Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sales Trip

A couple weekends ago, my wife and I traveled down the coast to visit our son. We had initially planned to make this trip to take in a football game. A college football game. This is my son's third  year in college and we have yet to sit in the stands and take in all that sound and fury that is college football together. As it turned out, my wife's understanding of football schedules was hindered by an understanding of the "@." These are the "away" games. There would be no college football game viewing on this trip.
Which turned out to be fine. That left our little family more time to spend together, not watching college football. Instead, we had meals together. We watched a little television. Well, we didn't watch a little television. We watched a great big television. It was the new addition to my son's household: a great big 4K Ultra HD TV. All of those letters meant we were very impressed with the picture quality and the size of the screen. Really big. His parents were duly impressed by the way all those colors came leaping into his living room. They were also asked to be impressed by the deal he had made getting that big TV into his living room.
Our son works for that big blue electronics store. His employee discount and a ready access to the inventory of the store at which he works made it possible for him to turn around his home entertainment situation more abruptly than his parents might have imagined. Or approved. My wife and I bit our collective parental tongue and admired as we should.
The next day, instead of watching that college football, my wife and I made our way to that big blue electronics showroom. There we encountered our son in his blue shirt and name tag, far too busy helping  paying  customers select their home theater components to spend much time chatting with his mom and dad. They watched their son sell TVs. He was good at it. In a very low-key, informational way, he was really good at it. There was a moment, when he looked up between customers that we caught his eye. He walked over to us and asked if there was anything he could show us. Always a fan of good salesmanship, I let him show me around the future of TV. He talked to me about clarity and pixels and OLED and QLED. I learned things from my son that I did not know. He made me interested in buying a new television. My wife steered clear of that vortex. I believe she understood the power of television in our lives and wanted to steer clear of having to load a big screen into the back of our  car for the trip back up the  coast.
That didn't happen. I was grateful for the chance to see my son work. It was better than college football and, as it all turned out, less expensive.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Come Dancing

I went to a few Homecoming Dances in my day. They were mostly uncomfortable affairs that served primarily as a way for me to exercise what my friends and I considered manliness. Asking a girl out on a date was a nearly impossible task. For me. I had friends who dated successfully and often. They had steady girlfriends. They had relationships. That meant when it came time to pair off for that annual rite of Fall, they were set.
Me? I had just come back from summer vacation without having done the necessary groundwork for such an enterprise. Talking to girls wasn't really the problem. Talking to girls about anything that mattered was the problem. I was a funny guy. I had memorized more comedy albums than anyone else in my class. I was not afraid to climb on top of things and pretend to be a gorilla. The Pepsi machine in the hallway outside of  the band  room, for  example. That lack of fear did not extend to the ability to experience the following exchange:
"Hey (girl's name), are you going to the Homecoming Dance?"
"Well, nobody has asked me. Yet."
"Gee, that's great to hear (girl's name). Would you like to go with me?"
"With you, (my name)?"
And that's where the trolley jumped the track. I was pretty sure I could get laughs. I could get a reaction. It just wasn't the reaction I could have imagined. Wished for. All for the chance to get my suit out of the closet and fret about a corsage and washing my car and my palms to stop sweating in the days leading up to the Big Night.
Then there was the really big leap: What if I asked this girl out to the Homecoming Dance and we ended up having this great time and then drove up to some secluded spot and then we ended up getting married? No pressure, (my name).
Decades later, I encouraged my son to try and get out in front of these situations and ask a girl out to see a movie or grab a slice of pizza. Don't wait until the week before that Big Night. Don't climb on top of Pepsi machines and act like a gorilla. Give yourself a chance.
I went to a few Homecoming Dances in my day. I was terrified. I'm sure my date had a wonderful  time.
Yeah.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fake!

It is with a fair degree of certainty that I can say that I have told stories in this spot, or retold them, that may have not been completely true. In a fact-y kind of way. The ability to verify each and every item and opinion is so challenging on my twenty-four hour news cycle. Things change so fast these days, it is hard to keep up with what is real and what is click bait.
I try to avoid stories about pythons swallowing other large predators. They never end well, and they tend to be generated for their sheer "I've got to see that" sensationalism.Then there are those which rely on the "no he/she didn't" cue, which requires a bit of cross-checking to verify sources and quotes. Which I don't always do. "When the legend becomes factprint the legend." That's a quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I looked it up. 
If I was able to do that much research, why wouldn't I get everything right all the time? Partly because I feel the need to keep up with all those other bloggers and tweeters and instagrammers around me. Creating the top to bottom truthiest piece of information for my readers might require that I spent more than my generally allotted time in front of a screen. I have computer solitaire to keep up with, and replying to all those Trump Tweets don't happen on autopilot. 
My point is, I have a life to live, and I can't get bogged down in what is real and what is fake. However, there are those who do. They are called "journalists." They went to school, most of them did, to learn how to do their job. I know because I looked that up, too. I learned that to be a journalist you should be ready to: Study libel laws, keep up with current events. learn to be an ace researcher, learn how to find and interview sources.
I'm no journalist. I never claimed to be. And if I did, I was just trying to fill space or meet a deadline. Being a journalist requires a different set of muscles that overlap some of the abilities I bring to the keyboard, but I wouldn't know a libel law unless it came in the not-so-fine print of a summons delivered to me by an officer of the court. If that's how they do it. My research skills are on exhibit here, primarily for the purposes of finding examples of the point I am trying to make, not the "truth." Whatever that is
So, are you reading fake news here? Yes, I suppose you are. But I don't claim to be a journalist, either. And neither does Alex Jones. I know because I looked it up. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Long Way Home

It was 3:15 PM. Students had been out of school since 1:40. It was Wednesday when students are released early and teachers attend training of one sort or another. The kids who hadn't rushed home were in their after school program rooms, busy with whatever their extended day had to offer. That left Leslie, sitting alone in the office.
Except she wasn't alone. I was there along with the office staff to see that she got where she needed to go. The adults searched and scrambled about, trying to find a way to reach Leslie's parents. Had they forgotten that was Wednesday? Even on a regular day, she would have been sitting and waiting for half an hour. Her attempts to remember her phone number were in vain, since the only one she could remember was her mom's cell number, the phone that had recently been lost. Or turned off. Or stolen. Or eaten by a vermicious knid.
Whatever the case, Leslie was still waiting more than an hour and a half after she had been dismissed, and we had no way to connect her to her family. Which is why I volunteered to walk her home. And, it was reasoned, if I encountered an adult when we got there, I could get that person to fill out an emergency card so if such a thing ever happened again, we would have up to date information. I asked Leslie if she would mind walking. "It's not that far," she assured me.
Off we went.
As we meandered through the neighborhood, I tried to keep up a moderate string of conversational gambits: Who do you usually walk home with? Is there really a dog behind that "Beware of the Dog" sign? Do you trick or treat on this street? All of which were met with the vague indifference of a fifth grade girl. Still, it was one of the longest interactions I had ever experienced with her as our hike stretched from just a few blocks to nearly half a mile.
When we finally arrived at the gate in front of the house she identified as hers, she rushed up the walk and told me to wait while she went in and got her mom. I did as I was told. This afforded me a chance to view a front yard filled with debris of a life that spilled out the front door and down the steps. When the front door opened, mom stood bleary-eyed in bare feet and sweatshirt. She thanked me for taking the time to walk Leslie home, gesturing with the blank emergency card Leslie had carried home to her. "No problem," I waved. "Please make sure and send that completed form back with Leslie tomorrow morning. It really helps us to have a current address and phone number."
She thanked me again and turned around to respond to the growling male voice that came from inside. I waved at Leslie. "See you tomorrow," I shouted as the door began to close. She smiled an embarrassed smile and went inside.
She was home.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

No Excuses

Hollywood has been an escape for my family and me for generations. My mother was raised on a steady diet of MGM musicals and repeat viewings of Gone With The Wind, reading movie magazines as soon as they were delivered to her parents' drug store in Granby, Colorado. I grew up standing in line for the latest big release from Tinsel Town and those continued showings of Gone With The Wind. I maintain a subscription to Entertainment Weekly to stay ahead of the breaking news and upcoming blockbusters.
Reflecting on the past year's discussion about Civil War monuments, I feel as though my need to see the romanticized version of the antebellum south and its descent into that unfortunate conflict may have dropped off to zero. All those backstage stories about how Clark Gable used to chase Vivien Leigh around with his false teeth and how they burned down the sets from King Kong to recreate the burning of Atlanta are now stacked on a pile of useless memories like the routines of Bill Cosby. Forced perspective. My world view has changed via my life experience. It's a learning curve.
Like when we learned about Harvey Weinstein and his ugly behavior. His excuse? "I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then." Hard to imagine there was a time when sexual assault was part of "the culture." But this is one of those nasty reminders of a society that used to treat "the casting couch" as a quaint feature of a young actress's story on their rise to fame. Producers being "handsy" was part of becoming a star. First, you had to become an object. Then you got to be lit like one.
I have said before in this space that the more I know about the magic of Hollywood, the less inclined I am to consider it a magical place: a dream factory. Instead, I am reminded that King Kong was less than two feet tall. That cute little story about false teeth and the stars of Gone With The Wind is really one of sexual harassment. It was at least a hostile work environment for all of those afraid of Mister Gable's legendary halitosis.
It's not okay. Hollywood needs to check itself. The reality of sixties and seventies was that women were no less obligated to be subjected to the abuse they were back then, even if we looked on it as part of our culture. Fifty years later it is just as revolting. No excuses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Relative Safety

The email I got on Monday morning came as a relief. My younger brother sent a note to let us all know that he was okay. He lives in the North Bay, not to be confused with the South or East Bay. Nobody talks about the West Bay, since that's San Francisco. Actually, there are plenty of people who talk about San Francisco, they just don't refer to it as "The West Bay." And San Francisco is not currently on fire.
That distinction belongs, currently, to the North Bay, where seven different fires have consumed countless acres and dozens of buildings. Evacuations have taken place in places like Calistoga, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa. It would seem that the West Coast, not the West Bay necessarily, felt left out of the current wave of disaster that seems to be plaguing our nation. While not as easy to spot on satellites or track with radar, fires can be predicted with some measure of accuracy and if you live in California long enough you know that fire season and hurricane season seem to run concurrently. It is the price we pay for living where the sun drops into the ocean each night much in the same way that living on the right hand side of the country means you have to understand "storm surge."
Once you leave the Bay Area, you travel down the coast to find that the planet we lovingly refer to as SoCal is also in flames. Orange County, home to Mickey and Goofy, is also peering up at a smoke-filled sky. Evacuations and advisories exist everywhere around the happiest place on earth.
Meanwhile, Californians wonder when the "President" will fly out here and toss paper towels at us. None of us are currently holding our collective breath, except those who are trying to get around without succumbing to smoke inhalation. For many, this is what we of the People's Republic of California deserve. We brought this on ourselves. For being blue. For taking a knee. For being a sanctuary. For protesting and kicking up a fuss when "everyone else" seems to be just fine with the way America is being made Great Again.
I am grieving the loss of life and a disaster just up the road from where I live, and I am glad that my younger brother is okay. The rest of this will have to be worked out while the seasons turn.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Seat Filler

Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game last weekend. This doesn't seem that odd since their star quarterback, Andrew Luck, has been sidelined with a shoulder injury and the team had been struggling of late. They were playing another team with rebuilding issues of its own in the San Francisco Forty-Niners, so this was far from a marquee matchup. But Vice President Pence is a Hoosier and former governor of the state of Indiana. He was probably there, as many fans were, to celebrate the retiring of Peyton Manning's number and the dedication of a statue of number eighteen.
Then one of those upstart San Francisco players had to go and kneel.
Mike's boss had given him strict instructions to leave the stadium if such a thing occurred. On his way out, he tweeted: "I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem." And sure enough, Mike's boss was quick on the Twitter trigger, announcing, "I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen."
You don't suppose that this was some sort of photo opportunity or publicity stunt designed to stir up the folks who may have moved on to this or that other national kerfuffle? While the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has crashed and burned yet again and the country rallies around the open wound that is Las Vegas, how can the POTUS crew remain relevant? Why not conduct their own counter-protest that would have gone virtually unnoticed because, as it turned out, the game was kind of exciting. It went into overtime with the Colts pulling out a victory in the end. They vanquished the godless Bolsheviks of the Bay Area. 
By that time, former governor Pence was on his way back to the underground lair where he transmitted his "mission accomplished" tweet to his overlord. The conversation once again settles back to the disrespect of the flag and the anthem, rather than the disrespect toward the citizens which they represent. The victims in this scenario? Poor Mike Pence, who did not pay for his seat or the airfare to get a chance to vacate that seat to pop out of it when he felt his country was being disrespected. Did he stick around to talk with the players afterward, to hear them out or generate some sort of dialogue.
Nope. Mike had a plane to catch and a boss to please. 
Excellent

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bump In The Night

So, it was a really exciting moment last week when the National Rifle Association suggested it might be open to a ban of bump  stocks. In case you have missed the last week or so, bump stocks are replacements for the standard stock on a semi-automatic rifle that takes the recoil and returns it back to the firing process. Just like that, you've got nearly a machine gun. And even though machine guns are generally not available for civilian purchase, bump stocks are. As a matter of fact, in the days after the mass murder in Las Vegas, there was a bump in the sales of bump stocks. That is consistent with the surge in gun sales that have accompanied most every mass shooting here in the good ol' USA.
As the week ended, the NRA backed off the idea of a ban. “We don’t believe that bans have ever worked on anything,” Chris Cox said on Fox News Sunday. “What we have said is very clear: If something transforms a semi-automatic to function like a fully automatic, then it should be regulated differently.” 
Oh. Bans have never worked on anything? Somebody should tell the "President," especially as it applies to travel and so forth.
Does this mean we surrender to what Bill O'Reilly described as "the price of freedom?" Do we have to surrender our bodies the same way we surrendered our lungs to second hand smoke? 
Wait a second. That was a ban that worked. When I sit in a pizza joint inhaling a slice of pepperoni, I don't have to inhale a lungful of cigarette smoke that I did not order. And then when I head on over to the grocery store to pick up a few things, I won't expect to get a plastic bag in which I would carry my purchases home. Blah, blah, blah lack of convenience but the birds thank me and the gallons of fossil fuel that gets saved is an additional relief. How about that? Saving lives by banning something. 
Huh.
We had a ban on assault weapons. When it expired, mass killings went up. More to the point, when Congress allowed the ban to expire, more people died. From being shot with assault weapons. It's a little like supply and demand. Except that this equation doesn't seem to be fueled by common sense. But I guess it doesn't make sense that the National Rifle Association would help us out on this one. Maybe we can get a study going that suggests that bump stocks cause cancer. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Zorgos

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. I know this because my wife and her mother wrote a book called The Bullying Antidote, and they will be hosting the first annual Zorgos Awards this weekend to celebrate the best and brightest lights in the anti-bullying movement. I wasn't nominated, probably due to claims of nepotism, but I like to think I'm doing my part, specifically when it comes to the Bully In Chief.
This past Saturday morning, instead of spending another week flogging the NFL for not living up to his expectations, or berating the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, his orangey goodness decided to complain that he is not getting "Equal Time" when it comes to air time on television. The irony being that I honestly can't remember when an American president has been so pervasively evident in media of all kinds. This blog in particular. Remember when you could land here in Entropical Paradise and occasionally get a nice little story about the boys and  girls at my school or maybe some fond memory of a cheeseburger I once ate?
No more. This fertile garden of discontent is too fascinating to just walk away. Who knows what stupid, lame-brain thing will come tumbling out his mouth or Twitter account next? It's a train wreck of an administration, and we cannot  look away. 
But let's get back to his complaint: "Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very 'unfunny' & repetitive material, always anti-Trump! Should we get Equal Time?" The quick answer, obviously, is "no." The challenge initially would be finding a Trump supporter who was funny. On purpose. Not the head-shaking-did-he/she-really-just-say-that-way. Scott Baio? Then there is the more complex constitutional question of whether both sides of any issue demand a free and open hearing so that both parties' viewpoints can be heard. That seems to be covered by the President's ability to call news conferences and create nationwide television addresses. Last Fall, a presidential debate went head to head with the NFL. It turns out that there was more money in football. And the previous resident of the White House chose not to preempt the 2011 kickoff game with his speech about jobs. Some things are just more important that what the President has to say.
So, is the NFL the bully here? Is our current "President" the victim? Nope. He's looking for anyone or anything to blame for his despicable behavior and dismal ratings. It would seem that not winning a popular vote has some down sides. Like the folks who create those "unfunny" TV shows who don't share his views on making America great again. The ones that a great many Americans are turning to in order to make sense of the current maelstrom of absurdity pouring out of the Presidential ducts. The "President" is a bully, and he is demanding that we bow and kneel as he sees fit, with little or no regard to public opinion. With no discernible sense of humor of his own, he assumes that everyone is laughing at him. Which turns out to be true for the most part. And how do we deal with bullies? By being an upstander. Don't be a bystander, watching the bully use his sad power one more time. Speak up. Get a late night television show and speak your mind. Or a blog. And celebrate Anti-Bullying Month.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Rocks

I believe I have mentioned in this spot before that some days are diamonds and some are rocks. There have been an awful lot of rocks lately. Still, I feel compelled to dig for those precious bits: the moments that make all that moving of boulders worth the effort.
In the wake of the massacre in Las Vegas there have been dozens of stories emerging of heroism and sacrifice. The husband who shielded his wife on their twenty-third anniversary. He died. Sometimes diamonds are found encrusted in rock. The former Marine who "borrowed" a truck and drove thirty victims to a hospital. The truck wasn't big enough to get everyone out.
Rocks everywhere.
Tom Petty died. Still, there is all that music that now gets the attention it deserves. We can sing along with the ones we know by heart and listen closely to those that never made the greatest hits circuit. "Great American Songwriter." Once more highlighting the tendency we have to celebrate folks after they've gone through the door.
Rocks everywhere.
A presidential moment: "He brutally murdered more than fifty people, and wounded hundreds more. It was an act of pure evil." Then the teleprompter went off and the "President" returned. Tossing paper towels at Puerto Rico. And told us how "wonderful" it was to be in Las Vegas, visiting the victims of that brutal murder. 
So many rocks. 
I suppose it really helps to look in places where diamonds can be easily found, like Tom Shane's villa or in the sky with Lucy. Elementary schools have an abundance of them. You don't often have to look hard, but this past week has been a hard core mining expedition. It's probably selfish of me to expect more hugs from short people who only know me by my last name, but I'm running a little low on things that sparkle and shine. 
Which is precisely what makes them so precious. 
Keep turning over rocks. Move them around. You never know what you might find. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Still Spinning

Warning: Put down any scissors or sharp objects before reading the following quote: “This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are." Such is the wit and wisdom of Bill O'Reilly. You remember Bill. He had a TV show, once upon a time. Now he's a blogger.
Just like me.
Okay. Not at all like me, except that he has a place on Al Gore's Internet to scribble his thoughts. To let us all know that he is still very much alive and kicking. And making sure that we all know it. Even if it means begging for an appearance on his pal Sean Hannity's Faux News Channel program. It's what Faux News Bros do for one another. 
But back to this Bill Blog. He was giving us his no-spin version of how our country works. Violent nuts get to roam free, until they do damage: We cannot hope to keep guns out of their hands because the founding fathers of our great republic wanted an AK-47 in everyone's living room. Or something like that. It's really hard to discern the reality from the argy-bargy in Bill-Bo's rhetoric. Like this: “The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.” 
I don't think that our founding fathers mentioned "loons" in the Constitution. Little known fact, Ben Franklin initially hoped to make the Loon our national bird, but that's a discussion for later. The right to bear arms, even for the Loons, shall not be infringed. Even if the Loon in question happened to want to bear a couple dozen semi-automatic rifles? That's the price of freedom, according to Bill. 
Wild, Bill.
This is a guy who has spent the last few years literally killing all manner of historical figures: Jesus, Reagan, Patton, England. His vision of history seems expressly connected to death. And conspiracy. Because that's the price of freedom. Free speech and all. Bill has had an ax to grind as long as I can remember, but I will not infringe on his right to grind an ax. But does every Loon really need a machine gun to make us all free? 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Losing Control

The horrible-ness of the deaths of fifty-nine American citizens cannot be diminished. They can, however, be appropriated for political purposes. In order to find meaning in the meaningless void of last weekend's mass murder in Las Vegas, sides are once again being drawn in that great debate we call "gun control." Many of the arguments for the law-abiding gun owner center on the notion that one bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl. One "lone wolf" shouldn't be the reason to impinge on the rights of all those law-abiding wolves. Just because a number of high-powered semi-automatic rifles were used in the commission of this awfulness doesn't mean that the Constitution does not protect all those wolves who would like to have their own arsenal. "The bad guys all have guns," we are told. "Why shouldn't we?"
If all the bad guys jumped off the roof of the Mandalay Bay hotel, would you want to follow them? 
Two years ago, columnist Dan Hodges tweeted, "In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." That thought has received a lot of replay over the past week as we try once again to unravel this bloody web of sorrow and regret. 
Of course there are those who have already made up their minds. Like our friend Alex Jones, who has made a career of staring down all kinds of reality and coming back with the realization that dark forces other than the obvious were at work. Jones fabricated a customarily lurid and complex tale involving the Islamic State group, former Vice President Albert Gore and former CIA official Philip Mudd, among other suspects. Jones also alluded to “the literal grandchildren of the folks that financed the Bolshevik Revolution out of New York and London,” an elaborate allusion to Jews that none of his devoted fans could have missed. Add to this the assertion that there was a second shooter involved, just like there was in Dallas all those years ago, and you've got a great big conspiracy pie with nothing but air an paranoia for its main ingredients. 
Who wants to talk about gun control when the Bolsheviks are at the door? You want to talk gun control? Use both hands!
Meanwhile the winners in all of this are the gun manufacturers whose stock and products continue to sell like hotcakes. Deadly, semi-automatic, armor-piercing large capacity magazine hotcakes. With silencers. How could any voice of reason be hears over that din? Not bloody likely.
Emphasis on the bloody. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Tom Petty And The Heartbroken

I asked my wife to kick me in my backside. After her first attempt, I asked her to put a little something more into it. The second one had a little more gusto, and it served as my reminder to take care of things while they are in front of you rather than waiting until it's too late.
It's too late to see Tom Petty. Live, anyway. My very considerate wife reminded me that I could still watch Tom anytime I wanted. On my computer. On my TV. On my phone. In my mind. And yet, Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers join a list of regrets I carry called, "I never did see." Adding to my need to be kicked: The fortieth anniversary tour rolled through Berkeley last August 30, leaving me with very little excuse except that I figured there would always be one more tour. One more chance.
Tom Petty passed away on October 2, just a week after he and his band finished up his last tour at the Hollywood Bowl. I am certain there are fans who took in that last show and will savor the memories of it.
I will be listening to recordings and singing snippets of songs and wondering why I never bothered to get out and see a show. It might be that I spent so much time initially avoiding Tom Petty. That was my little brother's music. He wore out his copy of "Damn The Torpedoes." I was aware of this hit machine from Florida, but my sibling instincts kept me from diving in. It was another five years before I started paying full attention. Tom was hanging around with a host of different artists at that point, and when he released the video for "Don't Come Around Here No More," I was hooked. If that weren't enough, Tom was a Wilbury. The Traveling kind. Double hooked.
Somewhere around this time, I rediscovered the gem of a song, "American Girl." It could have been the one recording that got them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there were so many others. Forty years of them. And now they're done. Not gone. Just done. You can put a bow around it: The collected works of Tom Petty. And I think I might miss hearing the stories more than the music. Tom told a story about George Harrison that summed up both of their spirits so very nicely. It was about how George always carried two ukuleles with him, because you never know when somebody might want to strum.
And that's what I hope Tom is doing now: strumming a uke with his pal George. Not exactly live, but full of life. Aloha, Tom. You rocked the Terra.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Bot And Sold

Twitter told congressional investigators Thursday that it found more than two hundred Russia-linked accounts during its review of malicious bots and misinformation during the 2016 president campaign. For me, this kind of puts a realistic spin on the fantastic, dark and creepy notion of Russian hackers finding their way into our rigidly protected cyberspace. This could be as simple as young Fyodor clicking a blue box that promises "I am not a bot," and proceeding to dump his brand of trolling into the stream. It puts a damper on the scene in which a bunker full of faceless drones type away at machines at once antiquated as well as souped-up for international espionage. 
With some mild frequency I experience some of this sabotage in the form of solicitations to try a carpet cleaning service as a comment on one of my blogs. Yes friends, it can happen here. Right here in the Paradise I like to call Entropical. I try to discourage myself from clicking on the supplied link, even though it surely seems legitimate enough. Why would this happen? How can this happen? 
Well, I guess the fact that this service is a free one and I am getting exactly what I paid for. The safeguards placed on my account is on a par with that "I am not a bot" check box. Once you've broken through that layer of security, you have reached the inner sanctum. The only defense I have is to delete the offending comment. 
Yes. That's all there is to it. That and the capacity to recognize an advertisement for a carpet cleaning service from someone wishing to argue a point or add a detail to one of my dispatches. Since I have rarely, until now, mentioned carpet cleaning I expect that these are the leaks in the net that I have to deal with myself. I do this with a heavy heart, since I never will know for certain that these were not encoded messages from someone trapped in a carpet cleaning company, strapped to a laptop, trying n vain to reach out to anyone who could give them the faintest glimmer of hope. Hope that fades to black as soon as I hit the "do you really want to delete this comment? Yes" button. 
So it turns out that a portion of the right wing rhetoric that was spouted leading up to the 2016 election may have been from that same scary warehouse. Or living room. Or Moscow penthouse. I am not alone in all this. Our "President" may have a following on Twitter that is more than half bot. Twitter, which does the occasional audit to see who is pushing their buttons, suggested that up to fifty-five percent of the "President's" followers might be just pretend. Which comes as sort of a relief. A really loud and annoying relief. Press the delete button. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

This Is Not Normal

Tom Price - The secretary of health and human services had elicited bipartisan condemnation over the cost of his air travel — he had cost taxpayers more than $1 million between his use of private planes for domestic travel and military jets for recent trips to Africa, Europe, and Asia, Politico reported.

Sebastian Gorka - A White House official confirmed Gorka's departure from the Trump administration on August 25. The former Breitbart News staffer and ally of chief strategist Steve Bannon served as a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump.  In his departing letter, first published on a pro-Trump website, Gorka told Trump he could better serve the president's "America First" agenda from the outside. Gorka was aligned with a once prominent nationalist arm of the Trump administration, occupied most prominently by Bannon and Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser. Bannon's departure a week earlier was seen as a significant blow to other nationalist, far-right figures in the White House, and Gorka implied as much in his letter, saying it was clear to him that "forces that do not support the MAGA promise are — for now — ascendant within the White House."

Steve Bannon - White House officials confirmed that Trump had dismissed Bannon, his chief strategist, on August 18 after reports of clashes between Bannon and other members of the White House reached a fever pitch in recent days. Bannon, who was instrumental in focusing the message of Trump's 2016 campaign, was considered the main conduit between Trump and his base of far-right voters. Bannon submitted his resignation to Trump earlier in August, The New York Times  reports. Matt Drudge, the conservative blogger, said Bannon might return to his former job as executive chairman of Breitbart News.

Anthony Scaramucci - Scaramucci was hired as the White House communications director and then dismissed in less than two weeks. The decision came at the urging of John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, according to a Times report. Scaramucci most notably made headlines for his interview with The New Yorker in which he unleashed an expletive-filled tirade against members of the Trump administration.

Reince Priebus - Priebus resigned as White House chief of staff six months into his tenure after a public feud with Scaramucci. Trump announced in a tweet on June 28 that Kelly, the secretary of homeland security at the time, would take over for Priebus. Priebus resigned less than a week after Sean Spicer, the former press secretary, who was considered a Priebus ally in the White House.

Sean Spicer - Spicer, the embattled White House press secretary, resigned on July 21 after telling Trump he vehemently disagreed with the selection of Scaramucci as White House communications director. Spicer's tenure was marred by controversyand a sometimes awkward relationship with the president. Spicer said at the time that he would stay in his role until August.

Michael Dubke - Dubke resigned as the White House communications director in May. Dubke was replaced by Scaramucci, the founder of a hedge fund and a top Trump donor.

Walter Shaub - Shaub resigned as the director of the Office of Government Ethics in July after clashing with the White House over Trump's complicated financial holdings.Shaub called the  Trump administration a "laughingstock" after his resignation, and he advocated strengthening the US's ethical and financial disclosure rules, according to The Times.

James Comey - Trump fired Comey as FBI director in May. At the time of his firing, Comey was handling the bureau's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election, creating a firestorm of controversy for the Trump administration.

Comey was the second FBI director to be fired by a president — Bill Clinton fired William Sessions in 1993. Michael Flynn - Flynn resigned in February after serving as national security adviser for less than a month. Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about what he and Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US, talked about in phone conversations during the transition — according to reports, they had discussed the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia.

Sally Yates - Trump fired Yates, an appointee of President Barack Obama, as acting attorney general within his first 10 days in office. Yates had refused to uphold Trump's executive order on immigration and denounced it as unlawful. Yates was also instrumental in the events that led to Flynn's ouster, as she had informed Trump days after his inauguration that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Preet Bharara - Trump fired Bharara as the US attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan in March after he refused to submit his resignation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Bharara was fired along with several other Obama-era US attorneys, though Trump had initially asked Bharara during the transition to remain in his position.

Katie Walsh - Walsh, the former deputy chief of staff and close ally of Priebus, left the White House after nine weeks to run America First Policies, a pro-Trump group outside the government.

Not Normal. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

A Brief History Of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is Spanish for "Rich Port."
Puerto Rico is not a state.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago, a fancy name for a group of islands.
Puerto Rico has a capital called San Juan.
Puerto Rico is one of those countries "discovered" by Christopher Columbus.
Puerto Rico spent four centuries under Spanish Colonial rule.
Puerto Rico became part of the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris after the Spanish-American War.
Puerto Rico would very much like to become a state.
Puerto Rico is located in the northeast Caribbean.
Puerto Rico was hit hard last month by Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico would very much like federal aid and assistance in the wake of that disaster.
Puerto Rico has a capital, whose mayor said, “We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
Puerto Rico was described by our "President" as "an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”
Puerto Rico has a capital, whose mayor was recently described by our "President" this way: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”
Puerto Rico has a population of three and a half million people.
Puerto Rico has a population that is struggling to find clean water, fuel, electricity, and all manner of basic supplies.
Puerto Rico is an island. 
Puerto Rico  needs our help
Puerto Rico dos not need another tweet.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Continued On Next Shrit

When I woke up, it was dark. I didn't know how dark.
Not until I opened up the news. Fifty people had been shot and killed and hundreds more wounded in Las Vegas the night before. Thousands of folks who had attended the Route 91 Music Festival were targets for a sniper perched atop a high-rise hotel across the street.
Motives were not clear as the sun began to creep into the new day. Other than the obvious one: killing. No one wanted to talk about domestic terrorism, since it wasn't clear why a sixty-four year old accountant would turn sharpshooter and bring death from above. Was there terror? Was it home-grown? I suppose we'll have to wait for the authorities to determine all of that.
In the meantime, we as a nation are left with yet another disaster. There isn't much natural about this. All those concertgoers showing up to the last night of the three night country music extravaganza entered the venue across the street from the Mandalay Bay hotel through a screening process not unlike that found at most airports. Why wouldn't they feel safe?
The ability to spray bullets into a crowd is one that is safeguarded by our Constitution. At least that's what a lot of people will begin to assert as the traditional gun control debate pot gets stirred yet again. And at this point, I say, "Why bother?"
This is a country that spent two weeks arguing about professional athletes sitting or standing for our National Anthem, a song whose lyrics are all about fire and explosions. We have spent the last seven years arguing about the way we insure our citizens against medical expenses. We debate the reality of global warming while monster storms devastate our coasts. We seem to be just as ready to use our nuclear weapons as we ever have been.
Why bother arguing about gun control?
Because fifty Americans lost their lives in a senseless tragedy. It should have been avoided. Just like all those other mass shootings that are listed on the shirt my wife wears to remind us all of the toll of avoidance. We have not been able to keep up with the cities that have been added to that list since it was first printed. Commas instead of a period.
When I woke up, it was dark.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Genuine Article

I have conflicting emotions about the passing of Hugh Hefner. The founder of Playboy Enterprises, publisher, pornographer, man about town, and hero to millions has gone to that great grotto in the sky. For as long as I can remember, Mister Hefner, Hef to his friends, promoted a lifestyle highlighted primarily by his insistence on wearing pajamas to work. Comfort being the prime motivator in the kingdom he created, Hugh Hefner lived a life of glorious excess right up until his subscription expired at the age of ninety-one. 
He began publishing his "men's magazine" in 1953 at the age of twenty-seven. Playboy reflected the fantasy world of a twenty-seven year old man: “We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” That quiet discussion lasted for three generations, with so many lives impacted by the words and pictures found inside those slick covers. Kids of those generations had their puberties rocked by that soft focus planet of impossible lifestyle adorned with impossible women. 
And everyone I ever knew who had more than one issue that wasn't hidden under a mattress would tell me that they weren't looking at the pictures. They read Playboy for the articles. Last year, when the magazine decided to take those folks at their word and publish a magazine free of nude women, the experiment lasted less than a year. Apparently a quiet discussion of Picasso, Nietzsche, and jazz without the sex didn't sell.
Still, up on some hill in Los Angeles, the Playboy Mansion kept its ethereal glow. A man who made a point of being photographed with the subjects of his pictorials spun a web of mystery and intrigue. How could this lifestyle be maintained fifty years down the line? What sort of magical world was generated by a diet of "party jokes" and Pepsi? What sort of time vortex allowed that version of the American Dream to exist for so very long. 
I suppose you could acknowledge Hugh Hefner's strength of vision. Giving the people what they wanted? Maybe, but he hung around long enough to be eulogized as an entertainment mogul, head of the Playboy Empire. An empire built on a discussion of Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz and sex. But mostly the sex. Hugh Hefner stomped on the Terra, in silk pajamas and a smoking jacket, but stomp he did.