Friday, September 22, 2017

Who's Asking?

The free tickets have dried up. For me, anyway. I used to count on at least a show a year that I could attend with a guest courtesy of a local radio station. I don't listen to a lot of radio, but it wakes me up in the morning, and it is on in the background as I go about my morning preparations in my classroom. It is a lingering remnant of a life that contained a lot more radio. Before streaming services. Before mp3s.
I grew up in a world filled with disc jockeys, not DJs. Hot Dog Harold Moore. Charlie and Barney. Tiny Tim Tindall. Dennis Constantine. Rosalie. Alex Bennett. Dave Morey. While nothing can compete with the "Quarter Hour of Dave," fifteen minutes of music aimed directly at me from my friend in his college radio station booth, it was with Dave Morey that I had my last solid connection with morning radio. Dave was a wealth of musical knowledge and dry wit, a perfect cocktail for me as I made my way through those pre-dawn hours. By the time the sun was up, the radio was close to being turned off, but not before Request-O-Rama. This was the segment I waited for, the one that kept me listening. The prize for answering Dave's trivia question was the chance to hear any song from the station's music library.
And sometimes there were bonus prizes.
But that's not what kept me listening. I was hanging on because I wanted a chance to impress the rest of audience with my own pop culture acumen. Knowing that Ross Bagdasarian (aka Dave Seville) won one of the first Grammys ever awarded was worth showing off, after all. Looking back, it seems as though this thread of "Dave" may have had a certain magic to it, but when I won tickets to see REM in addition to getting to hear Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland," the die was cast. Access to a radio, the ability to hit redial when a busy signal thwarted my initial efforts, and this head full of mostly useless knowledge earned me a good bit of satisfaction. 
And some free tickets. Some were to see artists that I had little or no interest in prior, but I bought a T-shirt and enjoyed the free-ness of it. 
Right up until the radio station I listen to became a "We'll take the tenth caller" station. Now it's almost completely a random operation. Speed dialing doesn't really matter, since it's the order in which the switchboard fills. If you can burble out your name and email address when they answer your call, you win. Knowing the name of the Ben and Jerry's ice cream dedicated to Barenaked Ladies does me absolutely no good in this milieu. "If I Had A Million Flavours" in case anyone asks. Because they don't anymore, you know. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Over Again

In his song "Hard Day On The Planet1," Loudon Wainwright III made the following suggestion about the end of the world as we know it:
You know, maybe that would be fine: we would be off the hook
We resolved all our problems, never mind what it took
And it all would be over, finito, the end
Until the survivors started up all over again

If you've been waiting for the end, maybe we won't have to hang around much longer. A Christian researcher named David Meade predicted that the Rapture would take place thirty-three days after the solar eclipse. I'll save you all the calendar math: that's this Saturday. 
I know. That gives you precious little time to get in all those bucket list items that you have been putting off and binge watching Game of Thrones instead, but that's how this deal works. This is the end, beautiful friend. B-dee b-dee b-dee, that's all folks. And so on. Mister Meade spent a lot of time and effort figuring this out, so the best we can do is get our accounts in order so when the roll is called up yonder, we'll be ready. Of course, if you were meaning to get the lawn mowed one last time, maybe the Good Lord will give you a miss on that one. Called on account of Apocalypse. 
And if Planet X, or Nibiru to the insiders, comes winging past in the next couple of days causing volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and the like, life as we know it will cease to be. That's what the numbers tell us. Or Meade, anyway. He's got it all figured out.
The rest of us, the ones who aren't sucked up into that bright light and whisked away to Paradise, are the ones who are going to be left behind to start all over again. But what a start it could be: A great portion of those nuisances will be sheared off the top in whatever cataclysm overtakes them. Survivors get to push that great big reset button and pick universal health care or dessert before salad or Netflix for everyone without a monthly fee.
And if it doesn't go down like Mister Meade suggests, then we're all going to have to get up again on Monday morning and face the first day of the rest of our lives. How depressing is that? 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sorry If I Woke You

My apologies to those of you who may have been trying, this past Sunday morning, to get a little extra sleep. That was my squawk of outrage that woke you up from a few extra winks. The good news would be that since I'm out here on the left coast, those of you on the right were probably brunching or checking for hurricanes. Still, it's been a tough couple of weeks and we all need our rest.
What was I squawking about? Nothing new, really. Our "President's" Twitter feed. This  time it was an animated GIF (graphic interchange format) depicting said "President" taking a swing on the golf course that ends up hitting Hillary Clinton boarding a plane. This was a funny little Internet meme generated by "Mike on Twitter" whose handle is "Fuctupmind." Almost certainly the defense for this kind of jocularity will be that A) he was just repeating a funny he happened to run across and B) Twitter accounts are covered by free speech.
Both of these conditions may be true, and I won't bother to argue them. What bothered me so much on that quiet Sunday morning is that there is no such thing as presidential anymore. What bothered me was this was a guy sharing a funny little joke at the expense of the woman he beat in an election. What sort of human being won't turn the page after ten months? How  precisely does this  help Make America Great Again? I am not a Constitutional Scholar, that distinction goes to our last president, but I do think there is something in there about serving and protecting all of the citizens of the United States. I can imagine there were some quiet moments when Barack Obama and Joe Biden were sitting around the Oval Office that they shared a derisive laugh or two at the expense of John McCain and Sarah Palin. The day after the 1948 election, Harry Truman held up a newspaper that incorrectly identified Thomas Dewey as the winner to gales of derisive laughter.
Ten months later, Harry was busy dealing with Russia and its nuclear weapons and the invasion of South Korea by the North. There wasn't a lot of time to sit around and yuk it up. Harry played a little piano, but he wasn't much of a golfer. He was just President. Of the whole United States.
And he didn't have a Twitter account.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lapsed Catholic

There was a time, many moons ago, when my father-in-law thought it might be a good thing for my son to attend Saint Jarlath School, just up the street from us. The consideration my wife and I gave to this choice started and ended with the "up the street" part of that equation. For my father-in-law, it was the Saint that appealed to him. Maybe it was the lapsed part of the lapsed Catholic in him that hoped to get his grandson into school, and maybe a spot in heaven as well.
It was a blessedly short debate, and our son ended up walking up the hill to an Oakland Public School. After being promoted at the end of his  fifth grade year, he moved on to the middle school a few blocks away from his elementary school, and then off to high school across town. And every day he walked, rode his bike, and eventually drove his car past Saint Jarlath. There was never a lot of thought given to what might have been. He was the son of an Oakland Public School teacher, and so it was only natural that he walk past the Catholic School on his way to where he belonged.
Now Saint Jarlath is closed. The school, not the church that holds down the corner, but the classrooms that sit in its shadow. Over the summer, Bishop Barber sent word that declining enrollment and increasing costs were the reasons for closing their doors. Those factors are the same ones that have been responsible for any number of public school closures across Oakland and across the country.
The math for public schools is pretty simple: more students equals more money. When parents start sending their kids to charter schools, public schools lose funding. When parents take their kids out of private schools like Saint Jarlath, where do they go?
One option could be a charter school. Like the one that opened this fall on the site of Saint Jarlath. Lodesar, a "community public school" from the Lighthouse Family of schools, with a lot of words on their website to describe how very different they are from every other elementary school in Oakland, in California, on planet Earth. What is really different is the money. While the church runs its school from their coffers, and Oakland schools run on the money offered up by the state and federal government. Lodestar will get some of that good state and federal money, as well as supplemental funds from individuals and foundations. Those individuals  and foundations are encouraged to support those "underserved" students in Oakland.
And where do you suppose those underserved students came from? Most of us with a pubic school education can figure out that one.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Did You Miss Him?

He's back.
After that vaguely compassionate flurry of side trips to regions affected by disaster, our "President" has returned to form. What does that mean? He's back to fear mongering and name calling. The first indication was his reaction to Hillary Clinton's book, What Happened. (Spoiler Alert: She lost). What we were all missing there for a couple weeks was the twittering of that rare orange bird. He's back. Our "President" is back to name-calling and reminding us all of the sad and inevitable reality of his election, now some ten months in the rearview mirror. 
"Crooked Hillary?" Maybe shining a light a little further into the recesses of his own cabinet might generate more interesting news. As Tina Fey shouted out a few weeks ago on her Weekend Update appearance, "Who drove the car into the crowd? Hillary's emails?!" On any given day, our "President" can still be found out in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue handing out Xerox copies of the 2016 Electoral College map. 
Which doesn't mean he doesn't keep up with current events. Events that he tends to stir up himself by making his proclamations from his early morning perch while watching Fox & Friends. Connecting hurricane damage with the necessity of tax cuts. The rules of passing legislation in Congress. And let's not forget using tragedy to support his own scientifically implausible narrow-minded views: "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!" Or, "Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner.The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!" And of course, "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!"
Maybe someone could explain to our "President" that "proactive" and "paranoid" are not synonyms. Not that I am volunteering for that job. From where I am sitting, a continent away, it hurts my brain to listen to this angry blister of a man shouting fear and anger from our nation's highest office while the carnage is still being cleaned up in our ally's subway station. 
Brainless. Heartless. Not exactly a winning combination. 
He's back. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Do you know what phrase I will never be comfortable with? "School shootings."
There has not been a single time when I have heard or read those words without feeling a pain in the pit of my stomach. My next move is almost always to click or wait to hear a number. The number of fatalities. There is no "good number," but there are worse. The number of injured is usually limited to those who were wounded or physically injured. There is no mention of the total devastation heaped upon a community after such an event. How many lives will be damaged, ruined, forever changed by the act of a "lone gunman?"
But are they really acting alone? The young man who opened fire at Freeman High School was, according to reports, obsessed with other school shootings. Oops. There goes that pain again. It's not the pain that residents in Rockford, Washington will be feeling for the next few weeks, months, years. It's that pain that comes from the seemingly relentless string of young men and women who come to school with the expressed intent of doing harm. It's the pain of all those souls trying to imagine how this phrase will now have to applied to their community in perpetuity. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Springfield. Blacksburg. And the list seems to grow by the day. The week. The month. The year.
My wife reminds me that the names of these shooters should remain unknown. Any sort of notoriety brings them the potential satisfaction of a job well done. Mission accomplished. The safest place in the world is no longer just that. Without reason. Without purpose. Another hallway becomes a crime scene.
It makes me sick. It makes me tired. It makes me wish for a solution that seems to have been left behind decades ago. When the metal detectors showed up. When the talk of arming teachers began. When we didn't have that extra word to put in front of "school shooting" that made it even worse.
You'll forgive me.
My stomach hurts.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ask A Doctor

“Boom! Boom! Just like that. The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”
This how Doctor Hunter S. Thompson described the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The founder of Gonzo and one time candidate for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado wrote down his thoughts and concerns in an essay published on, of all places. How did this polemic show up on an entertainment/sports network's website? As the Doctor once said himself, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." 
Hunter died in 2005. He never got to fully appreciate just how weird things would become. We can now look back at what he wrote then to appreciate just how much he understood: "This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force."
Sixteen years burning down the road, we've got another goofy child-president who is still trying to manage a war that might not ever end. Because this is a war of fear and loathing, something Doctor Thompson wrote about most of his life. Trying to find the bad guys turned out to be pretty difficult because, at times, they were us. The merciless fanatics on both sides continue to wage this war as if there could be a winner. Maybe it hasn't been long enough yet, but here's something else Hunter wanted us to remember: "Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why."

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Crux Of The Matter

So many voices these days. So little time.
But now maybe it's time to take some time.
Listen to the children.
Listen to the wind.
Listen to the Pope.
Man is stupid,” he said, referencing a passage in the Old Testament, according to the The New York Times and The Associated Press. “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.” 
He may have been quoting the Bible, but it sounds a lot like the Rock Man to me: "You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear, dig?"
And that's fine, if the intersection of what I believe in Catholic dogma happens to intersect in The Point, I can live with that. Like the way I can live with Pope Francis. I was just lauding the thoughtful words of Miss Texas, so why should I be shy about my fondness for the pontiff? Like when he and our "President" got together last and Pope Francis handed our Pointless Man his one hundred eighty-four page encyclical "Laudato Si," calling on all Catholics to make saving the planet a top priority. If your Italian is a little shaky, that translates to "Be Praised." 
Yes. Let's praise those who see saving the earth upon which we spend most of our time a priority. Let's also sing for those who are willing to point out when the Emperor shows up in his birthday suit. Like the way Francis chose to call out our "President" on his threats against DACA. Dividing families, he said, isn't "pro-life." 
Well played, Francis.
And so we navigate through this scary time, brightened by the sounds we hear coming from what is not really the resistance as much as the reality check. And we take heart in the fact that while hurricane season continues, "President" Trump seems to have found a safe quiet place to hunker down until the storms pass, tweeting his encouragement and going out only when it's time to pass out hot dogs. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Say What?

The bright spot, it seems to me, is that people who you never would have expected are finding their voice. Majority, minority: it doesn't matter. There will be no more silence.
“I think that the white supremacist issue, it was very obvious, that it was a terrorist attack. And I think that President Donald Trump should’ve made a statement earlier addressing the fact, and in making sure all Americans feel safe in this country. That is the number one issue right now.” These were not the words of a politician. These were the words of Miss Texas 2017.
Margana Wood did not go on to win the title of Miss America, but she won over a group of skeptics (myself included) when she chose to stand up and deliver a fifteen second response to white supremacists that our "President" never approached. If she had crept up to the question and suggested that there were "many sides" to this issue, it would not have seemed out of character or place. Beauty pageants and direct speech about the world's problems are not immediately associated. World peace and famine have been trotted out to display the limitations of Miss America as a forum. 
It would be rude and sexist of me to suggest that pageant contestants are not capable of speaking their minds and hearts. It would not be a surprise to read here and now that pageant contestants are suddenly much more ready and capable to discuss issues that matter than our "President." Ms. Wood's platform was one of inclusion: You Belong. In an interview with Out Smart, a Houston-based magazine for the LGBTQ community, she said, “It’s important for everyone to hear the phrase because they do ― everybody belongs.” 
And suddenly, I wished that I could vote for her not just for Miss America, but for Miss Belong. I wished that I could hear some of these inspiring words from someone in elected office. Who knows? Maybe in a few years we'll have that chance.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mars Attacks

A few years back, a colleague suggested to me that I might be suffering from NES - Night Eating Disorder. It was suggested that my fondness for consuming mass quantities of peanut M&Ms was part of the trouble I was having with sleep and maintaining an overall happy vision of life as it rolled out in front of me.
Turns out I was just trying to save the world.
This was back when our grocery list included peanut M&Ms as a staple, right up there with frozen pizza. When it was discovered that these candies could be purchased in pillowcase sized sacks called "pounders," I looked on this as a challenge. At the end of a hard day, I would sit in front of my computer and answer email, engage in a variety of online time sinks, and consume peanut M&Ms. And all the while I was saving the world.
As it turns out, you see, Mars Incorporated (the makers of peanut M&Ms and a great many other delicious candy treats (was busy building a massive war chest that would eventually be used to fund the fight against climate change. My contributions helped generate part of the one billion dollars the candy folks are contributing to sustainability.
One billion dollars. That's a figure that might give Doctor Evil pause. Who would have guessed that Skittles and Snickers and yes, peanut M&Ms would be the thing that brought us to this momentous occasion? My wife wasn't buying it. Not at first.
"You mean they're going to find some way to weasel out of their responsibility for global warming and throw blame on someone else."
No. They are interested in supporting sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. Which makes a lot of sense, since the end of the world would be catastrophic for candy sales, eventually. Initially it might be great, since a lot of people would be happy to cast their dietary regimen aside for one last binge before we turn into a burned out husk of a planet, but then the gravy train pretty much stops. And that would be a bummer for everyone involved in this particular food chain.
Which leaves me at a bit of a crossroads. I want to be around forever, but I also enjoy my peanut M&Ms. I would probably live longer and be able to see more of the future supplied by this initiative if I ate more kale and avoided gorging myself on chocolate covered peanuts encased in a colorful candy shell. But I also want to save the world.
What's a guy to do?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Friends came to visit over the weekend. They came down from Oregon. In preparation for landing in San Francisco, it was decided that another layer would be necessary. A sweatshirt was purchased at the airport in Portland. An Oregon State sweatshirt. With a ferocious orange beaver logo. That was for mom. Her son declined because there wasn't a University of Oregon sweatshirt available. One with a green and yellow ferocious duck logo.
Ferocious ducks.
Ferocious beavers.
I understand these are beloved mascots. They are emblematic of life in the northwest. I continue to maintain that the state of Oregon must have had last choice when it came time to pick college mascots. I make this assertion as someone who grew up in the presence of one of the all-time great college mascots: A buffalo. The University of Colorado, by my reckoning, must have been up near the top of the list when it came time to choose what beast, mythical or otherwise, would lead the team out on to the field on Saturday afternoons.
This year, Colorado celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of using a live, snorting, galloping bison to fire up the home crowd. The first buffalo used was named "Ralph" because of the sound she made when she ran. That became "Ralphie" as an acknowledgement of her softer side. Females have been used for the past five decades because they are just a bit smaller and easier to handle when running at full tilt down a sideline. And still, Ralphie's handlers have often been Ralphie's draggers as they make that big turn to head back down the field to her trailer.
Brian Bosworth, The Boz, Oklahoma Sooner star linebacker made the mistake of thinking he might stare down Ralphie when he came to town back in his heyday. The Boz made a good choice when he got out of the way, sooner rather than later. There is no forgiveness in a buffalo stampede. Boz or Bozo.
Over the years, there have been a number of different Ralphies. They make their appearances, they make their runs. They get back in the trailer and come back again the next week. For fifty years. Ferocious. Fer real.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Reset Button

Out here in earthquake land, we're having plenty of nervous moments as we watch the "forecasted" disasters of hurricanes demolishing the Atlantic side of the country. Not because we are actively concerned about landfall in our corner of the planet, but because we worry about falling land. It reminds me of the sliding down a fifty foot razor blade versus eating a bucket of boogers quandary. Not a choice I hope or expect to be making, but hurricanes and earthquakes exist in some quadrants as a double-dip opportunity. You could have your boogers and a slice of a banister slide in some regions.
In a word, "Nothankyou."
Instead, we await the eventual crush of reality out here on the left edge of the country with the worst possible game of  Wait and See imaginable. And what do we do in the meantime? We send our first responders to trouble spots and donate money and plasma while the forests around us burst into flame. And we wish for a tiny portion of that rain to land here on the scorched earth that is the West.
And we wait.
Science has been telling us for decades that The Big One will be here any day. When we read the news of tremors in Japan, in Mexico, in Oklahoma, we wonder ever-so-briefly if living in a place where no one can afford insurance that would allow us to keep living here if some or all of California slid off into the ocean. Like the lack of flood insurance in Texas, the cost of living is prohibitive when the cost of staying alive is ridiculous.
Everyday disasters like exploding water heaters or home invasions might be enough to get some of us to give up hearth and home to retreat to a calmer, safer locale.
And where might that  be?
There is a scene in the film version of The World According to Garp in which Garp and his new wife are out shopping for a home. While they are standing there, looking up from the front yard, a small plane crashes into the upper floor. Garp's reaction to this catastrophe? "We'll  take it." The house is pre-disastered. The chances of something like that happening again are a billion to one. A pretty clever notion, but if you know the story of T.S. Garp, you know that disaster doesn't always conform to statistical prognostication. Bad news has a way of finding its way into the picture. So what do we do?

Sunday, September 10, 2017


"Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of Soap." Those were the reassuring words of the narrator introducing another chapter in the saga of two sisters and their zany families. This was a parody of soap operas, and took every trope and device to extremes, often with hilarious results. Eventually, the parody succumbed to a series of "very special episodes," and we were left with a soap opera that was only pretending to make fun of soap operas. Because it really was a soap opera. Confused?
I am.
Not by the TV series that debuted on ABC forty years ago. That's pretty much a part of history now, along with Billy Crystal. What does confuse me now is the herky-jerky reaction/response that our government seems to be lurching along with over the past several months. It starts with some whacko proclamation issued on Twitter, followed by a wave of angry replies that seem to have the most immediate effect of growing Twitter's stock. When government employees arrive to work following such issuance, then the second stage begins. This is where senators, generals, cabinet members and the like start furiously scratching their collective heads: Transgender ban? Eliminate DACA? Fire and fury? The third stage is the one where talking heads descend upon the twenty-four hour news cycle in a vain attempt to explain what may have been going on when the tweet came tumbling down to the rest of us.
Then there is the reckoning. Everyone but the guy who spouts off his inane "thoughts" are left to discuss and decipher what those "thoughts" might mean to the rest of us. Of course the US military won't ban an entire class of people from serving in the volunteer armed forces. Of course we won't drive our trucks down to the border with a bunch of old pallets and carpet remnants to start building a wall. Even if Mexico pays for our time and trouble.
Still, each time Orange Whip gets a burr under his saddle or sees something on Fox and Friends that incites him to action, we as a nation flinch. We forget that we have a government comprised of three branches, with checks and balances, and a number of clever and well-read individuals doing their job in a way that seems more or less familiar to those of us who remember the days BT: Before Twitter. Before Trump. Yes, we're testing our constitution daily. I am happy to think that it's more than worth the paper upon which it is written. More than a share of Twitter, even.

Saturday, September 09, 2017


Sometimes it's hard to remember that there is more than one ignorant voice crying out in the wilderness. One in particular, who lives in a dump and has access to Twitter, is hard to ignore. That makes some sense since he is a high profile ignorant voice and we can't really say that he is crying out in the wilderness since he doesn't believe in such things. Still there are plenty of other loud whines and cries coming from the not-so-clever.
No surprise on this list, I submit Rush Limbaugh. If you haven't heard from Rush lately, it could be that his voice has become less relevant in this age of ridiculous twaddle that issues forth on a daily basis. This could be the reason that Rush decided to up his game. On his Labor Day broadcast, he delivered a customarily freewheeling monologue in which he seemed to suggest that hurricanes were a liberal conspiracy intended to convince the public that climate change is real. The Palm Beach, Florida resident said, “The reason that I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks, is because I see how the system works. Hurricane Harvey and the TV pictures that accompany that go a long way to helping further and create the panic.” This was the way Rush chose to promote his vision of weather and the conspiracies that he feels are being lobbed at our "President."
Rush insisted that, “in the official meteorological circles, you have an abundance of people who believe that man-made climate change is real. And they believe that Al Gore is correct when he has written—and he couldn’t be more wrong—that climate change is creating more hurricanes and stronger hurricanes.” And, “there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don’t need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.”
Now we come to the rationale portion: How to unravel the "logic" behind this paranoia. What a relief it would be if we could find some way to make our planet more habitable rather than less. What sort of machinations and machinery would be involved in creating more and better hurricanes if for some bizarro reason. Al Gore, inventor of the Internet, now controls weather? Well that would be a headline, wouldn't it? 
And maybe Rush is just tired of not being the biggest idjit in the wilderness. 

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Boys Of Summer

Some of the normal rhythms of summer have caused me to become confused. The part where I looked up as my wife and I rolled our cart through Target and she asked me if I thought that our son needed any school supplies. Glue. Pencils. Erasers. Sharpener. Binder. Maybe a cigar box into which he could put the entire collection for storage. I tried to shrug this off, but my wife insisted that she text our son, who is in his third year of college to see if there was anything on his list. When we received no response, we let it go, assuming either he already had enough of these necessities to get him through the semester or perhaps he was at work and couldn't be bothered.
Or some combination of the two.
The other mild awakening came when I realized that there was only a month left in the regular season of professional baseball. This year has been a rather dull and pitiful ride for both bay area teams. The highlight for me was heading out to the park for a Father's Day game against the Yankees with my son. The Oakland Athletics showed up that day, and completed a four game sweep of those Bronx Bombers. At that time, there were still a couple of players whose names we recognized wearing the green and gold. By the end of the week, they were gone too. That makes this officially a "rebuilding year," which is what sports organizations like to call losing two thirds of their games and selling off any of their high-priced talent.
A month and a half later, my son came back to town and we returned to that stadium to watch Green Day play and all-star caliber set, complete with post-game fireworks. We bought our T-shirts. We paid for parking. Now the grounds crew is getting ready to turn the diamond into some sort of football-baseball hybrid, at least for the time it takes until the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas. This will be an odd two-year separation process.
Not unlike the one we're experiencing with our son's school supplies.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

How Does One Make America Great?

Last weekend, Donald Trump went down to Texas and handed out hot dogs. It was part of his plan to Make America Great Again. This is an important distinction, since it tends to take at least a couple tries for "President" Trump to get anything close to right. On his first visit to the flood-ravaged Lone Star State, the Orange Whip managed to miss meeting with any of the victims of the disaster, preferring instead to laud the size of the crowd that came out to see him. 
It is all about him.
The size of the crowd. 
The tremendous amount of work he's getting done.
The great people he has working for him.
Or had.
Then there's the story of Alonso Guillen. Alonso drowned when a boat he and his friends were using to rescue folks in Houston last Wednesday. His father, Jesus Guillen, said he had asked his son not to go out during the storm but his son insisted on helping people.  The thirty-one year old disc jockey died saving other Americans in midst of a disaster. He died a hero.
Which is fortunate, since had he survived, he might have been deported. See, when the "President" wasn't in Texas pretending to help out, he was also busy preparing to terminate DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This was the program that allowed Alonso to be in the United States, and hundreds of thousands of other who entered the country as minors. Now there is some question as to whether Alonso's mother will be allowed into our country from Mexico to bury her son. 
So, what makes America great? Siding with Nazis and handing out hot dogs, or saving lives while floodwaters rage all around?
This is a "President" who took the time to take shots at the media while he was supposed to be praising the Coast Guard, who saved thousands of lives, “by going into winds that this media would not go into… unless it’s a really good story in which case they will.” And to that we can only respond with the name Dave Griffin, a CNN reporter who along with his crew saved a truck driver who had driven his rig into twelve feet of water. Fake news? That's what a photo op "loading a truck" is. Dreamers? That's what Alonso Guillen was. Alonso is what makes America great. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Heat Is On

We were asked to spare the air last week. For a few days. Troubling for those who had planned road trips over the Labor Day weekend. Personally, the notion of sitting in a metal box for any period of time when the temperature hovered just above one hundred degrees was not one that I clung to with any tenacity. Poor air. Hot, hazy air. Can't we give it a break?
As for the rest of us, wandering through the blistering temperatures in search of a cool place to lay down for a moment turned into a rather fruitless endeavor. When I came home on Friday evening, I put myself on the floor underneath our ceiling fan and waited for the sun to go down. Not that this gave any actual relief from the heat. There was the illusion of the dark air being somehow qualitatively different than the white hot air that had been hanging over us all day long. There was no escape. I was resigned to being at whatever temperature the gods had declared was acceptable for the punishment I had so obviously earned.
Meanwhile, in Texas, flood waters receded far enough in Texas to accommodate Melania Trump's stilettos. Our "President" kept his "hair" in place with an attractive cap, which just happened to be for sale on his website. I was relieved that the Northern California heat wave did not necessitate a presidential visit and/or an opportunity for him to raise any of the pledged million dollars he had promised to relief efforts.
Elsewhere in California, wildfires raged, contributing to the periodically stunning sunsets and outbreaks of respiratory difficulty. Things were on fire pretty much everywhere that wasn't underwater. Even in Texas where suddenly there wasn't enough water to put out fires once there was no more flood.
And somewhere, under that red baseball cap, was a brain that refuses to acknowledge the science of global warming. Fire and flood, with famine coming in just behind almost as an afterthought as shelves empty and crops burn and emergency rations disappear. What gets the attention from our "President?" Tough guy threats to North Korea. What good is rebuilding Houston if you're just going to get us into a nuclear war where it will most certainly be a primary target?
And bring about a Nuclear Winter? There's the relief we were looking for.
Didn't even have to buy the hat.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Anti Maim

Maybe it's good news that it wasn't Sean Hannity who was spouting off about how "stupid" Heather Hayer was for going out and marching with antifa. It was Sean's radio show, but it was his guest host Jonathan Gilliam who did the spouting. The former Navy Seal and current media "voice of truth" got his camouflage knickers in a twist because "This girl goes out and marches with antifa and gets killed by one of these neo-Nazi people when she got hit by a car, but she was still marching with antifa." She was asking for it, right Mister Seal? 
Over the past week, I have been confounded by this new label: Antifa. Initially, I figured there must be something more sinister lurking within this moniker. Was it some leftover from the Sandinista? Could its origins be traced back to some dark past with foreign agitators plotting the violent overthrow of everything everywhere. Anarchists. 
Well, it turns out that "antifa" is short for anti-fascists. My reading of Captain America comics suggests that he was antifa. As was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And Winston Churchill. And noted archaeologist Indiana Jones. I wonder just exactly why a former Navy Seal wouldn't want to associate himself with these folks. Maybe it's because they showed up at a protest in Berkeley earlier this year, causing one hundred thousand dollars in damage as they prevented former Breitbart darling Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. And they wear masks. And they break things. Antifa is bad. Remember who else fought the fascists? Communists. That's what they are, you know. Not oppressed Americans fearing for their own lives and country. The antifa are the enemy.
Wait a second. Isn't the enemy of my enemy my friend? I guess it depends a little on which side you start that particular equation. 
Opponents of antifa like to point out the associations to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Black Lives Matter. Obvious threats to our way of life. Or obvious threatened groups, especially in the face of a rising white supremacist movement. Are they anti-free speech? Are they anti-hate speech? The hardest thing about being against something is being able to describe what things you stand for. Heather Hayer didn't bother to make all these distinctions. She wanted the Nazis out of her town. She wasn't asking to be hit by a car. She was asking for the Nazis to go back to the losers column of world history. 

Monday, September 04, 2017

A Momentary Pause

Work, work, work. On this Labor Day, that 's what I will be thinking about. Not the intrinsic irony of taking a day off and calling it Labor Day, but the obvious need for a standing eight count in the midst of a life spent working.
Most of us do, you know.
We get up and go somewhere, whether it's down the hall or across town, and find the things that make it possible for us to do our daily routine. The routine for which we hopefully will receive some sort of meaningful remuneration. Money is great. Let's get that clear up front. That is the reason most of us continue to show up. Over and over. Until someone tells us to stop. Or you come by that decision somewhere in yourself.
There have been times, for moments at a time, when I have imagined that potential freeing thought: Drop out. Find your way without having to punch the clock. Don't be a slave to the machine. Divest yourself of your unnecessary and burdensome possessions and take it on the lam.
But then what would you do for work?
This is where that dream falls apart for me, because I have so desperately clung to the Protestant Work Ethic. When I read about Powerball winners who suddenly find themselves obnoxiously wealthy and decide to go back to their job the next day, I understand. It's part of life's rhythm for me. And a few million others.
From the time when I started mowing lawns to raise money to buy a water bed to the job I had reboxing educational filmstrips for gas money, I have been part of the workforce since the 1970's. I haven't won the lottery, so it's off to work with the understanding that it really isn't that big check that I'm working for. It is the chance to make a difference. Getting those blades of grass back to something that appears even. Putting those filmstrip canisters into fresh new boxes so they can find themselves back in the mail to another school, another classroom. Showing up before the sun at a school to prepare for the day as a teacher of students who have no idea what a filmstrip is. I know this is better work than unloading trucks. I know this is better than working fast food. I know this is good work.
And I'm heading back there tomorrow.  

Sunday, September 03, 2017


And just how would we go about making America great again? An answer might come from Texas, where Americans are doing amazing things and doing things that Americans have done for hundreds of years: coming together in times of crisis. A television reporter saw a man stuck inside the cab of a truck and called in help. A preacher up to his waist in muddy water checked marooned cars for victims trapped inside. Neighbors grabbed neighbors and heaved them to safety. These were the bright lights amidst the dark skies. Human chains were formed to rescue victims stuck in water that seemed to be everywhere. Rescue workers and first responders from across the country raced south to lend a hand. 
And even though there was plenty to fear, these folks went into a disaster area and made us remember what is best about our country. This wasn't the first time we have seen greatness in America. It will not be the last. It is Mister and Missus John Q. Public and their like-minded friends and family that make the difference. The folks who are willing to get their hands dirty and their feet, along with everything else, wet. 
Which brings us to the Cheeto masquerading as "President." Showing up in Corpus Christi, he was impressed as he always is, by the size of the crowd. "What a turnout!" he crowed. Yes. I am sure that this will go down as the most-watched rally from the back of a firehouse in history. Meanwhile, up the road in Houston, Pastor Joel Osteen has agreed to open the doors of his megachurch as a sanctuary for those displaced by the floods. The floods, ironically, of biblical proportions. Pastor Joel had initially put off the suggestion that his sixteen thousand seat goditorium be used as a way station in the storm, claiming that he was "never asked" to do any such thing. Any such Christian thing. By Tuesday he was open for business, and if the business was housing the victims of an Act of God, business was very good.
Then there was Ted Cruz. Ted who pulled a one-eighty when it came to disaster relief bills. The senator from the Lone Star State who once insisted that the package that he voted against for Hurricane Sandy because it was "two thirds pork." Senator Ted has no such concerns about aid that will be voted on for his state. That may be because Senator Ted is two thirds pork himself. Nobody likes Ted. 
And isn't that what Makes America Great? 

Saturday, September 02, 2017


I read the news today. Oh boy.
Twitter rampages and more casualties. Killer vans. Killer storms. Killer bees would be a nice bit of quiet nostalgia by comparison. As the death toll from Hurricane Harvey mounts, I wonder how long it will be until someone starts to compare terrorist attacks to the weather.
Oops. I just did it.
Okay, so now that particular die is cast, why don't we explore this bit of absurdity? These are absurd times in which we live, so we might as well prepare for it. Currently, the weapon of choice for bad guys is a truck or van, driven into a crowd. Since vans and crowds can be found on most continents and are part of the everyday fabric of our life, it's hard to imagine what could be done to limit the catastrophe. Driving into a crowd doesn't even require a license, just the ability to reach the accelerator. It fits neatly into that terror category as it takes everyday objects and turns them into something awful. Shoes. Box knives. Airplanes. Underwear. Add to that list Ford Econoline.
Meanwhile, down in Texas, where things are always bigger, the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Harvey proves once again that Mother Nature takes a back seat to no one when it comes to wreckage. The difference here is that storms can be forecast. They can be tracked by radar. While many experts claim that there was no way to predict that such a tempest would or could find its way onshore and generate the loss of life and property that has occurred, others might argue. Scientists have been talking about rising ocean levels and storm surges for years now. All that water that is dropping into our oceans that used to be part of ice shelves at our poles has to go somewhere. Houston? New Orleans? New York City?
What I' am about to suggest will be a point of discussion for many, myself included. If it is easier to keep track of our weather than the number of private and corporate vehicles available for terrorist acts, could we put a little more effort into sparing the lives of those we can? In the meantime, why not give to the Red Cross? We are past the prevention part, but we can give some relief. There's nothing absurd about that.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Good Guy

My older brother is going away for the weekend. I won't tell you where he's going, because that might be cause to call him up and disturb him. He has earned this, and not just because it's the weekend that backs up on his birthday.
I could relate more stories about the way that my big brother helped shape the path on which I find myself currently. So much pop culture was ushered my way through his benign goodness. I have mentioned the path the Beatles took through the ceiling of his room to the floor in mine. I have talked about the trips to high speed turbulent roller coaster type rides and the lessons learned through his eyes. I have talked to anyone who will listen about the inside movie stories and bits that we tend to share with breathless, "yeah, but didja know..." intros.
Oh. And I wrecked the truck he gave me and lived to tell the tale.
And he doesn't always agree with me, but he will fiercely defend my right to say whatever it is that got into my head on any particular day.
That would be enough. But he also happens to be one of the most responsible human beings you or I will ever meet. When our father passed away, he's the one who wrestled that mess of loose threads masquerading as an estate to the ground and managed it for all of us. With the wisdom of Solomon, I should add. He is currently riding herd on my mother's accounts as her life path takes more and more interesting sharp turns. He mows her lawn. He takes her shopping. He keeps her safe and warm.
My younger brother and I sit out here on the edge of the continent doing nothing more than marvel at his dedication and energy. We help out in any way that we can, which is often limited to nodding in assent as big brother has already found a solution and moved on to the next challenge.
For all of this, the roller coasters, the Beatles, the truck, and managing the phases of our parents' autumn years, I wish that I could send him off on a cruise to Scotland or maybe somewhere warm. I wish that he could take some time for himself and savor those moments with his own little family that he has earned.
And I know that he does that too. All on his own. Because he's a good guy. Happy Birthday, big brother. Bon Voyage.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Prestige

For those of you who have never seen the film by Christopher Nolan, shame on you. I will wait right here while you go find a spare two hours and ten minutes to catch up. It's available on Amazon. Netflix. Your local video store. Ask your mom to tell you the story if she's seen it. It's great. 
There. Don't you feel better? Now you'll be able to fully appreciate what I am about to unload here. "Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige'." That's the way Michael Caine's character introduces the idea. I would like to suggest that Donald Trump's administration is a magic trick. A really poorly rehearsed and presented magic trick.
You remember the Pledge: Make America Great Again. Who wouldn't want that? It sounds so appealing that many didn't bother to ask, "Wait. Again? Weren't we great before?" No matter. All those signs and red hats made us believe that this was a real, unaltered, normal thing.
Then came the Turn. That's when we found out that Making America Great Again would involve taking gigantic steps back into our country's past: Racism, Nazis, the threat of nuclear war. As an audience, we are sitting in our seats waiting for that third act. All of this has to turn around soon, right? When do we get our country back? Over the past seven months, it has disappeared, and now we want the Prestige.
But it's not coming. Not from the Great Trumpini. There is no prestige there. Just more tricks. And absolutely no prestige. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Delicacy Of A Chainsaw

It was a kind of horrible juxtaposition: Watching flood waters from Hurricane Harvey swallow up Houston and then getting the news that Tobe Hooper had died. The director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre passed away while his home state was being pummeled by a tropical storm. When I was in college and they allowed me to study such things, I wrote a paper about how brilliant a conceit it was to make it chainsaws. What ends up being shown on the screen turns out to be so much less grotesque than anything your average moviegoer's imagination could conjure up. Just knowing that somewhere out there in Texas, or places like Texas, there were families of inbred mutants using the least subtle methods for vivisection possible caused an entire generation to reconsider the wisdom behind hitchhiking. 
Yes, Mister Hooper made more than one film, but was Leatherface and his cannibal crew that left its indelible mark on pop culture. He worked in the cinematic ghetto that is horror film. Home video allowed me to keep track of his films that I didn't catch at the drive-in. His remake of Invaders From Mars became a favorite of my older brother and mine. Years later, we were still quoting the line, "Don't worry, Son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!" We were excited to see that Tobe got his shot at the big time with Poltergeist, We were a little let down to find out that Steven Spielberg had more to do with it than we had been led to believe. 
Still, it was a high-speed turbulent roller coaster-type ride and it offered up creepy new ways to make us think twice about living in suburbia. Just like Lifeforce made me nervous about space vampires. I was already nervous about Billy Idol when I saw Tobe Hooper's video for Dancing With Myself, but these were times in which we found ourselves. 
Tobe Hooper taught us not to build subdivisions on old cemeteries. He let us know that the Marines had our back, especially when it came to space invaders. He let us know about the dangers of laundry folding machines and carnival funhouses
And when that family from south Texas invites you over for barbecue, you might want to RSVPing in the negative. Tobe Hooper stomped on the cinematic Terra, and once Texas dries out again, I hope they give him a hero's sendoff. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Shout It Out Loud

Stop me if you've hear this one: How do you get a Nazi out of the White House?
Offer him a job at Breitbart News.
Or her. I hear they don't discriminate.
Ba dump bump. 
If you're keeping score at home, and if you don't have a program it's tough to keep score, Sebastian Gorka is out. The count after Evil Count Gorka resigned brings the total number of high-profile resignations and firings to a dozen. In seven months. I understand that these are difficult jobs requiring a lot of patience and carry a ton of stress, but what happens when that void is created? Are we creating more calm? Is our "President" creating more calm? Is it improving his golf game?
The easy answer is "no."
Except for the golf game. I hear the "President" has a terrific handicap. But that's another matter.
The metaphor of rats leaving a sinking ship comes to mind, but one look at the captain and you can see that the guy behind the wheel has whiskers and a tail. A quick look at the manifest suggests that the current ship of state is full of rodents and the ones that aren't eating one another are hastily looking  for an exit.
Or a job at Breitbart News.
Meanwhile, the "President" continues to tweet his pronouncements and push his fear-fueled agenda through the mouths and twitter accounts of those who are left. The initial backlash against a ban on transgender service men and women was not enough to get him to reconsider his proclamation. Nor was the outrage stirred by his suggestion of a pardon for Sheriff Joe enough to sway him from his reckless course.
What are we to do?
I like the idea of sheet caking. I like the idea of trolling with tubas. But mostly I like the example set by Boston. Go ahead and give the Proud Boys have their moment at the gazebo. Let them shout into the wind. Meanwhile, lift up your own voice to speak out against the hate. It doesn't have to be in a crowd or out in the streets. Let others know that no matter what they call themselves, a Nazi is a Nazi, and they need to check the calendar and the history books for the timeline on their peculiar ideology.
No racism. No sexism. No homophobia. No hate. No fear.
No more jobs at Breitbart.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lessons Learned

Back around the time the earth was still cooling and my son was beginning to walk, he was left with his hapless father and new dog. Not for a week. Not for a day. Just a couple of hours. This was just long enough for the dad (me) to set up the Rube Goldberg machine designed for putting a great big bump on the son's head (big head) and the black hole of trust from which there was no escape. Begin with the wobbling toddler on the front porch. Dog inside. Dad in the doorway. Dad can see all and is in control. Then he needs to step back inside to get his keys. All is calm. All is well. On the way back to the front door, dad's movement causes dog to bolt for the opening. Wobbly toddler has moved to an even more precarious position on the top step. Dog upsets the delicate balance of head over toes and wobbly toddler tips forward. Dog continues down the stairs to run enthusiastic circles in the yard. Dog's portion of this exercise is now complete. Wobbly toddler begins to tumble head over little round heels, making contact with each step as he goes. Dad stands at the top of the stairs with all kinds of thoughts in his head. One of these is "I really wish I would have prepared myself and my son better for this situation." Another is "If I run fast enough I could actually turn back time and catch him before he ever leaves the porch." And inevitably "I am such a horrible father."
Now that the earth is getting hotter again, and my son survived that incident, albeit with a knot on his head that had to be explained to his very disappointed mother. He lives in a house hundreds of miles away. Pays his bills. Makes his own meals. Has a job. Goes to school. Wakes himself up. He lives a life of a proto-adult. There is still an implied safety net offered by his parents, supported by frequent and often amusing calls to his childhood home. Still, the moment to moment existence that used to be so carefully monitored has become more of a need-to-know system of accountability. We do get a running report about the salads that he has consumed between texts or calls. His parents don't always hear about the things we might wonder most about, but that's because we respect his privacy. Or something like that. Mostly, we know that he is safe. And generally pretty happy. It should be noted at this point that he is considering getting a dog. A Corgi, whose low center of gravity might not pose the same threat to his balance that his childhood pet posed. And the house where he is currently living has no front steps.
I guess I taught him something.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Master Race?

Chris Cantwell. Does the name ring a bell? No? How about if I said, "The Nazi who spouted off on HBO's Vice News?" 
Yes. I know. "Neo-Nazi." I have a hard time with that. Like somehow it's a new and improved Nazi. Now with twenty percent more White Power!
Nope. This is a guy who yearns for confrontation. He went to jail in Charlottesville on  two counts of illegal use of tear gas and one count of unlawful release of gas causing injury. Mister Cantwell admits that he had pepper sprayed a counter-protester on August 11, but he only did so in "self-defense."
A lot of what Chris Cantwell does seems to be in self-defense. Like the video he released days after the ugly mess in Virginia, when he tearfully recounts the struggles he's had to endure since hearing that he had a warrant out for his arrest.
He said he feared for his life.
I'm not a big fan of suffering on anyone's part, but I suppose I can make an exception here. This is a guy who spouts stuff like, “I’m here to spread my ideas, talk, in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that. Somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.”
Hello? Where do you think the safe place for this guy would be? It's not OKCupd, the dating site. They said they banned Mister Cantwell on principle, but it the straight/gay/other categorization allowed in their classification system probably wouldn't have covered whatever profile that might have been necessary to put Chris in the best possible light. "Ultra-Straight Nazi looking for Aryan Bride for taking long walks by torchlight. Must love the smell of pepper spray."
Do I hope they keep Chris Cantwell safe as he awaits his next encounter with the justice system? Very much so, yes. What this crowd does not need is any kind of a martyr.
Just a Nazi with intimacy issues. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Seen And Not Seen

I have always maintained that if you walk into a situation expecting a confrontation, you will probably get your wish.I put forth as evidence of this assertion, the "President" of the United States. 
Tuesday evening, Orange Julius appeared in Phoenix, Arizona. He was there for a rally. A rally that was intended to boost those good feelings about our Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Or maybe it was to soothe his wounded ego after a couple weeks of abuse by the real bad guys.
Justin Trudeau?
Nope. The focus of the "President's" ire was his favorite target. His punching bag. His white whale. The media. Fake news. “Really bad people” who “foment divisions” because they “don’t like our country.” He rambled on for an hour and fifteen minutes, and twenty of those were devoted to jabs at these bad people. He predicted that the dreaded MSM (mainstream media) would not cover his every utterance, but yet here they were, dutifully reporting back to the world the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) style oration. He also took wide swings at Arizona's senators, Flake and McCain, who have not been falling into line. And he danced on the edge of his rumored pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump explained. “But Sheriff Joe can feel good.” Meaning that Sheriff Joe won't have to worry about that conviction for criminal contempt of court stemming from a 2007 racial profiling case. 
And he kept hammering on how unfair the media is to him. All the time. He wanted us all to know that he was always saying the right thing about what happened in Charlottesville. “I hit ’em with neo-Nazi, I hit ’em with everything. KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all. The only people giving a platform to these hate groups,” the "President" insisted, “is the media itself.”
So here we are, in the middle of a grand experiment in the Heisenberg Principle. Every time we stare into the abyss that is Donald Trump, we are surprised to find that there is nothing there. And yet we keep going back to look. 
Because of the sound. That horrible, horrible sound. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Good News

The wheels of justice are supposed to turn more slowly than this. Last Monday, Joseph Bruzzese Jr was headed to work when he was ambushed by a gunman waiting outside his place of employment: The Jefferson County Courthouse. Mister Bruzzese is a judge. It is alarming to think about what sort of concealed weapons permit a guy who wears a big black robe might have. Rocket launcher. Anti-tank weapons. T-shirt cannon.
So, as it turns out, Judge Joseph pulled up to work on Monday morning and a gentleman who had been witnessed waiting in a car outside for some time opened fire. The judge was wounded, hit in the stomach and chest, but still managed to return fire with his own weapon. 
A nearby probation officer, seeing this attack, started firing too. The suspect was shot and killed. Another man who was also in the car with the assailant was not wounded. Or charged. He's the guy who will spend the next few years trying to figure out what went wrong.
So we have a real and true "good guy with a gun story." This should make our friends at the Second Amendment Headquarters very happy. The fact that a civil servant could be attacked in broad daylight in front of a courthouse makes everyone nervous. 
For some, it will make them want to have more guns. It will legitimize the well-armed militia of civilians we feel should have the right to protect themselves from all those bad guys who also seem to have guns. Which brings us back to the other guy in the car. "Hey Brad, I've got to stop by the courthouse to drop some things off. You mind stopping by there before I drive you to work?"
"Sure. No problem."
Except for that little annoyance we always forget in these situations: Crossfire. The good news would be that this took place at eight in the morning. Passersby are fewer and far between. A couple of hours later and this would be a different story. 
In this version, two people got shot. Two people were wounded. The good guy lived. No innocent bystanders were maimed or killed. Bad guy dead? Okay. People walking by lived? Better. 
Maybe this whole thing would be better if there had been no guns at all involved.
But I guess that's not a discussion we'll be having anytime soon. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Smug Versus Proud

I could say that I don't remember exactly whose idea it was to pick up a bag and start stuffing it with trash as my wife and I made our walk around the neighborhood. I could, but I know it was me. And I'm proud of that. Does that make me smug?
Opinions, as the philosopher once said, vary.
As we made our way along the streets and sidewalks around our house, we found more and more garbage. My wife picked up another bag and began to separate recycling from landfill. I could tell how clever she felt with this advancement. Maybe a little smug?
Opinions vary.
The mental shove I got to start picking up trash in the first place came from seeing Al Gore's Inconvenient Sequel over the weekend. Here I was, strolling through other people's rubbish, reflecting on all those high-minded ideals about global warming and carbon footprints and having opposable thumbs and the ability to bend at the waist. I was not helpless. I could make this one corner of the planet just a little more habitable by removing the fast food detritus that cluttered the gutters of my street.
Gutter clutter.
I'm proud of that one.
Or am I smug?
When we arrived back at our house, bags full and overflowing with the neighborhood's litter, my wife and I opened the gate to our driveway. The driveway that had a Prius parked on it. The driveway that ran in front of a house upon which had recently been mounted solar panels. This made us proud.
And a little smug. When we shoved all that trash into their respective bins, we had a moment to reflect on just how quickly the streets we had walked would be littered again, we became less smug. When we thought about all the ways that we could still be doing more to keep our planet from becoming uninhabitable, we realized that we still had so much left to do.
We stopped being smug, and got back to work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hey Lady!

Go ahead. Say it.
Then say it really loud.
I'll wait.
Now. Don't you feel better? That's your best, easiest path to a Jerry Lewis impression. The Jerry we loved. The Jerry we laughed at. Wacky. Nuts.
Jerry passed on over the weekend, and when I read the news, I was surprised just how hard it hit me. I had made a point of sneering at most of what Jerry Lewis had become over the past half century. For some, the breakup with Dean Martin was the point where they drew the line. For others it was The Day The Clown Cried. For me, it was all about the hair. Once the crew cut was gone and the Vitalis showed up, it was over for me. This was no longer some goofy kid making fun. He was the comic genius adored in France and the guy who made Hardly Working. He was the guy who said, "A woman doing comedy doesn't offend me, but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world."
Okay. So not very funny. But he is also the guy who showed up in Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy and went toe to toe with both Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard in a performance that announced that, in spite of the hair tonic, he was to be reckoned with. He invented video playback for directors. He taught film making at USC. 
And he ran that telethon. I was able, as I grew older, to understand that this man in the rumpled tuxedo was also responsible for a formidable amount of physical comedy the likes of which we will most likely never see again. Unfortunately, when I was young I encountered Jerry Lewis in fully introspective mode. He was always trying to prove what a serious artist he was. 
It's okay. I know Jerry Lewis was an artist. And a clown. 
He stomped on the Terra. I won't say "Aloha." I'll just say Riboflavin. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Vacuum

One of the advantages of starting a new school year is that I have been so immersed in the moving and stapling and carrying and copying and assorted miscellaneous other preparations is that I have been all but cut off from the steady barrage of news. The ugliness and horrors of Charlottesville seem like a distant memory as I help get classrooms ready for children to return from their summer sojourn and the rhythm of Autumn replaces that wandering attention. The first day of school will be followed by the second and third. Updates to this progression will be noted as they become available.
But now my vacation starts. I will no longer be able to sit by and take in each new gaffe or disturbing statement. I will rely on others to distill them for my later consumption. A lot of this will be done by Fake News organizations, my only trusted point of reference. I will also keep world events in my mind to help our students navigate the quickly changing planet which will be left to them when we have finished doing our damage to it. There have been budget cuts that don't allows us to have access to certain programs or resources. We will continue to do the best we can with what we have, and making sure that we show up to do our best work no matter what the bookkeepers tell us. Or politicians.
I work for the Oakland Unified School District. We are a Sanctuary District, which means we are here to serve kids without checking their papers or asking them to put themselves or families in danger. The first thing they taught me in teacher school was that kids can't learn unless they feel safe, so that's what we're going to do. And we're going to try and make that learning fun. There will be plenty of time for all of us to be reminded just how awful things are everywhere else, but our school has brightly decorated bulletin boards and a devoted staff who will help every kid reach their potential.
And later, when I get home and catch my breath, I'll check out my news feed to read about the tragedy in Barcelona or the firing of Steve Bannon. Huge and important events, but it will take a while for their significance to trickle down to our third graders. In the meantime we've got to learn how to read. Once that's done, they'll be able to figure some of this out for themselves.
When they do, I hope they can explain it to me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Too Soon

Next year I am told that the school year will begin almost two full weeks earlier than it does this year. This is not because of some arcane business about full moons or third Mondays or any other superstitious rot. I am in the education business, and the idea that we want to get our hands on those little minds as soon as possible has long been the secret desire of oh-so-many reformers. This whole summer vacation business was all about making kids available for the planting and the harvest. Send them back to school when the crops have begun to wither and dry.
The kids I teach are about as far removed from that reality as anyone could imagine. When I first came to the teaching  profession, I did so at a year-round school. That did not mean that the students were attending school year round. That was my job. They were still attending classes nine months each year. I took off a couple weeks each summer to celebrate my birthday and the Fourth of July. It was the way I was able to re-calibrate my personal clock and the way I could monitor the next phase of my tenure.
Year round school was a space issue. We didn't have enough seats for the kids who attended our school for them to all sit down at the same time, so we sent a group of them away for a month at a time. Then they would come back for three months until it was time for them to evacuate once again. Most of the teachers took these breaks along with their kids, but since I was the Computer Guy, I hung around to make sure that everyone got the tech training they deserved.
And then, we weren't a year round school anymore. Enrollment changed and charter schools opened and charter schools closed, and the science behind year round school was no longer necessary because we could now accommodate that certain number of students that made that concept an antiquated one.
And yet, here we are, trying to figure out how to shave off a few more days, weeks, hours from those halcyon moments we call summer. Going back to school before Labor Day makes a lot of our parents grumble, which is amusing since these are the same parents who sigh heavily when presented with the notion of hanging around with their kids for more than a weekend at a time. Generally, they warm to it, as most parents do. Turns out it's not such a bad thing to have junior  rattling about  the house during those warm months when the sun never seems to go down.
Alas, the sun has set on this summer, and  next year will cycle through even more quickly. I will try not  to miss a second of those lazy hazy days. Like I am right now.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Moving Story

Way back before I became a teacher and a blogger, I worked as a furniture installer. Modular office furniture, primarily. This meant that I spent a good deal of time in newer buildings and creating work spaces for employees who had yet to be hired. Or, in some instances, we were crafting new hives of cubicles for the drones to inhabit once they fled their old hive. New installations were the fun and magical part of the job. Unwrapping all that chrome and peeling the plastic sleeves off the office chairs that hadn't had their hydraulics diminished by thousands of absent-minded adjustments while waiting on hold. Wire management with no wires yet to be mismanaged. Panels whose fabric smelled every bit as clean as the fresh carpet upon which we trod. It was stirring.
But that wasn't the only part of the job. Living as we did in close proximity to a number of IBM satellite plants, I was often sent with a crew to repair or reassemble work stations that were being relocated in other offices or annexes or departments. What became clear to me very quickly was that IBM was happy to spend the money on not just us, the furniture installers, but an onsite crew of movers whose job was to roll boxes of personal effects and papers that needed to be taken out of the room before we came in to dismantle the desks, overheads, typing returns, lights and modesty panels. Once we had broken the furniture into its components, we would put them on four wheel dollies and roll them through the maze of hallways looking for the empty office into which we would reverse the process. Meanwhile, that crew of movers would head off to the snack bar, knowing that their next step was still some time in the future. They were in no rush. They understood this as part of the company culture. In the late eighties it was a simple enough assumption that IBM had this kind of money to burn. Why not? They were at the forefront of this computer revolution. Of course they could spare a few hundred dollars to have Bill's desk taken apart and moved to another corner of the building. I was pretty certain that I moved some of those same desks multiple times over the course of the three years I had the opportunity to be part of the migration. And all the while, those movers were hanging out, on the clock, in the snack bar. And the drone whose office we were navigating from one drab room to another was most certainly taking a personal day while all this mess got sorted out.
When I finished bolting the desk back together, we were off to the next one. Someone in housekeeping would give the movers a shout on their walkie talkie to let them know that it was safe to shove those boxes full of paperweights and rubber bands into their new home. Inevitably, it would be the following day that Mister or Missus Drone would reappear and begin the process of putting all those paper clips and sticky notes in just the right spot.
I knew it would be just a few weeks before we would be back. And the whole mess would start over again.
Job security.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Safeway Parking Lot

Comparing apples to oranges is not a new idea, but what if the guy doing the comparing happens to be one great big Tangerine? A frustrated "President" Trump lashed out at reporters the other day, asserting that "George Washington was a slave owner." With his next breath, he asked we can assume rhetorically, "Was George Washington a slave owner?" The answer, just in case, is "Yes." George Washington was a slave owner, as was the next target of his tirade, Thomas Jefferson. So, his orangey-ness wants to know, if we start tearing down statues of slave owners, are we going to knock George and Tom off their pedestals?
A pretty keen argument if you're getting drunk in the Safeway parking lot with your buds on a Friday night. But this is the President of the United States making these wild swings of mood and taste. He's ignoring simple facts of the matter, like the community of Charlottesville had decided to remove the statue and it was a group of protesters from outside that descended on that college town and decided they wanted to argue the matter. If someone in the District of Columbia could get enough signatures on a petition to change the name of the monuments to reflect more culturally sensitive individuals, then we might have some quid pro quo.
As it stands, this was the desperate flailing of a drowning man. A man so mired in his own fear and loathing that he can no longer distinguish right from wrong. The thugs that dropped by the University of Virginia were there to incite. They were not there to discuss. They showed up armed and ready for battle. This is not, in spite of our current "President's" vision of the world, how we conduct business in the United States. What the Nazis did was stand outside a crowded movie house and shout "Fire!" as they lit a match. If they had shown up and stood there in the dark with their Tiki torches smoldering and chests puffed out without their racist epithets and hateful propaganda, they might have kept their permit and walked home the next day.
That's not why they came. They came to kick at the hornet's nest and then blame the hornets for being angry. Just like our "President." Thinking people from across the globe watched him melt down as he did yet another turnabout when someone asked him why he couldn't be a little more succinct about what was wrong with the events of the past weekend. He couldn't do it. Instead he went for that Safeway parking lot argument and made everyone of the pinheads who spewed their venom in the name of White Supremacy feel vindicated. By the President of the United States. Just under seventy years before the Civil War, George Washington wrote in his will that he wanted to emancipate the slaves he held on his farm at Mount Vernon. Not exactly an abolitionist, but still pretty forward thinking for a gentleman of his time. Thomas Jefferson wrote legislation as far back as 1778 to abolish slavery. Was there hypocrisy in his maintaining his own plantation slaves? Yes. the kind of conflict that was unclear back before we elected our first President.
Now we're on number forty-five. You'd think he would know better.
You'd think that he would think.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fly On The Wall

"Okay. Let's go over it again."
"Right. There's lots of blame on all sides."
"No, no, no. It's got to be more specific."
"There's a bunch of bad hombres out there."
"I think we might want to avoid vernacular, sir."
"Hate is bad. I can say that, can't I?"
"Well sure, but I think it would be best if we..."
"And we as a nation don't like hate. Of any kind."
"Well, yes."
"It's sad."
"Yes it is, but let's try and get back to -"
"I know, I know. More specific."
"Yes. If you would."
"Okay. Haters be hatin' and we won't let that happen."
"Nice start, but what about naming some of the groups or organizations?"
"Like CNN?"
"Not today."
"Obstructionist Democrats?"
"I thought Captain America took care of them."
"That was a movie, sir."
"Great one, too. Maybe we could get that Steve Rogers to drop by the White House."
"Yes. We'll see what we can do about that. Now about your statement."
"You want me to say Nazis are bad?"
"Yes. And the KKK?"
"The Klan. The Ku Klux Klan."
"But if ai call them out, won't that make them mad at me?"
"There are a lot of angry people who need to be reassured."
"Like that's my job?"
"Well. Yes."
"Okay. What do I have to say?"
"You should say that we as Americans will not allow these groups, the KKK, neo-Nazis, white bring their repugnant -"
"Oooo. Repugnant. Can I use that?"
"Yes sir."
"But if I call out all those groups -"
"Who will I be left with?"