Monday, May 23, 2022

Too Tired To Be Apathetic

 The headline read, "COVID-19, shootings: Is mass death now tolerated in America?"

I stared at it for a few moments before going ahead and reading it. The underlying assertion being that a million Americans and counting have died since the pandemic began two years ago, and rarely does a week go by without some sort of shooting rampage within our borders. These grim bits of news are regularly pushed off the front page by the crisis du jour, or the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial. From the standpoint of this article, the idea that Americans are dying by the thousands every month from what are potentially avoidable causes and we just yawn and move on to the sports section. As a nation, we have become tolerant of mass extinction events. 

Back in the 1980s, we caught a whiff of this apathy when AIDS began to cut a swath through the gay community. "The Gay Plague" could be sensationalized and then set aside since it affected primarily homosexual men, a marginalized group whose losses were counted but that safe distance could be kept between us and the grim reaper. Gun violence is easy enough to ignore when the victims are black and brown, but once they start killing white kids in suburban high schools, we all take notice. 

Or that's how it used to be. Now it's just another episode of "America's Funniest Mass Shootings." Twenty weeks into 2022, there have been almost two hundred mass shootings“You expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again — over again, forgive and forget,” the son of one of the Buffalo supermarket shooting victims said. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.” Eight of the ten dead in Buffalo were African American. The initial wave of COVID deaths were people "of a certain age," and were easily enough pushed into the list marked for death. Then younger folks started to die. To date, more than fifteen hundred children have died from the disease. It's a number that may seem inconsequential to the million for whom we have briefly lowered our flags, and even smaller compared to the eighteen hundred children who die each year from gun violence, but these are children. We are letting this happen. 

And rather than do anything about it, we seem to be tuning it out. People should be able to go to the supermarket, to school, to church with a high level of certainty that they will be able to come home without being shot or getting sick. We lower the flag and give our weekly round of thoughts and prayers. 

Is mass death now tolerated in America? I guess they haven't read their history books, have they? 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Neighborhood Schools

 It's been a pretty dark spring around my house. Our schools are being closed. As documented here on many and several occasions, Horace Mann Elementary where I have been employed for lo this past quarter century, is on the list of proposed consolidation/closures. The Oakland Unified School District which has hemorrhaged money as long as I have worked here has decreed that all of that financial difficulty can be solved on the backs of the students, staff and families of these schools with declining enrollment. 

Meanwhile, just a mile and a half up the road from my desk at Horace Mann, lies Mills College. My wife's alma mater. The reason she moved to Oakland all those years ago and ostensibly the reason I followed her out to the left coast since her roots here included better furniture than mine. It was her connection to her school that brought her back to document the 1990 student strike protesting a move to make this historically women's college co-ed. Inside The Mills Revolution became a touchstone, a relic of a bygone age as Mills' administration changed course and chose to keep the college one of the very few remaining for women only. 

Now, all these years later, the powers that be at Mills are attempting to merge with Northeastern University to, in the words from their web site, "to create a bicoastal university powered by Northeastern’s global experiential learning." What does not appear on that page is the dire financial straits that purportedly drove Mills' administration to this brink. The reality is not as stark nor as bleak as President Elizabeth Hillman would have us all believe. Ultimately the plan is to turn over this rare bird of an institution to an east coast beast to be absorbed and consumed. 

It's all about money. Resolving the financial burdens of an institution by closing it down? Sounds like it would take a lot of community outreach and discussion first. For some reason, it seems that transparency is not currently a highly valued commodity in Oakland. Never mind how Oakland Unified School District or Mills College came to find themselves in such desperate financial shape, we can fix it by closing neighborhood school or selling out the students who chose to go to a college because of its distinct character and environment. Never mind those disappointments. This is a chance for Oakland to make money! The charm of closing a public school in favor of opening a charter school is a financial one. All those Mills women who came hoping to find their futures and dreams, but had their school engulfed and devoured and their majors disappeared in the name of progre$$. 

The privatization of a community's educational institutions is a crime against that community. This is not something that should be sold to the highest bidder. Budgets should not be balanced or enhanced on the backs of black, brown, low income, women or any other group. It belongs to all of us. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Bridges Of Madison Cawthorn

 The choice is often between the devil you know and the devil you don't. The unfortunate dilemma set by this distinction is they are both devils. 

There was celebration in many quarters on Tuesday evening when it was announced that Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, had lost his primary. Young Madison would no longer be spouting forth from the floor of the House of Representatives about tallywhackers and orgies. He will, in all likelihood, find his way to some alt-right podcast or streaming service to offer his particular slant on the news of the day.

News that no longer includes him as a member of the House of Representatives. 

Taking Madison's place on the Republican side of the ballot this November is North Carolina state senator Chuck Edwards. Mister Edwards' announced his priorities after Young Madison called to concede the primary: “(R)emoving the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand, and then taking the teleprompter from Joe Biden and restoring the policies that we enjoyed under the Trump administration, to help get this country back on track.” Which, compared to the conspiracy and confusion-laced rants of Young Madison come as a welcome relief to a section of the Tar Heel state that has a solidly red base. As "no-brainers" go, this one couldn't have been an easier call.

And yet, Young Madison still managed to poll thirty-two percent of the registered Republicans in his district. This suggests that the shenanigans of Young Madison were tolerated if not excused by a solid one third of his party. Which sets the bar extremely low for Chuck Edwards. Senator Thom Tillis endorsed Edwards by dismissing what he called a "consistent pattern of juvenile behavior, outlandish statements, and untruthfulness” from Young Madison. Instead, voters of the red persuasion preferred "not a celebrity" Chuck Edwards. Interestingly the endorsement by the biggest "celebrity" in politics, honorary Kardashian Donald "Jenner" Trump, could not save Young Madison. 

The dull, "mountain values" of Chuck Edwards play a lot easier in the big game of chess called national politics than the katzenjammer antics of Young Madison. Dull plays in the heartland after all. Even a dull devil. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Sense Of Loss

 Standing in the door to our kitchen, my son announced, "This isn't the place I grew up."

What brought on this pronouncement? Prior to this, he had made these kind of emphatic statements when The local Toys R Us closed. Or when they shut down the McDonald's up the street. Now, as the second quarter century of his life begins, he wasn't talking about the places from which he got his Legos and Happy Meals. But it was a restaurant at the end of the story. 

Lucky Three Seven, the Filipino place just a few blocks from our house is closed until further notice. This wasn't a corporate decision made from far away in hopes of maximizing profits. This was the family of the co-owner. They have decided that for the time being they will not be serving up their mix of lumpia, fire wings and chicken adobo. This unique spot in a sea of taquerias will remain closed until the family decides how to deal with the death of Artgel “Jun” Anabo who was shot and killed outside his restaurant this past Wednesday night.   

Jun was thirty-nine, and was looking forward to his fortieth birthday which he planned on celebrating with his eleven year old son who was about to mark his promotion from the fifth grade. That party will not be taking place. Instead, the family will be searching for answers during a time of terrible uncertainty. My son, who introduced us to Filipino cuisine from just down the street, had made a habit of dropping by Lucky Three Seven after his first order of Pork Longanisa. We were aware of Jun's commitment to his community each August when he and his family blocked off the street in front of his business and shared food and music as part of the National Night Out block parties across the city. He helped support other small business owners, getting other restaurants off the ground and putting out more tables on which we could all eat. 

My son wasn't missing Legos or a Happy Meal. He was missing his innocence. Like that eleven year old boy who watched as his father was taken away from him in an instant. It's not the town anyone wants to live in. 

This has to change. 

Buffalo Shooter

 I remember learning way back in the previous century that it was white men who came to the middle of what would become the United States on railroad trains on track built from the labor of Chinese and Irish and African immigrants, brought to their jobs for the minimal wages. These tracks cut across indigenous people's land, and the image that sticks out is that of those white men firing rifles out the windows of their luxury cars at the bison grazing on the prairie. It was made clear to this impressionable child of the sixties that this was in stark contrast to the native inhabitants who hunted with spears, bow and arrows, then using ever bit of their kill to feed, clothe and shelter their families. 

Europeans coming to another country to spoil the balance that had been in place for thousands of years. 

And maybe this was my own culturally responsive learning, but it wasn't as if I was unearthing secrets. These were matters of fact, corroborated by the stories of those who came before me. My ancestors who fled or were kicked out of some of the great nations of Europe just to come and create their own new systems of oppression here in The New World. 

I can remember feeling bad. I can remember feeling embarrassed that I was living the life of privilege in the vacuum created by my ancestors. But I also learned the lessons of those we oppressed. Not to waste anything. To do everything I could to restore balance with the earth and all the lives on it. If is sounds a little like I was a hippie, that would make sense: Boulder, Colorado circa 1970. I heard the talk back then of Zero Population Growth and the rumblings of ecological disaster. I grew up mourning the passing of Martin Luther King, and later discovering the words of Malcolm X. I had friends, adopted Navajo sons who struggled to adapt to their new white life. I met them in, of all places, Y Indian Guides. 

It did not occur to me until much later who impossibly culturally insensitive that was.

The loon with a gun who shot and killed ten people in Buffalo, New York felt none of this irony or ambiguity. He was afraid of being replaced. Replaced by those who he had "learned" had less of a right to live and breathe in the land made up almost entirely of immigrants. This is a mind formed in the new Millennium, rotted from the inside by culturally irresponsible teaching. The Hate Mandate

In the 1860s, the U.S. government created all-black regiments to fight on the frontier, protect the western expansion of the railroads, and to drive off any Native Americans who stood in the way. They called these infantry and cavalry groups "Buffalo Soldiers." Irony was not in short supply out on the plains. And this past weekend, there was plenty of irony to be found in upstate New York. 

It will take another lifetime to make sense of all this. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Closing Time

 A few weeks back, the school district dispatched a team of painters and electricians to cover up the bare spots on our numerous hand rails and replace the burned out light bulbs scattered about our site. They spent two weeks here. This is not a rap on the gentlemen who came to perform these services. They stayed busy with all the hand rails and light bulbs that had become tattered or burned out over the course of the past several years. Instead, I would like to point to the insistence on getting a fresh coat of varnish on the deck chairs of a ship they have designated as The Titanic. 

Our kids are walking past numerous cracked and broken windows. The drinking fountain outside of the boys' and girls' restrooms has been limited to a dribble on just one of two faucets. The playground, the one I have written about here several times, remains a pit of despair. The hole in the rubber mat that contributed to the fracture of one of our fifth graders' foot remains a hole, even though in the months since the accident our girl's foot has healed. 

On Monday morning, my principal called to me from the bottom of the stairs. She wanted me to come down and listen to what she thought she heard. She thought she heard water dripping inside the Mechanical Room. The Mechanical Room is where the boilers for the heaters that warm the school are located. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could hear it too. When I opened the door, I saw ladders standing below the large pipes that run across the ceiling of the concrete bunker of a room. From one of these pipes, water was falling. Something more than a trickle but not quite a rush. The bright spot of this malfunction was that the water was hitting the cement floor just a couple feet from the drain installed for just such an emergency. 

And this is what I thought, after I took a picture to send to Buildings and Grounds: They don't need to close our school. The school is closing itself. The years of neglect and the consistent avoidance of regular maintenance has finally brought us to the brink. The good news may lie in the fact that a leak in the boiler system won't affect kids during these warm spring days before we all head out for two months away. There are water fountains inside, and when the filtered water cooler outside our office works kids can fill their water bottles to stay hydrated. Our kids have become accustomed to dodging the cracks and holes on our playground. It's the adults who regularly find themselves twisting an ankle or tripping as they make their way across the blacktop. 

A number of parents have told us that the Student Assignment Center has called them to ask why they said they would be returning to Horace Mann. "It's closing, you know." 

I know. Better than most. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Record Collection

 Way back when, Bono introduced U2's cover of Helter Skelter by asserting "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. Tonight we're givin' it back." While this is fundamentally true, since Charlie appropriated  the songs on The White Album and mashed in some of the Book of Revelations from the Bible, stirred it around his drug-addled brain and came up with a rationale to kill a bunch of people. He had hoped that the violence would touch off a race war, and when it was all over he and his "Family" would be left to rule over what was left. 

I would like to note a couple of things: Manson's murderers misspelled it "Healter Skelter" when they wrote it in the blood of the LaBiancas on their refrigerator. Bono, despite his grand intentions, managed to muddle the lyrics to the song. Which seems pretty on brand, since "helter skelter" used to mean disordered or confused before it meant race war. 

Why all the history? Because there was more ugly history made this past weekend when a loon with a gun opened fire outside a Buffalo, New York supermarket. The eighteen year old loon with a gun shot and killed ten people, most of them African American. Not random or haphazard. This was a planned killing spree that had racial hatred at its core. The one hundred eighty page manifesto that the loon with a gun posted just prior to his murderous rampage "explained" the reasoning behind the chaos he was about to unleash. He showed up in the Tops Friendly Market parking lot dressed in tactical armor and helmet, with a camera affixed to it in hopes of capturing the whole bloody mess for posterity. 

He was taken into custody by officers responding to the scene, but not before the loon with a gun managed to kill a security guard whose several shots could not penetrate the loon's armor. Law enforcement was able to talk the loon out of shooting himself in the neck and was arrested. Later in the day he was arraigned on multiple counts of murder in the first degree. All of which was essentially laid out in the loon's manifesto, in which he described being locked away until the "real war" came to pass and he would be released by the whites who would celebrate him as a hero. 

How did an eighteen year old get all this hate? From the dark corners of Al Gore's Internet, of course. He had spent years digesting the regurgitated bile from dozens of neo-Nazis and their ilk, creating a patchwork of hate that put him in a place to carry out his "mission." It should be noted here that it was only a year ago that this same loon attracted attention from local authorities when he threatened to shoot up his  high school graduation. He was given a mental health evaluation and released. The gun used by the loon was purchased "legally." The powers that be at Twitch, the streaming service that the loon hoped to use to broadcast his murders, pulled the plug after the violence erupted. 

Charles Manson died in prison. John Lennon was murdered by a loon with a gun. If Bono decides to sing about this, I hope he gets the words right. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Continuum

 Last weekend, I commented to my wife as we made our semi-regular walk around Oakland's Lake Merritt, that each time I make the run over the hill to meet up with her it takes me just a little longer. It is a natural progression that comes with time: aging. Certainly if I had been attempting this three mile trot back in my early teens, it might have taken me a little longer than it did when I was in my thirties, when I was starting to hit my stride, if you'll pardon the pun. And when I was in my twenties, in my salad days of youthful exuberance when I could get out and just run. For miles and miles. Back when I carried a cassette Walkman with me, even though the double A batteries would only last a couple days worth of that kind of use. 

When I was a new father, the folks at my previous employer pitched in and bought me a jogging stroller. There were plenty of times when I had my little boy tucked inside that conveyance and our dog on a leash to the side while I went about the business of staying fit. Those were some of the uber-moments. This was before the kidney stones. Before the need for glucosamine supplements. When I first started teaching PE, I would would lead a pack of elementary schoolers in laps around the playground. I readily accepted challenges from fourth and fifth graders who wanted to showcase their speed. That was back when I would let them win. Now it's a pretty well established fact that Mister Caven is as old as most of their grandparents and any such competition would now be considered elder abuse. 

As I creep toward this now inevitable sixty years old, I have a great deal of rationalization left to do. Even before I destroyed my left knee back in my twenties, I didn't harbor any fantasies of winning trophies. Just participation ribbons for me, thanks. Not that I don't continue to attempt to stave off the looming specter of all my factory issued parts no longer being covered under the original warranty. That reality took a double hit recently when I switched over to having my phone track the distance I run via GPS instead of just counting up steps. Those six and seven mile runs were really more like four and a half to five. I was now coming over the hill at somewhere above a ten minute mile when I was under the impression that I was moving at a much faster clip. Suddenly I find myself moving over less space in more time. 

Discouraging, but inexorable. 

Which, as it turns out, is actually okay. Because while my body continues to disintegrate, my ability to accept the terms of my own surrender increases. It's good to know that some muscles are actually getting stronger with age. I might be slowing down, but I'm not stopping.