Tuesday, December 18, 2018

There Is Nothing Right About This

There are a number of Guatemalan girls at my school. I teach them. A few of them are seven years old. My heart broke a little when I read that a  seven year old Guatemalan girl had died of dehydration after being arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. The little girl started having seizures eight hours after she was arrested by border agents in New Mexico last Thursday, after entering the country with her father at an illegal crossing. She later died from dehydration, septic shock and fever. She had nothing to eat or drink for several days. Though she  was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas she went into cardiac arrest and died the next day. 
In what version of the American Dream is this okay? 
Pundits on the side of walls and intolerance lay the blame squarely at the feet of the girl's parents. If they didn't want her to die, why did the father insist on dragging her across the desert? Why did the mother let them go? I can't really call them "pundits on the right," since there's nothing really right about this. 
Eight hours. 
Why did it take eight hours to figure out that a little girl who had been trekking  across a desert, who had nothing to eat or drink for days, might be in need of medical assistance? The idea that this is somehow not "our problem" because we never asked her and her father to come here in the first place borders on the obscene. 
Borders. 
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News the girl's death was "a very sad example of the dangers of this journey."
Tucker Carlson wanted to put blame at the feet of Democrats who have been fashioned by conservatives into the sponsors for illegal immigration: “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided. Immigration is a form of atonement.”
Atonement. Reparation for a wrong or injury.
There is no atonement for the death of a seven year old girl. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

There is a moment in the James Cameron film True Lies when Jamie Lee Curtis comes to the realization (spoiler alert) that her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a spy. And he has killed a a number of people.To which Arnold adds, "Yeah, but they were all bad."
It is this kind of assurance that makes the goings-on in the White House so much easier to take. The "President" says that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is just doing all this talking about hush money and affairs with strippers "to embarrass me." Somewhere in this mix is the disappointment the "President" has for the way his previously trusty fixer is now ratting him out in public. Which tends to undercut his embarrassment, which is an emotion that our "President" seems incapable of anyway.
I'm wondering if Richard Nixon was embarrassed by John Dean.
Or wanted him dead.
Now legal experts are suggesting that all of these tawdry goings-on are not enough to impeach anyone. Even a philanderer and serial liar.
Which makes me wonder where on this slippery slope we can actually call "the bottom." Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an extra-marital affair. Okay, it was a little more complex than that, but it was the thing that stuck. That was twenty years ago. And continues to stick. That was about the time when we started to learn way too much about the private lives of our chief executives. For years, it had been kind of cool to think that JFK had been canoodling with Marilyn Monroe, and that FDR had a mistress. Then the mental pictures started to form: That elaborate network of back braces that Jack Kennedy had to negotiate before intimacy. The generally floppy nature of the lower half of Franklin Roosevelt's body.
Brrr.
Thanks to social media and a twenty-four hour news cycle, we have become privy to way too many details of the current "President's" special moments. All of which is not, we are reminded, collusion. It's just really icky.
And disappointing.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Setting My Sights

I have been wearing glasses since I was five years old. Life through lenses is how life looks to me. This doesn't explain the pit that appeared in my stomach when I found out that my son would need glasses. He, like his father, had a lazy eye and the notion that I might have somehow passed along this unenviable trait to him in the lottery of genetics made me terribly sad. The fact that he rarely wears them now and occasionally pops in a contact lens or two has brought me some relief, but I have not fully escaped the vortex of guilt I swirl around for impairing my son's vision.
Which doesn't keep me from being lighthearted about it when kids at my school are prescribed corrective lenses. Here I see it as a victory, since one of the possible roadblocks to reading has been removed, and all those gray squiggles on the page can now be transformed into letters and words. "All the smart people wear glasses," I whisper to those students who are struggling with their new eyewear.
Because it is a struggle. When I was a lad, the optometry department at the medical center stocked extra left and right bows in my style because they knew that I would be in on a regular basis, looking for a replacement for the twisted plastic and metal that resulted simply as a matter of them riding on the face of a five year old. I see this same struggle occur on our playground on a daily basis, and even though parents admonish their children to leave their glasses inside when they go out to recess, that's a step that sometimes gets missed when it comes time to race out to the playground. Once fun and physics take over, anything can happen. And heaven forbid that a kid would actually remember to take his or her glasses off and put them in a safe place before all that action, resulting in that safe place turning out to be not so safe or easily forgotten.
Back to the world of the nearly sightless. Another trip to the optometrist and another chance to adorn the bridge of your child's nose with a fancy new pair of spectacles. Until that pair is dropped, crushed, lost or digested by the void.
Now that I'm all grown up, I tend to hold on to a pair of glasses until my insurance says I can get a new pair. For the past nine months, I have been limping around with glasses that are slightly askew, a result of an unfortunate collision with a fourth grader. He wasn't wearing his glasses. I was. My glasses took the brunt of the impact.
I'll get this straight again soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Standing On The Corner

As I stood on the corner, cars racing past me, I was impressed once again with the concept of "Rush Hour." I had taken up a spot behind the first row, who were eagerly leaning off the curb to be seen and heard by the late afternoon traffic. Horns honked. Voices were raised. This was a work action.
And I was in it.
In spite of my ambivalence.
I was hollering, as my tired voice allowed, along with my fellow teachers. I was waving my sign, though my arms were sore from a day of lifting and stretching and leaning down to tie kids' shoes. I made my presence felt.
This is what I tell myself now as I reflect back on the hour that I spent on that corner, repeating the call and response chants that became more familiar each time they reached my ears. The noise from the street at times overwhelmed that from the sidewalks, so I sometimes just uttered random monosyllables to feel as if I were participating. Because I wanted to participate. Because I wanted to be heard.
This was a demonstration of solidarity. My union is preparing itself and the community at large for a strike. That decision is still pending, since we won't need to strike if the school district bends to our demands, and we can all relax and get back to the drudgery of our day to day jobs.
That ambivalence I mentioned earlier? I remain conflicted by the very need for a teachers' union. Why isn't education a priority in our country? Why do I, as a professional educator, need to stand on a street corner on a December evening and scream at passing cars? Because when fresh-faced graduates from a credentialing program arrive in Oakland to discuss the possibility of starting their careers in our schools, they look at the salary schedule. They want to be here, helping those students who really need them. They also want to make a living wage. The fringe benefits are pretty amazing: being the first on your block to acquire the newest strain of flu, constantly changing directives and curriculum, a sea of faces that all require your special attention, and the opportunity to shape young minds. And the chance to keep your old mind fresh.
So why do I feel as though I accomplished more here in these paragraphs than I did standing on that corner?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Guardians Of Our Galaxy

If you have let your subscription to TIME magazine run out, you may have missed their big announcement: You can still buy subscriptions to their magazine. That, and they also let the world know their choice for Person of the Year. In 2018, the winners are The Guardians. These super heroes are the front line in what Time called "the war on truth." Journalists. The ones who ask a second question even when the microphone is being yanked away. The ones who are labeled "fake news" as they attempt to describe the byzantine business of a government gone wrong. Men and women like Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered and hacked to bits by assassins anxious to still his voice.
Sorry. Did I say "murdered and hacked to bits?" I meant to say "allegedly murdered and hacked to bits." The allegedness is inserted because even with an obscene amount of evidence both physical and anecdotal, the current administration chose to ignore it for weeks while they attempted to continue the cozy nature of our relationship with the country that sent the killers: Saudi Arabia. Jamal wrote, "“Must we choose between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” 
Back here on our shores, there was the staff of the Capital Gazette, five of whom were shot and killed last June for being a standard for the First Amendment, a daily newspaper that has been reporting on the events in and around Maryland since 1884. The shooter was unhappy with the reports the paper published about his harassment of a high school acquaintance. After a lawsuit against the Gazette was dismissed, the nutjob got a shotgun and decided to shoot up the place.
And where would such an idea come from? 
Back in June, the "President" announced that "Fake News is the biggest enemy of the people." If you're a borderline person with access to a shotgun and you happen to have a beef with the local newspaper, why not do the "people" a favor? 
And if a Washington Post columnist is murdered and chopped up, why not reserve judgement on the overwhelming pile of evidence that implicates the powers that be, the ones sitting astride all that oil? 
Just keep shouting "Fake!" and deriding those who would remind you of reality even as it continues to rush past. 
Congratulations to those that tell the truth. We salute you. And hope that yours will be a less dangerous occupation once again. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Steaming Hot Cup Of Justice

Time for the folks at Merriam Webster to let us know what we are going to put in our scrapbooks as this year's Word. And the winner is:
Wait for it.
No. It's not "wait for it," that's just to build tension.
2018's Word of the Year is Justice. And that seems to make sense to me. Whether we are talking about the pursuit or the lack thereof, it certainly has been on a lot of people's minds. On this little corner of Al Gore's Internet, there have been twenty specific mentions of justice, dating back all the way to 2009. So it would appear that I am ahead of the curve, appreciation-wise. As a matter of numerical fact, this entry will put me at twenty-one, so I feel pretty good about this level of justice acknowledgement.
And it turns out that justice is pretty important. It is fully one third of the things for which Superman tends to show up. There are warriors who use justice as their modifier. We have a Department of Justice that seems to be in a state of flux currently. It's also something that seems to be obstructed from time to time. This is not something that eating more bran can fix, however. Finding ways to get a more freely-flowing stream of justice is in most everyone's interest. In many ways, 2018 was a year in which justice was sorely lacking from our cultural landscape.
It should be noted that the folks at Merriam Webster decide on their annual word in part by the number of inquiries made to their web site about spelling and definition. If you're curious, they define it as "the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments." If you would like to break into small groups at this time and discuss "what is just," remember that you have just twelve months to be back here when we will hopefully have an answer.

The Walls

“'Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.'” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,....which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!"
Let's start with the "smocking gun." A good laugh, since it's mostly a product of early morning thumb typing, but still worth noting that it had to be repeated. This is the social media account of a desperate man. The typos are one thing, but the caps lock identify it as that which should not be protested too much. The whole point of the Meuller Investigation is to find collusion, and with each passing day, it becomes more evident to just about everyone outside of the White House that collusion is exactly what was going on. And as unhappy as he may be about his choice of Michael Cohen as a litigator now, it was the choice he made when he needed a lawyer to pay off a stripper to keep her mouth shut about an affair. Sorry, alleged affair. And the "President" is currently swimming upstream in the river of lies he has created over the years.
"A simple private transaction?" Raise your hand if you have had a lawyer arrange hush money paid to anyone before? There is not anything simple about it. It's the kind of thing mobsters do. Not presidents. The smocking gun? It's right there: "but even if it was." This is burrowing back into the muck and mire that has already been sprayed. If Michael Cohen is trying to get his sentence reduced, it is because he has muck and/or mire to spread on the wheels of justice to help them grind smooth and hopefully, yes, reduce the time he will spend in jail for "making a mistake."
If it gives you the sense of walls closing in, like those in the garbage compactor in Star Wars, you're not alone. However, in Star Wars, there were heroes mixed in with that garbage. Here there is only garbage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Outside The Wall

My grandfather was a mailman. This may explain why I attract the attention of so many dogs as I go on my way. Running or riding past a fence is quite an affront if you happen to be of the canine persuasion. It is their territory and they guard it ferociously. It is their job. That and sleeping in the patch of sun that comes through the trees. I get it.
Our dog, who was as patient and loving as any I have encountered in my travels across the galaxy, still had issues with those who dared make the mistake of walking in front of our house. If you happened to be wearing the uniform of the United States Post Office. So much so that there was a time when she was sitting in her chair, staring out at our front lawn, when she spied a mail carrier approaching her turf. Enraged, she began to bark and paw at the window. With each step that the postman made to the mailbox, our dog became more unhinged. I had just walked into the room when the window broke. For a moment, no one moved. Not me. Not the mailman. Not our dog.
The mailman moved first. He quickly shoved a couple envelopes into our box and moved on. I looked at our dog. She looked at me. With a certain amount of resignation. "Did you just expect me to let that guy come and trifle with our empire?"
She didn't really say that. Dogs don't talk. But I could feel her profound disappointment at being in trouble for doing what came so incredibly naturally. For my part, I was more interested in keeping her from leaping through the shattered glass and continuing her pursuit in whatever shape the shredding and the drop would allow her to. Happily for all concerned, the pause was long enough to keep her inside the house, and though she was still agitated, her focus had shifted.
Which is why I tend not to exacerbate the situation when I run past a dog who is working to protect their masters' domain. I understand that it's nothing personal. It's just a job. It's not an easy job either. There are constant threats to their sovereign territory. It might look like they are simply passing by, but they won't be fooled. They put on a show of teeth and snarls. Don't let that tail fool you. This is for real. Until the sun hits that certain spot on the yard. Then it's time for a break. Vigilance takes a lot of of a pup.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Solidarity

I have no issues telling anyone who will listen that last Friday night, at approximately eight forty-five, I teared up a bit. I was standing right at the edge of the stage watching Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul playing just for me, and I got all misty. Okay, maybe weren't playing just for me, but they sure made it feel that way.
Let me back up: A few months ago, I caught wind of an organization called Teach Rock. Their champion and their muse was none other than Steve Van Zandt. I know. This is where I lose a few people, but if I say "guitarist for the E Street Band," some will come wandering back. Little, Miami, or whatever modifier you put in front of Mister Van Zandt's name, has been singing and playing in support of the teachers of America - for free.
I got to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for free. From the second row. And got a free T-shirt. I got to hear him and his band rock the Fillmore in San Francisco for two solid hours, and before that, along with a sea of fellow educators, I was treated to a glimpse at what he referred to as "STEAM" curriculum: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. He and his organization have shoehorned Arts back into the equation, encouraging students to find what they love and follow their own path. The message: Don't teach kids what to think. Teach them how to think.
From my own years as a student of music and a student in general, I can remember finding the history in the songs I heard. Procol Harum had a hit with a Bach mashup. And the way math swirled around in all those different beats and rhythms. I spent most of my junior high and high school years doing homework with my headphones on. Listening to music.
So there I was, twenty-plus years into my teaching career, treated to a concert by one of my favorite artists, dancing and singing along. I felt joy. The night, the music, the soul, the sound. Rock and roll was there to save me once again and remind me that I made the right choice, all those years ago. When the show was over, I didn't exactly want to go home, but I did want to take that feeling with me wherever I went. Teachers have power. Music has power. Together they make a difference. Together, teachers make a difference.
I had been making the joke earlier that this was a better perk than the school photo I get for free once a year, but now I see those as souvenirs that I can use as a way to show my commitment to the next generation. Thank you Steven. Thank you for making me feel happy to be a teacher.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tucker Everlasting

I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.”
Our "President" “knows very little about the legislative process, hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t surrounded himself with people that can get it done, hasn’t done all the things you need to do so. It’s mostly his fault that he hasn’t achieved those things."

These are words that spouted from the head of the usually sycophantic Tucker Carlson. You remember Tucker, don't you? He's the guy who said in 2016,  "There's no reason to elect Donald Trump president. There's literally no reason." 
Which is interesting, since he has spent the last couple of years taking up a position on the conservative side of the television news aisle. Not that all conservatives are supporters of the current resident of the White House. Melania's husband. That guy has taken the words and claims of Mister Carlson and his minions and turned them into fact-based morsels to incite outrage. Like Tucker's segment last August in which he bemoaned that a land-reform policy proposal in South Africa was sparking the murdering of white farmers in that country. The "President" proclaimed, via Twitter, that he had asked his secretary of state to check in on the matter of “farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The “South African Government,” he added, “is now seizing land from white farmers.’” In case there was any confusion where he got the idea, Trump helpfully tagged his tweet with the verified handles “@TuckerCarlson” and “@FoxNews.” 
I don't expect that the Tuck's most recent tirade will be re-tweeted via the White House. 
It's almost as if Fox News is beginning to separate themselves from the big orange baby before he becomes completely untethered. True, it's not like the friends of Fox and Friends have suddenly turned their back on their favorite viewer, or as if Sean Hannity had made any indication that he would stop sharing lawyers with His Royal Orangeness, but as the release date for that Mueller Report creeps ever closer, who knows what will happen.
Tucker?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Absence

For many years now it has been suggested to me that I "should take more days off." I am one of those people who has maxed out the number of sick and personal days they can carry on account. I could, potentially, walk out of school one day and not have to look back for several weeks. The theory behind all of this nose-to-the-grindstone foolishness is centered on a somewhat fervent commitment to my employer. I figure if I am being paid by this entity for my services, I should show up and deliver them as agreed.
Exceptions in the past few years have included jury duty and a kidney stone. Aside from that, I have managed to limp into work, or ride my bike in most days, and put in my eight hours. Or ten. Or whatever it happens to take. This kind of tenacious loyalty has been rewarded by a steady move up that salary scale. The same progression available to those who finish the fiscal year with a zero balance in their days off. If there was a cash value for sideways looks earned by telling others what my work attendance has been like over the years, I would currently be retired in style.
Running a bait shop in Key West. This is the alternative at which I tend to arrive when I start to imagine a place to land instead of the front door of my school each morning. I figure that the number of sick days a guy who runs a bait shop would probably be limited, especially in south Florida. And if I did decide not to open up that day, it would be my own business that I would be turning away.
It doesn't work that way with kids. Every day, they're here. Not all of them. Some of them miss a lot more days than I ever will. But when they show up, I want to be there. Because that's my job: being there. Sure, I hope that I can cajole some learning out of them, but when you're seven years old and there's this guy who is there day after day, holding the door open, getting the balls down off the roof, asking the tough questions like, "Did you really kick her on accident?" it starts to feel like a permanent gig.
One that I will continue to show up for until they tell me to stop. Because that's what teachers do.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Age Of Conspiracy

History Lesson:
There was a comedian who once suggested that he had concerns about giving Ronald Reagan access to "the Button," the one that sends our nuclear arsenal into the first act of Armageddon, because "I have an uncle who's seventy and we don't let him use the remote control for the TV." This was later considered by many to be ageist. 
Addendum: 
There was a senator from Alaska who insisted that the Internet is "a series of tubes." Plenty of folks had fun with this meme for a while until apologists decided to make the stretch that maybe Senator Ted was "kind of right." The senator's age and wisdom from all those years in office gave him the gravitas to make these kind of weak generalizations. Al Gore, who invented the Internet, was not available for comment. 
In my own living room: 
My son, on his visits to his ancestral home, will sit down on the couch and shame his mother and father for their lack of bandwidth and set about fussing with settings and modulations before he declares us once again safe for cyber traffic. And just when we believe we have caught up to him on Facebook to thank him, it turns out that he has moved on to some other social media venue that requires setting up an account and logging in. And once we get there, he's gone again. Like vapor.
What I am suggesting:
Technology is for young people. Rudy Guliani, "lawyer" for our "President" hastily made a tweet in which he wrote: "Mueller filed an indictment just as the President left for
http://G-20.In July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please?" Because Rudy did not put a space between the period and the "In," he inadvertently generated a hyperlink, which a clever person used to place the message, "Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country." "If you don't believe me, click the link above. This required a conspiracy response from Rudy: Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message. The same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn’t happen. Don’t tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. Time Magazine also may fit that description. FAIRNESS PLEASE"
The tweet he referenced included the parse “Helsinki.Either” and since .either is not a recognized domain, there was nothing the machine could do but allow the sloppy typing. Rudy Guliani is seventy-four years old. Someone please hide the remote control. 
 July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please? 

Friday, December 07, 2018

Rejuvinator

I remember a time when I flinched at the idea of having Arnold Schwarzenegger for a governor. I can remember groaning at his acceptance speech, when he insisted that his administration wasn't just going to "think outside the box, we're going to blow up those boxes." This was an election in California that included such other impressive candidates as former child star Gary Coleman and former porn star Mary Carey. We elected the Governator.
Did I mention Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican? We re-elected him three years later. How did this happen in the bluest of blue states?
Maybe it was the same energy that eventually brought Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Maybe California was test-driving the new reality before it actually hit the market a decade in advance. Or perhaps there was a sense that all those signs - the infidelity, the Humvee, the allegations of groping - were all part of a smokescreen to cover up the tree-hugger inside.
"If we would've never started in that direction and used other technology, we'd be much better off. The biggest evil is fossil fuels: it's coal, it's gasoline, it's the natural gas," he told U.N. climate delegates at a conference in Poland. He said he wishes he could travel back in time like the cyborg he played in The Terminator so he could stop fossil fuels from being used. Schwarzenegger later told The Associated Press he has converted his signature Humvee trucks to run on hydrogen, electricity and biofuel and only allows himself to eat meat three days a week. "I mean, maybe it tastes delicious, but I think we should think then and there before we eat about the world and about the pollution," he said. "So I discontinued eating meat four days a week. And eventually, maybe we'll go to seven days." What happened to the Governator? There must be some sort of science fiction silliness at work. Did Green Zombies come down and fill his head full of these radical new ideas? Some sort of ecologically safe body swap with a member of the Sierra Club? Or maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, and we should applaud this re-education. We're glad he's back. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Just Don't

It's an interesting thing, this American football. In so many ways, it is a mirror that can be held up to reflect so many of the best qualities of this land of ours. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The run-pass option. Maybe it's the ground acquisition element of the game. It's like war. Or real estate. We love a hero. And we love to see a hero fall.
Over the next few weeks, the National Football League is promoting itself by allowing its players to wear shoes that reflect their beliefs. Causes such as underprivileged youth, safer schools, breast cancer awareness and the SPCA are featured on cleats worn by players across the league. And when the television cameras zoom in on their feet, as they sometimes do, there is a moment when that choice is visible to the worldwide audience. One player, Demariyus Thomas of the Houston Texans, chose to use his feet to bring attention to the problem of domestic violence.
An interesting choice, given the past couple of weeks in the world of professional football. Star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt is no longer the star running back with the Kansas City Chiefs because the Kansas City Chiefs let him go. They let him go because of a video that surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of his Cleveland residence. The video was taken last February, and it was only after those civic-minded folks at TMZ decided to publish it last Friday. Mister Hunt did not disclose any of the details of the event to his employers, nor did he have contact with any law enforcement. If you're a fan of the game, you might remember former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's elevator incident back in 2014 during which he punched his then fiance in the face. TMZ was there again to make sure the world saw that ugly scene.
And if it sounds like I am in any way ambivalent about any of this behavior, I am not. The whole thing stinks from top to bottom. The idea that we need tabloid journalists to help find our conscience in these matters troubles me. For his part, Kareem Hunt understands that his time in the sun may be setting. It would be amazing if this was the object lesson that let everyone know once and for all that no matter how mighty or talented, it is a long way down from the top. Or the middle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Yo

I love to go to the movies. However, with all the alternative paths that those movies can take on their way to my eyes, when I do go out to the movies, I would like very much for the experience to be worth my while.
When I end up feeling as though the meetings that took place in order to get the movie made in the first place, then I start to feel regret for driving out to find a parking space and buying that ticket and one for my wife and maybe some popcorn and a big old Sprite and sitting there in the dark wondering, "I bet the meetings that took place in order to get this movie made in the first place was more interesting than this movie itself." Which is probably not the optimum response to any movie-going experience. It was, however, the way I felt after I went out to see Creed II.
I really enjoyed Creed. The story of Apollo Creed's illegitimate son finding his way in the gritty world of professional boxing was a good ride. It was a way to bring new life to the Rocky saga, a saga that had managed to go the distance over the course of six films, into the twenty-first century. It was Ryan Coogler, writer/director of Fruitvale Station, who helped make this leap. And that was fine. This was a story that deserved some screen time.
And it made a lot of money. So of course there was a discussion to be had about how money could continue to be made, along the lines of the thirty years of Rocky movies turned out by Sylvester Stallone and company. Who benefits from this exchange? Sylvester Stallone. He wrote and produced Creed II. His supporting role as the trainer got a little heftier in this sequel to a reboot. He was also able to wrangle stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, fresh off their successes in Marvel super hero franchises to reprise their roles as the boxer and his lady. Mix in a little Dolph Lundgren as the Russian beast who has fallen on hard times since his defeat at the hands of the Italian Stallion, and a cameo by Brigette Nielsen as the Russian ice queen and you have a retro-sundae of a return to what used to be.
Without any of the soul that once made Rocky and Creed great stories in the first place. Underdog stories became a cliche because of the success of Rocky Balboa. Delivering that to a new generation deserves some praise, but banking on it by using the same formula without even bothering to write new characters. Boxer loses first fight, has to find his way back and wins the second. The other stuff is essentially window dressing. And yes, I paid to see it. There was some comfort to be gained in all that familiarity, but do I wish I would have waited for it to show up on some streaming service?
Yo.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

One Less Point Of Light

The first time I attended a real protest, I was brought there by the policies of George H.W. Bush. I shouted along with the crowd outside the local armed forces recruiting offices, "No Blood For Oil!" This was on the eve of Operation Desert Shield. This was how "Poppy" and his administration proposed the United States should protect our oil in Kuwait. Did I say oil? I'm sure I meant "friends." Not oil. That would be a horrible suggestion, especially in this time of national mourning.
No. I meant oil.
And once we got all those tanks and soldiers over there in Shield formation, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a Storm. No longer content to merely stand around protecting our oil friends, the decision was made to chase the bad guys back into Iraq. Where they came from. For their part, the bad guys insisted that Kuwait had always been a part of Iraq, and they were just going down to protect their coastline. The coastline with all the oil and harbors for shipping oil and so forth.
And if all of this sounds familiar, A) you may have lived through it, or B) you may have caught the rerun a little more than a decade later. Conveniently enough, Poppy's little boy had found his way into the White House by then, and he was gifted with the opportunity to go raging back into the Middle East in search of the man who shot his Poppy. Well, they didn't exactly shoot him so much as embarrass him out of the White House.
And now time has done us all the favor of making a kinder, gentler version of this chunk of history. The Bushes and the Obamas have been hanging around together at various funerals and natural disasters. It would seem that time heals all wounds, except those of the two thousand U.S. soldiers wounded or killed in Desert Storm, or the hundred thousand wounded or killed in Gulf War Part Deux.
Yes, I understand that comparing the failed policies of another generation allows twenty-twenty hindsight. But I knew it way back then. And I know it now. The passing of a leader is always a chance to reflect, and I hope that given our current regime's proclivities, we are getting a clear picture. George H.W. Bush caused a lot of Terra to be stomped upon, but it didn't need to happen. Those thousand points of light could have been run on solar power. Not oil.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Effects Of Radiation On Vegetables

What would you call it if a lawyer walked into a courthouse and told the judge, "I was lying?" You might call it a pretty good start. If you're like me, you might call it The Beginning Of The End.
If you are not like me, but perhaps aspire to be, you should know that this is a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to a 1957 movie about locusts that eat radiation enhanced vegetables that grow to gigantic size and terrorize the city of Chicago. You would also know that this film stars Peter Graves, who ended up becoming famous as Jim Phelps the leader of the Impossible Mission Force, was also the little brother of actor James Arness who played The Thing From Another World. A giant carrot. His brother Peter, who made those giant vegetables in the first place and started the mess with giant locusts attacking the City With The Big Shoulders eventually figured out that those enormous insects could be lured by a sound that mimicked that of locust mating calls. Right into Lake Michigan. Sorry. Spoiler alert. Anyway the whole doom and gloom part of the title comes from the moment shortly after the big bugs have drowned that scientist Graves wonders what other insects, animals and so forth might have made a meal of his irradiated vegetables.
All of which brings us back to the lawyer: Michael Cohen, who admitted that he had lied to Congress out of loyalty to the "President" and to align with his boss's “political messaging.” He had been lying about his involvement along with his boss, referred to in court documents as "Individual 1," in the 2016 discussions about building a giant skyscraper in Moscow. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been under economic sanctions by the Obama administration. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been meddling in the U.S. electoral process. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been involved in secret experiments on the effects of radiation on vegetables and certain insects. 
Okay, I might be lying about that last part, but the other stuff? Lying to Congress about then Candidate Trump's business affairs with Russia? Collusion? I looked it up: "secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others." Keep your eyes out for the giant grasshoppers. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Dispensing Widsom

When I was in ninth grade, I suddenly felt that I had acquired the gift of foresight. I believed that my experiences on the outside looking in gave me some additional sense of what really was instead of what was supposed to be. I began matter-of-factly labeling my peers as "plastic" and "real." Having lived to the ripe old age of fourteen, I was pretty sure that I could judge someone's character by the tangential interactions I had with them. I wrote a forty-two page epistle describing these distinctions. "Plastic" people were those who lived in that bubble of the social hierarchy. They had boyfriends and girlfriends. They went to dances. They sat at the cool table. The table itself wasn't that cool, but the people at it were (or were purported to be). They were not like the "real" people with whom I chose to consort. These were the ones with real feelings and cared about the feelings of those around them. They were the ones who kept quiet in class. They were the ones who carried the whole day's books with them in their backpacks to avoid an uncomfortable interaction at their locker. They were my friends.
This was the dawning of the geeksurge that would hit its peak through the films of John Hughes. Before my eyes were opened to the potential that it really was the nerds who were running things, I thought it was simply our job to provide shoulders to punch. Whether we were flinching or not.
What I hadn't counted on, way back then, was that I was generating my own private cult. All that matter-of-factness was being spooned out in great big globs to my friends and then to their associates such that I started receiving terrified notes from girls asking, "Am I plastic?"
Only now, after all these years, does it occur to me that I might have used this moment to my social advantage. That is the kind of thing that turns a social outcast into a campus hero. And just as often, it required him or her to have some kind of comeuppance which would require the revelation that we are all "real," but we wear many masks.
That's not what happened to me. That was the John Hughes path. In the late nineteen-seventies in Boulder, Colorado the way it turned out was this: I slowly began to realize that I was putting myself further into a corner, and as an oracle of sorts I was only making myself more and more untouchable. That was not what I wanted. Thankfully, I was afforded a summer with my family at our mountain cabin which allowed me to become more of a memory to those I had so callously labeled. When I entered high school in the fall, I was just another nerdy sophomore. Surrounded by a school full of teenagers trying to find their own way.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Price You Pay

General Motors stock went up after the automotive gigantus announced that they were cutting fourteen thousand jobs and closing seven factories across the globe. For me, this is a terrific illustration of just how the stock market does not work for the American worker. As of 2013, the top one percent of households by wealth owned nearly thirty-eight percent of all stock shares. Stock ownership by individuals has fallen since the recession of 2006, and as of 2013 the top twenty percent of Americans owned ninety-two percent of the stocks, leaving eight percent for the rest of us. General Motors shutters factories, and the top eight percent wins. 
Meanwhile, our "President" wants to get all fighty with GM because he had been promising American workers, specifically those who held jobs in some of those auto plants, that he would make America Great Again by keeping their jobs here in the once great but soon to be great again land of the free and home of the brave. 
And out of work. 
Meanwhile, as the "President" continually touts the peaks and records of the stock market, he is threatening to end subsidies to General Motors because they laid people off. Last year, the "President" told workers, “Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. It’s going to happen.” 
Back in the recession of 2006, as American automakers were teetering on the edge of collapse, the United States government gave them billions of dollars to stay afloat. Thirteen billion went to General Motors. Now they are closing factories. And their stock goes up. All of those big corporations that benefited from big tax cuts from the current administration are making money again. Including General Motors. Money is being made in lost in vast troughs that never seem to land on the workers, specifically those who are losing their jobs. 
All that winning. Some of us are tired of all of that winning. The "President" wants to take away the subsidies from GM? What sort of impact will that make? Maybe it will cause another trillion dollar bailout. Winning, winning, winning.