pandora and Spotify. I have checked them out, and like so much about the "free music" that comes streaming into your earbuds that requires a subscription, I find myself missing the olden days when you were lucky to get a request on the air because you had a really boss dedication after you dialed in and sat on hold for twenty-five minutes. Make up your playlist and let the music play says a new generation of listeners who don't need a voice to back announce the song they should already know because they selected it from a list of thousands.
But it's not very organic. It's not very community-based. Like the TV stations that are currently vying for my DVR's attention, I don't have time to look at all the choices, so I let a machine take care of it for me. My son, the scoffer, can't imagine why his parents still sit down to watch a television for more than twelve minutes at a stretch. Watch the good parts later on YouTube. If something really important happens, someone will tweet about it. At once he is more in touch with his zeitgeist and completely untethered.
I miss my DJs. Not in the pining way I thought I might, but in the way that we all miss the olden days. I miss them in the same way I miss the guy who used to let me get free refills at the hamburger spot around the corner.  Around the corner from where I used to live. The place that has since been turned into the other half of a pizza joint. I miss the sounds of my youth and that free refill. Those were the days.

Friday, April 15, 2016


I was asked, a few mornings back, how I was. I sighed. Then I said, "I don't like conservatives." Almost immediately I felt the need to qualify my statement, mostly because as a liberal in thought and practice, it felt like I was going against my beliefs to not like anyone. Fiscal conservatives, for example, seem quite pleasant and well-meaning. And I can understand how someone might become socially conservative, but it seems like such a difficult position to maintain. Endless combinations in endless permutations and all that. What I should have said, instead of "I don't like conservatives" was "I don't fathom conservatives."
Even that fiscal thing, with its low taxes and limited government spending: I am constantly finding ways to vote for more government programs and increasing the money we spend on that safety net that never seems quite big enough to save us all. That sound you hear is my heart bleeding. I tend to keep making excuses for those in need and try to imagine a world in which we might all truly get along. A common goal and a common good.
Which is why I get confused by the religious freedom acts of Mississippi and the bathroom politics of North Carolina. It seems like a campaign to protect the few, not the many. Diversity in belief is one of those things that was anticipated in the writings of our rich, white founding fathers. Kudos to them for making room for a separation between church and state. All men, using the failed inclusive word of our forefathers which is even more of a loaded term, are created equal. For so many it seems that right after that creation we set about determining for ourselves just how equal they will be over time. The idea that "anybody" can grow up to President of the United States is a lovely dream, but constrained by so much angry history that it remains a fairy tale in a country that would restrict the use of bathrooms in the twenty-first century in much the same way that they were back in the creepy old twentieth. Writing legislation that circumvents other federal legislation doesn't seem a lot like freedom to me. It seems a lot like cheating to me.
But what do you expect from a bleeding heart liberal like myself? Do I really want some drug addled transgender immigrant assaulting my son in a public bathroom after they just cashed their food stamps to buy a yacht? Wouldn't that make me feel like exercising that most holy of constitutionally protected rights and shoot them in the face before they were carted off to a prison where they were gassed or electrocuted or shot again? That isn't what freedom feels like to me.
The reason I said that thing about not liking conservatives came from reading an article about the liberal double standard. It ruffled my feathers, but I kept reading because I wanted to see where it was that I was missing something. Was Bruce Springsteen operating out of enlightened self interest when he cancelled his show in Greensboro? What about all those businesses and fans who suffered needlessly because he was making his stand?
It was good to have my process checked. I felt like I needed to think more on things when I finished. I didn't feel swayed by the arguments, but I was grateful for the point of view. One that seemed to be rooted more in anger and fear than freedom, but another point of view in this vast and endlessly swirling melting pot of ideas. I liked that part.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Parent Hood

My son is a college freshman. He will, on occasion, have a drink or two. The occasion may be Friday afternoon. Or a Thursday evening when there is no class on Friday. Or Saturday night because Sunday. You get the idea. He's checking it out. Social drinking is a thing on his campus and he doesn't want to miss out. Part of me is okay with that. Part of me is not. Nobody said this parenting gig was going to be an easy one.
Here's the deal: If I wanted to forbid his underage drinking, then I would have to be responsible for enforcing that prohibition, and that requires a certain amount of tenacity. That amount would be somewhere in the range of "ridiculous" and "impossible." I understand that I also have not one leg on which to stand when it comes to the subject of underage drinking. My freshman year was a bit of a blur, mostly because of the binges brought on by what boys of a certain age see as appropriate. Hindsight tells me that there wasn't much appropriate about the behavior I exhibited if taken outside the context of a freshman dorm. There was an honor code, but there was no sobriety code. I had to pledge not to copy somebody else's paper, but I didn't have to promise not to get drunk and throw up on it.
Over the years, some of the stories about that year and others were shared in the presence of my son. He has always been a good audience for my reminiscences, and at a time when I didn't think a lot about what image I was presenting, I may have needed a filter at that time to keep me from embarrassing myself or appearing hypocritical down the line. For me, it would have been great if my son had simply made his decision to drink or not based entirely on his own experience. And that decision had been "thank you, no." That's not how things worked out. I don't blame myself exactly, since I know that teenage boys and girls who go off to college are tempted by all manner of enticements, many of which did not exist when I was an undergrad. I do wish that I had found just the right mix of confidence and innocence to impart to my clever boy. There was plenty of caution in the tales I told, but when you're eighteen, that's not always the way it comes through. Those cautionary tales sometimes turn into challenges, of sorts. "Do as I say, not as I do," rings a little hollow, but it's the traditional fallback for parents with character issues. That would be all of us, I suppose.
The solace I take is that so far my son had made better decisions than his old man. I can also be proud of the fact that as bad an influence as I might have been, I am still doing better than Andrew Frye's mom. Give them roots and wings, I was told, but to that I would add just a dash of knowing when to be ready with the towels.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Three Big Words

I wonder a little about that admonition that we should make a point to tell those around us for whom we care just how much we care. "Tell people that you love them," we are reminded over and over again by Hollywood and its ilk. The idea is clear: share your feelings with those closest to you before you can't. The stories we get are tragic tales of how bad we feel when that opportunity to say "I love you" slips past us and because of the tragic death of the loved one.
I didn't notice this was a problem until 1990. That's when I went to see Ghost. Young marrieds Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are living the dream, right up until the moment when Patrick is murdered by his smarmy business partner to cover up the housing crisis. The spirit of Mister Swayze wanders the streets in limbo, looking for a way to avenge his death and to bring Mister Smarm to justice. That and get over that problem he has saying "I love you" to his now widowed wife. For all those quiet moments together, when she said, "I love you," the best Patrick could muster was "ditto." That "me too" response was the hole in their marriage. Not good enough, even if you're Patrick Swayze. It didn't matter how much Righteous Brothers he plays on that jukebox of theirs, or how many pots they make together in that fancy loft, there's no real love in "Ditto." Before he can ascend into heaven and Whoopi Goldberg could win her Oscar, he had to come back from the dead and fill that three word void. Oh, and the smarmy guy gets cut to ribbons and demons carry his tormented soul someplace much darker. But mostly he said, "I love you."
The thing is, in real life, once people fall in love and get married they don't spend as much time saying "I love you" as showing it. They get caught up in all the business of everyday life. Laundry and bills and taxes and shopping and the minutiae that make up every dull day. The conversations turn endlessly practical and distractions keep the romantic mutterings to a minimum.
This isn't to say that there isn't some value in the need to express it every so often. Every day. You never know when your smarmy business partner is going to come and take your voice away. It's nice to hear it. It's nice to say it. It's just not very practical. So thanks for the reminder, and I'll do what I can to meet the RDA for I love you. With our without the jukebox and pottery.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When We Were Young(er)

Back in the twentieth century, people thught it would be funny if celebrities met in the squared circle and fought to the death. This sensation was called, cleverly enough, "Celebrity Deathmatch." These bouts were arranged between somewhat likely pairs: Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Kid Rock and Eminem, even George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It is the kind of quintessentially American thinking that made Batman v Superman possible. It is the kind of thinking that caused a friend of mine and I to enter into a discussion about how such a conflagration would turn out if the parties involved were Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. It's the kind of hypothetical positing of power and rage that makes our society tick. Tick. Boom.
We can keep our more aggressive impulses at bay by imagining how claymation versions of our most cherished public figures might rip one another's spine out through their noses. It is that kind of vicarious catharsis that keeps our country from coming apart at the seams. Of course, it has been some time since the stop motion carnage has been a regular feature of MTV's program schedule. That was back in the early days of reality TV and Al Gore's Internet, and maybe the creators hadn't fully reckoned on how necessary this outlet was. Thankfully, all these other venues for celebrities old and prefabricated new have offered us all release from socially stored angst and ennui.
Like just a few days ago when TMZ did us the favor of discovering Nicolas Cage fighting Vince Neil. In Las Vegas! Sure, this all would have been so much more exhilarating and A-List if this little dust-up had occurred back in the Doctor Feelgood/Wild At Heart days. All that leather and snakeskin would have made the scene so much more intense. As it was, these two gentlemen are now in their fifties and a bystander described the scuffle "as if two T Rexes were slapfighting one another." The whole ugly scene began when Mister Neil grabbed a woman who was asking Mister Cage for an autograph and threw her to the ground. If that doesn't sound like it makes much sense, imagine that this all occurred not in the wee hour of the morning but at five in the evening in front of the Aria Hotel. Not outside some scary biker bar. And both of them got to keep their spines. Ah, for the olden days.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Elizabeth Edens wants to keep men out of women's restrooms. She is tired of being bullied by political correctness. Ms. Edens supports the new law of her land, North Carolina, that says that everyone has to use the bathroom designated by that person's birth certificate. By contrast, she believes that " the part that allows for LGBT people to be discriminated against in employment should be repealed." Jobs, no. Bathrooms, yes. She goes on: "That being said, the rest of it is on target. It needs to be a federal law so that I can feel safe in a bathroom anywhere in this once-great country of ours. I am a sixty-one-year-old white woman, married forty-two years to a straight man. That makes me a target. My right to privacy is being assaulted. My right to feel safe in public bathrooms is being denied. Where is the American Civil Liberties Union? Why is North Carolina being trashed for trying to protect me and my rights?"
A target for what, exactly?
She's probably worried about the number of attacks that have occurred in public restrooms being abused by lesbian, gay, bi and transgenders. Especially those sneaky TG folks. Except these attacks have been debunked by a great many law enforcement and government officials. There are attacks going on in bathrooms. And they do involve trans-folk. They are the victims in these attacks. Ms. Eden makes what can be perceived as a logical suggestion that those newly created "family" bathrooms could be re-designated as  "gender neutral." Only then will she feel comfortable going about her business in those public bathrooms where all manner of shady characters are lurking, preying on unsuspecting victims.
There are those Americans who are unwilling to stand, or in this case sit down, for this kind of discrimination. The problem is the fact that these incidents are not facts. They are tales spun over and over by those who are having a legitimate problem coming to grips with the issue of gender identity. The problem isn't public bathrooms, it's in our heads. We are all, straight bi gay andro non, coming to grips with the possibility that gender isn't created by a birth certificate. There are already laws on the books against assault, sexual and otherwise. Making laws about bathrooms seems like an unnecessary intrusion into our private lives. Ironic, since that is generally something that conservatives would rail against. I suppose we should all appreciate that Ms. Edens is willing to allow LGBT people access to employment, even if that job happens to be birth certificate bathroom checker

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Death And Texas

I have always had a fear of death. That seems pretty natural, compared to a fear of public speaking. That is to say that when I was ten years old, I used to lay awake worrying about what would happen when, if, or how my life clock had reached its end. This would account for the somewhat regular bouts of insomnia. If I fall asleep, will I wake up again?
Morbid, I know, but it also points to my stance against the death penalty. Over the years, I have determined that one of the most terrifying things about death is its inevitability. Along with taxes, it is promoted as one of two things in life that are certain. Even prisoners on death row are required to pay taxes if they are making any kind of substantial earnings, like the royalty checks Charles Manson gets for "Look At Your Game Girl." Except those kind of checks are usually rerouted to victims families, as is the case for Charlie. And Mister Manson is no longer on death row, having had his sentence commuted to life back in 1972. So, without taxes or death hanging over his head, he probably leads a relatively carefree existence inside a maximum security correctional institution.
Charles Manson's crimes were both cruel and unusual. That is why he was initially sentenced to death. Pablo Lucio Vasquez beat a twelve year old to death with a pipe and then drank his blood. That was awesomely cruel and pretty unusual. Pablo was also sentenced to death, and since he was convicted in Texas, that sentence was carried out this past Wednesday. No more wondering about when and for whom that bell tolls for Pablo. Mister Vasquez did hang around a Texas prison for fourteen years before he was executed, so he had roughly a decade and a half to consider his crimes and ponder the nature of existence. Before it stopped. Abruptly.
Last year, the number of executions worldwide jumped dramatically to 1,634. Half again as many killings in the name of teaching that killing is wrong as the year before that. What lessons are we teaching? Crime does not pay. Well, at least not enough to have to file a tax return. So all those inmates on death row can sleep a little more soundly, knowing that both death and taxes have been taken care of for them.
If we really wanted to punish them, we would sign them up for a public speaking tour.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Basketball, Physics, And Presidential Politics

Momentum. Mojo. Motivation. Whatever you'd like to call it, this is a time to get it, whether you are a playoff bound basketball team or a presidential candidate. Take a simple example like a ball rolling downhill. It responds to simple Newtonian Physics. These are rules as simple as an object set in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Sometimes that force could be as simple as the end of the slope that helped the ball gather speed in the first place. Gravity would do its work over time. Gravity is one of the chief reasons for basketball players and that ball they are trying to get through that hoop fail. All that running ans jumping and pushing themselves and that ball through space is working against gravity. If you continue to battle against one of the oldest and strongest forces in the universe, Over an eighty-two game schedule, with months of practice and travel and attendant injuries, playing hard night after night under those harsh lights can become a burden not unlike pushing that ball, a much bigger ball made of stone, up a hill.
That's where things are for the Golden State Warriors these days. With gravity and a lot of history standing in their way, they continue to bounce that rock to the finish line. The same can be said of the presidential primary process. That ball that seemed to be rolling down the steepest of all hills, seemingly unaffected by gravity or reality, the Trumple campaign, seems to have found its outside force. In this case, it seems as though it is more of an inside force, one that seemed visible to everyone else for the longest time in spite of the speed, distance and delegates covered over that blurry pace. The same could be said of Hillary Clinton's path to the White House that, a year ago, seemed like a pretty straight path down a pretty short hill.
Now here we are, months into a presidential race that still has months to go. The simple math of picking up enough delegates to show up at the party convention and being nominated by that party is becoming more convoluted. There isn't one simple path. Newtonian Physics no longer applies. Gravity and friction and John Kasich are making things more challenging. Just like every team that runs into the Golden State Warriors brings their best game on the night they play the once and future NBA champions, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders win in Wisconsin. Their momentum seems to be on the rise, but it could be that is the perspective gained from being on a train going in the same direction. Everyone's momentum is slowing. Gravity is doing its work. The NBA season and the presidential race are long, bumpy marathons. They aren't a sprint. And this is just the regular season. The playoffs are still to come.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Political Science

Here's a quick quiz: Can you name the countries that have nuclear weapons? The ones on this planet, that is. There may be other galactic governments with their own WMD, but what we're looking for here are the ones that can push a button and send atomic bombs to their neighbor's door with a quick push of a button. Need a hint? There are nine of them. I'll give you a moment.
Okay. Got your list? You probably guessed the United States and Russia. They've been at this mutually assured destruction the longest, so it makes sense to put them at the top. China would be the next logical step, even if they were a little late to the game, they wanted to be in the nuclear threat business along with those other guys. It just makes sense. If your country has all those people, you want to protect them, and what better way to protect your people than by assuring them that if they get melted by a blast or the attendant radiation from one of those babies, that there would be commensurate retribution. The plutonium rule, don'tcha know.
Having trouble with the other six? You might not have guessed Great Britain, but since they've been in the world domination business since before the Crusades, it only makes sense that they get themselves a nuke or two to play along. And if you've been hanging around for a while you probably remember how tense things got between India and Pakistan because it wouldn't make sense if one of these countries had "the bomb" and the other one different. Mutual hate and mutually assured destruction is the kind of thing that exists in only a few spots on the globe. Whether or not Israel hates everybody or everybody hates them is probably the reason they get their own stockpile. This may explain the proliferation of mass destruction around the Middle East, since there are a dozen different reasons and attendant treaties that keep those promises of enriched uranium from coming true. North Korea, the real wild card in this deck, probably has nuclear weapons and missiles that can get them to where they want them to go, but it's hard to figure out exactly how much of their glorious leader's rhetoric to believe, since his spokespeople say he is a world class basketball player and has heat vision too.
Would it be better if those who are nearest to this not quite metaphorical powder keg had their own big bang to unleash just in case? Donald J. Trumpenhower believes that Japan and South Korea should join this exclusive club just to keep Kim Jong Un (Korean for "Trump") honest. This shows just how magically confounding the Trumpman can be. Japan was the first country we used an atomic bomb on, and right after the war we made sure that they wouldn't be in the market for their own nuclear weapon any time soon. You might notice that Germany is conspicuously missing from that list as well, since it turns out they didn't work and play well with others back in the first half of the twentieth century.
Oh, the times the are getting wackier and wackier.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Serial Killers

Getting involved in a cultural phenomenon is a lot of work. It is so much easier to stay true to the outsider's creed and experience the zeitgeist from a safe distance. I know this doesn't seem like a reasonable opinion coming from a guy who just spent fourteen hours over Spring Break in a theme park run by a giant rodent, but I say this with wheelbarrows full of chagrin. I feel more comfortable on the sidelines, but sometimes I confess that I let myself get caught up in the game.
Which completely explains why, the night before I returned to active duty on the front lines of public education I decided to join my wife in a viewing party of the season finale. Not of the posh-posh Downton Abbey folks, but of the Walking Dead. Feel free, if you would like, to compare and contrast these two worlds, but that will have to wait for a quieter time when I have finished recovering from hanging from a cliff. That's what they call it: a cliffhanger. Episodes that don't resolve effectively at the end of an hour, or in this case an hour and a half, opening up more cans of worms (or brains) than they close hope to capture our attention and hold it while they run off and make more stories that will tie up the loose threads generated by all that hanging off cliffs.
And so my wife and I drifted off to sleep with more questions than answers, including this one: Why do I do this to myself? We were so very clever, a few years back, to wait until Breaking Bad was coming down the home stretch before we began a binge-watch that caught us up with all the nefarious doings of Walter White before he went to that big meth lab in the sky. We didn't sweat the unresolved bits, we just rolled on into the next episode and found our answers there. Pure viewing satisfaction.
The trouble with zombies is that they just keep shambling on. They don't have the good taste and cleverness to simply lay down and allow for a story arc to pass over them. Of course, this particular operation is hampered somewhat by stubborn survivors of this particular apocalypse. My wife and I have become invested in the lives of these characters with whom we have been spending Sunday evenings with for the past six seasons. We have watched this band of misfits and fighters band together only to be torn apart, literally and figuratively, time and time again. This past Sunday night, it happened again. The fact that someone pushed the big reset button should come as no surprise, since this is the way the machine keeps churning. If everyone is safe and happy and all the bad guys have been vanquished along with the shambling corpses, you might as well be living on an estate in turn of the century England.
I told you I would get there.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

It Hurts When I Do This

She lives down the street from us. She used to live across the street. She used to be ten. She's older than that now. She was the one who took delight in teaching our little boy how to walk. She has lately been busy teaching her own son how to get around. When we saw her getting out of her car, my wife noticed her pained expression. "Are you okay?"
She winced a little, "Oh, it's bursitis."
My wife moved forward and took her hand, "May I try something?"
There was a look of fear, then acceptance, "Alright." She wasn't really sure.
My wife told our young friend about how she had seen a woman in the grocery store make the pain in a checker's shoulder go away with a gentle twist and a brief massage. Standing on the sidewalk in the middle of this new day, my wife wasn't able to perform the same magic. "Have you tried," and off we went on a brief discussion of possible treatments and potential care facilities. It seemed like maybe a trip to the emergency room wasn't quite what the elusive doctor might have ordered.
Bursitis? How could this young thing be suffering from this old person's malady? Okay. Maybe you didn't have to be old to have bursitis. You just needed to have some repetitive motion, enough that it could wear out the bursa sac in your shoulder. I looked at her face again. There were some miles on that face. Highway miles. We had done our wringing hands dance way back when we learned that she was going to be a teen mom. It wasn't going to be as flashy or interesting as those on MTV, nor as confounding as the children of the children I am now teaching at my elementary school. This was a reality check. My wife and I had our own sore knees and shoulders to kvetch about, and now we had to consider the creeping decrepitude (my wife's term) of the kids in our neighborhood.
Former kids. Now adults. Somebody's mom. We were, by logical juxtaposition, the grandparents in this equation. What could we hope to gain except an understanding of our own mortality? Helping a neighbor. Visiting an old friend.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


"Evolution" is what they are calling it. They are not me. I wouldn't call it that. I had been pleased and happy with my little toe, and my appendix, even as I have been told that these are vestiges of a previous being. That wasn't the kind of evolution to which they were referring. They weren't talking about body parts that were no longer explicitly necessary. They were talking about my radio station. The one I have listened to since I moved to the Bay Area. The one that had the news guy from Boulder. The one that sounded like where I came from. The one that sounded like home: KFOG.
The news came to me on the first of April, so I was initially skeptical. I was ready to chalk it up to a somewhat clever prank on behalf of the fools on the radio. The folks back in Boulder, many years ago, had perpetrated a ruse of this sort back in 1987, called "Intervention Day." I happened to tune into that radio event not only while it was underway, but also as I was coming back down from a particularly confounding bout with mind-altering substances. The radio told me it was 2027, and the celebration of Intervention Day had already begun. It took me an hour or more to figure out that I was listening to a very amusing production created by the music director and that news guy. I was relieved and entertained to have been taken in by such a funny manipulation of time and space. And sound.
Here, just eleven years away from the pranked date of that broadcast so long ago, it turns out that KFOG was serious about their "Evolution." They had fired their on-air staff and were gong into DJ-free hibernation of sorts, playing a rough facsimile of the format that had been in place before the April First purge. Only it was free of all that annoying between-song-human interaction that had once made the whole experience feel so much more - human. New Sound Meister Bryan Shock, whose name I would not make up on a dare, has cleaned house, because it seems that radio is a business. Keeping me pleased as a listener turns out to be one of the least of corporate America's concerns. Selling advertising is the reason for all those songs to be played, and those mildly human interactions between them. This wasn't FM, or WKRP. This was business, and KFOG DJs weren't going to stage any sort of insurrection or intervention. They were going to pack their bags and looking for work at other stations where humans and their connection to the music they play is still valued. Wherever or whenever that might be.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Walk Don't Run

In my job, I spend a lot of time discouraging kids from running. This is interesting, since there are also periods when I encourage them to pick up the pace. That's the part where I am often found actively herding groups of children as I run alongside them. Then, about the time I get them all moving around a prescribed course described by a series of colorful cones, I ask them to stop and hold still. Then, after a more prescribed movements, I have them all get into that most impossible of formations: a straight line. After that transition has been managed to the mild expectations of elementary school, I ask them to walk back to their class. Walk, run, stand still, walk again. All that coiled energy being told to start, stop, speed up slow down. It can be a little crazy-making. I like to remind my young charges that they have no reason to run, especially since we have all these assigned desks and alternative seats for when those places get full. Sitting still really isn't in the cards, unless we had asked them to run around like crazy people, in which case stillness is a likely reaction to all that authority.
Truth is, I don't get the whole walking thing myself. When someone suggests that we take a walk, it feels like I'm in trouble. This is probably exacerbated by all the times since I was a youngster that these walks brought news, and not the happy kind that ended up with ice cream or trips to the zoo. The walk allows a slow reveal, a calm place with a calm pace. This is how we learn about pets that aren't coming back or girlfriends who would like to take this opportunity to say we should just be good friends. These little walks usually have the effect of making me want to run away.
Which is probably why I continue, decades later, to run for my health. I don't stop to chat. I just keep running. Forrest Gump would be proud. And yet, there are still times when polite society and its conventions encourage me to take it down  a notch. My wife likes to go for walks. With me. And I try not to imagine what sort of bad news might come my way as we take these leisurely strolls in the park, or down by the ocean, or through our neighborhood. Mostly it's just the day to day business and pleasantries of a relationship that has been going on since about the time I started running. For my health. So I go along, taking my cues from those around me. Walk. Don't walk. Run.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

I See Dumb People

I stopped lining up for M. Knight Shyamalan movies after "Signs." Once it became pretty clear that his thing was to have a twist at the end of each of his tales, it made the twist less entertaining. It became, to me, annoying. You mean that village is really next to a highway where all these modern-day Luddites have raised themselves up a generation of kiddies living in fear of that world outside the woods? I never would have seen that coming, except that it has that "M. Knight" at the front of it and I wouldn't expect anything else as a result. This may be the best way I can explain my reaction to Donald Trump(sic).
Why would I be surprised by anything that comes out of that roiling sewer of a mouth? How could I not anticipate that each new verbal salvo will be more offensive than the last? When he was just a reality TV host and guest on Howard Stern's radio show he was a buffoon. He gets big points with his orange Kool-Aid swilling followers for "telling it like it is." Maybe that's the hair dye talking, but "telling it like it is" should not be confused with "saying whatever comes into that atrophied stem of a brain. "There has to be some form of punishment" for women who have abortions is only the most recent example of how vile and idiotic things just dribble off this guy's tongue. 
Outrage was heard on all fronts, including those on the "Pro Life" front: Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion, joined the chorus of people condemning Trump. “Let us be clear,” Dannenfelser said in a statement. “Punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another.”
Why would anyone, at this point, have any questions about how incredibly out of touch Mister Trumpway is with women and women's issues? Why would anyone expect that he would do anything but support his campaign manager after he was accused of battery on a female reporter? This is the guy who offered to pay the legal fees of any of his angry rabble who might end up punching, pepper spraying or otherwise harming those who might speak against their Oompa Loompa God
What sort of outrage was stirred by Donald Trumpty when he reversed his idiotic position just hours after he was ready to punish women who had abortions? Well, let's just say that I wasn't surprised to find out that Bruce Willis was dead all along. That's what all those clues were about. Trumpadump's handlers explained it away as "a simple error in speaking." Simple? As simple as the suggestion that he should simply stop speaking. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Live From Leeds

Keep calm and carry on. That's what the Ministry of Information will tell you, if you lived in England during World War Two. While Hitler's Luftwaffe bombed London night after night, and German V2 rockets screamed overhead, the British people kept their resolve and their stiff collective upper lip. This was, after all, what was left of an empire that once spanned the globe. They weren't going to run and hide from a vegetarian painter with visions of world domination. They had negotiated their own non-aggression pact with Germany just a few years before, so they obviously had a sense of humor. Combine that with all that calmness, and you have a pretty wicked sense of the absurd.

Which may explain why twenty-six year-old Ben Innes took the time during Tuesday's standoff on an Egyptian airliner to snap a photo of himself with the hijacker. "I'm not sure why I did it -- I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity. I figured if his bomb was real I'd have nothing to lose anyway, so took a chance to get closer and look at it." The bomb in question was strapped to a belt around fifty-eight year-old Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa. The picture was not, as initially reported, a selfie. Instead, it was taken with the aid of a stewardess who was standing nearby in what must surely be one of the most impressive bits of customer service imaginable. 
Ben is a rugby player, which may explain some of the pugnacity. One admirer of Mister Innes appreciated his "indefatigableness," which may be the Queen's English for "nitwit." Some might call it "cheeky." Others might say he was "barmy." Whatever the descriptor, it was apparent from the evidence that he wasn't trying to be a hero as much as he was trying to point out the absurdity of the situation. Fifty-five hostages on board an EgyptianAir A320 could have been blown to bits by such an affront, but since it all ended happily with their release and the hijacker being taken into custody. Rather than being totally snookered. 
And so, do we admire this young Brit and his ability to stay calm amidst the chaos of this modern world? Or should we count this as a lucky bit of social media that could have been a sad relic of something much worse? For now, I will take it as the tiniest of victories in the war against terror. Countless thousands to one. One health and safety adjuster from Leeds. 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Killing Superman

Why bother saying that we killed Superman? I understand that the spoiler alert is happening here, after the spoiler, but it's not really a spoiler if there is no way anyone at Time Warner will let that happen. That's how we have come to know too much about show business. A twenty-four hour news cycle means that we know everything that Hollywood movie executives of yesteryear knew when they were running studios. We know about gross ticket sales and star's paychecks and production difficulties. Why would we care? Why would we want to know that there is a man behind that curtain pulling the strings and pushing the buttons. The great and powerful Oz was James Franco and it was a beautiful mess, as are so many things involving James Franco. At least this is what my informed opinion turns out to be. I got to this point pretty early in my life, having grown up with a mother who read every movie magazine that came into her parents' drugstore back in the 1930's. What was happening behind the camera was every bit as dramatic and exciting as what occurred on the other side, you just had to read.
Now you don't even have to read, you just turn on TMZ or click on the link that shows up at the bottom of the last post you read. I didn't read the reviews for "Dawn of Justice" before I went to see Batman try to beat up Superman. I had read and heard about how difficult the process of bringing the big guns of DC comics together on the screen. I had formed my opinions long before I took my seat, but I wanted to see it unfold. I had hoped to be surprised. The surprise was how low the expectations I had set needed to be. A friend's son had told me "It's not that bad." How bad would that have to be? This dark and muddy world of angry revenge brought forth without any of the motivations that previous iterations of the Dark Knight had provided. Ben Affleck and George Clooney are both actors for whom I have a great deal of admiration, but I will be happy if they don't don a cowl and cape anytime soon again. It's not really their fault, after all, since the fun part of super heroes comes in that first part: super.
I have written before about my pre-existing prejudice against DC comics, and my predilection for those made by Marvel. Flawed characters are interesting, even heroes. Watching them rise above those flaws is the trick. Seeing Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent struggle with their collective id doesn't have the same snappy taste as Peter Parker or Tony Stark. This is probably because there is better writing going on, and since the stakes are often very similar, how is it that there can't be a better movie made with all that money being thrown around?
I blame Superman. Invulnerable means "not vulnerable." Those other guys, Bruce Wayne/Batman included, are vulnerable. They are making a conscious choice to be super. Supes wakes up that way. He has to make a conscious choice to be vulnerable. That was Superman II. That's been done. What's left? Killing him. That's as vulnerable as you can get. But you can't have a sequel. There's already a release date for the next one. They aren't going to pay Henry Cavill all that money to lay around in a pine box. He'll be zipping around in that red cape and matching briefs before you can say "Justice League." Will we care? I will still probably stand in line to watch it happen, in that whole train wreck, Rotten Tomatoes kind of way. And that's how really bad movies still make money. Go figure.