Sunday, April 22, 2018

It's Just A Game

So, imagine that you're a basketball fan in the deep-red corner of Texas, and you want to root for your team in the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks have packed it in, so that leaves the San Antonio Spurs. This is a team that has made it to the NBA post season twenty-one years in a row. Over the course of those years, they have won five championships. That's a lot to celebrate. 
Unless you happen to be a Trump fan as well. The Spurs' coach, Gregg Popovich has spent the last year and a half being very outspoken about his political beliefs, which run pretty consistently contrary to many of his team's fans. He has called the United States “an embarrassment to the world” and the president a “soulless coward” and a “pathological liar.” The veteran coach is disgusted by comments he called “xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic” — “and I live in a country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me,” he said after the election.
For many, this was a quandary best solved by ending a relationship they have enjoyed for more than two decades. Instead of savoring every additional game played after the regular season, many Spurs supporters have turned their back on the team because of their coach's outspoken opinions regarding the state of affairs as he sees them. “I often curse Pop for doing what he did,” said Bob Mulherin, a Spurs fan for more than twenty-five years. “He insulted more than half of the Spurs’ fan base, and no sign whatsoever of an apology.” Sorry, Bob. There is no crying in baseball, and no apologies in basketball. Especially when the word is coming down from coach Popovich. 
It is likely that the defending NBA champion, the Golden State Warriors, will finish off the Spurs in this first round of the 2018 playoffs. That leaves a long post season to grumble and moan about the way Gregg Popovich led the team, on and off the court. The Warriors are coached by Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich back in the day, and the two remain friends all these years later, with Kerr echoing many of his former coach's sentiments. And amplifying them
The Bay Area is not as tough an audience as Texas for such talk, but there are still plenty of folks who wish that these guys would just "shut up and dribble." That's not me. These men are leaders, and it is the courage of their convictions that have brought them where they are. That's why it was a double whammy when Popovich's wife of four decades died this past week. It was a Warriors player, Kevin Durant who expressed his sympathy from the NBA community, "This is bigger than the game."
It's just a game. The rest is real life. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Confession

I am not a lawyer. Nor do I play one on TV. I do not have a lawyer on retainer. Nor do I play someone who has a lawyer on retainer on TV. I do not have a TV lawyer on retainer. Nor do play someone on TV who has a lawyer on retainer.
I have traveled a path in life that has kept me relatively free of the need for such interactions, on television or in real life. Consequently, I confess that my understanding of just exactly what is involved in these interactions is limited, at best. I have maintained, over the years, a number of close personal relationships with law enforcement officers. I closed a great many bars back in the day with members of that thin blue line, as well as attending a great many barbecues, football games and Jimmy Buffett concerts. This is why, when I have been called in for jury duty, I answer quickly and affirmatively when asked if I know anyone personally who is involved in law enforcement. There is another segment of questioning that, depending on the case, asks for connections to prosecution or defense attorneys. I can answer just as abruptly to the negative. Not hanging around with a lot of lawyers. Never have.
But if I did, I think it would be important to let the powers that be know. Which brings me to mystery client number three in the Michael Cohen Sweepstakes: Sean Hannity"We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael." If Mister Hannity was a stockbroker or video store manager or sheriff's officer, this revelation might not come as such a rumble. But since Sean Hannity is the face and flame spitting font of Fox News, as well as chief apologist for our "President," making this sliver of intelligence known somewhere in the midst of all the rants about the raids on Mister Cohen's offices seems like it would have been good form. In all his haranguing about the unfairness of the way what turned out to be his lawyer was being treated did he mention that he happened to be his lawyer. Sean tried to play it down by suggesting that he may have tossed "ten bucks" at Cohen for some real estate advice, but he seemed to be missing the point. Fox News' senior judicial analyst, Andrew Napolitano had this to say: “I love him (Hannity) and, you know, I’ve worked with him for twenty years,” Napolitano said Tuesday. “He can’t have it both ways.” Back in the home office, however, Sean was getting the dreaded vote of confidence: “While FOX News was unaware of Sean Hannity’s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support,” a spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement on Tuesday. 
I can say that aside from all that lawyer stuff that I have never consorted with any employees at Fox News. And that's the kind of confession that is good for the soul. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Out Of The Mire

That clicking sound you hear in the distance is Vladimir Putin tap dancing. He has to be. Any plan he might have had for destabilizing the government of the United States and its people could never have looked like this on the board. You know the one: with pins and strings of yarn connecting disparate elements all drawn together into one big webby mess. And while things continue to unravel over here, Vlad continues to dance and sing in his office while we try and imagine how things got to be the way they are.
Affairs with porn stars. Arguments with neighbors about how high the fence should be and who should pay for it. An Oval Office full of some of the scariest examples of nepotism since the Roman Empire. Thoughts and prayers issued twice weekly in the event of national catastrophe, most of which could be prevented. The denial of science. Enough hiring and firing to fuel a dozen seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice.
If we are to believe that it was a group of Russian hackers who found their way into our Facebook pages and instilled just enough doubt in our institutions that we began to question whether we should head in this new direction, then kudos to those Russian hackers. Buy them another case of Red Bull and some Doritos. Their work here is done. We are so busy pointing fingers at one another it is doubtful that we could find the time and energy necessary to push the button that would launch any sort of retaliatory attack on our Democracy.
And so what are we to do? Vote. Find common ground. Discuss among ourselves. What is it that we want our country to look like in 2018? Those clever Russian hackers forgot there is a secret reset button embedded in our system. Elections. Sure, there are millions of dead illegal immigrants voting in those rigged affairs, or not, but it is the thing that will carry us on. We have a chance to start picking up the pieces of a fractured nation. Soon. Until then, remember that we are all in this together, and like it or not, we will be for the foreseeable future. Turn off the television and stop reading your Twitter feed long enough to have that conversation with your cousin and try to figure out how it got this far out of whack. We are Americans, after all. It's what we do. We are also pretty good at tap dancing ourselves.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hanging Out

I believe that I asked my mother what "loitering" meant after I read it in a Mad Magazine cartoon. Hanging out on a street corner, in some quarters, was considered a crime. This seemed peculiar to me, but at that time in my life standing still was not on the list of things that I had to do. In my room, maybe, but once I got outside it was time to move. Go here, ride there. Play this, play that. I imagined that in some distant future I might encounter teen-aged friends who might be looking for trouble, loitering.
When I grew older, I noticed the placement of the signs that warned me not to consider loitering as it conflicted with the civic codes and demands of property owners. It occurred to me that it was kind of like a No Parking zone for pedestrians. Keep it moving. Nothing to see here.
It was around this time that I learned about how fast food restaurants worked. The seating was primarily hard plastic or wood benches, allowing patrons to sit long enough to choke down whatever meal they had the mild good fortune to afford and then move on. No lingering was expected. No savoring. No surprise that there is a hamburger chain that touts itself as In 'n' Out, which many may suggest has as much to do with the digestive impact of their food as the coziness of their red and white interiors. Add the regular squawking of orders being ready for completion, fries coming up and muzak wafting through that mix and you've got a pretty tremendous loitering deterrent.
Which brings me to Starbucks. A coffee shop where my wife has, on occasion, invited me to come with her and hang out. She likes to get all caffeinated and bang away on her laptop while enjoying the free wi-fi and listening to whatever easy listening pap they happen to be promoting that week, also available for purchase from your friendly counter-based barista. 
Just don't try that in Philadelphia. Especially if you're black. Last Thursday, two potential customers were taken out in handcuffs because they hadn't ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend. The barista took a break from selling EZ listening CDs behind the counter to yell at them to "order something or leave." Surprise, surprise, since this kind of behavior has been tolerated by white folks for decades under Starbucks' business model: Come in, get comfy, drink coffee, use the wi-fi, drink more coffee. Except in this case, the two gentlemen were apparently not quick enough on that third step. And were escorted out by police, prompting an apology from head barista, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who offered a face to face apology.
I would imagine wherever this interaction takes place, loitering will be encouraged.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Closing...Again

I have been prattling on about Toys R Us for more than a decade. The fact that this business has been the focus of so very many of my blog posts over the years suggests that I may have some mild fixation on the place. Not in a Bruce Springsteen kind of way, but rather in a Cheap Trick kind of way. Still, since both of them are Hall of Fame material, it's probably worth noting.
Toy stores have been a happy place for me as long as I can remember. This doesn't come as any kind of real surprise. People who don't enjoy toy stores? I don't want to meet them. Well, maybe I do. If they like Bruce Springsteen and Cheap Trick. And since toy stores are all but extinct, this probably is not the best basis for my personal relationships.
Toys R Us was a place that I recognize as one of those big box discount barns that started closing up the little toy stores because it was all about volume, volume, volume. The mom and pop shops that didn't have to worry about slashing prices or maintaining a clearance aisle. They were small places with crowded aisles and lots of things that didn't seem like they belonged in a toy store, but still there were treasures to be found. For those who looked.
Toys R Us crushed those little places, and when I became a dad, there was a place for my son and I to go together. To wander and dream about what might be. I knew this because I had been there before he was born. Years before. I could tell you that I was there in anticipation of impending fatherhood, but that would not be the case. I was shopping for me. I wasn't always buying, but I wasn't above bringing home a new plaything because as a grownup, I could rationalize a fifteen to twenty dollar purchase because everyone deserves a new toy now and then. I brought home my Sega Genesis from there. I played the heck out of those games. Right up until the birth of my son. Then I put away the video games and started putting together the tractors and trikes and Hot Wheels garages that became the firmament upon which my son's play began.
And all those Legos. On our trips to Toys R Us, we saved that aisle for last. Need it. Got it. Need it, need it. Got it. Somewhere in there Amazon started selling toys and my son figured out computers upon which he could order his own Legos. And play computer games. That he cold download without leaving the house.
One of the last times I was in that store, it was with my younger brother. Two big boys looking at rack after rack of things we really didn't need. Until  we turned the corner into the Lego aisle. I spotted it. A Lego Yellow Submarine. I called my younger brother over. We examined. We coveted. We checked the price. It went back on the shelf. My brother and I left Toys R Us empty handed. A few weeks later, around my birthday, a package arrived. It was the Yellow Submarine. From Amazon.
Toys R Us was closed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

If I Could Turn Back Time

If you had a chance to go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler before he could kill six million, would you do it? That one is pretty simple. Most of us can imagine that scenario. I would prefer to go back in time and buy one of his paintings. "Hey, maybe I can give this art thing a try." The Fuhrer might mutter, "That world domination thing can wait." The world loses one of its historical evil masterminds and gains a starving artist.
No World War Two? Maybe then we have no Stalin either. Old Joe would be stuck back in Russia trying to keep the motherland together and becomes a bureaucrat mired in the business of the post-revolution. The Cold War is pushed back decades while the Soviet Union tries to find its bearings without a war to wage.
Without a Second World War, there wouldn't be a need for the Manhattan Project. Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain intact as Robert Oppenheimer turns his attention to a fusion reactor that can power cities. Harry Truman spends more time playing piano and taking walks. Dwight Eisenhower doesn't become president because he didn't have a D-Day. He doesn't pick Richard Nixon out of relative obscurity to be his vice president.
No Watergate. You're welcome.
Oh, and Richard Nixon doesn't end up making friends with Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria. Father of Bashar, who is president now. In Syria, where the world finds itself picking sides and taking aim at one another over the use of chemical weapons, another World War hangs in the balance.
All of this could have been avoided if someone would have given that little corporal a chance at making a career for himself painting canvas after canvas in his studio apartment. He won't have to blow his head off, but if he did, it would be because he was a tortured soul who was misunderstood by his patrons. Not because he was overcome by guilt and fear as the Allies crept closer to his bunker.
So, if you're working on a time machine, remember to set a little cash aside from that big grant you have been rewarded for doing all that theoretical research. Not to buy a gun, but a painting.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Never Again...And Again...And Again

As the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world forgot about the Holocaust. A survey released to coincide with Yom HaShoah, a date that commemorates not only those who died, but those who fought back. On April 19, 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. Because of the difference between calendars, the day seems to skip around a bit, but it is always the same day on the only calendar that matters, lest we forget.
But ironically, forty-five percent of adults questioned could not name a death camp or ghetto in which more than six million people died at the hands of a Nazi Regime intent on exterminating a race: their Final Solution. This was happening seventy-five years ago, and it is fitting that we remember it not just on the day, but always. Lest we forget.
Or never learn in the first place.
Seventy percent of those surveyed said fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to.
Fifty-eight percent believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.
A majority in both cases.
So what about "Never Again?"
In the intervening three quarters of a century that have passed since that group of brave resistors stood up to their oppressors, have we lost track of just how horrifying the Holocaust was? Have we become numb to the deaths of masses of humanity, to the point that commemorating their passing is just another tap on the brakes for a planet geared toward its own extinction?
Actually, it's hard to blame the planet. Rather it's the inhabitants that seem to have a hard time keeping the memory of mass killing at the forefront of everyone's mind. There is a new massacre every month, and hate comes so much easier online and in the shadows. Shining a light into those dark corners is as vital now as it was in 1943. Maybe more so, since our attitudes toward Nazis seem to have shifted in a rather confounding direction since then. Putting "neo" in front of their club name doesn't make them new and improved. They are just as terrible now as they were back then, and it is vital that all of us keep that in mind as this new wave of fascism rears its ugly head.
We must say no to them.
And say yes to remembering.
Never again.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Faceblecch

I saw Social Network. That movie that detailed the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and his pet app, Facebook. It starred Jesse Eisenberg who, it should come as small surprise, went on to appear as Superman's nemesis, Lex Luthor a few years later. Typecasting?
So, here's what I have to say about Mister Zuckerberg's invention: I don't know that much about it. I do not maintain a presence, though I am in charge of my school's Facebook page. It's a pretty low-stakes affair, with a few pictures of kids and reminders for parents about minimum days and the like. I don't spend any time browsing other people's pages or searching for connections. My friends are, for the most part, flesh and blood and can be reached in other ways aside from social media.
Not that I frown on those who Facebook. It is one of the main avenues of communication between my wife and son, and I am always intrigued to find, over the transom from my wife, that this person or that person has popped up or gotten married or been released from prison. I wish that I had the time and patience to fuss over what my profile picture is, or how many likes I get on this or that. Here in Blogtopia, I am always pleased to discover that I have more than a half dozen peeks at what I have to say on any given day.
It is my career as a teacher of technology that my gripe with The Facebook begins and ends. The age limit set by Zuckerberg and his machine is thirteen. You must be at least as old as your incipient teenager to join those ranks. Why then, if I don't have any students that old, do I have anyone wanting to look at their Facebook page? Could it be that the rules and regulations surrounding this and other oases of cyber-connection are more lax than they ought to be? "Do you swear that you are at least thirteen years old?" Click yes. "Well, okay then."
Which is why it was no real surprise to me that Mark Zuckerberg found himself on Capitol Hill last week, testifying before congress about all the ways in which his company may or may not have led to the downfall of western civilization. Or helped swing a presidential election. Or leaking data to any Tom, Dick or Cambridge Analytica that happened to bump into it. I confess that I stayed away from Facebook for so long because I figure if anyone I knew from high school wanted to find me, they would come looking for me in the most likely place: Here. I am gratified to think that staying away from the red pill as long as I have. It does mean that I miss out on a lot of zany antics by animals. And the opportunity to rate them.
Pity.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Numbers Don't Lie - But People Do

I have to hand it to the current resident of the White House. Most of the time it appears as though most everything he says and does is a reaction to something that happened to upset his peculiar fruit (mostly orange) cart. That's what I figured when he tossed away his prepared remarks in West Virginia not long ago and began spouting his peculiar rant about voting fraud. It seemed, at the time, as if Donald Tangelo was using his off-the-cuff remarks to deflect attention from the ongoing investigation into his campaign's connection to Russia. And the allegations of an affair with Stormy "Not Her Real Name" Daniels. And the seemingly endless firing/hiring/resignation cycle within his own staff. Without anything that would qualify as evidence, Mister Minute Maid spouted, “In many places, like California, the same person votes many times, you probably heard about that. They always like to say: ‘Oh that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory folks. Millions and millions of people. And it’s very hard because the state guards their records. They don’t want to see it.”
He may have been referring to the way the special commission he appointed to look into the matter of irregularities in our nation's polling places was met with blank indifference by most states and their election officials. It might have been his way of tossing a little shade at the People's Republic of California while casting doubt on just exactly how he could have lost the popular vote. By millions of ballots.
Or maybe, in his borderline psychotic way, he is playing the long game. Still months away from the mid-term election, there can be no doubt that he can see the way that House and Senate seats have been falling in special elections held in advance of November 2018. Record numbers of Republicans are retiring from their seats in advance of a wave of Democrats looking to take control of the House of Representatives. If all of this could be explained away as a creeping attack at our democratic (small d) principles, then the current victim mentality espoused by the "President" remains intact. It's not him. It's not his agenda. It's the fake news. It's Crooked Hillary. It's Voter Fraud.
Crazy, right? But not like a fox. More like the guy who thinks that he's Napoleon Bonaparte. Or the man-sized Cheeto who thinks he's "President."

Friday, April 13, 2018

Eighty-Eight Keys To Happiness

If you read this blog to get your news, you have probably become disillusioned with the state of things. I understand how that could be. When I scan the headlines, searching for a topic for the day's entry, I am often stuck for something positive to share. But not today: My mother has started playing the piano again.
This may not fix things in the Middle East. It will not require a special session of Congress to hear the details. Sales of semi-automatic weapons will probably not be affected, but this counts as expressly happy news for those of us in the know.
A few years back, after more than seventy years of playing the piano, my mom had to stop playing the piano. The piano which has been the featured piece of furniture in her house and the house in which I was raised for all those years. It was not just a hunk of highly polished wood. When my mother sat down to play, it came alive and filled the house with Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. She played in the afternoons, while dinner was cooking. It was her way of relaxing after a long day of getting kids off to school, laundry and house maintenance before receiving those same kids and their friends back home and preparing a meal for all of us to come together and press the reset button for another day. When my mother sat down to play, it was her way of taking a deep breath and letting it out through her hands.
It was the same piano, coincidentally, on which all three of her boys practiced and prepared for a world that would later be filled with music of their own. Though her sons never managed to move beyond the obligatory "I gotta practice" level of enthusiasm, we still marveled at my mother's talent and love for the music she was making. As we grew up and out of the house, excusing us from the lessons we still remember in distant recesses of our minds, we made room for my mother to have a dear friend of hers over to play duets. It wasn't an act they took on the road. Their performances were limited to the living room with plenty of breaks for chatting and a cup of coffee or tea. So very civilized.
When the time came to step away from the keyboard, the piano stayed, an albatross that stood as a constant reminder of what had been. ]
And now is again. My mother says she struggles a little with the tune of her baby grand. Sitting for all those months didn't do it any favors. Now she plays an hour at a time, getting herself used to the routine once again. She tells me that it was therapy for her. Not just because of the way it brought back the past, but how she could take an hour away from sitting in front of the news. And that comes as sweet relief for us all.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Looks Can Be Deceiving

"Oh no!" the cry came from the living room. "Is that Pink Floyd?"
My wife was having a moment. She was listening to one of her favorite pieces of music, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," which should have been a pleasant enough distraction, but playing behind the song were images of the band that made the music. For this she was unprepared.
"Is that? Really?"
When I entered the room, there was a picture of the band from 1973 on the television. It was evidence of the era that produced the album Wish You Were Here, which remains our house go-to for Pink Floyd record to listen to all the way through. In spite of all those who insist on Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall. But that didn't mean that my wife was ready to have corporeal form brought to the ethereal sounds of her youth. Even more confounding was the juxtaposition of eras, cutting to interview clips of present day Nick Mason, Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright. How could these geezers be responsible for Welcome To The Machine
I understood her quandary. There was a time, back when Pink Floyd could make a joke about "Which one's Pink?" That I could not have picked any of the four members of the band from a lineup. What they looked like was not my concern. I was much more interested in the sounds they made. They lived in the Oh Wow section of my record collection, which brings me to the other anecdote about how my high school girlfriend once asked me if she should file their records under F for Floyd or P for Pink. Which pinballs me back to a question comedian, and creator of the Sledge-O-Matic, Gallagher once raised, "Does Joe Jackson have to appear in his videos?"
All of this to say that I needed to come to the rescue of my poor wife who was having the images in her mind's eye shattered by the documentary I so thoughtlessly left playing in the living room I thought she might enjoy it. Never mind that she was forced to confront her own youth and mortality by gazing on rock stars from another epoch. She didn't need to be tormented by that. Recognizing celebrities in various states of decay is more my concern, though tracking my own disintegration sometimes distracts me form that. When Elvis sings, it should be the cool black leather Elvis from the '68 Comeback Special. When you hear Nirvana, Kurt Cobain is alive. When you hear Pink Floyd, well, imagine a saucerful of secrets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

He Said What?

I know. It was really click bait, but I couldn't just pass by a link that suggested that there was a "Debate Over Jailing Women For Abortions." Really. I checked the calendar. April 2018. Just to be clear, the debate wasn't about jailing women who performed abortions, but rather those who had the abortions themselves. This apparently was a lingering question left over from the 2016 campaign where MSNBC's Chris Matthews inquired after candidate Trump's newly minted opposition to abortion. In that interview, the man who would be "President" said that "there has to be some form of punishment" for those who have one. Women, specifically. It was under some pretty stiff direct questioning by Matthews that the incipient "President" crept toward that eventual conclusion, but he had plenty of time to take a more rational approach. He didn't.
The shame and guilt and physical trauma somehow didn't register as punishment in the "mind" of our "President." A man who has a history of treating women poorly might not be expected to have any kind of truly evolved brain function on the matter, but really: 2016. It was only a few hours before DJ's handlers ratcheted down his rhetoric and made the words that tumbled out of his mouth seem a little less truculent.
Two years before that, very conservative columnist Kevin Williamson suggested his own notion about how this should all go down. Kevin wrote that he felt that women who received abortions should be executed, preferably by hanging. Make an example out of them. Send a message. The message he received back was that his position on the staff of The Atlantic magazine would be terminated. Which just means that he can get more work as a martyred voice of the oppressed and male conservative voice silenced by common sense.
Now back in 2018, Idaho legislator and candidate for his state's office of lieutenant governor has suggested that having an abortion should be a capital crime. “Prosecutions have always been focused on the abortionist,” said Bob Nonini in a statement. “There is no way a woman would go to jail let alone face the death penalty. The statute alone, the threat of prosecution, would dramatically reduce abortion. That is my goal.” Folks in Idaho want to make sure that no one walks away from this mess. Not the doctor, not the patient. Nobody. This is the pro-life movement. And it's not all the people in Idaho. It's the men. And not all men. White men who just happen to wander into politics. And start making laws about things they can't possibly comprehend. So I'm glad I clicked, read and considered. I hope more people, men and women, do so. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Trailer Bonus

My older brother helps me out in so many ways. Mostly by being the dutiful oldest son who watches after my mother and keeps her from falling into holes and the like. This is magical and an irreplaceable resource, but I am forever in his debt for keeping me attached to all things Boulder and what continues to my tether to the place I called home for so many years.
This past weekend he sent me a reminder for the fiftieth anniversary of the University of Colorado Trivia Bowl. I spent many years hearing about this annual event, and watching it from the sidelines, no more so than when my older brother was going to college there. It was a week-long spectacle that dominated campus life and kept hundreds if not thousands of students and fans of the obscure preoccupied with all things trivial. It wasn't until I had graduated from that same university that my own active participation began. This was during the heyday of Trivial Pursuit, a board game that eventually everyone in my particular circle of friends refused to play with me because they assumed that I had memorized all the cards. Which was flattering, and quite a feat if I had actually done that, but it was more a reflection of all the useless bits of information I stored in my pop culture laden brain.
My entree to the actual competition was my good friend and former manager at Arby's, Waldo. As a contestant on Tic-Tac-Dough, he had managed to live through a round of that Wink Martindale on an actual television game show. He had the cred. I was a late acquisition and found myself, as an employee of a video store, the go-to movie guy. That first evening under the lights in the Glenn Miller Ballroom was an awakening. I remember staring straight ahead, only glancing to the right when a visual was projected on the screen behind us. My thumb was poised on the buzzer and quickly learned that it's not just what you know but how fast you push your buzzer. Our team, Renegade Poodles from Hell, won their first match, and I was hooked. The next night we went down in a blaze of glory, but I vowed to return. And win.
We never did. Using various permutations of the Poodle name, our team tended to come out like gangbusters but wilted when the competition grew too fierce. There were doctors and lawyers who were flying in from around the country just to spend their spring vacation competing in this little venture.
And now, having never managed to bag a trophy of our own, the Poodles are just a tiny bit of trivia in a much bigger sea, one that spans fifty years: a footnote to a footnote. I am so glad that my older brother keeps track of things like that for me. Like finding the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Donald And The Diceman

Don't show up to a knife fight without a knife. This seems to be the primary wisdom behind Donald Trump's decision not to attend the second White House Correspondent's Dinner of his term. Two years, two declines to attend. For those of you who have never received an invitation, the Correspondent's Dinner is an annual affair attended by celebrities, journalists and politicians. Showing up affirms a couple of things: a certain level of prestige as well as a sense of humor. Our current "President" has bucketloads of the first, if you were to hear it from him. It's that second element that seems to keep him away from these events. 
Interesting, since one of the people I believe is quite funny (on purpose), Judd Apatow, said this after the 2016 election: “I said it as a joke, but I think there’s something to it. Reagan was funny. Bill Clinton was funny. Bush was funnier than Gore. Obama was funnier than probably anybody who’s ever run for office.” And then he added the new guy “has a demented sense of humor, Trump is way funnier than Hillary Clinton.” A year and a half later, there is probably some reckoning on this account, but a sense of humor is a very subjective thing, I ask you to consider the case of Andrew Dice Clay.
The Diceman made a name for himself in the late eighties as every feminist's nightmare. His standup routines were sexist rants that were essentially riffs on a character he created in a little seen Judd Nelson film called Making the Grade. He rode that riff to headlining gigs at Madison Square Garden. Eventually someone wondered if this was really funny. Out loud. Nora Dunn and Sinead O'Connor refused to appear on an episode of Saturday Night Live on which Mister Clay hosted. Suddenly we were all left to reckon on just how funny the Diceman really was. An interesting side note: Many years later, he showed up in a toned down version of his prior persona in a Woody Allen movie. Funny ha-ha? Or funny sad?
The defense that many people, including Andrew Clay, has used over the years is that he was just doing a character. That's not the real Andrew Clay. He was just giving the people what they want. Dirty nursery rhymes. We were guilty of supporting such behavior. All of which is to suggest that maybe our "President" is just doing a character. The real Donald Trump is a quiet homebody who prefers the company of a close circle of friends and enjoys woodworking. That salacious twit that we see on the news every night is only a figment of someone's imagination. He is only giving the people what they want. Pretty funny, right? 
God help us all. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Ground Floor

I can see the floor of my garage. You could too if you happened to drop by. I would be happy to show it to you. When Spring Break began, this was not the case. It had not been the case for some time before Spring Break began. Why this sudden change of floor? No real secret. Opportunity, motive and means.
Instead of spending any more time walking past the garage and not wanting to peer inside on the off chance that I would physically sense the clutter. I took the opportunity to get up one morning and make it less likely that I would feel that crush. I checked my schedule: nothing to keep me from spending some quality time with the debris.
Motive? The voice inside my head competed with the voices around me. No one needed to say anything, but they did. Mostly supportive but pretty direct. The judgment comes from me, I know. So many other garages, up and down our street. In our city. Across this great land of ours. Let's be honest: isn't there a pile of hubcaps in all of them?
Okay. The hubcap pile may be limited to those who have children who harbored some misguided belief that they would act as seeds that might someday sprout into cars all on their own. But only if they were properly watered and fertilized over painstaking periods instead of shoved in bags after being hung on a fence for six years.
And then there's the reality that brought the wheels to his real car to sit there in the garage. Maybe they were magic beans after all.
The means I used were the bare hands. And a ladder. And a broom. And a garbage can. And a recycling bin. And a few hours. Picking things up and putting them in some semblance of order. All those mostly empty cans of spray paint have to be gathered together, waiting for some project that would require a rainbow of some indefinite proportion. Power tools that have been without power for many moons have to be reckoned with. Mostly every item needed to be picked up and moved someplace other than the floor. Now, if I had  a mind to, I could  park a car in there. In case one just happens to spring up through that  nice clean floor.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Trendng

Here is the thing that I took away from the April 3 shooting at YouTube Headquarters in San Bruno, California: The hospital. Not the thoughts and prayers, though of course that was the response from anyone who might have done something other than the traditional hand-wringing. Not the fact that the shooter was a woman, which we have been reminded makes her an anomaly among nuts with guns. Nope. It was the hospital where the victims were rushed: Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Named for  the founder of Facebook. The wounded employees of one tech giant were taken to the emergency room funded by another.
I suppose that you could dismiss such a thing as coincidence, given the preponderance of tech companies in Silicon Valley. Google this and Yelp that and it's not like Mark Zuckerberg was actually on hand to help treat anyone. He was busy somewhere getting ready to defend himself and his company against claims that they had aided and abetted the Trump campaign by being loose with its handling of user data. This is a world where individuals are rarely mentioned as dollars and users show up in millions. The incident at YouTube headquarters involved four people: three victims and one shooter who ended up being the only fatality. This means it doesn't technically qualify as a mass shooting. No matter that everyone who clicked on a link that said "active shooter" last Tuesday feared the worst. Thoughts and prayers were online before matters had been settled on the scene. Like the President's son: "You think there’s any chance whatsoever that a mass shooters hateful Instagram and YouTube channels would be pulled immediately if they were NRA members as opposed to liberal Vegan PETA activists? Asking for a few million friends in the ." So much for thought or prayers.
Nope. We live in a world of instant media and even swifter judgments. Why wait for someone to chew up all that raw footage and the comments that pile up underneath. Nobody is going to suffer from the paralysis of analysis here. Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat and so on lit up like a War On Christmas Tree with theories and rumors about just exactly what happened. Not that it really matters. Something else will be trending soon enough. Something with a gun, no doubt. 

Friday, April 06, 2018

These Aren't The Droids You're Looking For

Get your news right here: biased and poorly researched news, but at least I am honest about it. This puts me in a league, I believe with such media stalwarts as Fox and Friends. Though I don't think the crew over there are quite so open about the biased part. Fair and balanced? Who cares? If you want news that makes you feel good about what you already thought was going on and needed and needed affirmation, pick the biased kind.
Why challenge yourself to check out different points of view? Changing your mind is a sign of weakness, unless you do it in a very careful, "Presidential" way. If you find yourself tipping onto a point of view that might cause others to question your leadership capacity, take that course correction to the straight line and speed up. Even if there is a brick wall in front of you.
If you are reading this blog, you probably already know about Sinclair Broadcast Group. They proudly announce on their web site that Sinclair is the leading local news provider in the country. Which may or may not be true, but it is that last bit about being a "news provider" that makes me itch. I thought that news existed, and humans felt compelled to report it. Or not. I remember learning back in sixth grade that journalists were required to be objective. Not encouraged. Required. This is why I chose not to become a journalist. I didn't imagine that I could stray from my own opinions on things for very long. I am happy to feel that I bend people's positions, from time to time. Lawn darts: not as dangerous as you might have imagined, for example. 
Which is pretty much what Sinclair does, but with way more money and political capital at stake. Still, they recently felt the need to respond to criticism about promotional announcements made by their local affiliates: “We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences,” commented Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s Senior Vice President of News. “It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable. Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.” And that would be great if local stations were not acting as a robotic chorus for the thoughts of their overlords. 
Hey kids: Fake news is fiction. Find your news where you can, because there isn't a lot of objective fact-based journalism going on right now. That is not the time in which we find ourselves living currently. Keep that five pound grain of salt nearby for each and every time someone tells you they are going to give you the straight scoop. Do keep this in mind: It takes a lot of money to run a newspaper or television station, just ask Charles Foster Kane. What makes the headlines is exactly what pays the bills. How do you suppose those news guys afford all those snappy blazers? 
Just promise yourself to think about it a little bit.  

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Going Somewhere

I get a visceral twinge whenever a kid calls me "coach." Not because I don't enjoy that particular epithet as applied to the job that I do running a weekly physical education program at an elementary school. I like the sound of it: "What are we going to do today, coach?" Or "Can I help put out the cones, coach?" That's fine. It's the echo that it sends through my head as I remember all the times I used that same moniker on my typing teacher.
The reality of public education started becoming clear to me in junior high school when I went out for wrestling and showed up for my first day of practice and found myself sitting on a mat across from my typing teacher. He was there, in part, because of his love of the sport, but also because it meant an additional check each month during wrestling season. And why he was also the middleweight football coach. And the boys' track coach. This is what he was doing to invigorate that part of his life that thrived on athletic competition. That and those extra checks to supplement his typing teacher's salary.
Not that I was fully aware of all those economic realities at the time, but I knew I was on a slippery slope when I showed up for typing class and responded to "Good morning, Caven," with "Good morning, coach." The switch had been made. Somehow "Coach" had superseded "Mister." The home row key drills started to make sense more as physical tests than mental. I learned touch typing in the same fashion I learned how to shoot a double leg takedown. Repetition and reward. Here was a place that there really was an A for effort.
I learned a lot from the coach. I use those keyboarding skills every day, the ones I learned in the classroom. The wrestling moves have faded into the past, but the rigor remains. I know that every lesson learned requires some effort on the part of the learner. I try and dial down my exhortations to the kids in my room, but I want them to have expectations of themselves. It's about potential. I was eventually coached to second place in the district's B Mat wrestling tournament. My coach got me to a place that I never thought I would go. Which is what teachers should do. And coaches too. Good teachers and coaches. Without that little twinge.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Point A To Point B

Sliding down highway Five through the middle of California, I was granted a little time to consider all of my options. Not that I was up for any change. Change is bad and scary, or at the very least messy. I was thinking about the twists and turns that my life had taken bringing me to this long, straight strip of  asphalt. I was reminded of the long, straight strip of asphalt that connected me and  my freshman dorm to my hometown. A straight line north and south, with the slight bend up near  the top to keep me from rolling on into Wyoming. That was a trip that I took weekly for nine months, preferring the  relative safety of the place I left behind to the place where I was going. So much so that when my sophomore year rolled around, I gathered up my things and set about learning all my college stuff in a school just down the street from where I was born.
By thirty, I had strayed only the slightest bit. A trip to Key West with some friends had made me believe that it was possible to leave Colorado and return, much in the way road trips that  had connected  me with Arizona and Oklahoma. It made me think about the time I spent in the back of a station wagon, barreling along as my father drove us to exotic locations like Chilicothe, Ohio and Niagara Falls. My dad was perhaps as mired in Boulder as anyone, having landed there when he was just a lad himself. That long stretch of highway called I-70 that would connect the east with the west in case nuclear weapons from here to there was just a plan.
Which is another tangent from that straight line.
That line that takes me north and south, the one I drove with the girl who would become my wife. The highway that we drove together as we started to imagine making a life together. Which is what we did. And all that time we made trips up and down the state, eventually including a car seat for our son in the back. For a few trips our son drove us. Then we started coordinating cars and where we would meet up. Driving those long less than winding roads all this time has made it easier to move up and down, north and south. The miles that we travel are the miles that we chat and catch up on all the time that we have not been able to find the time to sit down and talk. About the old times. About the things we still want to do.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Unsatisfactory Resolution

I understand how romantic the thought of resolving a problem with guns can be. Bruce Willis has made a career out of it. So much so that in one particular installment of the Die Hard series, his computer hacker partner, played by Justin Long, is awestruck when Bruce's Detective John McClane "kills a helicopter with a car." To which a rough and tumbled McClane replies, "I was out of bullets." Over the course of five films, Bruce has amassed seventy-three confirmed on-screen kills. Most of them with a gun. Is it little wonder that once Hollywood decided to reboot the Death Wish franchise that they looked to Mister Willis to take over for Charles Bronson? In our time, revenge is not a dish best served cold. It's served with hot lead.
Which brings me to another tangent. The relative satisfaction of punching someone in the nose. There are plenty of movie moments that end with someone getting bopped in the schnozz. The bopped tend to fall in a heap, and the bopper squares his or her shoulders and walks away with a sly grin as others look on impressed. Not as impressed as they might have been if the bopper had launched a car into their antagonist's face, but impressed nonetheless. A somewhat recent addition to this scenario has the bopper shaking his or her hand as they walk away, giving some veracity to the notion that human beings are not rubber bags but dense bags of flesh and bone that have much more resistance in real life. Dropping someone with one punch is a pretty unlikely scenario, with the reality making it much more likely that the assaulted party would most likely choose to hit back. The surrounding crowd would, most likely cheer for the continuation of the fight, not its abrupt end. 
All of this to land in the Wild West, where a Colorado man, Michael Kourosh Sadeghi,  recently shot his neighbor, Dustin Schmidt, in the head five times because he believed Schmidt was abusing Schmidt's dog. The circumstances are currently being unwound, but it seems as though the dog had been leaping aggressively into Sadeghi's yard, which prompted Schmidt to install a higher fence, and when the tied up dog jumped the fence, and was hanging by its collar, Sadeghi chose to take matters into his own hands. By killing his neighbor. 
With a gun. 
I would not expect that a fistfight between the two of them would have settled the matter, but a sore hand and assault charges would have been a problem that would have left at least one more person alive to solve the problem with the dog. 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Compulsion

It makes complete sense that I would spend the first couple of hours of my Spring Break doing what makes my mother laugh: I worked. Not at the job from which I was taking the aforementioned break. I repaired my electric lawn mower. Once that was done, I did exactly what came naturally after that. I mowed the lawn.
The combination of a March that dropped a good deal of rain into a spring that had been drier than most of us had hoped for and a few weeks waiting for a part that had to be researched, ordered, and replaced gave us a pretty wild mess of a yard. It was the kind of green sea that my wife has pined for since we have lived on our little patch of land. I don't do well when I see a lawn that is less than manicured. This is probably because I have been cutting grass for as many years as I care to remember. Lugging my family's lawnmower to the trailer park where my piano teacher lived to trim the tiny plots of barely lawns for a great many elderly clients was how I made my first fortune. The one that helped me buy my water bed. And helped pay for my first speeding ticket.
You could say that I've got lawn mowing in my blood.
Or you could say that I have an unnatural compulsion to see all those green blades cut to a nice level plane. And you could say that I don't know how to relax. Both of these assertions would be accurate. You could also say that I build my self-esteem by attempting to master nature.
Attempting.
Because I know that this is a passing thing. The grass is going to continue to grow. And the bridge rectifier I replaced might very well need replacing again at some point. That's why I bought two. I sort of expected that I would fail miserably in my first attempt and therefore I purchased a backup so that I could still appear clever in the face of the encroaching emerald wave.
But I got lucky the first time. I fixed the mower and I was back to work.
Wait a second.
I could have set that package of bridge rectifiers aside and let the grass grow. I could be on vacation. I could relax.
After the lawn was mowed.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Rules And Regulations

It is an interesting thing that a call for commonsense gun laws tumbles into the echo chamber of the National Rifle Association and turns into "They're coming for our guns." It is sad that a friend or family member of a victim of gun violence is immediately turned into a level one threat on the Constitutionally Guaranteed Right To Bear Arms. As I have pointed out here a few times before, it is interesting that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness did not make the cut when it came time to make the Bill of Rights.
Quick: How many of the first ten amendments can you name? In order?*
How about the ten commandments?**
There was quite a dustup in the constitutional community recently when former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he suggested that the Second Amendment be repealed. Not just the common sense restrictions on automatic weapons or raising the age limit to purchase guns from eighteen to twenty-one. He wants to dump number two completely.
Them, as they say, are fighting words. And while it is important to note that this is yet another moment of battling amendments, number one versus number two, the one that seems to stir the most fuss is the suggestion that unfettered access to unlimited firepower be restricted gets a great big noise started. Until those who don't like guns are shouted down by those who do. So much so that contributions to the NRA have tripled since the Parkland shooting. Any perceived threat is turned back by shouting and large wads of cash. Which doesn't mean that the other side doesn't see their share of donations to further their agenda of limiting the access to instruments of death.
All of which makes that tired refrain of waiting a respectful amount of time before discussing the matter which has been splattered all across our headlines rings so hollow. It will take lifetimes for the healing to be complete in Parkland. In Aurora. In Newtown. And every other community that experiences one of ninety-three deaths by gun violence ever single day in America. There is no time to wait.
So let the war of words rage on. Be glad that this battle is being fought with facts and rhetoric and sarcasm and rants. And not bullets.
*Bill of Rights
**Ten Commandments

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Big Ball

"If you're going to throw the big ball, you should be ready to catch the big ball." This is the wisdom of the school yard as well as the way my family has learned to treat each other when the tone or rhetoric shifts, playfully or otherwise. Be prepared.
I say this because I don't know if every survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had this in mind when they took on the role of becoming advocates for gun control. In the month and a half that has passed since the blood was shed in Parkland, Florida, voices have been raised, marches have been made, walkouts have occurred. Media stars have been generated.
I am sure that the path to meme for most of these teenagers would have been much longer or at least much quieter if not for the tragedy that occurred at their school. It is a rare seventeen year old who wishes for a light to shine on them. And yet, when those cameras turned on and the doors to the town hall meeting opened, we all made mythical figures out of these adolescents. 
And, as terrible irony would have it in Yahoo News headlines, they have become "targets." Targets of pundits and writers and politicians and talking heads who have the relative safety of their comfort and age from which to speak. And photo shop. One of the nastiest bits of such manipulation has included doctoring a picture of Emma Gonzalez to make it appear as though she is tearing the United States Constitution in half. No matter that Emma has taken great pains to say that she is not anti-gun but is in favor of banning assault type weapons for civilians along with high capacity magazines as well as a stronger system of background checks before weapons can be purchased. This high school girl, along with her classmates, have become lightning rods for the right wing. 
Minnesota Representative Mary Franson made a series of Facebook posts that compared the kids in the March For Our Lives to Hitler Youth. It seems as though the only Nazis that she might tolerate are those who actually declare themselves so. Our friends over at InoWars put up a video that overlaid images of a speech given by Adolph Hitler and its attendant rally over the crowd and speeches given last weekend in Washington D.C. All of those posts have since been deleted, having made their ugly point and the makers have slunk back into the darkness.
Meanwhile, the teenagers who found their voices after being shot at continue to press their cause. They seem to understand the game better than most of the adults who have seen fit to challenge them, very few of whom have any common experience of being shot at. My guess is that the courage these young men and women maintain is the super power they have been given, not something they asked for, but giving in a fiery blast they are only now beginning to comprehend. These are heroes and should be afforded the same dignity and respect that anyone with the courage of their convictions is given. I'm not suggesting that we should take it easy on them. I'm suggesting that we should all be ready for when they start throwing that big ball. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

My House

"Thanks for letting me hang at your house."
I've heard that phrase many times in the years that I have been hosting wandering friends and family. Ours has been the pullout bed on the way to something else, or the futon when you needed to be away from your real bed. What we might lack in ambiance, we make up for in rustic familiarity. We will make you a frozen pizza or a tuna sandwich, in that way that we do. We have even made our laundry facilities available. No fluff and fold, however.
Keeping this in mind, and the nature of our hostel-ipality, I would not have expected to hear my own son thank me "for letting me hang at your house."
By a continued fluke of scheduling, the school district for whom I work has deigned the Easter weekend as the beginning of Spring Break, while the college my son attends is wrapping things up on that weekend to prepare for the last quarter of the year. We managed last year by finding a way to meet up with him somewhere between our respective vacation periods. He was able to come home last year for a few days to check in and check in with all those who shared his timetable. This year, with the addition of his work schedule and urge to travel about the coast, he only had a couple of days to return to the place of his birth.
His home. The one he now refers to as his parents'. Which makes sense, I suppose, since he and his stuff have been effectively moved out for more than three years now. Which is a measurable percentage of his life. When he talks about his house now, he does not mean the place that continues to store his electric train sets. He is talking about the place where he parks his cars. The place where he pays rent.
Which might not have been quite the gut shot except for the fact that his mother and I had only the evening before been peeking in on video that we had taken back when he was days old. We bought that house to be the place where he would grow up. Backyard birthday parties and a room of his own. A kitchen where he watched us prepare those tuna sandwiched and frozen pizzas. A living room where we read books and watched TV and played Guitar Hero. It was the place he invited his friends to stay. The place where he spoke his first words and took his first steps.
And now those steps lead away from here. I'm glad he still remembers the way home.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Brave Sir Donald (w/ apologies to Eric Idle and the survivors)

Bravely bold Sir Donald
Rode forth from The White House. 
He was not afraid to die, 
Oh brave Sir Donald. 
He was not at all afraid 
To be killed in nasty ways. 
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Donald.
He was not in the least bit scared 
To be mashed into a pulp. 
Or to have his eyes gouged out, 
And his elbows broken. 
To have his kneecaps split 
And his body burned away, 
And his limbs all hacked and mangled 
Brave Sir Donald.
His head smashed in 
And his heart cut out 
And his liver removed 
And his bowls unplugged 
And his nostrils raped 
And his bottom burnt off 
And his penis
"That's, that's enough music for now lads, there's dirty work afoot." 
Brave Sir Donald ran away. 
("No!") 
Bravely ran away away. 
("I didn't!") 
When kids raised their mighty voices, 
He bravely turned and made other choices. 
("I never!") 
Yes, brave Sir Donald turned about 
And gallantly he chickened out. 
("You're lying!") 
Swiftly taking to his feet, 
He beat a very brave retreat. 
Bravest of the brave, Sir Donald!

February 26, "I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon," Trump said during a meeting with governors.
March 24, as the nation's youth descended upon Washington D.C., Trump was at his golf retreat. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Surly Bonds

"My story really is incredible. It's got a bunch of story lines: the garage-built thing. I'm an older guy. It's out in the middle of nowhere, plus the Flat Earth. The problem is it brings out all the nuts also, people questioning everything. It's the downside of all this."
This is how Mike Hughes, known to his fans as Mad Mike, described the tale of his launch into what turned out to be the troposphere. Mister Hughes realized his dream of launching his homemade, steam-powered rocket into the sky over the Mojave Desert. He also experienced the consequence of the gravity he never fully escaped, plummeting back to the Flat Earth from whence he came. Mike had no argument with gravity. He took issue with this wacky notion that the planet he came from, and abruptly returned to, is not round. Well, at least not in the globe sense. Mike believes the earth is shaped like a Frisbee. There was no immediate response from Wham-O as to whether or not he was getting an endorsement check for this plug. 
So here's the confounding part: A guy with the mild cleverness to put a steam powered projectile into the air, traveling to a height of more than eighteen hundred feet, would cilng to a notion that has been out of vogue for seven hundred years. Certainly the calculations necessary to plan for such a scheme would include some whisper or sphere. Driving out to the desert on those long straightaways, there must have been a moment where at least the perception of curvature was hinted. 
Or maybe Mike was more focused on the task at hand. In his day job as a limo driver, he most certainly has to keep in mind the shortest distance between two points, and that is the perspective he applied to his mission. Which may have a lot to do with how he got to that point, the apex of his endeavor, before he fell back to the place where he began, give or take the fifteen hundred feet he moved laterally from his launch ramp. 
For his part, Mister Hughes did not  suggest that his brief sojourn would prove that the earth was flat. That  reassurance, he suggested, would come from a new project that would involve a balloon carrying a rocket into the atmosphere before launching even higher than his initial journey across the desert. When asked if he was sure if the earth was flat, he replied in the most scholarly way possible: "Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,Do I know for sure? No. That's why I want to go up in space." And to that I can only respond, Godspeed, Mad Mike. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Trauma Informed

On the survey we give our fifth grade students, inevitably one of the kids gets to a question about marijuana use, and the snickers begin. "Why would they ask this?" some of them want to know. Some of this hilarity continues right up the questions about knowing anyone who has died by violence. These are the questions that make the room quiet again. So many of them answer "yes." Too many of them.
This survey isn't about getting healthier choices for school lunches. It's about life and death. Questions we ask our eleven year olds to answer. So we can figure out how to deal with all that loss. As I sat at my desk Friday night, bubbling in computer forms for each of those fifth graders representing their physical fitness scores, I wondered about their futures. Not just because of their physical fitness, but the world that will receive them.
I know that two of my former students never saw their eighteenth birthday. These little boys that I taught never got to grow up and become what they hoped. They never got to grow up. I wondered if any other those names that I had so painstakingly filled in with my number two pencil would become part of that list. Troubled kids. Angry kids. Scared kids. Who could blame them? Growing up in fear. Mass shootings in schools get the twenty-four hour news focus. Innocent bystanders, "accidental shootings," gang related, crimes of passion: Dead kids. Cancelled futures.
Statistics.
The death of one is a tragedy. Children dying compound the tragedy. Take a look into the eyes of a mother or father whose child passed away before them. Feel that pain. Feel that loss. Remember that this happens nearly one hundred times a day in America. Everyone that dies was someone's baby once.
I am now teaching the babies of some of the students I taught. They will take that survey that asks if they know anyone who has died by violence. They will take the physical fitness test that measures their heart and lung capacity. Their strength. Children are strong. They are resilient. They deserve a chance to grow up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Keeping Up Appearances

Another page falls from the calendar, the sun comes up again, and just as surely another member of the current regime falls by the wayside. If you remember H.R. McMaster, then you probably know that he is no longer the National Security Adviser. Much in the same way RuPal brought surprise sashayer Christina Aguilera, game show veteran DoJohn brought in former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton to fill that post.
It really does have the feeling of a TV show: sex, scandal, hiring, firing, and did I mention scandal? Most of the White House staff prefers not to bring personal effects to their offices since that would mean the ignominious walk out with the potted plant while being escorted by security is just over their shoulder. But just exactly who is our new contestant?
John Bolton, also recognized as the brother Captain Kangaroo never talked about, may be best remembered for his insistence that the only good Saddam Hussein was a dead Saddam Hussein, and that the axis of evil should include Iran and North Korea because America should never truly be at peace. There's still a lot of evil out there, and John is just the guy to fix it so we won't have to worry about that. Bomb this. Invade that. Negotiate? Not when we have all these bombs.
It is a fundamental problem our "President" has understanding the inner workings of drama. As a participant in "reality TV," he has never truly understood scripted theater. The Good Cop/Bad Cop trope needs a Good Cop to work. Yes, the guy who shows up with a white mustache to hide the foaming spittle coming from his mouth insisting that "There needs to be a strategic response to Russia's new nuclear missiles to show our allies in Europe that we will not let Russia push the US or its allies around," is a pretty good fit for that Bad Cop spot. 
So who does that leave in the Good Cop position? Surely not "Fire and Fury" Donnie. Certainly our "President" has not been at global domination/destruction as long as Mister Bolton, but I think I would definitely sleep better if I knew that Christina Aquilera was going to be our new National Security Adviser. At least we know she's a Fighter

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Tough Talk

What happened to the high road?
At an anti-sexual assault rally at the University of Miami earlier this week, Joe Biden said that if he were in high school and heard Trump making lewd comments about women, he would “take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.” This is also the same gentleman who once suggested, "if you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door." This was back in 2013, while Joe was still the sitting Vice President of the United States. Back in those days, he could be counted on to say the darndest things. Three years after that, he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton when he spouted off about the Republican's nominee: “The press always ask me, ‘Don’t I wish I were debating him?’ No, I wish we were in high school — I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish.”
At the time, Private Citizen and candidate Trump responded, “Did you see where Biden wants to take me to the the back of the barn? Me. I’d love that. Mister Tough Guy. You know, he’s Mister Tough Guy. You know when he’s Mister Tough Guy? When he’s standing behind a microphone by himself.” After a pause, “Some things in life you could really love doing.”
The things in life that I could really love doing do not include going behind a barn or a gym to duke it out with guys in their seventies. Even if I really didn't like them. Even if I found their comments and actions despicable. Maybe that's because I'm still in my fifties and twenty years is just long enough to forget about exactly what it feels like to be in a fistfight. I haven't been in that many myself, but I don't remember coming away feeling like a "winner." Instead, I remember when all that adrenaline left and I was left hurting and wondering if I had made my point by making my hands hurt by hitting and being hit, I was pretty sure that I hadn't. Instead, I had deepened the divide by punching my way into a bigger mess. Those movie fights that go on for several minutes, crashing through doors and windows, bare fists flying and that trickle of Captain Kirk blood dripping from the corner of your mouth doesn't really exist. The only way to make a boxing match last more than two rounds is to pad the gloves and have somebody in the corner to stitch up the combatants. So how did our "President" respond to Joe's most recent assertions? “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy,” he wrote on Twitter. “Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!” If I'm the principal here, I suspend them both for a few days just so I don't have to listen to them. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Blown Out Of Proportion

As I write this, the suspect in the Texas bombings is dead, hoisted on his own petard. Beyond the poetic justice of this moment, I appreciate the opportunity to share with any and all who did not previously understand the meaning of that particular phrase. A petard was a small bomb used in the days of yore to breach doors or fortifications. It came into vogue after Bill Shakespeare used it in his play about the troubled youth Hamlet. This idiom has come to refer to anyone who managed to get themselves caught in their own trap or scheme, but this was quite the illustrative example.
While all that was taking place, of course, the rush to determine a motive began. Additionally, there will be an even more frantic attempt to connect the suspect to some group, organization, or cause that would help make sense of his three week campaign of terror.
Oops.
I did it, didn't I?
I went and used the "T" word. Not the "he who shall not be named" T-word, but the T-word that seems to defy connection to white males carrying out their killing within the continental United States. My guess is that anyone living in or around Austin, Texas would probably go along with that labeling, especially in that it goes a long way toward the goal of keeping Austin weird. The terror will probably continue for some time as there is no way to be certain if there are more un-exploded devices out there waiting to be blown. On accident or by timer.
Or in solidarity.
The potential for accomplices or copycats remain a concern for the time being, until the next terror event. Not that it will be carried out by terrorists. We reserve the right to use that label on bad people we want to deny entry into our country. Apparently we have plenty of potential terrorists here already. We've got a quota we have to consider.
Who knew learning about Shakespeare could be so fun?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Dream Deal

I am imagining our "President" sitting in the Oval Office, arms crossed, lower lip out, waiting with the tiniest sliver of patience for Democrats to show up to make a deal on DACA. You remember DACA, don't you? Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? The program that was going to be shut down on the fifth of March? The fifth of March this year?
According to the "President," Democrats are not beating a path to his door to beg for assistance on this issue since presently every court that has heard arguments about DACA has ruled in its favor. That means March fifth came and went without the clap of thunder that his orangeness had suggested and the hundreds of thousands of those protected by this program will continue to live and breathe free without the fear of deportation.
Except they will.
Each time another prosecutor files suit, or another state proclaims its sovereignty and intent to deny the Dreamers any or all of their protected rights, things get dicey. It would be nice if any of the decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court would be sufficient for everyone to stop and go looking for a new bone upon which to gnaw. Like this week, when the justices ruled against Arizona, who had been refusing to issue drivers licenses to Dreamers. Arizona's Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, had this to say: "Our case has always been about more than just driver's licenses. It's about the separation of powers and whether the president, any president, can unilaterally act and bypass Congress to create new laws." 
Mister Brnovich was obviously disappointed by the high court's ruling, but he seemed to be dancing on the edge of another reality: Why would it be okay for a president, any president, to unilaterally act to bypass Congress and eliminate a law that is already in place? 
Like the rest of the universe, the only constant is change, but still the Road Cone in Chief is still sitting there, pouting in his office, completely willing to make a deal. Maybe somebody should tell him about the art of making a deal. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wish

Get up, have my orange juice and vitamins. Go for a run. Take a shower. Write a blog. That's how my day would start. I suppose I should point out that the waking up part would be less a function of have to than want to. No alarms would be necessary. Still, if I want this day to get going, I have to put some miles behind me before too much has slipped away. I want to be able to spend as much time as I can in the service of the places and people that I want to squeeze in.
Once I have put the finishing touches on the blog post, I would get dressed and take the family across the street to Disneyland. It's a cool day so the crowds haven't overwhelmed the front gate, and the straight shot to Space Mountain that we have rehearsed so many times puts us on the ride within minutes of our entrance. After meandering around Tomorrowland for a couple hours, lunch will be taken at Pizza Port. There we will meet friends and discuss the number of trips necessary on the Jungle Cruise before heading out for Adventureland. Only those who find the backside of water as intrinsically amusing as I do will be allowed to ride. Each lap should bring at least one new bit to add to the treasure trove of ridiculous animal puns that have kept me amused for decades. Working our way around the Rivers of America, we take in the Haunted Mansion and a trip down Splash Mountain as the heat of the day arrives.
Because this is my day, the lines are just long enough to recount the previous experiences before we load into yet another. That is why we travel across the expanse that used to be parking lot to spend a few hours in the California Adventure, sticking primarily to Cars Land and other Pixar-related attractions. As the sun goes down and the lights come on, we make our way back out to Downtown Disney where we have a table reserved at The House of Blues. Springsteen is playing an acoustic set there and we don't want to miss a note.
Three and a half hours later, after shaking hands with the Boss and thanking him personally for the past forty years, we head back to the Magic Kingdom as the fireworks pour out from behind Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and I turn to look at the faces of my family and friends, bathed in the glow of the happiest day of the happiest place on earth.
Then it's time to get on home to rest. Another day, another run, and another blog is waiting to be created.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Oh, Great

Confession time: I am part of the media. I am part of the left-wing media. I have a liberal slant to my views as well as the selection of stories that I tell. My opinions sit just to the right of the Hollywood Elite, and I have been known to seek out opinions and facts that help to support those views. If you are still reading, it's because you tend to agree with me when I say that America was pretty great a couple years ago, and it doesn't really need to be made over into something brand new in order to be great.
Or maybe you're reading this to pick a fight. Still I have that absurd lick of hope that says that we might all agree on something. Even though I am periodically shocked and amazed by the level of vitriol expressed through the other side of America's mouth, hereon labeled right-wing, I suspect that I could end up having a reasonable back and forth with many of the voices that might appear to contradict mine.
I have to believe this, because compromise is what made this country possible, and if I may, what makes this country great. As I sit in my granola-infused bubble on the left hand side of the country, breathing in all that liberal air that gets pumped in here by solar powered turbines, I know that there is a deeply committed individual entrenched in his or her bunker of conservative beliefs that would go toe-to-toe with me on any given day, debating the issues that swirl around us.
I know, for instance, that not every high school student in America was juiced about walking out into the streets last week to help bring down the National Rifle Association. Those were not the voices that were heard. Women working in offices where they are happy to have a job and don't care about how their bosses treat them, since they have a boss. These are not good stories. They escape the focus of our news cycle because they don't tend to stir the pot.
It's something I have learned about America: Status does not tend to stay quo very long. There is this very popular sentiment going around about "draining the swamp." It can be heard from both sides. The suggestion that things are bad and getting worse is vital to maintain the forward motion of our great Republic. Change is constant, and we seem to be content with the relatively simple pendulum motion: back and forth, Democrat to Republican. But to return briefly to that idea of swamps, the idea is to rid ourselves of the reptiles infesting that habitat. Which is odd, since alligators have been around for one hundred eighty million years, so if you're a fan of science, you can't expect that getting rid of them will be an easy chore. Add to that the conservationist bent that comes with my left-leaning and I realize that draining a swamp would be bad for the environment, so at the very least we should consider relocating those beasts. Which sounds like a real estate problem. Now if we could just find a connection there, we'd be set.
Opportunity. That's what has and will continue to make America great.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Into The Mystic

The news came to me, of all days, on Saint Patrick's Day. Bob was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, in the most convivial way. A big bear of a man, he had a way of commanding a room if he needed to, or could stand in the background and wait. This came in handy as he wandered the world of public education. He wasn't a classroom teacher, but a network specialist: the guy who went from school to school making sure that all our kids had access to Al Gore's Internet. As the computer teacher, it was my pleasure to work with Bob for eighteen years.
Bob retired from the Oakland Unified School District at the end of last year. Bob retired from this material plane last week.
This is a shame on so many levels, but mostly for that ironic piece in which Bob was leaving his job as infrastructure specialist after all those years to follow his first love: sailing. Very few of the interactions I had with Bob did not include at least a brief discussion of his passion for the sea. Bob knew more about making computers talk to each other than anyone I know, but he wasn't really a network guy. He was a sailor.
He was known around the district for his frequent pleasure cruises, out on the bay, shepherding landlubbers he met out onto the water to feel the spray and smell the  breeze. There were plenty of district employees whose first experience on the waves came on Bob's boat. It was a different part of his public service. Not that he didn't have a devotion to the work he did with cables and wires and modems, but his bottom line was the kids.
I was often the recipient of awed praise from Bob on my ability to deal with students. He told me how much he admired the way I balanced attention to children with keeping the machines in my room running. It was very flattering, but I knew that he had a mission of his  own: keeping all those machines across the district connected to one another so the rest of us could do our jobs. Bob was a devoted employee of the district, and a union man, he served as shop steward and kept a busy leprechaun's agenda of keeping his managers on their toes.
And the sea under their feet.
Aloha, Bob. You sailed the seas and stomped on the Terra, and you made my life more amusing. You will be missed.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Bargain

My union, the Oakland Education Association, would like me to know that we are currently experiencing a bargaining process. This news comes a little like being told by climate scientists that we are currently experiencing a global warming process. This seems to be a state of being, rather than an exception. Teachers seem to be collectively bargaining across this great land of ours. This great land of ours that currently sits somewhere toward the back of the pack when it comes to academic achievement worldwide. Teachers are paid, on average, fifty-six thousand dollars a year. I live in one of those rare spots on the map where salaries hover close to a more comfortable sixty-nine thousand dollars a year. Not that I make that, not even after twenty-one years of service. And while I live in a state that also boasts one of the highest costs of living, I can take solace in the fact that I don't live in Arizona.
Elizabeth Milich, who teaches at the Whispering Winds Academy, posted her pay stub on Facebook: showing that she makes a little more than thirty-five thousand dollars a year. Even more with the one hundred thirty-one dollar bump she received for taking professional development courses. Congratulations to her on the raise, but she wasn't looking for that shout out. She was pointing out just how ridiculous it is that a job that requires a college degree pays such a pittance. Lots of people like to thump their chests and laud teachers for doing the job they do for such paltry paychecks. Some of these same individuals will roll their eyes when they hear that teachers are asking for raises. Again.
Meanwhile, I sit by and watch the free agent market for professional athletes continue to generate multi-millionaires, some of whom received their college degrees while others have not. I understand, as an educated person, that this is a matter of comparing apples to oranges. I don't really want their job, and with a very few exceptions I believe they are happy pursuing their dreams. My dream is different. After spending more than two decades climbing the ladder, I can boast a living wage, along with job satisfactions and frustrations that make me wonder if I am on the right path from time to time.
Like the time when we are undergoing a bargaining process. Which makes me wonder, if teachers were to be armed, if that process might change.