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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Incidents

A couple of things that happened on March 14, 2018:
A teacher in Seaside, California accidentally fired a gun in his classroom. He was pointing the weapon at the ceiling at the time, and it was part of a public safety class, but three students were injured. Dennis Alexander, who is also a city councilman and a reserve police officer in Seaside, has been placed on administrative leave while school officials try and figure out just exactly what was going on. Hard to say exactly how far the investigation will go, since Mister Alexander also serves as Mayor Pro Tem. In these little towns, people end up having to do extra jobs. Like in Mayberry, where Otis the town drunk was also a sheriff's deputy. On a day when thousands of school kids walked out of their classes to draw attention to gun violence, this incident spikes the irony chart.
Meanwhile, across the country in Columbia, South Carolina Dylan Roof's younger sister Morgan was arrested for bringing guns onto the campus of her high school. If the name sounds familiar, Dylan Roof was the young man who walked into an historic black church in 2015 and killed nine members of the congregation there for bible study. Dylan has since been sentenced to death for his crimes. His little sister announced her intentions, more or less, on Snapchat the morning of March 14, announcing: “I hope it’s a trap and y’all get shot. We know it’s fixing to be nothing but black people walkin out anyway." Apparently the nut doesn't fall far from the crazy racist killer tree. South Carolina's governor, Henry McMaster, said that “potential tragedy was avoided” at Flora High on Wednesday. He also called on the state General Assembly to pass legislation requiring police officers to be present at every school. 
These were not the only things that happened on March 14. Thousands of peaceful demonstrations took place to remind us all of the tragedy of the murder of seventeen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Students left school and walked out. In a Florida courtroom, the young man responsible for those deaths was being arraigned. 
His plea? 
Not guilty.
And, as the sage once wrote, so it goes. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Brief History Of Steve

Stephen Hawking died. About fifty years after he was supposed to. His passing brought to mind a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Discussion of how extraterrestrials may have found their way to our planet includes a discussion of Einstein's theories about space travel, leading one of the supervisors to suggest that "Einstein was probably one of them."
The same will be said about Stephen Hawking. He became, over the past half century, our go-to smart guy. He figured out black holes. Or started to, anyway. He discovered that something does come out of those voids, contrary to previously held beliefs. He got his own form of radiation named after him for that one.
In 1988, he published A Brief History of Time, and has sold more than ten million copies since. This makes it the best selling science book of all time. Over the years, Professor Hawking shared his thoughts, great big ones, on such matters as the nature of philosophy and the existence of the aforementioned extraterrestrials"One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this," Hawking said, referring to the potentially habitable alien planet Gliese 832c. "But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well."
Hawking was never exactly playful in his deliberations about the nature of the galaxy and our part in it, yet he maintained a position of hope for so many. When he was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, he was expected to live just another two years. Thanks in large part to the medical science he tossed over in favor of studying physics, he survived fifty- three more years than that, adding a human element to his story that might otherwise have been missing from the robotic sounds emanating from his voice box. 
Which takes me back to the early years of my marriage when my wife and I planned road trips, including one across the middle of America that had us travelling with only the works of Stephen Hawking, as read by the author. Now maybe we will find the time. Aloha, Professor Hawking. You didn't necessarily stomp on the Terra, but you helped us all understand our place in and around it better. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Here is what I have ultimate respect for in our judicial system: Innocent until proven guilty. Whenever I have been called for jury duty, which has been about once a year for the past twenty years, inevitably I end up in that box where defending and prosecuting attorneys pepper the perspective juror (me) with questions. Inevitably, one or the other will land on the fact that I am a teacher and they ask if I am fair and impartial when it comes to handing out consequences on the playground. The answer has been, all those years, the same: I certainly try. That presumed innocence is the part with which I struggle. The shredded bulletin boards in the hallway where I have seen a third grade boy alone only moments before. The crying kindergartner holding her eye pointing at the second grader who has a history of not keeping his hands to himself. I want to bring blind justice to bear on these incidents, but I know in my heart that swift is often better than blind for a barrel full of reasons.
In response to the question: Fair? Yes. Impartial? Not always.
Which is what troubles me most deeply about the idea of "experts" being trained to carry guns in schools as depicted in the comic book of policy put forth by our "President." This came at the same instant that he began to drift away from his commitment to raising the age for buying guns from eighteen to twenty-one. That part of the legislation that would have limited access to guns was essentially replaced by the introduction of more guns. On the hips of "rigorously trained" educators. The "President" babbled on about how gun-free zones mean nothing because that's exactly where these bad guys go because they know they will meet little or no resistance. Leaving daycare facilities and churches as the next logical targets. Hopefully it will be just a few moments before the suggestion is made that care providers at both of these stops will be packing heat before the month is up.
Because the chances of getting it wrong is so very high. I know that I have sat kids on the bench when they just happened to have red paint on their hands. I know that the number of times that an "expert" at one of these schools has to get this wrong to prove the whole system false is once. Innocent bystanders in a school number in the hundreds. That is what makes them such attractive targets. I have an armful of students who tell me, upon being caught in the middle of a dust-up on the yard, "My mom told me I have to hit back." Exchange the verb "hit" for "shoot" and suddenly we discover the problem with this logic.
In courtrooms across the country, metal detectors and "airport-style-security" is in place to ensure the safety of all those involved in the judicial system. And yet, people are shot in courtrooms across the country. Most recently, a defendant in Utah leaped up to attack a witness in his trial. With a pen. An armed marshal in the room shot the defendant four times, ending the attack. And the trial. I admit, it sure makes that guy look guilty. I guess that will have to do for proof.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Message From Beyond

My wife brought me a treasure the other day. That was how she introduced it: A treasure. She led me by the hand into the living room where she picked up a piece of paper. It was a dense piece of single spaced type, littered with strike-throughs and attempts at correction. But not many.
It was a letter I had written to her thirty-six years ago. Back in the eighties. The early eighties. Bill Clinton was taking a break between his two terms as governor of Arkansas. The Falklands War raged on for several minutes. Chariots of Fire won Best Picture, forcing everyone to run around in slow motion to the strains of Vangelis. Commodore released their sixty-four bit home computer. I was using an electric typewriter to write papers for my college courses as well as the occasional letter to a friend.
That was the girl who had headed off on her own collegiate journey. She had sent me a typed letter, and I felt compelled to respond in kind. All these years later, there were so many sounds and phrases that rang through. The inside jokes. The attempts at wisdom deflected almost immediately by sarcasm. The lack of paragraph breaks. This was my voice.
Still, I couldn't help wondering how this scrap of our past had survived all these years. Was it sheer tenacity on the part of the paper on which hit had been typed? Was it a happy accident that it slipped into a folder with other more important documents? Or was it somehow a message from beyond that brought us back to that place, before the turn of the century was a discussion point? Were these silly ramblings a revelation of any sort?
Yes and no. I could hear my own desperation to connect in those pages. I would not have presumed that I was in love at that point, but I was busy scattering my feelings about this and that in a spray that permeated the entire letter. I wanted someone to know what was going on in my mind, if not my heart.
As we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary of our wedding, I understood the historical significance of all that mostly legible wordstream. It was a love letter that I hadn't been clever or brave enough to recognize or rationalize. It was a message that traveled across time to land in our living room to be read and reflected upon. Together.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What's A Picture Worth?

It came back. Not expected. Not in the  least. Sunday morning brought a return to the league of kidney stones. It was a surprise because I had truly believed that I had conquered that ogre of a malady. I made this great life change where I gave up drinking Coca Cola because I was certain that was what was putting those pebbles where they did not belong.
The morning before, my wife and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood together and we passed by the nearest 7-11. Out front there was a big sign advertising their lunch special: A Big Gulp and a hot dog. The hot dog was all but obscured by the towering tumbler of cola. Beads of water dripping down the side, ice hanging on by surface tension at the rim. That brown elixir from my past was crying out to me. I was pretty sure that it wasn't Pepsi. The bubbles roiling up were too big for that. Not root beer or Dr. Pepper. This was the Real Thing. For a moment, I stood transfixed.
"What is it?" my wife turned around to see what was impeding my progress.
Slack-jawed, I pointed at the poster.
"I see," she commiserated.
For a moment we gazed at the obvious  focus of the advertisement.
"Do you miss it?" she knew the answer.
"Sure," I said as I started walking forward again, "But I sure don't miss kidney stones." We shared a knowing smile and wandered off into the day.
Less than twenty-four hours later, I was in the throes of the twist and shout that I knew all too well. It wasn't a shock, since I had been on this ride a few times before. The surprise came from the revelation that, after two years, taking Coke off my menu did not preclude me from experiencing all the suffering that kidney stones allow. Or maybe just standing there on the sidewalk, staring at the sign outside our neighborhood 7-11 was all it took to push me over the edge.
And into the abyss.
Or maybe having that history of stones put me in a category that I hadn't fully anticipated. Not that I am any sort of medical doctor, nor do I play one on TV. Which is why I suppose the notion that a picture can cause me to experience the wonder and splendor that one can have ironically with kidney stones.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sue-er

Add to the list of unconscionable things the National Rifle Association has done, this one: They are suing the state of Florida for enacting legislation that  would raise the minimum age for humans to buy machines that kill other humans from eighteen to twenty-one. The NRA does not want this change to take place. Not in Florida. Not anywhere. SB 7026 also prohibits gun ownership by people with mental health problems, and expands the three-day waiting period that had applied only to handguns to now include long gun purchases. According to the lawsuit, “This blanket ban violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. At eighteen years of age, law-abiding citizens in this country are considered adults for almost all purposes and certainly for the purposes of the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights.” If you're not up on your amendments after the glorious second, the fourteenth is the one all about equal protection under the law. 
Currently there is no amendment that guarantees equal protection from the second amendment. Currently there is no shame to be found in an institution that also chose to hold their convention just a few days after the events at Columbine High School. This included Moses talking about the tablets of the law and how they could come and claw his gun from his cold, dead hands. The concession NRA made in the wake of all the wakes of all the students who were shot and killed was to scale back the gun show that was scheduled to occur concurrently with their rifle and pony show. Thus, they could say with confidence that they did not actively sell any guns to someone who wanted to shoot up yet another school. 
Now, some decades later, the National Rifle Association is making their stand. Once again, in the face of a grieving public, they are going to tell the families and friends of the dead that what happened in Parkland, Florida had nothing to do with the guns. Or legislation. It has to do with the Constitution. We must protect this two hundred year old piece of paper with the blood of our children, if necessary. It was a member of the NRA, Florida's governor Rick Scott, a Republican who signed SB 7026 into law. That same law that includes provisions to train and arm teachers. To shoot back. 
And the beat goes on.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Appreciation

I haven't told my son that the reason I was able to graduate from the University of Colorado was because I was able to crutch my way to Music Appreciation on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a semester. There are a number of other reasons that I eventually found myself out of the maze of higher education, not the least of which was the bushel of English and Film Study credits that I had amassed during my stay at that ivory tower. It was only after a visit to an academic counselor, who looked at my transcript and insisted that I stop taking all those literature and movie classes, and was put on a path toward graduation.
It turns out that you need to have a certain amount of a certain amount of credits in order to receive a degree. Simply cobbling together a bunch of learnings that seemed to make sense at the time that I filled out the registration form was not the way. As it turns out, I needed a plan. Part of that plan included me getting some vegetables to go with that cheeseburger of a transcript I was creating. Stop taking creative writing workshops and take some kind of art other than language.
I picked Music Appreciation. This was only after I spent the period I would have attended summer school flat on my back recovering from knee surgery. Once I was back on my feet, with the aid of the aforementioned crutches, it was time to begin the Fall Semester. As the Autumn leaves began to fall, I endured the traipse across campus with the vision of a diploma dancing in my head. It was a marathon I was willing to hobble through to finish up my undergraduate degree.
Then came the ice and snow. The path I traveled took me from my apartment across a shopping center parking lot, then a short hop to the music building. On two good legs that parking lot became treacherous once the drifts began to pile up and melt. And freeze again. With my backpack strapped on tight, I waddled out into the expanse sometime in November and began to make my way across the tundra. First the left crutch flew up, then the right. I stood there for a moment or two, extended arms pinwheeling in the air for balance before I fell over backward in a heap. The backpack broke my fall. After a moment or two, I struggle back to my "feet" and began my trek anew. Twenty yards further on, up went the left, up went the right, and down I fell once again.
It was the third time that I stayed down a little longer. I figured eventually the cadaver dogs would find my body, and only kind words would be said about me for making all that effort just to get to Music Appreciation.
I did make it to class that day. On time. A little worse for wear. And I did pass the class. Consequently I appreciate music as a college graduate. Priceless.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wavelength

I made the assertion a few days back that I generally preferred children to grown ups when it comes to personal interaction. Admittedly, I made this assertion to myself as I was riding home from school after a long day's attention to the details of those juvenile interactions. There are so many ways that I am grateful that I have my own reality filtered through the minds of five to eleven year olds.
Their lack of guile never ceases to surprise me. Kids run hot and cold, sometimes within minutes of one another. The bitter hatred one might hold for his or her classmate can vanish in an instant, like the change in the wind. This is also true in the opposite direction, since smooth sailing can be derailed by the smallest slight.
"She said she didn't want to be my friend anymore," come the sobs.
My adult assumption is that everyone would be better off being friends with everyone else, but I tend to enter into the discussion like a seasoned diplomat, "Maybe you just need a break from each other."
"No! She said she didn't ever want to be my friend again."
I attempt to bridge the obvious gap, "Never is a long time. How about we check back with her at the end of recess?"
The wailing continues.
I understand because I know that when you are seven years old, fifteen minutes is an eternity, and heaven help us if this confrontation occurs during the half hour of lunch recess. Just like those five minute cool-downs on the bench for minor infractions feel like being set adrift for the aforementioned ever, asking for patience when someone's best friend has just issued an ultimatum feels like a death sentence.
But these are the moments when I have learned not to panic. "Is there anybody here you can play with?"
"No," comes the crossed arms, scowling reply.
When I am very lucky, and I consider myself a periodically lucky guy, a voice comes from behind saying, "You can play with me."
The ice begins to melt. We have weathered another storm and come back stronger. Sure, it would be nice if I could train all these young minds not to deal in absolutes. It would be nice if boys and girls would generate that filter that would allow them to say, "Thank you, but right now I'm busy with Jose and Mitzi. Maybe we can get together after school?"
That's not going to happen, not anytime soon. That's okay, because of all that potential out there. So many recesses. So little time.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Nature Of The Crime

Collusion? It sounds so incredibly complex and nefarious that it makes me long for the days of the nice, clean corruption of Watergate. Back before every scandal had its own "-gate" attached to it, there was the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Water-gate Hotel. That crime, along with its subsequent cover-up brought the Nixon machine to a grinding halt. Add a dollop of your Vice President accepting payments from contractors dating back decades and you end up with poor old Gerald Ford standing on the end of that red carpet, waving goodbye to an era of politics we thought we might never see again.
Or so we believed.
These days, it truly helps to have a scorecard of some kind to keep track of all the "comings and goings" in the Trump administration. It makes me long for Haldeman and Erlichman, G. Gordon Liddy and John Mitchell. Feel free at this point to generate your own amusing bit about not needing a Deep Throat in this current cast of characters.
Time's up.
Now let us turn our focus to a case made so much more clear by the parties involved being caught and then just confessing. The mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry, is resigning a month after admitting to having carried on an affair with her bodyguard. If this were Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, things might have been different. Instead, that train wreck was followed almost immediately by a question about the misuse of city funds that led to a plea bargain, probation, a fine, and the necessary resignation of Ms. Barry from her office. This was not how I remember things ending up with Whitney and Kevin. Ms. Barry and her lover will be left to sort out what might have been while Music City tries to figure out where to go from here. The former mayor will not be departing aboard Marine One, while Jerry and Betty Ford stand in the wake of the rotors. It will probably involve a bunch of cardboard boxes and a station wagon, lumped together with those wicked glances at the Shop 'n' Save.
Hopefully she won't run into Stormy Daniels.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Tipping

It is beginning to feel a little like a game of Jenga. You know the party game where you have a stack of wood blocks and you keep removing them from the lower levels and replacing them on the top with the hope that the whole tower won't come crashing down on the coffee table? All those blocks that have been sitting at the bottom of Trump Tower are coming free, in one way or another, and the truly amazing thing is that the structure (such as it is) remains mostly intact.
With great big holes in it. The current total of fired or resigned in and around the White House sits at eighteen. In the high stress cutthroat world of Making America Great Again, one might expect casualties. Currently the rate of attrition is a little more than one a month, with various degrees of scandal attached to each departure. Most recently, Communications Director Hope Hicks left her post after she let slide the fact that she sometimes told "white lies" for the "President" to keep the machine running. Hard to imagine what other kind of lies this group would be capable of, but that's another matter.
Then there's this guy Sam Nunberg, who was let go when the "President" was still a "Candidate." While not the most recent member of this administration to cash out of their job, Mister Nunberg is on the subpoena list to appear before a grand jury regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sam used his appearances on several cable news shows to vehemently disregard any such call. “I think it would be really, really funny if they wanted to arrest me because I don’t want to spend eighty hours going over emails I had with Steve Bannon and Roger Stone." The first question I would ask him would be: Do you understand what a subpoena is? The second would be: What else were you going to do? You don't have a job.
Maybe Sam was confused. Maybe it was the anti-depressants talking, but Erin Burnett of CNN did bother to inquire, “We talked earlier about what people in the White House were saying about you ― talking about whether you were drinking or on drugs or whatever had happened today. Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath.” Sam didn't respond with the rational, "Well, it's five o'clock somewhere." He continued to bash away at how ridiculous this whole process is and how he can't imagine what possible good could come from such a thing and while we're at it, the Press Secretary is a "fat slob." And somewhere in there as he plummeted to earth, he let slip that sure, it's possible that Robert Meuller might have something on his former boss. 
Whatever you do, don't bump the coffee table. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Silver Medal

The Super Bowl is over. Hit the reset button.
The Academy Awards are over. Hit the reset button.
The institutional memory of the United States is full. Hit the reset button.
The Where Are They Now file continues to expand as we swarm all over what is new and better and updated and fresh.
Who remembers last years' best picture nominees? History will soon present us with a pause that will ask us to remember which years Tom Brady lost the Super Bowl and which ones he won. What number iPhone are we on currently? The 2019 model year begins soon, and you'll want to get your reservation in for the all-Bluetooth Ford F-150.
As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, put it in a new box and charge more for it."
I am infamous in my household for hanging on to T-shirts long past their freshness date. My beloved Friday running shirt is now more than forty years old, and while it is nearly translucent gauze at this point, I cling to it as if it were an important link to the past. Do I really need the remnants of this garment to remember the stories of scrounging in the university athletic dumpsters behind the team house at Folsom Field? It gives me a talking point, much in the same way we can return to the moment in the eighty-ninth Oscar ceremony where La-La Land was announced as the winner of Best Picture before accountants scrambled from the wings to make their big reveal that it was actually Moonlight that won the trophy. Just as Martin Scorsese will forever glare at the empty spot on his mantle where his Oscar for Raging Bull does not stand, Peyton Manning will not remember his Super Bowl performance against the Seattle Seahawks after the snap that went sailing over his head on the first play from scrimmage. Just that one football drifting past his head, falling into the end zone for a safety that brought the rest of that house of cards down on top of him and his teammates for the rest of the afternoon.
And maybe that's the function I hold in our society: remembering the also-rans. The ones that didn't make it to the top before their fifteen minutes expired. There is not a question about the relative merits of burning out versus fading away. On a long enough timeline, everyone's moment in the sun is just that: a moment. It's time to pick up and move on, since the public demands its sacrifice and the altar for 2018 is currently bare. Who will be this year's model? We'll have to wait and see. And I'll be keeping track of second place.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Probable Cause

After the events of April 1999 at Columbine High School, I stopped playing Doom. It was partly because of its association with the killers Eric and Dylan. It was also because, as a new father, I had a hard time imagining that I could sit my little boy up on my lap in front of my computer while I stomped through dark corridors with various weapons weighing me down. The splattering gore and the rattle of gunfire didn't seem like a good way to introduce my son to the wonders of technology. When it came time for my son to decide how he might spend his screen time, his mother and I had lengthy discussions that periodically involved him about how we wanted him wandering around cyberspace first-person-shootering.
We didn't.
Like so many parents, we began to worry about the video games that were becoming part of his world. We liked the ones that gave him skills like typing and a working knowledge of the steam locomotive. We didn't like the ones that involved killing. There was a moment when we were asked to decide if he could play the new Star Wars game. If he was flying around in an X-Wing fighter, okay. Wielding a light saber, alright. Carrying a blaster? Even a Jedi can be turned to the dark side. Even though I felt like the chances of a video game turning our baby into a killer were slim to none, I couldn't shake that little voice that whispered, "maybe."
Now that the barn doors have closed behind the years that we could have an impact on such matters, I hear that our "President" would like to have video game makers come to the White House to discuss how their products are "shaping our young people's thoughts." And now I remember exactly what those convictions were that allowed me to let my son slide down that slippery slope into playing video games. Was I willing to give up my place in forming his world view and surrender to pop culture? Not when I could act as his tour guide and concierge in that voyage. Marilyn Manson? Check. All that rock and roll? You bet. Video games? Not more important than all the other words and visions and humanness that came through our house for all those year. What are the reasons I would choose to explain how my son became the person he is today? Video games.
Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Sometime in junior high, it pains me not to know the exact date, I got my first stereo. It was really a record player with two speakers attached to it, but when I played those Beatles albums, I could hear all the lefts and rights. It came from JC Penny, and it was about as wonderful a way to be launched into adolescence as I could imagine. I already owned a few records, and I was playing them on the beast of a wooden cabinet that had once been my parents' home entertainment center. Once they moved up to the couch-sized console, the one that doubled as a side table during Thanksgiving dinner, that polished piece of furniture came to rest in my room.
Downstairs, my older brother was hard at work assembling the best possible component system by making regular trips to Team Electronics where stereo was a burgeoning industry. I looked at the controls I had at my disposal on my Penny's hardware: Volume, bass, treble, and balance. It was that last one that made me realize that sometimes John sang on one side and Paul on the other. And yet, when played together, they came into my bedroom as one sweet harmony at which I continue to marvel.
My stereo lived on a shelf above my bed, next to the models of Snoopy and the Red Baron. Next to the books about monster movies. Next to the ever-expanding collection of records. I held on to the adapter for playing forty-fives, because I knew that even if I grew too old to listen to singles as my older brother had, I wanted to be prepared. It never occurred to me to  purchase the album on which Elvis' "In The Ghetto" could be found. That was an artifact of a moment in time. I didn't care to know what came before or after that song. It was the Elvis I owned.
I was becoming more adept at picking out tracks on my own records by carefully lowering the needle onto those smooth black pieces of vinyl. If there was a particular song I wanted to play for a friend, or quite often my mother, I would fire up the Penny's machine, lift the arm of the turntable and swing it over, hovering right above that thick groove that told me where to place that tiny diamond point. There were plenty of times when that operation went horribly wrong and the squonk that emitted from those cheesy speakers made everyone listening cringe, and I wished for the record gods to save me from having a ruined piece of plastic that would skip for evermore.
Occasionally, a slammed door or a thump on the wall would jostle my reverie, as that fear of a scratched record would have me up and staring at that revolving platter, inspecting it for anything that didn't look like factory pressed. It was not long until the Penny's stereo was not adequate for my needs. Acquiring my own components became the next rite of passage for me, as the Penny machine slipped down the chain to my younger brother, who found it as endlessly fascinating as I did, until it became apparent that real stereos didn't come from JC Penny.
Still, that was the audio equipment that set me on the path of excess, and for that I will always be thankful. And when I call out to my Google home assistant to play a song on Spotify, I can feel myself leaning down and squinting at that black circle.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Calling Cards

I can remember sitting at a desk in junior high school, shocked to see that someone had drawn a crude picture with an equally crusty suggestion below it. Not because I was oblivious to such things. On the contrary. My own sense of what was dirty and clean was being informed on a nearly constant basis in those years by George Carlin, Monty Python and Lenny Bruce. It might have been that there was no cleverness designed into the scrawl, no sense of design. I could have appreciated it from an aesthetic point of view, but it was just angry scribbling. This was something that had not been present in my elementary school. It did not occur to us that you would ever deface the desks in any way. We had heard stories and seen cartoons depicting such acts of willful disobedience, but it did not make sense in our world. If something like that was happening at our school, it would most certainly have ended with the expulsion of the vandal after a public shaming.

I don't work at that school. By the time I reached high school, I was more familiar with the defacement of public property. In college, I may have even penned a note or two of my own to fellow students who might have occasion to glance down at the desk we shared over the course of a week. Even then, I did so with a modicum of shame, imagining that there would be a custodian charged with cleaning up the dirty limericks and literary ramblings as part of their job. It would be so much easier if students would contain their musings to paper, properly contained in notebooks or binders. Not hastily etched ramblings on the furniture.

I don't work at that school. When markers go missing from a teacher's cabinet, the assumption is that they will be used to write something with limited legibility on a wall or stairway or bulletin board because we did not have the sense to make the whole school a dry erase board. I am periodically reminded of who likes whom and just how angry many of our kids are. More often than not, the words are verbs and not generally the polite kind. When they are words at all. We get a lot of horizontal slashes, mostly marking territory rather than attempting to generate meaning.
Unless the meaning is simply, "I was here."

And that makes sense. At the school where I work, there are plenty of kids who need someone to know that they are here. They matter. They leave their messages in those wild pen strokes and pencil-snapping flurries. I hear them. I wish I could make more sense out of them.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Land Of Milk And Honey

I mentioned Chocolate Frosted Flakes the other day. Honestly, I saw them on the shelf as my wife and I were grocery shopping and it gave me real pause. My mind raced back to Calvin, of Hobbes, who favored Chocolate Toasted Sugar Bombs on his breakfast table. He likened the experience to "eating a bowl of Milk Duds."

Before continuing, I should confess that once on a dare, I ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs swimming in Coca Cola. It did all those things that you might expect to my teeth, gums and nervous system. It also crossed a certain combination off my stunt-eating list once and for all.

These days, I eat granola in the mornings. It takes me back to the seventies, when growing up in Boulder, Colorado you had to have more than a passing fancy for all those oats and grains and natural sweeteners. Which meant honey. I learned way back then that processed sugar was Satan in granular form. This was somewhat ahead of the curve that had cereal companies still advertising Super Sugar Crisp and Sugar Smacks and of course those grrrreat Sugar Frosted Flakes. How to contend with the growing conscience of the cereal consumer, looking to redefine their diet?

Take the "sugar" out of the title. This marketing strategy would be somewhat akin to Tolstoy's publisher suggesting he take the "War" off the cover of "War and Peace" so it wouldn't be such a downer. We all know now that when we look at the ingredients, which are not helpfully printed in a tiny font on the side of those boxes, the first ingredient is the most important. If you were lucky, you might get corn or oats in that first slot, but it was almost a certainty that right behind that grain would lurk Demon Sugar. How else could we expect children across America to ingest anything from the food pyramid that wasn't grilled?

Somewhere along the line, I grew up. Or at least that's the way I like to tell the story. I started eating Buc-Wheats. They came into the house at the behest of my older brother, who was also the epicure who got our family hooked on Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing. One morning, as I looked across the table with my Lucky Charms in front of me, I watches as he drizzled honey on those sturdy flakes of whole grain. When he splashed milk across them, the honey clung to each flake tenaciously. The milk never stood a chance of creating a soggy mess like the one I had left in front of me.

The next morning, I followed my older brother's recipe and found the experience a revelation. No crunch berries or marshmallow bits, but a thundering mouthful of sweetness that made me feel like I was doing something good for myself. It may have been a Pyrrhic victory, but I used that momentum to reconsider all my choices through the veil of "healthy."

With raisins. They're nature's candy.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Witch Hunt

February 27, 2018, the "President" issued a tweet of two words: WITCH HUNT. I can only assume he was referring to this unpublished bit of a screenplay:

VILLAGER #1: We have found a witch, might we burn him?
CROWD: Burn him! Burn!
MEULLER: How do you know he is a witch?
VILLAGER #2: He looks like one.
MEULLER: Bring himforward.
WITCH: I'm not a witch. I'm not a witch.
MEULLER: But you are dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: No, we didn't -- no.
WITCH: And this isn't my nose, it's a false one.
MEULLER: Well?
VILLAGER #1: Well, we did do the hair.
MEULLER: The red tie?
VILLAGER #1: And the red tie-- but he is a witch!
CROWD: Burn him! Witch! Witch! Burn him!
MEULLER: Did you dress him up like this?
CROWD: No, no... no... yes. Yes, yes, a bit, a bit.
VILLAGER #1: He has got a wart.
MEULLER: What makes you think he is a witch?
VILLAGER #3: Well, he turned me into a newt.
MEULLER: A newt?
VILLAGER #3: I got better.
VILLAGER #2: Burn him anyway!
CROWD: Burn! Burn him!
MEULLER: Quiet! quiet! Quiet! There are ways of telling whether he is a witch.
CROWD: Are there? What are they?
VILLAGER #2: Do they hurt?
MEULLER: Tell me, what do you do with witches?
VILLAGER #2: Burn!
CROWD: Burn, burn them up!
MEULLER: And what do you burn apart from witches?
VILLAGER #1: More witches!
VILLAGER #2: Wood!
MEULLER: So, why do witches burn?
[pause]
VILLAGER #3: B--... 'cause they're made of wood?
MEULLER: Good!
CROWD: Oh yeah, yeah.
MEULLER: So, how do we tell whether he is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1: Build a bridge out of him.
MEULLER: Aah, but can you not also make bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #2: Oh, yeah.
MEULLER: Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1: No, no.
VILLAGER #2: It floats! It floats!
VILLAGER #1: Throw him into the pond!
CROWD: The pond!
MEULLER: What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1: Bread!
VILLAGER #2: Apples!
VILLAGER #3: Very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1: Cider!
VILLAGER #2: Uhhh, gravy!
VILLAGER #1: Cherries!
VILLAGER #2: Mud!
VILLAGER #3: Churches -- churches!
VILLAGER #2: Lead -- lead!
ONCE AND FUTURE KING: A duck.
CROWD: Oooh.
MEULLER: Exactly! So, logically...
VILLAGER #1: If... he... weighs the same as a duck.. he's made of wood.
MEULLER: And therefore?
VILLAGER #1: A witch!
CROWD: A witch! A witch! A witch!
MEULLER: We shall use my largest scales!
[yelling]
MEULLER: Right, remove the supports!
[whop] [creak]
CROWD: A witch! A witch!
WITCH: It's a fair cop.
CROWD: Burn him! Burn him!
[yelling]
MEULLER: Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?
ONCE AND FUTURE KING: I am Pence, King of the Hoosiers.
MEULLER: My liege!
ONCE AND FUTURE KING: Good Sir knight, will you come with me to Camelot, and join us at the Round Table?
MEULLER: My liege! I would be honored.
ONCE AND FUTURE KING: What is your name?
MEULLER: Meuller, my leige.
ONCE AND FUTURE KING: Then I dub you Sir Meuller, Knight of the Round Table.
Nineteen indictments and seven guilty pleas - so far. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

In Action

Congress is back to work, or what they refer to as "work." In this case, it means more partisan bickering with a side of hope that no one notices just how little they are getting done in spite of all the noise they make.
The Supreme Court has announced that they will keep their mitts off the DACA issue for the time being. The justices had this to say: "It is assumed the court of appeals will act expeditiously to decide this case." Pundits like to suggest that this means that the "President's" effort to shut that program down has been dealt a serious blow. 
Welcome to Washington D.C. where inaction translates into power. If you have spent any time watching the snail's pace in which change occurs, you tend to rejoice when something is "up for discussion" in one house of Congress or the other. This could lead to legislation, which could lead to laws being created or made. The Supreme Court might be asked to give an opinion on the relative constitutionality of all that legislating, and then the "President" might use that lovely penmanship to sign or veto that law-like object.
Currently the occupation that preoccupies so many of the empty moments of those elected officials is securing their jobs as elected officials. One of the things that can get in the way of maintaining their position of power is by exercising any of that power. Instead, we are asked to be impressed by the sheer volume of the wind that is moved about with the debate and discussion that borders on making decisions but never quite makes it to that sweet spot. 
A couple weeks ago, there was wild talk about heading back to Washington to make those common sense changes in gun laws. No more hand-wringing. No more idle chit-chat. The time had come for action. 
Or not.
It seems as though the stage we forgot in our process is that of finger-pointing and shame. There must be some other way to impact gun violence than talking about the gun part of that equation. And violence? Don't get me started. There is violence everywhere all day long. Tigers eat their young! How can meaningful change occur in a world that allows Chocolate Frosted Flakes? 
And the beat goes on. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Job Description

I got the call on Sunday night. It was reminding me of the news that I had heard on Saturday.

Oakland's Mayor, Libby Schaaf, sent out an alert about potential raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in and around her city. Our city. The call I received came from the communications director of the Oakland Unified School District, and we were reminded of our status as a sanctuary school district. ICE agents are not allowed to conduct their business on school grounds. We do not require proof of immigration status from our students. We are in the business of educating, not enforcing.

Interesting that this comes close on the heels of the suggestion that "weapons talented" staff members at schools should be given bonuses for using those talents, potentially, to shoot at suspected shooters. I suppose it's only a matter of time before those bonuses might be attached to the number of illegals we might help to deport.

This is the same creepy planet where we once used to tell our students that with the right education, they could grow up and be anything they wanted to be. Unless they are shot and killed. Or are rounded up in an immigration raid and sent back to the place they fled. It's all a part of keeping the American Dream exclusively American.

Whatever that means.

It makes me glad to see this group of students who are not willing to simply let things happen to them. By contrast, however, it does not make my job any easier. As a white male adult, when I say things to kids, it has to run through their filter which picks up my voice as one of authority. I'll keep you safe. I won't make your lives more difficult or dangerous.

Trust me.

There was no van waiting outside our school this morning. We didn't have an outrageous number of absences. Who knows if all our parents heard about the threat. I can't tell you with any certainty which of our families are worried about ICE.

I wish I could go back to just being a teacher.