Monday, August 19, 2019

In A Series

It took about four days.
Four days into the new school year before our public personae came out.
For the first three days, the biggest concern our staff had to deal with was the occasional kindergartner missing their mom. And a few first graders too. Mostly we were able to go about the business of starting a new school year. Reminding students that bathroom trips should be confined to recess and lunch, not scattered throughout the day as the notion came to them. Likewise, these periods of play, called recess and lunch, would be punctuated by the sound of a bell. The bell would signify the cessation of play and the resumption of the business of learning.
And for the first three days, business was good. Great, even.
Then, day four arrived. Along with it came the associations of friends who had forgotten that they were mortal enemies just a few months before. Into this mix came the new kids, some of whom determined that the best way to make a name for themselves was to strike out on their own and find a way to disrupt the pleasant order imposed over the playground and hallways. This brought on the following conversation with Mister Caven.
"So, at your old school, did you sometimes have trouble getting along?"
"Yeah."
"How did you deal with that?"
Silence.
"Well, I'll bet that if you got into a fight at your old school, you probably had to get a call home."
Shrug.
"You had a pretty good start this week. Did you make any friends?"
Shrug.
"Well, you don't have to be friends with everyone," I suggested, "but it would be nice."
Yet another shrug.
"So I'll let you know: If you have trouble getting along with anyone, I'm happy to help."
No shrug.
"Not just me. Any grownup here. They would much rather have you getting along than getting in fights."
"Yeah."
"So, if you need help, before it becomes a fight, you come and find me. Or any other grownup."
"Yeah."
"You promise." I looked for his eyes, and stuck out my hand.
He shook it. "Okay."
Day four.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Tao According To Steve

How is Steve King doing? Haven't heard from him in a while.
Not Stephen King, the master of the macabre and author of the Stephen King Book of the Week club. He's been busy churning out fiction as is his way.
Steve King, Representative from Iowa, Republican, and font of all things truly offensive is doing what he has been doing for as long as I have been aware of him: Spewing horrifying nonsense out to a populace who seems not to be able to get enough of it. Since 2003.
2003. Sixteen years of stuff like this: "I don't want to disparage anyone because of their race, their ethnicity, their name—whatever their religion their father might have been, I'll just say this: When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States – I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11."
What has Congressman Steve done for the people of Iowa's fourth district lately? How about this one: “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest?” King asked while speaking to a group of conservatives in Urbandale, Iowa. “Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that’s taken place and whatever happened throughout culture and society, all these different nations,” the elected representative continued, “I know I can’t certify that I was not a part of a product of that.” This was his way of justifying his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Even Congressman Steve might be a product of such a union. 
Important note: Steve King was not booed off the stage. Instead, these comments simply became yet another in a list of bizarre but somehow not offensive enough statements to have him removed from Congress. Representative? Is this what the fourth district of Iowa is made of? Up in Wyoming, Republican Representative Liz Cheney (daughter of "Dick" Cheney) called Steve's comments "appalling and bizarre." 
Now that's saying something. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Wretched



I thought I had heard it all, but then I read the comments of Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, about the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Mister Cuccinelli insisted in an interview with CNN that the poem referred to "people coming from Europe." The poem being referenced was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of a fundraising campaign to construct a pedestal upon which Lady Liberty might stand. It reads"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." It concludes, "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Acting director Cuccinelli suggested that this was a direct reverence to European immigrants because, "people coming from Europe where they had class based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class." Earlier in the day, in an interview with NPR, Acting director Cuccinelli was asked about the wretched being welcome on our shores to which he replied, "They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."
It doesn't scan very well as poetry, but it certainly gives a better picture of how our current administration feels about immigrants. The author of the original, Ms. Lazarus, might not have agreed. She was inspired not so much by the rush of immigrants from Europe, but from Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitic violence in their homeland. "The New Colossus" extols "world-wide welcome." Poets are notoriously less conscientious about details than they are about images, and so she callously left out things like how to get a Green Card. 
You're welcome here if you can stand on your own two feet. You will not be welcome if you become a public charge. Which is a little confounding since there are plenty of Americans born and raised on these shores who become a public charge and we don't send them anywhere. Which may be the next phase of this administration's plan: Deport the Homeless. Send them to a third country where they can await processing while the rich get richer and the poor get cast aside. 
Anybody else interested in getting a bronze replica cast of the plaque that can be installed somewhere in the Oval Office? 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Grand Teacher

Math Problem:
If a young man leaves his home at 7:55 AM travelling with his five year old daughter at an average rate of five miles an hour on a one percent grade, and both of them have had breakfast and a full night's sleep, and the father is a former student of mine, does that make me old?
Extra credit: Does this question make me judgmental?
The young man who came up and introduced himself in that now very familiar way, "Hey Mister Caven, remember me?" Which is always a tough place for me to be, since the person asking that question already has me at a disadvantage because they remember my name and my size, shape and hairline has remained somewhat consistent over the years that I have been Mister Caven. These youngsters who show up with their facial hair and heights above three feet do not tend to look anything like their pre-adolescent selves. After a moment, I can see through the way-back filter the shorter, softer version of the person quizzing me about someone they were once upon a time.
In this example, the young man introduced himself as one of my former fourth grade students, which gave me more of a window, and more clues to our math problem. It has been about twelve years since I taught fourth grade, having returned to the computer lab in 2007. That would make our mystery guest twelve years older than when I was teaching him as a ten year old. That would make him approximately twenty-two. If he has a five year old daughter, which we can assume since she is starting kindergarten, then he became a father when he was seventeen.
Or so.
Which is that moment that my mind begins to stray from the mathematics and I find myself wondering how this came to pass. Just because I waited until I was thirty-five to become a father doesn't mean that is the absolute correct answer. Parents are a club of people who care for children. A father who takes his daughter to her first day in kindergarten with a full stomach and a smile on her face sounds like he fits that bill. Just because he found himself doing that job before he finished high school does not necessarily make him less qualified than someone who waited until he was middle aged. Like me.
And since I was this kid's teacher, that makes me partially responsible. And now I will see what I can do with my grand-student.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Test Of The First

A fourteen year old has had their YouTube channel taken down for violating the video site's hate speech policy. To wit:
 Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes:
  • Age
  • Caste
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender Identity
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Immigration Status
  • Religion
  • Sex/Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Victims of a major violent event and their kin
  • Veteran Status
Not allowed. Like forbidden. The video that was the final nail in the teenager's YouTube coffin was titled “Pride and Prejudice,” and began with the young narrator saying that Pride month was “thirty days of AIDS-carrying paedophile victims patting themselves on the back for their lifestyle.” Which seems to have ticked off a couple of the items on that list. This is the same young woman, who goes by the tag "Soph," who produced an anti-Muslim video that included these lines:  “I get raped by my forty-year-old husband every so often and I have to worship a black cube to indirectly please an ancient Canaanite god — but at least I get to go to San Fran and stone the s*** out of some gays, and the cops can’t do anything about it because California is a crypto-caliphate.” And somewhere in there I think I lost track of the list. 
Soph's reaction to being cancelled by YouTube? She posted a picture of a gun on Twitter with the comment, “YouTube headquarters here I come.” This was, in the words of Soph, "a joke." 
All of which leads me to believe that I am old and horribly out of touch. 
Fourteen. 
Maybe they're too young.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Secondly

A twenty year old man was arrested at a Springfield, Missouri WalMart, not for shoplifting, but for wearing a ballistic vest and armed with a loaded rifle. He referred to his merry prank as "a social experiment, designed to test his Second Amendment rights. 
Dmitriy Andreychenko was taken into custody and charged with making a terrorist threat in the second degree. This lead me to the obvious question: What would be a terrorist threat in the first degree? How close to killing people would one have to be before that line was crossed? When does a threat stop being a threat and become action? 
“I wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.This is Missouri," he explained. “I understand if we were somewhere else like New York or California, people would freak out.” He was carrying an AR-style rifle and had a handgun attached to his hip, which was also loaded. While in the store, he appeared to be taking a video of himself with his cellphone as he pushed a shopping cart. An employee then pulled the fire alarm to alert customers to leave the building, and an off-duty firefighter took him into custody until police arrived. 
I am curious why he didn't start with his First Amendment prank, which would probably have consisted of walking into a crowded movie theater and shouting, "Fire." But making sense of this kind of thing really becomes pointless when you start to reel through all the clowns out there making a point of carrying their guns into shopping malls and fast food restaurants. Last time I checked, there is no "common sense" dictated by the United States Constitution. James Madison probably didn't think it was necessary to include the Right to Breathe Oxygen or ban scary circus clowns from daycare centers. Some things really ought to go without discussion. 
But, since Mister Andreychenko and some others may have missed it, our country is currently being plagued by young men with automatic weapons and Americans are dying while we fumble around in the metaphorical darkness looking for that metaphorical light switch that will make the message clear: No one needs an assault weapon to shop at WalMart. No one needs to wear body armor to shop at WalMart. 
I don't remember which amendment to our Constitution guarantees the right to act like a putz. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Occam's Razor

Quite often, in this space, I take note of those who have contributed so much to society and culture who have passed on. Today I will  not be doing that. I will be discussing the death of Jeffery Epstein. Contributions to society? Pretty much out of the question. Scourge to society? 
Yeah. That. Scourge.
If you have missed any of the scourge, know that Jeffery Epstein was an American financier and convicted sex offender. You can decide for yourself which of those was the most scourge-ish. I can tell you that he was in jail on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. This came in the wake of having already served thirteen months on a work release program for soliciting a prostitute and of procuring an under-eighteen girl for prostitution. It would seem that stint did little or nothing to discourage him from his predilection for underage girls. And his insistence on spreading that taste to those closest to him. And those who could  afford it. 
On August 10, 2019, Epstein was found dead in his cell. This was after being put on suicide watch three weeks earlier. Authorities reported the death as "an apparent suicide." Which is where all the excitement began. "Apparent?" Doesn't that just reek of conspiracy? Who would have anything to gain from the death of this grungy excuse for a human being? 
Donald Trump.
Bill Clinton.
Prince Andrew.
The rich and the famous. 
Why not conclude that someone had him killed?
That's what our "President" did. Which is horribly ironic, since he was busy pointing a finger at Bill Clinton that could just as easily be pointed at his orangeness. Which makes such a great story. A whole lot better than the story that says this horrifically flawed human being who was almost certainly going to be put away in prison for a very long time based on new allegations that were unsealed last Friday. Awful stuff about keeping teenage sex slaves and that one of them was instructed by and Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell to have sex with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former US Senator George Mitchell, among others. The list of suspects continues to grow. 
Or maybe this was one of those rare occurrences in which the bad guy did everyone a favor before he could hurt anyone else. A year wait for a trial. All manner of ugly revelations could be made and more lives could be destroyed. Don't get me wrong. I am firm in the belief that there are still plenty of lives that could use a little ruining. But I'm pretty sure they'll get around to doing it all by themselves. 
Just like Jefferey did. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Top Of The Hill

Riding my bike up the hill next to our school to begin yet another in a series of school years, I reflected on all the times I have found myself on that particular incline. I have often wondered just how it came to pass that my ride to work would be downhill, aided and abetted by gravity. Coming home is somewhat less forgiving in terms of slope. If I had my way, I would be able to coast home. But that is not the way things turned out.
I figure there is probably some reason, cosmic or less important, for this bit of topography. One thing is certain, it tends to promote reflection. Which is what happens on days like the one to which I made reference. I've been up and down that hill more times than I can count. Sometimes I try to do just that: count. I've made an exercise out of it. One hundred eighty days, more or less, times the number of years I have been teaching. Minus a certain number of days that I drove, or got a ride. I was sick a few times. Had jury duty. And there were the years at the beginning of my career when we were a year-round school and I worked more than those one hundred eighty days in a row. And days like the one I am currently describing in which I wasn't actually teaching but I did attend a meeting or a training or some other obligation that put me on that hill.
It should be noted that at the top of that hill sits the house of a grandmother. More to the point, it's the grandmother of a number of kids who have at one time or another attended the school where I teach. Which is at the bottom of that hill. It is in front of that house that, on any given day, I have encountered the grandchildren out in front playing, sitting, chatting. Mostly they are waiting for their mothers, grandma's daughters, to come and pick them up. The grandkids don't all live there. They  use grandma's address to allow them to keep sending their kids to the same school they have all attended: the one at the bottom of the hill.
And on this particular day, one of those three daughters was getting out of her car. She waved. "Hey, Mister Caven."
I waved back. "How're you doing?"
"Great. I'm taking Demarius to college in two weeks."
I taught Demarius, his sisters, his cousins, some time back. Demarius's youngest cousin will be in fifth grade this year. "That is great. Thanks for sharing."
"No," she said, "Thank  you."
That's when I got it. I was at the top of the hill. "You're welcome."
I'm a teacher.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Write On

Sometimes I forget I'm a writer. That's because I am so busy being a teacher.
Or a husband.
Or a dad.
Or a handyman.
Or whatever.
When the Bay Area Writing Project showed up at our school last week to give all of us teachers and handymen a refresher course on how to teach writing, I had my writing nerve tweaked. Yes, I know that I sit down daily to hammer out these accounts of my reckless life and wayward ideas, but I don't always think of myself as a writer. I'm squeezing it in as an avocation. Which is fine and noble, but it doesn't make a lot of sense that I don't share that part of myself to kids who are still trying to discover what it means to be a reader, a writer, and so on. I could be some kind of inspiration.
One of the biggest impediments to this revelation is my reaction to most students when they are given a writing assignment. The very first question is, inevitably, "How long does it have to be?" And as the class proceeds, I see their tortured faces looking up at me asking, "Is this enough?"
This is the hardest part for me to rationalize. When I was a student, a blank page was there to be filled. Just as I sit here now, anxious to cover the screen in front of me with all the words and phrases I could manage to jam together. It's an opportunity to express myself. How often does that come around?
That was and continues to be my reality, but doesn't quite match up with the way things go in the minds of many ten year olds. That vast expanse of empty cannot be filled quickly enough, which is why I get so many kids who will park a finger on a key and attempt to cover their screen with the letter G as if I might be giving their work such a superficial once-over that I could be bamboozled by such a ruse. Nope. I'm looking for real thought, real expression.
But can I make this easier for them? Yes I can. There are definitely those students whose best effort will be to copy down the prompt from the board and then ask to be released from any further abuse. Which I was reminded by the friendly folks at BAWP is easier if the kids have some alternatives to the way they respond. If that first attempt happens to be the letter G, then I can hope that the next draft might include some vowels. Growing up without a fear of the blank page doesn't mean that it doesn't exist in others. As it turns out, there might be a few more of those with that phobia than I had originally imagined.
And it's my job to help mitigate that fear. And to open doors that may have been closed. And to encourage others to start at the upper left hand corner and see where they end up. I might be surprised. I hope they will be too.
We're building something here. We'll start by learning to use the tools we have. Someday they might build their own cathedral. Or explain why they couldn't.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Everyday Magic

When I get older,
losing my hair -
wait a minute -
When I get older,
and stop going on
about losing my hair
I will still be singing
your bountiful praises.
The way you can turn
a simple phrase
into one that isn't
so very simple.
The way you can
light up a room
by simply
flicking a switch.
It's magic
and you know it.
That's the part
that I forget
from time to time.
You're magic
and sometimes
you forget it.
Which is fun
because it means
you surprise yourself.
Sometimes in this world
we forget to pay
full attention
to those magical things.
Today I pay
full attention
to you,
and the magic
that you do.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Thank You, Now Please Sit Down

I suppose I should applaud the fact that it is a suggestion for a solution and not simply thoughts and prayers. Sean Hannity, America's Mouth, believes he has a way to keep everyone safe: Surround them. “Every school,” he said. “Secure the perimeter of those schools. Equip them with retired police and military, they should be on every floor of every school.” Sean suggests these folks could volunteer for fifteen hours a week in exchange for paying no federal or state income taxes. 
But Sean, what about shopping malls? Courthouses and the like? “We can do that with stores. We can do that in malls. We can do that pretty much anywhere the public is,” Hannity said. “Courthouses, we can expand that out everywhere and keep Americans safe.” 
And if you're wondering how many retired police and military that might take, the math turns out to be in the hundreds of thousands. Seven or eight hundred thousand. Approximately the number of sworn full-time law enforcement officers currently on duty. So, as soon as they retire, we've got the thing staffed. 
One thing though: Would you feel more safe, surrounded by armed guards. Or less? Me, I'm going to have to go with less. Like when I went for a stroll through Super Bowl City when it landed in San Francisco a few years ago. Like forty mass shootings ago. Heavily armed and armored presence did not instill me with Super Bowls full of confidence. What were they expecting to happen, with all those machine guns around? Was somebody trying to abscond with the Lombardi Trophy for goodness sake? 
Nope. Just there to keep us safe. Which is weird because the way people who are insecure about having their guns taken away react is almost always to suggest adding more guns to the equation. Guns in the hands of loyal agents of the government, but never mind that most Republicans are not usually gung-ho about having big government looking over our shoulder. Unless it means we don't have to give up our machine guns. 
So, to recap: Thanks Sean for your input. The chances of getting that many well-trained gunmen to deal with the gunmen who wish they had a job where they could be well-trained gunmen seem pretty slim, but we really appreciate you being so solution-oriented. Demented and sad, but solution-oriented. 
Sheesh. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

This Word You Keep Using

Doris Day, God Rest Her Soul, once had a hit with a song titled, "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps."
In it, she asks someone we can only assume is a suitor of hers, if he loves her. The suitor responds, "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps." She says she has asked him a million times, but all he ever answers is, "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps." As the song progresses, Doris becomes more and more put off by the non-committal nature of this response. "If you can't make your mind up - We'll never, get started," she laments.
Perhaps. It's one of those words designed to put people off. "Possibly, but not certainly," if you're looking for guidance from Webster. Or "maybe." Which is probably okay if you're being asked if you want to the Orange Julius stand in the mall. "Perhaps." But it does not work as well in affairs of the heart, as Ms. Day so kindly points out. 
It is also a ridiculous response when it comes to gun violence. After a week that saw dozens of Americans shot and killed while going about their daily business, our "President" said "We've done actually a lot, but perhaps more has to be done." 
Many of us were left scratching our collective heads when it came to the "a lot" that has been done by this administration to stop mass killings. Universal background checks? Nope. Assault weapons ban? Nope. Closing gun show and Internet sale loopholes? Nope. Thoughts and prayers? By the tweetful. Should something be done now?
Perhaps.
Will there be chocolate cake at the party?
Perhaps.
Can you help me with my algebra?
Perhaps.
Could you please pass some sort of meaningful gun control legislation?
Perhaps.
See? It just doesn't work there. 
Not when you're slathering at the feet of the NRA, promising them that no one not ever will take their guns away. Not when you're using the Second Amendment as a shield to deflect, well, not bullets. Bad thoughts? Indecision? Fear of growing a spine?
Perhaps. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

There Ought To Be A Law

I have spent the last few days in a dark gray haze. Dozens of Americans have died as a result of mass shootings in the past week. What is perhaps most terrifying to me is the fact that by the time this blog reaches you, that total could be higher. My wife and I drove down highway 101 to visit our son, and passed by Gilroy, California. I mentioned that this city, renowned for its annual Garlic Festival, was now joining an ever-expanding map of towns in the United States that have experienced a mass shooting.
Then there was El Paso, Texas.
And Dayton, Ohio.
Assault weapons used to kill civilians.
I was angry. Which I reminded myself was a secondary emotion. Anger tends to fall quickly on the heels of something like fear or sadness. I was sad. I was afraid. That's how I became angry. And now that I was there, I wanted to do something. So I called my members of Congress. I told them I wanted them to ban assault weapons. You can do this too. I don't require you to do any such thing, but if you're sad and afraid, or angry you can avail yourself of this option. Your senators and representatives are the ones who make laws. They could be encouraged to do their job, specifically to make laws that might save American lives. Like the opioid crisis, which has a lot of pending state and federal legislation designed to keep Americans from dying.
Because that's what lawmakers ought to be doing. Making laws that keep Americans from dying. Because they are not currently doing that. At least as far as that assault weapons ban goes. This isn't about home protection or hunting. This is about keeping killing machines out of the hands of people who would use them for their expressed purpose. The assertion that has been made far too many times that somehow American's Constitutional Rights would be trampled because these weapons of war should be used for that purpose and that purpose only is tripe. Garbage. Rubbish.
There's that angry part again.
Because I'm terribly sad. And afraid. I would like some help. I would like your help. Before more Americans die.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The Garden

"By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong." - Crosby, Stills and Nash
If you're planning on wandering on up to Yasgur's farm to join up in a rock and roll band a few days from now, make sure to buy your tickets online and to remember your essentials: Sunscreen, plenty of water, your photo ID, and a tarp of some kind. That last one may not seem necessary, but it kind of fills in the spot where "towel" sits for Galaxy Hitchhikers. Keep out the rain or sun. Wrap it around you. Lay down on it. Use it for a slip and slide. Trade it for drugs.
Sorry. Did I say that last one out loud? Fifty years after the fact, would it be worth bringing up the somewhat rampant use of drugs all that stardust and billion year old carbon? Illegal at the time, marijuana smoke filled the air while various versions of LSD was passed around as if it were not the Schedule One drug it had only recently become. In this sea of humanity over three days of peace and music, frequent announcements were made from the stage for all to hear: "To get back to the warning that I’ve received, you might take it with however many grains of salt you wish, that the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It's suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest. But please be advised that there’s a warning on that one, okay?"
Not specifically too good. That's the kind of warning that you could make to a throng of hippies and it would still be cool. The fact that the gates had long since been torn down and the anticipated crowd of two hundred thousand became that legendary half a million. Those tickets were eighteen dollars when purchased in advance, twenty-four at the site. Or free if you just wandered in barefoot. With or without your tarp. 
The good news is that someone will probably plug in and play somewhere in upstate New York on or around August 16. The bad news is that the big hullabaloo, Woodstock 50, was cancelled. Apparently there was not enough peace and music to make it worthwhile.
Or enough drugs. 
Or enough money. 
Mostly the money.
Which is pretty much everyone's drug of choice, these days. 
"We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden"

Monday, August 05, 2019

Aversion

My wife and I spent a few days away from our home this summer, inspiring her to make the delusional suggestion that we limit our screen time. When we were away from our habitual ruts and remote controls, we connected to one another more readily.
Okay, good point, but what about the dozen, if not dozens, of people anxiously awaiting my appearance on Al Gore's Internet? What about all that TV that needs watching? Does she think The Big Bang Theory reruns will watch themselves?
Here's the worst part: I'm an elementary school teacher, and one of the discussions we regularly have with our students is how much time they spend in front of a screen of any size or shape. Do you watch TV at night when you go home from school? I do. Do you play video games after dinner? I do. Do you use your phone to watch videos and send text messages? I do.
I'm the computer teacher. Am I supposed to tell my students that they should turn off the power and walk out into the bright sunshine, ignoring all those amazing web sited to which I have so carefully introduced them?
Some more confession: I used to spend summers in a cabin without electricity and no telephone. The screens that I paid attention to were the ones on our front door that let the breeze come in and kept hte flies out. I read a ton of books back in those days. It was part of what made me such a clever kid. So precocious that I read Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain before I entered the fourth grade. I exercised my imagination by listening to CBS's Radio Mystery Theater when the lights went out. Who needs TV?
Turns out, I did. That's where all the movies were. All the game shows. All the sitcoms. All the things that eventually filled my head with things other than literature and the theater of the mind. Yes, I still wax rhapsodic for those days when I would go for days without encountering a television. I did not own my own computer until I was over the age of thirty. There are still days that go by when I don't even turn my cell phone on. Maybe because I secretly yearn for those days when I didn't need an electronic leash or babysitter.
But now this is where I read. This is where I write. And while I'm here, I might stop and watch a video or two. There's so much to be found, all but leaping from this screen in front of me. So you'd like to make a commitment to limit the moments I spend in front of this machine, or any other device with words and pictures and sound?
It's almost too terrifying to contemplate. At least that's what I read online.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Forever And A Day

Looking east from the window of our motel room, I watched the fog burn off. It reminded me of all those years ago when I woke up in this bed which I slept as a child. I was no longer a child. I was a grownup, thirty-one years old. I was ready to head out into the world as an adult. By the end of the day I would be married.
By every logical measure, this was forever ago. I made that promise, so forever it will be. From time to time, I confront those ideas of always and never and they frighten me. They are the ones that put a crimp in this hose that goes on forever. They are the words that mean the brakes have come on, sharply.
There were no breaks back then. Full speed ahead, into the abyss. If I knew then what I know now, I might have whispered into my own ear: Listen. Those people surrounding you on this hillside are your support. There are examples of family and friendship and love and trust. Take them with you in your heart. Take them with you when things are tough. When it gets late at night remember that meadow full of people dancing. Glasses raised, toasts and pronouncements made. I live each day in the forever that those people imagined for us.
Me and my wife.
How could I have possibly known back then what forever was? When the morning came and the clouds sat there, so quiet and still. When I got dressed and drove to the mountains where I would make all kinds of promises that would lead me to the brink of eternity, what was going through my head?
I don't remember anymore. What I thought back then were the thoughts of a single man. A warehouse manager. Not a teacher. Not a father. Not a husband. Plenty of my friends had embarked on this voyage before me. How hard could it be?
As hard and as rewarding and as sad and joyful as anything I had ever endeavored to do. I had no way of knowing what that forever was going to feel like. But I wanted to find out. And now the fog has lifted, and another day begins. Heart full and eyes wide open. Happy to have taken that step into the mist.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Some Words I Can Dance To Or A Melody That Rhymes

I don't walk around with a lyrics sheet. I don't have a teleprompter at my feet too remind me when I miss a word or two.
Nonetheless, I tend to sing along. I am one of those people. This is especially true when I am in the car alone. And, as it happens, when I am in the car with my family.
Oh, how they wish that I was not one of those people.
They don't tend to call me on it very often. I was asked, at a local production of Fiddler on the Roof, by my wife to stop singing along. Which I understand, for the most part. The most being that no one in that amphitheater paid to hear me sing all the parts. The sliver that hurt was the part where I had the joy in my heart and wanted to share it with everyone in full voice.
Not my best choice.
The best place for me to exercise this character trait (I did not refer to it as a defect) is at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Not one of those acoustic deals where I might be heard above the hushed reverence he often requires during such shows, but the great big E Street Band blowouts that seem to engender such behavior. I know all those words, studio and live versions, and I look forward to showing off this knowledge base to those around me. This is, of course, keeping in mind that most everyone else's attention is captured by the trained professionals on the stage whose amplified and rehearsed voices are pouring out over the arena diminishing most any chance for me to be heard.
Except for those closest to me: My wife and son.
They have pretty much surrendered to the idea that part of the ticket price includes dad making a spectacle of himself. And it is precisely at this moment that I should point out that the last time my son and I went to see Green Day, I actually laid out for a song or two, while he proceeded to show me just how familiar he was with the words and music of his favorite band.
But what of my wife? Well, she has her own version of this show. It doesn't tend to show up as often as the rest of ours. She likes to croon along with show tunes and folk rock from her childhood. It's always a welcome surprise when she lets loose.
Because it means I can sing along. s





Friday, August 02, 2019

Things Change

"Today, I met with a 12-year-old who was shot while in a bounce house. A grandmother mourning the loss of her 6-year-old grandson. This is America today -- the shootings continue. Loved ones are buried. Children are gunned down. And Congress does nothing."
"A guy tries to light his shoe on fire & 18 yrs later we still all take our shoes off through security. In that time there have been 37 MASS SHOOTINGS. And nothing. Not a single regulation."
The first quote was from California's governor, Gavin Newsom. The second was from comedian Sarah Silverman. I chose these because I am quickly running out of words to describe the indifference that continues to be shown in the aftermath of Americans being shot. Stephen Romero, the six year old referenced by Governor Newsom, is the current face of the tragedy we call The Second Amendment. Stephen had just celebrated his sixth birthday. At Legoland. He won't be going back. He won't be in first grade when school starts. He won't wake up early on Christmas morning, much to the everlasting annoyance of his parents. He won't be waking up.
And while we continue to have a "President" who simultaneously endorses those who are "tough on crime" and "protects the Second Amendment" while urging those in the line of fire to "be careful out there!" we continue to wait patiently for everyone to die.
"Sorry, our hands are tied," says Congress. "If it weren't for that darn Second Amendment, we'd jump right on that assault weapons ban. See, it's the Constitution and it can't be changed."
Wrong.
That's why they're called "amendments." We used to keep black people as slaves. We didn't used to let women vote. We used to want people to stop drinking. Then we said they could again. Things change. The Constitution of the United States has changed.
It needs to change.
Children are dying.
And it's our fault.
Responding to questions about selling the assault weapon to the shooter in Gilroy, the owner of Big Mike's Guns and Ammo declared on Facebook, “When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern,” the post said. “I would never ever sell any firearm to anyone who acted wrong or looks associated with any bad group like white power. Everyone is my brother and sister and I am mourning for the families. Mike.” To be clear: The killer purchased his killing machine via Al Gore's Internet. The same series of tubes that allowed the killer to post pictures of the Gilroy Garlic Festival moments before he opened fire. 
Things change. 
It's time. 
It's way past time. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

A Very Special Episode

Part of the magic
is in the edit
We don't always see
or remember
What goes on
behind the scenes
Like any long-running
play or show
It helps to have a strong cast
of regulars
The ones you can depend on
when things begin to drag
But when things get tough
and smiles wear thin
It really helps to know
there's a backlog
All that good faith and love
stored up over the years
The details have become
trivia questions
"Do you remember the time?"
"Wasn't that they year when..."
Some of them are chestnuts
retold year after year
The pants were where?
The rings were where?
Cutting out those hiccups
shortchanges the story
We keep tuning in to see
how they get handled
Big problems become small
like the poet said
There is more laughter
than there are tears
That's part of the force
that makes it work
But most of all it's the story
that brings us back
That
and a really good editor.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What It Is

"I'm unfollowing the President of the United States today on Twitter, because his feed is the most hate-filled, racist, and demeaning of the 200+ I follow, and it regularly ruins my day to read it. So I'm just going to stop."
This was the way Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut announced his departure from the Twitstorm that is the "real" Donald Trump. This particular weekend was a particularly onerous one for followers of "The President." This was the weekend during which the Twit-in-Chief chose to go after Congressman Elijah Cummings, calling the Representative from Maryland a "brutal bully." He also referred to Cummings' district, in and around Baltimore,  "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." Leaving aside for the moment that rats are rodents and "infested" seems to be a creepily favorite way for "The President" to describe his pointed displeasure, I found myself wondering how I continue to stray into those murky waters knows as Trump Feed.
For weeks now, the current President of the United States has been picking fights with lawmakers on the Democratic side, most notably his on-going feud with the four first-year Representatives known as "The Squad." Women of color. Elijah Cummings, African-American. 
And some choose to see the twitterage coming from the Oval Office as racist. 
I do.
Not that the "real" Donald Trump is incapable of lobbing his sneers, jeers and epithets at men and women of all shades, stripes, and gender. He went after Nancy Pelosi for a bit, just to keep things misogynistic. And he popped off about wanting to designate Antifa as a terrorist group. One might argue that he is a hater, plain and simple. 
I wouldn't.
Or rather, I believe that's true as well. But I do believe that the current President of the United States is a racist, and reading his Twitter feed incites in me the same kind of reaction that I get when I stumble across the trolls foaming at their white supremacist mouths. Should I just ignore the vile screed that comes tumbling out into social media on a daily basis? 
Or should we just call it what it is? 
Racist. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tevye

If you don't recognize the name up there, it could be that you're not as big a fan of musical theater as I am. Fiddler On The Roof is one of several musicals I have committed to memory, much to the everlasting chagrin of those closest to me. For those uninitiated, it tells the story of a milkman and his family in Russia at the beginning of the Russian revolution. This is a time when old family traditions are being tossed about while Tevye tries to cope with how his life and his world is changing. At one point, he wonders why he couldn't be a rich man. "It's not great sin to be poor," he laments to God, "but it's not great honor, either." The most obvious change for him would be, "If I were a wealthy man. I wouldn't have to work hard." He continues to revel in all the things that he would be able to give to his wife and family, a fine new house in the middle of the town. "There would be one long staircase just going up, And one even longer coming down, And one more leading nowhere, just for show." 
But more than all these material things, Tevye dreams of being a well-respected member of his community. He expects that the most important men in town would come to call on him, "posing problems that would cross a Rabbi's eyes." Then, as he concludes, "And it won't make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong. When you're rich, they think you really know!"
Because we do. Somehow we believe that someone with millions of dollars, or rubles, must know something we don't. This line of reasoning is one I have heard any number of times from supporters of our current "President." He must know what he's doing. He's got all that money. Well, somewhere just beneath the surface of the play, Tevye knows that the reason he is being moved out of his town is the anti-Jewish crusade by the Tsar, who is attempting to turn the population on itself, first restricting their movements and ultimately running them out of the country.
Sound familiar? 
There is no grand finale in which Tevye's dreams come true, unless they are those for his daughters who end up falling in love and marrying men with whom they can start new lives. Some of them in America. The milkman and his wife load up a wagon, leaving their home, singing the song that reminds them of their home. The home to which they will not return. 
Essay question: Was Tevye a rich man? 
Hint: It's not always about the money.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

Listening Wind

Every few years I wake up to find that music technology has passed me by. This was most certainly the case when my son finally coerced his mother and I into using Spotify to listen to music in our home. I gave it my standard test, "play Flying Saucer Safari," and it did not hesitate or flinch. From out of my speakers poured what Trouser Press once referred to as, called it "highly ordinary" and "a sub-Devo mesh of hiccupping vocals, angular tunes with tiresome stop-start rhythms and a high, weedy guitar/organ sound." What does Trouser Press know, really? 
So once that hurdle had been passed, we decided to go all in, asking our home robot to find all the music we cared to hear from that corner of Al Gore's Internet. Abruptly, our CD collection became more physical media holding up our speakers. And while I dance around my living room to the tunes I know and loved from long ago, I worry just a little about how my enjoyment is being paid out to the artists whose music from which I continue to extract joy. This is what I assume my monthly fee is helping to fund. I worry, but I don't stop using the service. The capacity to be able to play Baby Shark with barely a moment's hesitation is invaluable. 
Well, okay. It has a value, and the folks at Spotify have met my price point. Much in the same way that streaming services have all but eliminated my need to purchase tapes, or discs of most any sort. Having a collection used to be something that gave me satisfaction. Then it gave me a hernia when I had to tote all that vinyl from one apartment to the next, and finally across the country. When I moved into my own house, I let those albums go. By that point, I had converted most of those purchases into compact discs. When we had a toddler in the house, we sought to eliminate the disorganization brought on by this proto-audiophile by decanting all our CDs and putting them, along with their attendant artwork, into vinyl sleeves and storing them all in drawers. These were labeled alphabetically for easy filing. 
And now they sit there, as mentioned previously, holding up our speakers as we listen to our streaming music. For tiny percentages of a cent for each play. Meanwhile, the machines make suggestions of music I might like, since I seem to enjoy the Suburban Lawns. The deeper I dig, the more they pile on in front of me. Records I never bought by artists I never really knew. Now all I have to do is ask my home robot to play some Brandi Carlile. Because the kids these days seem to like her just fine. 
Me? I abhor a vacuum. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Back In Business

"Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date."
Hello.
Those words above came from the Department of Justice. To be clear: The United States Department of Justice. Not North Korea. Or Iran. Or some enemy of our people. The Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, reinstated the Federal Death Penalty and immediately scheduled five executions.
Whoops. Buried the lede.
The United States will start executing prisoners on death row after twenty years of what a lot of us consider common sense. How do we teach "Thous shalt not kill?" By killing, of course. Thoose five inmates are all in the same federal prison located in Terre Haute, Indiana. No word on how these folks found their way to the top of the list, but BilBarr instructed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, to adopt the revision to the Federal Execution Protocol, a maneuver that “[clears] the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”
Justice for horror. 
Sounds  like a good trade.
But why were there no executions for two decades and now suddenly there are five, with more on tap? How about the way that a federal killing can take place in a state where no such killing is legal. According to the state. And how about this: Indiana has executed ninety-four men between the years 1897 and 2009. Some sloppy math suggests that's less than one a year. Now BilBarr wants to catch up. There are currently sixty-two prisoners across the country on Federal Death Row. Fifty-six of them are housed in Terre Haute. 
So, the United States Department of Justice is back in the business of killing those it deems unfit to live. They can be killed by your federal government for the following offenses:  treasonespionagemurderpiracy, large-scale drug trafficking, or attempted murder of a witness, juror, or court officer in certain cases. The last government induced death was in 2003. Maybe someone should tell the "President" about this. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tears In The Rain


"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."
The year is 2019. This was the year in which Blade Runner was set. Flying cars are still being somewhat ineffectively engineered. You can still wander around Los Angeles on any given day without a trench coat or umbrella with a neon handle. Sure, there are plenty of similarities to the mixmaster dialect spoken in Ridley Scott's film, Somali, Russian, Japanese, Arabic: the sound of most any big city in the United States these days. As for the robots, pardon me, replicants? They're still in development.
Roy Batty is not. Roy has gone to that place where Nexus 6 replicants go. He certainly outlived his four year lifespan, on one particular timeline. Rutger Hauer, the man who played Roy lived to be seventy-five earth years old. Maybe he was a Nexus 8.
He certainly had a pretty amazing name. It always sounded to me like it should have been the name of a pistol carried by Nazi officer. But since he was of Dutch extraction, that would probably be a little indelicate. I remember him from Ladyhawke as well. And The Hitcher. And Nighthawks. Rutger was your go-to bad guy in the 1980's. In 1992 he had taken a back seat to Luke Perry and Paul Reubens, but he was still menacing as the vampire Buffy needed to kill. 
But mostly, he was Batty. Trapped in a world that he never wanted to serve, Roy just wanted to live one more day. His motivations were, at times questionable, but he faced his end with courage and conviction, and a little bit of maniacal laughter. 
Rutger Hauer was not just an onscreen bad guy. He was an environmentalist and philanthropist, who started his own Starfish Association, " dedicated to providing help, attention and care to children
and pregnant women with HIV/AIDS, as well as educating communities about this disease." Not such a bad guy, after all. He helped us see things we wouldn't believe. He stomped on the Terra and elsewhere in the galaxy. He will be missed. Aloha, Herr Hauer. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Gross

Avengers: Endgame is now the world champion. It has made more money than any other movie ever on this planet. Galactic receipts are a little slow coming in, so it's difficult to calculate how it sits in the universal scheme of things. That film just passed up Avatar, which had previously held the distinction of being the movie with the most zeros behind it. It was a ten year hike up the hill to make a series of movies that put Marvel over the top, while James Cameron continues to threaten us with additional stories from Pandora. Just not anytime soon. Perhaps by the time they are finally released, tickets to the 4D IMaximus screenings will be selling for a million dollars apiece which should make the crowning of a new champion that much easier.
We are less than a week away from the digital release of the Avengers swan song. This ensures the machine that has been printing money for the past few months will continue to do so as the focus shifts from the big screen to the big screen TVs. Robert Downey Jr. and his progeny will be taken care of for some time to come as a result. Whew. 
But this inevitably starts a wider discussion: What about Gone With The Wind? What about Star Wars? All of these box office totals don't tend to show up with inflation and ticket price figured in. For most industry types, it's not exactly about tickets sold, it's about the bottom line. What about production costs? Advertising? Back in 1939 MGM didn't have to pay for TV ads. Or a web site. Without cable TV, there was little else to do with your entertainment dollar. A town might only have one movie theater, instead of a superfaplex of concrete bunkers in which daily showings could take place around the clock. 
Back in 1977, I spent the summer going to as many showings as I could of Episode IV: A New Hope. Because the alternative was staying at home and watching Gene Rayburn host Match Game. Sitting around on my parents' lawn with my friends: "Whaddya wanna do?" "I dunno. Whaddyou wanna do?" "I don' know. Star Wars?" "Again?" Pause. "Yeah. Okay." So I figure I contributed considerably to the bottom line on that one.
These were films that were so popular that they decided to name a video store chain for them. We now live in a world in which a film that makes a million dollars during its opening week can be considered a bomb. No one suggested that a video store chain be named after that. It was my niece who first made the observation to me that Avatar was really just a very expensive version of Ferngully. But since the story of the last rain forest only brought in one percent of the money Avatar gobbled up, it's probably not worth further discussion. I expect the reboot of Ferngully, starring a CGI Brad Pitt, will put Twenty-First Century Fox over the top. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Made Comfortable

Wear and tear.
That's what I used to call it before I went to college and got really smart about physics and started calling it "entropy." When I was a mere slip of a lad, new Levis needed to be worn for several months before they approached anything that could be described as comfortable. Trying these pants on left one with the rough experience of walking around with your lower half encased in dark blue tin. Then someone had the clever idea to pre-wash jeans so that initial Tin Man experience could be ameliorated. This also meant that you had to carry around two sizes in your head: pre-washed and straight off the press. This was a time in which showing up with those telltale creases on your indigo leg coverings that barely bent at the knee meant you would be ridiculed for not spending the extra money to have someone wash your jeans a bunch ahead of time.
I understand now they wash them with stones. And tear holes in the knees, and elsewhere, just to make sure that you don't get mistaken for someone wearing brand new jeans. "Are those new jeans?" to be clear, was a point of ridicule not admiration.
I had a similar experience back in the olden days buying shoes. It was expected that any new shoes would be less than comfortable for a period time. This period of time was what I came to understand was the "breaking in" period. In order to get those Buster Browns to moderately conform to the shape of ones feet, you would need to spend some time walking around in them. This was especially disconcerting since these were nominally "Church Shoes" and would not get the kind of use that a pair of Keds might. This meant that most every Sunday morning brought the ritual torment of lacing up those instruments of torture. I understand that Jesus used to walk around barefoot, but that's my cynicism shining through my religious conviction. It was the shoes. It had to be the shoes.
And certainly we expect all our clothes to deteriorate over time. That is the function of the lint filter on your dryer. I assume that over time I have lost several shirts and pairs of pants to the steady disintegration of laundry. Cleaning the lint from the filter and knitting them into new socks might help limit some of this entropy.
Wear and tear.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Button, Button, Who's Got The Button?

I don't think this particular angle gets the attention it deserves: Donald "Jay" Trump has access to "the button." Not the big red Help button next to the potty in the White House. I mean he is the guy in charge of the United States' nuclear weapons.
The same guy who has been photographed chumming it up with dictators from North Korea and Russia in recent weeks is the same guy who can launch ICBMs when that idea flutters lightly into his vast and echoing cranial cavity. Much in the same way that he can, in a fit of pique, impost tariffs on countries with whom he has a bone to pick, "The President" could get really mad at Monaco someday, perhaps because they didn't invite him to the Grand Prix, and his legendary if not absurd temper tantrum could include multiple warheads.
I imagine that he has already been talked off that particular cliff any number of times since he became "Commander in Chief."
No, Mister President. You can't launch a tactical nuclear strike on The Washington Post.
No sir, it wouldn't be a good idea to "turn the Democratic debate stage into a sheet of glass."
Sorry your excellency, but we have not as yet developed a weapon that will kill everyone not wearing a red baseball cap.
And so on.
The good news here is that there is a chain of command, and even if that bathroom button just happened to be mistaken for "the button," it's not a one-man job. While the ultimate decision to use nuclear weapons is still in the hands of "The President," he is not carrying around an app on his phone with which he can bring on Armageddon. He would have to talk to people, some of whom may or may not have surrendered their common sense or free will. They can try to persuade "The President" there are still a lot of pretty girls in California and maybe we should give them a chance to Make America Great Again. Unless they run for Senate, and then all bets are off. And may god have mercy on their souls.
So, sorry about that if you had just ratcheted down your feelings for the current resident of the White (and boy do I mean White) House to simple disgust. If this brings an element of fear back to the game, then maybe this will inspire some sort of action beyond a dismayed roll of the eyes.
Be afraid, America. Be very afraid.
And sleep tight.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Point To Point

I spent the fiftieth anniversary of man's first steps on the moon by sitting in front of a computer, waiting for a sign that all of the technology that surrounded me, on the desk, on the floor, extending off into the rest of the house. Communications, connections to satellites and all manner of other peripherals made possible, in part, by our exploration of space.
And yet, there I sat, trapped in the front of my house as I attempted to sort out the best intentions of customer support personnel who desperately wanted to help me. But they didn't. Exactly. Instead, I was tossed from one nasty flurry of hold music to another as a number of different companies tried to explain to me just exactly why it wasn't their portion of the Internet connection I was trying to establish. You should try calling the folks at Comcast. 
No. You should try asking Netgear. They'll help you.
Sounds like the trouble is coming from those Google pucks. 
I know! Let's ask Mister Owl. 
Because the eighteen hours that I spent trying to sort out the angular bits of misinformation would have been better spent sucking on a series of Tootsie Pops. As it turns out, somewhere around  the time I was sold the new cable modem that was purchased to replace the rental unit Comcast had me paying thirteen dollars a month for all eternity, someone might have mentioned that this was in fact not an actual replacement for that item. I went home and attempted to plug and play and I did the one but not the other. What followed was a whole lot of plugging and unplugging, always at the behest of one of the far-flung voices of quiet reason from call centers designed from my perspective to challenge my patience and intellect. 
We can put a man on the moon, several times in fact, but we can't just buy a new cable modem and get it to work without first spending nearly an entire day talking about how it really should work. But it doesn't. Until somewhere in the eighteenth hour, the revelation comes that there is a reason why this box with wires isn't letting the other boxes with wires talk to one another: That's not exactly what it was built for in the first place. Turns out that all these tech types, myself included, never brushed up against the idea that maybe there needed to be another piece of equipment that would allow the machines to see one another. The piece of equipment that was sitting in my basement, waiting for that chance to land a man  on the moon. 
Or allow me to watch YouTube videos of the Moon Landing. Fifty years? Eighteen hours? At last, there was triumph for all mankind. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Don't Mess With Texas, Or Their Sandwiches Anyway

When is a door not a door?
When it's a wall, duh. Sorry, a few points for you if you said "ajar" because that's the traditional punchline to a joke that makes a play on the condition of the door.
Okay. Ready for the next one?
When is a fast food restaurant not a fast food restaurant? When it's a Chick-Fil-A in Texas.
Get it?
No?
Well it could be that you aren't familiar with the bill that Governor Greg Abbot signed into law last week in Austin. Governor Greg said,  “No business should be discriminated against simply because its owners donate to a church, the Salvation Army, or other religious organization.” This was his way of keeping businesses, like Chick-Fil-A, from suffering the same kind of duress that Chick-Fil-A has endured. Like protests and demonstrations pointing out discrimination experienced by their customers. For instance. 
Hold on just a second pardnuh, did I hear you say that Chick-Fil-A might be guilty of discrimination themselves? Why isn't Governor Greg signing a bill that protects customers from discrimination? "Religious liberty" were the words he used to describe his motivation. Or maybe it was when the San Antonio city council to ban the Christian-owned fast food chain from its airport over its support of groups with anti-LGBT views. 
And for just a moment, let's try and keep in mind that there are a whole lot of Christian-owned fast food chains, and a good portion of them don't equate their religious beliefs with discrimination. Governor Greg just turned the tables on those folks, didn't he? 
So, never mind businesses like Chick Fil A. You are as safe from discrimination as corporations that are people can be
Texas is safe for fried chicken sandwiches at least. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

What's My Line?

What's your ethnicity?
An easy enough question for many. For a great long time I answered this query with a fierce and proud, "Mostly Irish." Which turned out to be a thick slab of blareny. This was the story that my father had put together over the years, based on some anecdotal bits of history, and the fact that there is a County Cavan located in north Ireland. The story had the added attraction of how our name used to be Cavanaugh, but the powers that be at Ellis Island callously dropped the "augh" in their haste to make neat, five letter names that would fit in the blanks.
And so, for decades I approached each Saint Patrick's Day as a rite and adopted the swilling of beer dyed green as part of my heritage. My loving wife even went so far as to boil up corned beef and cabbage for the occasion.
Then, in preparation for my older brother's fiftieth birthday, my mother decided to trace our family tree. Which didn't lead back to County Cavan. It became clear that there was a lot of fuss around the time someone should have been keeping good records, but with all that pillaging and sacking of villages and such, there wasn't a nice, neat path to our ancestral home. Just to be sure, I discouraged my wife from making haggis.
I don't really know my ethnicity for certain beyond the plains of Kansas, which is where both of my parents' families chose to move just a little to the west and land up in Colorado. I know that "Kansan" doesn't qualify as an ethnicity, but I did recently learn that there was a tribe of Native Americans called the Kansa, People of the South Wind. That's not me.
So I'm wondering now, what Kellyanne Conway was expecting when she asked reporter Andrew Feinberg, "What's your ethnicity?" Was she hoping to have a freewheeling exchange about this great big melting pot of ours and how we should all be proud of our heritage as well as our adopted nation? Or maybe she was tapping into a different historical vein, in which one's ethnicity could be used to send them back or maybe just to work camps? Or put to death by the millions? It was pretty clear that she wasn't just shilling for ancestry.com
Meanwhile, down the street, Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania announced, “They talk about people of color. I’m a person of color. “I’m white. I’m an Anglo-Saxon. People say things all the time, but I don’t get offended.” Which made me think of that unfortunate box of Crayons from my youth that had a "flesh" colored hunk of wax in it. After 1962, flesh was peach and that was that.
My how we've evolved. At least when it comes to coloring.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Not Me

Fifty years ago, NASA made a really good choice. They picked Neil Armstrong to be the first man to walk on the moon. I know there has been some discussion lately about the hierarchy of commander and pilot and so forth, and which way the door on the lunar landing module opened, but I still believe their choice was inspired. In spite of the fact that he blew his line.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil left out an indefinite article. In his version, "man" and "mankind" are essentially synonyms, rendering his statement void of meaning. "That's one small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind." That would have provided contrast for the two clauses, comparing his action of stepping onto the moon's surface to that of everyone else who had ever lived.
I tend to forgive Commander Armstrong for this little faux pas. He had a few other things on his mind. Most notably: "Will I be able to crawl back up that ladder once it's time to go?" And it probably goes without saying that there were six hundred fifty million people watching on TV back home. A few years before that, "everyone" watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. And that was seventy-three million. Which makes me wonder why Brian Epstein missed his shot to book the Fab Four a gig on the moon.
But let's get back to why they picked Neil. They didn't pick me. Perhaps because I was only seven years old at the time and though my brothers and I had undergone our own version of astronaut training by spinning around tied up in a hammock until we nearly puked I would not have been the ideal candidate. I would have worried that there was no actual lunar surface, just a sandy trap waiting for the first food source to be foolish enough to step out onto that gray wasteland. Or that inhabitants of the moon had been laying in wait, avoiding detection by telescope and unmanned probes to jump out and take their first hostage.
Maybe that's a little ridiculous. How about something, anything, going wrong with the life support system while he's standing out there in a vacuum? Or let's say they had a really successful romp on the moon and picked up a bunch of rocks and dirt and when it was time to go, they packed a little too much and the fuel they had wasn't enough to get them back to Michael Collins and the Command Module, orbiting above. Sorry guys. You and Buzz are just going to have to tough it out until help arrives. Except there was no help. Just go ahead and do your best with this thing that no one has ever done before and hope that nothing goes wrong.
I'm sorry. I survived the whole hammock thing, but hanging around on the moon waiting for my oxygen to run out is not something for which I would have readily volunteered. And what about Buzz? Well, he was the second man on the moon, but he was the enforcer. I dare you to go up to Buzz Aldrin and tell him the moon landings were fake. For All Mankind.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Fuelish

My son, the car aficionado, is the only person I know personally who has purchased premium gasoline. On purpose. It is entirely possible that once upon a time when I was dong my due diligence and pumping my own gas that I may have inadvertently pushed the wrong fuel grade button. This is one of those odd indicators to me, by the way, that all this worry about supreme and hi-test and so forth may be a lot of hooey. There was a time when there were actually separate pumps for the special fuel that would not have been an issue. Pull around to the regular pump. I don't need any of that fancy stuff for my car. Besides, it was the late, great Mad Magazine that provided me with the image of a single tank buried beneath a series of gas pumps all labeled with various exciting names and qualities. It's all gas, right?
Well, certain auto manufactures recommend that you use premium gasoline in their very fussy engines. Luxury types. And that's "recommend," by the way. It's a way to to ensure that you keep feeling luxurious even when you're standing there at the self-sever island wiping your own windows while your tank fills.
What makes gas supreme? It's the octane rating, usually a matter of four or five points. Regular, run of the mill, garden variety gasoline sits somewhere around eighty-seven, and that liquid gold you yearn to pump into your fancy schmancy performance automobile comes in around ninety-two. Since that translates to around twenty cents per gallon and you're driving that schmancy car and affording the payments then you probably don't mind spending an extra two or three bucks per tankful. 
And yes, lower octane gasoline is a little more likely to cause engine knock, caused by a preignition in your car's cylinders that doesn't count as a full ignition. This means your engine isn't properly compressing, which might not be so bad coming from a Dodge Dart, but a Bugati Veyron is another matter. Your Dodge Dart has a low compression rate, so you probably won't notice it. That Bugati, on the other hand, has a very high rate of compression and you had better keep fancy gasoline in that bad boy or there will be trouble. Not a lot, mind you, since Modern engines use a device called a knock sensor to detect the rattling and vibration within a cylinder that signals preignition. These sensors send a signal to the vehicle's Engine Control Unit which then adjusts the engine's timing when the spark plugs fire to reduce or prevent the knock. You might not win that street race against Vin Diesel, but it's pretty tough to notice on a trip to CVS. 
And if you're worried that regular gas won't keep your engine clean like premium will, remember that Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that all grades of gas have detergent in them. So, if you're driving that Bugati and you can afford it, hire me to drive over to the filling station and I will fill it up with Supremium Bestest Grade gas. And I promise I won't pocket the difference.