Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mnemonics

What a great slogan "Good Guy With A Gun" is. It has that brevity that makes it hard to dislodge from your prefrontal cortex. It has the alliteration that makes it sing. It seems to make so much sense. Until you start to unravel it.
The number of good guys with guns that died in the line of duty because of a gun that wasn't in the hands of a good guy is forty-four. Forty-four good guys and gals with guns died because their jobs are inherently dangerous. Because, as most people will remind you, there are a lot more bad guys with guns who don't follow the rules who don't care who they shoot on the other side of that thin blue line.
And then there's Jemel Roberson,a church musician and a security guard at Manny’s Blue Room Bar in Robbins, Illinois. Jemel was doing his job early last Sunday morning when he asked a group of drunken patrons to leave the bar. Moments later, one of them came back with a gun. He opened fire. In the ensuing tumult, Roberson apprehended one of the men outside the bar. He had a knee on the bad guy's back and held a gun on him, suggesting that he did not move. Police officers arrived on the scene and shot Jemel Roberson. He was shot five times. Without ever firing a shot in anger, Jemel Roberson was dead. 
Two days before this incident, Roberson had played at his grandmother's funeral. 
Without casting any further judgments into these murky waters, let's just take guns out of this interaction. Security guard asks drunken patrons to leave a bar in the wee hours of the morning. One of them comes back looking for a fight. A scuffle ensues, and police are called. They show up and settles the dispute. Someone ends up being cited, maybe jailed, for their behavior. Order is restored. 
In this particular version, however, Good Guy with a Gun Gone. And the number of times this kind of thing goes wrong, it's probably worth remembering. Not just in your prefrontal cortex, but in your heart as well. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Evacuate And Shun

A very good friend of mine and I were joking the other night as we talked on the phone. She was relating to me how she had coordinated a five minute, a thirty minute, and a one hour evacuation plan. I suggested that we pitch an HGTV show, where she could go from home to home, advising others on the delicate balance of things you need when you can't stay in your house. Having just returned from two days away from her own home, evacuated from the path of the Thousand Oaks fire, our conversation strayed into some pretty dark places. Considering there were a great many people who had never had the chance to flee, or to ponder what items might make the trip away from their homes, there was an edge of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I.
Which made me start to inventory my own life. What would I drag out the front door if I only had five minutes to choose? Would I have the presence of mind to remember my carefully laid plan? The most obvious answer is the one where I take the irreplaceable: My wife and myself. The stuff would have to wait. People, we preached to our son from a very early age, are more important than things. But what about those animation cels? The movie poster collection? Somewhere in a recess of my mind, I recall insurance playing a part in this, but I cannot imagine that there will be a replacement for the frame signed by Chuck Jones to me. I don't expect there is a set price for wedding photos. Or DVDs of our son when he was a tiny boy. When we taught him that people are more important than things.
Still, there is a short list of things I would like to believe I would tuck under my arm when the flames came over the hill, or the house began to creak and fail in an earthquake. The photo album. That first edition of Breakfast of Champions. Our wedding cake topper. The file cabinet with the last twenty-five years of documents, warranties, and policies. Or maybe just my wits.
It pains me just a little to think about what Neil Young must have lost in the fire. It makes me smile when I think about the man who found his wife's wedding ring amid the ashes. It gladdens my heart to know that my friends and family are safe again.
For now.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Man

I have thought about writing this epitaph a hundred times. Stan Lee lived to be ninety-five years old, and I am still working on finding words to express the impact this man had on my life. For a period of time, I was signing my name with the parenthetical (the Amazing Spider Man). I read more comic books than your average nerd, and though I had dalliances with other publishers, I was a Marvel guy. This was the standard and the brand that I could trust. It was part of the road map of my life.
It should be noted that the first time I proposed to my wife, I did so as an homage to Peter Parker and his paramour Mary Jane Watson. As I mentioned, this was the first of many attempts, but it should be noted that a copy of that comic still stands on an altar next to our wedding photo. It is the way the legend has proved to be stronger than the more twisted path of reality.
If you don't know Stan Lee, you might have been asleep for the past fifty years, so I will tell you that he is the man responsible for heroes. Heroes like the aforementioned Spider Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Incredible Hulk, and Howard the Duck.
Yes. I went with my older brother to see Howard the Duck when George Lucas turned it into a movie. We paid full price. And we liked it. I watched the CBS TV version of Spider Man. Okay, I wasn't in love with it, but I watched. When Sam Raimi finally got his hands on the Webslinger, I was in heaven, even if that third outing went a little awry. But I was back in line when Andrew Garfield pulled on those red and blue tights. Twice. All this time, Stan was gearing up for a Marvel Cinematic Universe that brought us Iron Man, and resurrected Captain America, breathed new life int Black Widow and made Hawkeye cool.
With each new movie, I found myself drawn back to those comics. The ones I had read for so many years, and eventually introduced to my son. He and I sat in the audience of together and waited for the cameo from the man who brought us all these amazing stories. As many times as I have watched the Avengers on screen, I return to that frame where the Avengers discover Steve Rogers, frozen in time. This was the moment of my awakening, and ever since then, I have made mine Marvel.
Stan Lee stomped on the Terra and galaxies beyond our imaginations. Thankfully, he shared those worlds with us, and I that those ninety-five years were never enough, but I am eternally grateful for the gifts he shared. He will be missed. Aloha, Stan. And Excelsior!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Autumn Years

Autumn, for me, is a swirl of memories about  loss. When my grandmother died, my father drove my friend Darren and I around  while he picked up his mother's  ashes. Afterward, not knowing exactly how to  cap off an errand like that, stopped and bought us a case of beer. Which we put in the back of the car with that box of cremains. That was one fall.  A couple of  years later, as the leaves began to  turn, it was Darren who died. He was taken much too soon, before he graduated from college. It was my father who went to the hospital to pick up  my friend Joe, who lived through the car crash. He told  Joe that this was the time that he believed that dads should be able to tell kids  that everyone and everything would be okay. They both knew it wasn't. It wasn't okay. My parents bought us pizza that we may have eaten. We weren't hungry. It was a few more years before it was my father's turn. I was hungry on the day of my father's funeral.  It wasn't a car but a plane that got him. By this time, I had stopped drinking, but I went for a cheeseburger and sat in a booth where we had sat with my father so many times. It was almost twenty years before the undertoad reached up and grabbed our beloved family dog. I suppose she did us a favor by choosing the anniversary of Darren's death to go to sleep and not wake up. We buried her in our back yard. There was a chill in the air.
And all of these images come to mind when the days start to get shorter, and the shadows grow longer. I have been able to fill in the gaps with seasonal memories that don't come with graveside visions or ironic connections to those who have passed. Trick or treating with my son. Thanksgiving preparations and back to school sales. Most of those years have not included funerals. Still, at some point when summer is over, my mind starts to wander down those dark lanes. At some point I will sit and ponder my own existence and how I came to live here. To be alive here. I figure I owe that to those who went ahead of me. I am making autumn mean something more than loss. Yet, I can't help but be a little anxious at this time of year.
Because I remember.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is a climate change denier. "Carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant; that’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases," he said during a 2015 Senate hearing for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
He called the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation,” a quote that he stood by during his failed 1986 federal judicial confirmation hearing.
One of Mister Sessions' staffers, Thomas Figures, testified that his boss derogatorily called him "boy" and joked about the KKK in front of him. Sessions' former co-workers also testified that he joked that he thought the hate group was “OK," until he learned that they "smoked marijuana.”
Figures also testified that Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” 
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump. “People don’t have to endorse all of his rhetoric, but he’s correct on the issues, substantively, and he’s where the American people want to be, and we as a party should celebrate this and join this movement.” 
Yes, there was a time when Jeff Sessions was appointed by the man who he felt was"where the American people wan to be." He became Attorney General of the United States. And when that didn't turn out to be a slam dunk for his boss to be immune from prosecution, his boss had to let him go. Or in this peculiar version of reality, he was "asked to resign." Now he's gone. In his place is an opening that will no doubt offer the "President" a chance to fill it with something more subservient and dedicated to the movement he inspired. Something more divisive and more supportive of the untouchable nature that this administration demands. Jeff Sessions, once considered to racist to become a federal judge, apparently wouldn't go fare enough.
Scary? Imagining there might be a future when we look back at Jeff Sessions' stint as Attorney as "the good old days?" Very scary indeed. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Paradise Lost

I decided to bring the fifth graders in from the playground early. In the middle of their recess, it became apparent that some of them were feeling the effects. Not from the nominal rigors of exercise, but the challenge of breathing in air that was increasingly laden with smoke. One hundred seventy miles north, a fire was burning, and in Oakland, we were feeling the effects. We went inside and played Heads-up/Seven-up. Much to the dismay of many of the fifth graders who felt there was no imminent threat to their health.
On this Thursday afternoon, air quality in the Bay Area was measured at 199, some thirty points worse than that of Beijing at the same time. Those with breathing challenges and other concerns were advised to remain indoors. Meanwhile, one hundred seventy miles north, things were much worse. In Paradise, California the air was on fire.
Thirty thousand people were evacuated in advance of the wind-driven blaze, and the quixotically named town burned to the ground. Homes, businesses, restaurants, a retirement home, all destroyed. Paradise was gone, but not forgotten.
These kind of wildfires are now becoming more prevalent, especially in high density areas that were once farmland and open space. Providing fuel for fires makes them burn longer, faster. They also occur more often in a world where the climate has shifted enough to make conditions tinder dry at a time when rain used to dominate the forecast for months at a time.
The year before I moved to Oakland, there was a similar firestorm in the hills above the city. Neighborhoods were wiped out. Hillsides were left barren. But it didn't take long before lots of people and their insurance money returned to the area and built new homes. Because of some twisted pioneer spirit. And that will probably happen in Paradise too. And these folks will live there as a constant reminder of what can happen, and whenever the wind blows in that certain direction...
I don't think this is the last time we will be having PE inside.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stop Making Sense

Well, after all that heady business of midterm elections, it's nice to know that we can get back to basics: A mass shooting. If it seems like just minutes since the last one, you would be right. Instead of screaming at each other about red and white and policy, we go back to screaming into the night about the blood on the floor.
Wednesday night, a lone gunman walked into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California and did what lone gunmen do: He opened fire. When it was all over, thirteen people were dead, including the shooter. Among the dead was Sergeant Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. Sergeant Helus was one of the first on the scene, and was hit multiple times by the initial spray of bullets.
Sorry. That's a bit of hyperbole brought on by trying to describe another senseless murder. "Spray of bullets?" I embarrass myself, and I beg your forgiveness. There is no polite way to describe guns going off in close proximity to human beings or other animals. "Hail?" I think I used that one a week or so ago as I discussed the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The synagogue whose name will now always have an ironic ring: Tree of Life.
Sorry. There I go again. I am trying to make some point by connecting the facts of the case with the tragedy itself. It's something humans do: Try and make sense. Which is why there will be yet another search for a motive. Why did this twenty-something walk into a bar and kill a dozen people? It matters most to those who lost a friend or loved one, but we all lean in to try and understand how such awfulness could erupt at a college-friendly watering hole in southern California.
The killer was a Marine who had previously been contacted by authorities earlier this year during a domestic dispute. He was evaluated by mental health professionals and deemed "not a threat." The handgun he used was purchased legally. And finally I apologize for writing any of this down, except it is the only way I know to try and make it fit into my world.
It should make sense.
But it doesn't.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Path

Ten years ago I strutted around feeling like I changed the world. My vote for Barack Obama was the stuff of legend. I had actively participated in the election of the first African American President of the United States. I truly felt that I had been a part of the hope and change our country and this planet needed. Since then, I have endured my share of disappointments. I have lived through what appears now as the inevitable backlash of all that hope and change.
I am old enough to remember casting votes for Al Gore and John Kerry. I can also remember the tearful days of consoling my wife who feels these things even more deeply than I do. We had voted for Bill Clinton, twice, and we assumed that the United States was coming around. When Bill's wife lost her chance to become the first woman President of the United States to a blustering, questionably coiffed real estate developer, it became clear that the path to hope and change was a winding one. It was not an escalator.
Seeing how I was in this for the long haul, I signed up to vote by mail. I did this primarily to ensure that I would be an active piece of the democratic machinery ongoing. In case my tires were flat on Election Day, I had already passed my ballot on to the proper authorities and my voice would be heard. And, after the debacles of 2000 and 2016, it seems like a lot of others decided to join my in my compulsion. Thirty-six million of us in the 2018 midterm election. 
We voted for a Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives. We voted for the youngest woman, at twenty-nine, to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a dreamer, a Dreamer, and a Bernie Sanders-style progressive. In Colorado, the first openly gay man, was elected Governor of the Centennial State. Jared Polis  vowed to fight for Medicare-for-all. He also backed stronger gun laws, investments in renewable energy, repeal of the death penalty, and for universal full-day preschool and kindergarten as an extension of Colorado’s public schools. And what did I do, here in California? Well, I kept my little corner of it blue. Deep blue. As I talked about the returns to my mother back in Colorado, she sounded disappointed. "I guess I wanted more," she said. And I understood. The fear and hate is still out there, and all this hope and change will be hard pressed to extinguish it.
But it's a start. 

Friday, November 09, 2018

Life Matters

When the man who shot and killed eleven at a Pittsburgh area synagogue was brought to the Allegheny general hospital to have his wounds treated, it was nurse Ari Mahler who cared for him. Ari Mahler is Jewish. The man who shot and killed eleven at the Tree of Life temple had screamed "Death to all Jews!" just an hour before was kept alive by the very people he wished to exterminate. Nurse Mahler wrote this last Saturday: “I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS and the local news stations. I’ve read articles mentioning me in the Times and the Washington Post. The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish. Even more so because my dad’s a rabbi.” 
Compassion and empathy over everything.
Which brought me back to a time some twenty years ago, when my school's staff was given an opportunity to visit the Museum Of Tolerance in Los Angeles. While there, we were afforded an audience with a survivor of the Nazi death camps. He told us about how he escaped from a train car that was taking him and his family to extermination. His family was not as fortunate as he. After he told his story, someone asked what he would do if he encountered Hitler today. "I wouldn't kill him," he said. "I would build him a house in Israel. With glass walls and windows and doors, so every morning when he woke up, he would see us. That he could not kill us all." 
And so there it was. Given a chance to exact revenge, he chose to enforce empathy. The number of times Jewish gunmen have broken into alt-right meeting groups and screamed "Death to all Nazis" sits squarely at zero. That is not how this is supposed to work. Life will go on. Every day we learn something new. 
I learned something from nurse Ari Mahler. Here it is: “If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”

Thursday, November 08, 2018

You Are What You Reap

It's about time to close up shop on the front yard garden. This summer we had great success with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. We were giving the stuff away, we had so many vegetables. The same cannot be said for the sunflower we planted in the corner of one of the raised boxes we maintained with mild vigilance. Somehow the regular watering that seemed to make everything else grow so very impressively didn't seem to matter to the wilting stalk that started with so much yellowy promise.
We also tried to coax more than a single fruit from our green pepper plant. There was an initial burst that seemed to suggest that we might have salads to be proud of which resulted in that aforementioned lone pepper. And it had been gnawed upon by creatures who seemed only vaguely interested since they left the back half of the pepper, the part we could see initially, but the back half was a toothy mass of discarded rodent snack.
In the back forty (yard), we planted parsley and four strawberry plants. The first was for garnish and breath freshening. The second was for shortcake. Or a reason to bake shortcake, but you know what I mean. The parsley flourished, while the disregard ladled on the green pepper by furry pests was not felt by the strawberries. After surrendering a month and a half's yield to the trash pandas, I rigged up a hanging pot that took them out of the path of the dessert vermin.
Now it's November, and the harvest is just about complete. Since the tomato plant was a leftover from last year that seemed to awaken in spring, we might still have a few of those to drop into our store bought salads. The cucumber vines are spent and tired, and there are two butternut squashes that seem about ready to be rescued from their spot on the ground.
And the biggest green leafy surprise was the chard my wife rescued from the Ace Hardware dumpster. For a month, we ignored it. Then we decided that as long as we were planting a garden we might as well try to resurrect it. Lo and behold, it came charging back, leaving us with great leafy goodness that was chopped up and fried down into a brown paste that my wife seemed to enjoy quite a lot. And that rogue tomato plant? I'm thinking I might go ahead and string some Christmas lights on it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

People Who Live In White Houses

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
"If someone throws a tone at you, throw back a loaf of bread."
"There is a time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones together."
"They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. ... I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military police, I say: Consider it a rifle."
If that last one doesn't ring quite as true or sound as poetic as the others, consider the source: That's what the "President" suggested how the troops he sent the the U.S./Mexico border deal with anyone who would cast a stone at them. Shoot them. Men, women and children who have walked hundreds of miles as an act of desperation probably didn't get the memo. 
Elsewhere in the world, The Nigerian army last Friday used our "President's" remarks to justify opening fire at Shi'ite Muslim protesters in their country earlier in the week. Good news travels quickly, but vile threats might travel just a little quicker. 
It could be that being echoed by a government weighed down by human rights abuses, after eight years of conflict with Boko Haram, our "President" chose to tone down his initial bombast. Instead, he went with a more subdued, "They won't have to fire. What I don't want is I don't want these people throwing rocks," the "President" told reporters outside the White House. "If they do that with us, they're going to be arrested for a long time."
A long time. More than likely separating families. In tents. And guess what?
There are still people coming north. The conditions that they left behind in Honduras were such that being threatened with rifles and prison hasn't stopped them. You can't really bet the farm if  the farm has already been burned  to the ground. Why would they throw rocks? Because rocks are what are left them when they have run into obstacles. Thousands of troops with rifles versus hundreds of undernourished and exhausted refugees. Why would they line up for asylum in a country that would shoot them for throwing rocks? 
Perhaps because America, in spite of best efforts by those who would make it great again, is where they long to be. Throw bread. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Look Out 'Cause Here It Comes

It's not my nineteenth nervous breakdown. I passed that milepost somewhere last year. In Spring. Since then it's been a series of moments of disbelief coupled with impotent rage while the country that I love has been turned into a Monopoly game. Look at those numbers! Look at that stock market! Look at all this winning!
Not winning here, sorry. Stuck in a morass of competing notions: The ones lauded by Fox News, and the "lies" spread by "Fake News." I would like, at this point, to say that I have always held a certain amount of doubt about everything that I read and see. As it turns out, Darth Vader wasn't really Luke's father. He was an actor in a costume, a guy who lifted weights for a living and also portrayed Frankenstein's Monster. And that wasn't even his voice. It was the Lion King's voice. And Luke was really that kid from Corvette Summer. We live in a swirl of information that needs to be verified.
But here's one thing that you can take to the bank: If you don't like the way things are going, you have a power that doesn't get exercised nearly as often as it should. You can vote. Vote like your life depended on it, since it turns out that it just might.
I am a fan of hyperbole, at least when it comes to exploding angry ideas held mistakenly by those who have spent too long with their heads in the metaphorical sand. Or even actual sand, if that happens to be the case. The suggestion that we are somehow Making America Great Again by creating more divides and widening the gulf between the sliver of haves and the vast majority of have-nots, or that missiles and guns are our best defense in a world that has already normalized the idea of mutually assured destruction scares me. If it scares you, vote.
Vote if you have a conscience and you are tired of being told that all is well as strains of fiddle music can be heard coming from the White House as the country burns. Maybe not all at once, but slowly turned to a cinder by ignoring climate change.
If you have spent just ten minutes in the past two years wondering how things could have taken this ugly turn, vote. Honestly, even if it never occurred to you that things have taken a nasty turn to the right and we are accelerating toward a cliff, take a moment to consider exactly how you want your city, state, county, country to look in ten years. And why not ponder this question on your way to your local polling place? Where you can vote.
That is what makes America great. And has for two hundred forty-two years.

Monday, November 05, 2018

What Are Those?

At the dawn of the sports shoe phenomenon, there was one shoe: The Adidas Superstar. In the mid-seventies, there was no glut of athletic footwear. I wore Keds to play in, and Buster Browns to school and church. Come home from school, take off school shoes and lace up the knockabouts. Which was fine for elementary school, but the advent of junior high school suggested that I would need to have a pair of shoes to wear for PE. Daily. The advent of junior high also meant that I was suddenly thrust into a pool of peer pressure that I had not anticipated. Carrying an extra pair of shoes around all day was not something that was done. Kids were now buying those expensive brand name athletic shoes and wearing them all day long.
All day long.
I took this matter to my mother, who was my chaperone in matters of sartorial splendor. Every autumn we would go shopping for school clothes, with a stop at Thornton's Shoes to pick up my Buster Browns and Keds. Which is where the plaintive whine began to emit from her middle son. "Mom, all the kids have Adidas. Why can't I have Adidias?" And so, in good faith, we went down the block to check out the sporting goods store to see just what we were getting into. When it became obvious that the price point of Adidas Superstars would buy three or four pair of Keds, I began to back down. I had grown up accompanying my mother to the grocery store, pushing the cart and acting as coupon caddy, and I understood value. And economy. These "tennis shoes" were not necessities, they were luxury items. I got that.
But my mother was listening. A week later, she returned from a trip to the mall with a pair of tennis shoes with green stripes. It turns out that Penny's was selling their own version of the Superstar. I now owned a pair. I wore them to school the very next day.
The snickers that accompanied my entrance into Centennial Junior High washed over me like a wave. How could this be? At last I fit in.
A "friend" of mine took me aside and pointed out the obvious: Adidas had three strips. My Penny's tennies had four. Anyone could see the difference. I pulled out a few valiant defenses of the value of my shoes, and how I could afford to buy two or three pair of my discount brand while they would have to save up for months to buy just one of the "real thing."
What I didn't reckon on was the strength of status symbols. I was not going to buy anything to elevate my status from Penny's. Which is probably why I ended up buying my first home stereo components from them. And I wore those shoes out. And bought another pair.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Posse

One:
"Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
Two:
The current "President" told reporters that he might send up to fifteen thousand troops to the border with Mexico to deter a Central American migrant caravan slowly heading toward the United States. “We’ll go up to anywhere between ten thousand and fifteen thousand military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border,” his highness said.
How are these two items related? If you are wondering how the despot currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania can get away with flying directly in the face of a federal law that has been on the books for more than one hundred forty years, then you're not alone. The most obvious response would be that the Congress is currently squarely in lapdog stage of existence coming just before a midterm election. Also, since the "President" continues to refer to the group of refugees from Honduras as "an invasion," he will most certainly whip enough dim minds into a frenzy that will allow the use of overwhelming force against a band of men, women and children who have walked hundreds of miles in order to find relief from the life they had been leading south of our border. 
If fifteen thousand troops were to be deployed on that border, that force would outnumber that currently deployed in all of Afghanistan. I suppose it does allow the tyrant-in-chief a chance to visit the troops in the field, something he hasn't done yet during his term. Since there aren't a lot of quality golf clubs in Afghanistan, I suspect. 
But getting back to the posse comitatus, how is this obvious assault on federal law being justified? The same way Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed. The same way laws have been broken by this administration for the past two years. The same way this nimrod got elected. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

What You Read

Believe this: I do not expect that anyone would take anything that I write here as gospel. I am a tech teacher in an urban elementary school and I teach my students about Al Gore's Internet and how it works. One of the first lessons is this: Don't believe anything you see once. I spent a couple of days politely disagreeing with a third grader who insisted that vampires were real, much to the distress of his little brother. He had seen a video on YouTube that convinced him, and that was enough. I asked if maybe he wanted to look at another website or two that might persuade him differently. On the third day, it became apparent that a parent had stepped in to put the kibosh on the stories of pointy-teeth undead roaming the streets of Oakland.
Just because you saw it on Al Gore's Internet, it doesn't mean it's real.
Which may still be a surprise to Jacob Wohl. Jacob was a teenaged hedge fund owner who ended up running afoul of several state and federal investigations, decided to become a conservative media star in his twenties. His most recent effort included a tweet that suggested that a bombshell was about to drop on Robert Mueller, media-wise. The "scandalous story" was teased, and then the following day was unveiled. The former director of the FBI was being accused of sexual misconduct. The investigators were from Surefire Intelligence, who exist primarily in the form of a cobbled-together Linked-In profile created by (here's the twist) none other than Jacob Wohl. As this shaggy dog of a story began to shed, it was revealed that "someone"  had offered various women twenty thousand dollars to claim that Mueller, while an attorney in private practice in the mid-1970s, and engaged in some form of sexual misconduct. Surefire's voicemail redirects to Jacob's mom's voicemail. 
So, it turns out that the scandalous story was there, just not in the way Mister Wohl may have expected it to unravel. 
Which doesn't mean that Robert Mueller isn't a vampire, however. 
But you don't have to believe me. Call my mom's voice mail. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Words Matter

For years, I have straddled a lie. I have positioned myself as one who believes that sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me, and at the same time I know that there are plenty of names that can inflict pain. These are the lessons of youth, as well as the struggle of being human. We all know that, when backed into a corner, there are directed and aimed words that are thrown around with malice and forethought. When I think back about all the fights I have had in my life, very few of them have involved punches being thrown. This does not mean that I have not hurt anyone. This is why I have spent my teaching career educating children to use their words. Not in a harsh or evil way, but in a caring and careful way.
This means that sentences like "Your mom is so..." are not not going to help. Most of the phrases that address the other person first turn out to be challenges rather than reconciliation. The really useful ones are those that start with "I." I-Messages are something that we teach little kids to help them express complicated feelings. "I don't like it when you kick my backpack." At the same time, we are teaching children to hear those messages and heed them. This sometimes turns out to be even more difficult than the giving the message in the first place. If you are stuck in a place that doesn't allow much room between action and reaction, caring about how another person feels often gets lost in the blur of emotions that make up a day.
And every so often, it works just like it's supposed to. That is when the magic happens. Fists unclench. Brows unfurrow. Tears dry. Smiles return. And the business of the day continues. I want to believe that are the moments when our society grows stronger. Bonds are made. Peace replaces chaos.
America is a tough playground. There isn't a lot of listening going on. That makes empathy a pretty scarce commodity. Hearing the pain and making room to let the air out of hate and fear as it strains to take over all our interactions. And the understanding that it takes a lot of strength to say, "I'm sorry." Making mistakes is part of being human. We can all stand to be a little more human to each other. Use your words.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

How Long?

The full fury of Twitter was unleashed after our "President" suggested that armed guards at a Pittsburgh synagogue would have helped save the day. The four responding police officers who were wounded in the hail of gunfire last Saturday may have different opinions on that matter. Good guys with guns are rarely the solution to halting hails of gunfire. They tend to be victims along with the good guys without guns, since armed guards would be responding to trouble instead of going out in search of trouble.
Which seems to be the model upon which the "President" is aiming. This is a guy who seems to believe that it's best to shoot first and ask questions later. Since the shooting is over, for now, here are some questions:
What places or institutions would be safe without armed guards?
What places or institutions should be safe without armed guards?
Is there a connection between harsh rhetoric and the violence in our country currently?
Is there a place where, if an attack occurred there, you would be willing to consider gun control?
Are you troubled by the number of your supporters showing up with blood on their hands?
When will it end?
Pardon me.
Now I see that my questions have veered off into bleeding heart territory, which is of mild comfort to myself because it suggests that I do indeed have blood flowing through my heart. It is the part that makes me grieve for the victims no matter how many times we wander down this path. The obscene irony that some of the dead in Pittsburgh were old enough to remember a time when Jews were rounded up and killed because of their faith. They lived long enough to have their light extinguished by someone who wanted "all Jews to die."
One more question: When will it end?