Sunday, March 07, 2021

Timestreams

 Hey! Look at that! Way down at the bottom of this page. It tells you the number of days until Soylent Green becomes available to the public. Lest you believe that Blogger is somehow involved, this is a little widget that I installed a few years back. To be funny. Because I find it amusing that our possible futures keep rushing up on us faster than we can generate them, but somehow we keep finding ourselves living in the present that looks nothing like what we were promised back in 1970. Except for the big TVs and cell phones. And the crystals embedded in our palms that count down to our ritual suicide. 

Originally, that spot was going to be a countdown to the moment that Skynet became self-aware, but that was way back on August 29, 1997. The events of the Terminator saga may have been playing out behind a veil of media blackout and misdirection, but if they truly are currently set in motion, here is the good news: We only have to wait eight more years until the resistance, led by Sarah Connor's son John, destroys Skynet and we can all go back to imagining a future where we eat people crackers instead.

I apologize for the previous paragraphs in which my nerd expectations forced you to wade through the scrap heap of my mind. But it is a messy business, this future thing. Like the announcement made recently by the Gateway Foundation, where they told us that we are just six years away from the opening of the first hotel in space. I was alerted to this news via a tweet in which someone was opining "Hotel in space? We just want healthcare." Which immediately set my memory banks reeling to the not so distant past in which Neill Blomkamp's 2013 film gave us a peek inside what's coming, and it turns out they are completely connected. In Elysium, a great big wheel of a space station, the privileged live in a world without war or poverty or sickness. 

Sound familiar?

Well it turns out that all the sickness and poverty is stuck down on Earth, with the rest of us. The rabble. A resistance, led by Sarah Connor's other son Matt Damon, travels to the eponymous space station in the hopes of bringing down the upper class and opening the door for universal health care. That movie is set in 2154, so we've got a while before we have to start worrying.

Except that the first hotel in space really happened in or around 2001, when Hilton and Howard Johnsons worked together to make outer space your home away from home. In your Earth years, that was 1968 with a future envisioned by Stanley Kubrick. It is not clear if reservations made for that Hilton in the intervening fifty years or so will be honored at the Gateway resort. Or if Matt Damon will be allowed to travel there. Because he has a history of getting stuck off planet. 

Maybe he can keep himself from getting hungry by dipping into those nice green crackers.

I'm so confused. 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

What Goes Up

 Remember when Rudy Giuliani was "America's Mayor?" He rode that wave of popularity straight into a gig as the "president's" personal attorney. Well, not exactly straight, but things seemed to be on an upward tick after a career of getting tough on crime. Which may be how he became so familiar with it. Crime, that is. He cleaned up Times Square and made it family friendly. Unless your family was a group of pickpockets or panhandlers. Removal of these folks paved the way for the opening of a Disney Store. And it was the brave face that he showed after the September 11 terrorist attacks on his city that brought him Time's Man of the Year award, and an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. 

Which is a long way from holding a press conference at The Four Seasons Landscaping firm, or inciting a riot days, then weeks after an election lost by his client. My mind turns to the image of Kong falling from the Empire State Building in the original 1933 version, bouncing and careening as he plummeted to his eventual final resting place. 

It wasn't the airplanes that got him. It was the gravity. Which is what all that  "the mighty have fallen" talk is about. What goes up must come down. 

Which brings us to Andrew Cuomo. The governor of the Empire State is currently facing a lot of scrutiny for his actions over the past several months. Those past several months have seen Governor Andrew rise to the height of COVID-19 popularity, with his press conferences evoking memories of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reading comics to his city's kids way back when. Way back when New York City's newspaper delivery folks were on strike. In hindsight, it's a little difficult to separate the politics from the person. But the optics were great. And so were Cuomo's daily news conferences. A bit of fresh air in a world stifled by masks and shelter in place. 

But it turns out that all the news that came out during those sessions wasn't really all the news. Apparently, there are plenty of questions about how nursing homes were handled during the initial surge of the virus, and that deaths may have been under-reported or simply covered up. This was after his call for elderly patients to be sent initially to nursing homes rather than hospitals. Not exactly the Sunday funnies. 

Then go ahead and drop the allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo and you have the perfect scandal salad. Now damage control is focused not on the crisis at hand as much as how the person in charge handles himself. Initial impressions aside, it appears that this once mighty hero of New York politics is on his way down. I suppose the good news is that scandals don't appear to be a partisan issue. As the Police once sang, "The truth hits everybody." Especially once gravity takes hold. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Cancel This Blog

 A short time ago, I wrote in this space about how I was embarrassed about having used Britney Spears as a punchline. A great many times. Enough that I found myself looking back with shame. I have had this same experience reflecting on my history as a "funny guy." I definitely went through a period where I told jokes that did not reflect who I was as a person, but rather who I was as a "comedian." Big wide racist, misogynistic bits of hate which were reflective of one thing: How unhappy I was with myself. 

The whole notion of "Can't you take a joke?" is built around fragile psyches that do not allow much room for questioning. They are, for the most part, looking outward. They question others, not themselves. In an attempt to connect with others, a sharp stick is taken up to poke at others. Usually the bigger the better. And I suppose it would be a nice thing to say here that I had an awakening where I finally looked in the mirror and found myself in the reflection looking back, "Hey man, do you really like yourself?" Well, that's the challenge here. I have had a number of these revelations, the most recent being my awakening of my mistreatment of Ms. Spears. 

But I haven't apologized to Ted Cruz. Or Donald Trump. Or the National Rifle Association. I still feel pretty comfortable with my eight year assessment of George W. Bush as a "pinhead," but his friendship with Michelle Obama has made it difficult to continue to grind that particular axe. 

Why? Because all of a sudden he didn't do all those dumb things I said he did? Because it turns out that he was always acting in my best interests and those of our nation all that time? No. It was more like a new threat had reared its head that was far worse and it turns out that W is just a public-spirited individual who likes painting dogs. Never mind the war crimes, have you seen the bit with him and passing Michelle a candy during John McCain's funeral. 

Am I just going to stop making fun of the man who led us into two meaningless wars in the Middle East because he's friends with Barack Obama's wife? Will this trend eventually put me in the position of relaxing my stance on the former game show host and twice impeached "president" who remains such a thorn in my side that I rarely mention him by name, let alone remove the quotes around his former title? 

Hate is a learned thing. I learned this from a real comedian named Denis Leary. "Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates. Naps! End of list." An interesting point made by a man who tends to be fueled by rage most of the time. But maybe that was a moment where that fire hydrant of anger was turned on the very thing that gives us pause. Misogyny, homophobia, Islmaophobia, and just about every ophobia you could  care to rustle up stems from a fear. A fear of being replaced. A fear of being on the wrong end of the joke. 

All of which makes the whole idea of a "cancel culture" so very confounding. Once you take the "just a joke" excuse away, you're left with the question: Was it funny in the first place? 

By the way, I reserve the right to be wrong. Feel free to tell me about it when I am. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Watching MTV

 "Too much is never enough." These were the words I heard Billy Idol say back in the mid eighties. A life of excess was pretty easy to imagine back then. Especially if you were watching MTV. It was during this period of my life that I began to wonder just how much really was enough. A place for my Battlezone game. Gas for my used car. Pizza money. Beer. Comfortable. In my twenties, it seemed like having enough cash to get by was a lifestyle. When I looked at adults scratching their way to the top of middle class, I sometimes wondered what I was missing. It did not occur to me that I was missing out.

It was only after I turned thirty, married and settled down that perhaps I could be more concerned about my monthly paycheck. The notion of saving for the future became a reality for the first time. Mostly because I started to imagine one. A future, that is. So I started to listen and take the advice of those who wanted to help me manage my money. I knew that being an elementary school teacher was not going to put me on the fast track to wealth and fame. There was no MTV contest to generate a responsible and stable financial base upon which I might one day retire. 

It was around this time that I remember walking back from a movie with my wife and some friends of ours. The husband of one of our best high school pals suggested a "personal salary cap." At the time, it was his notion that no one needed more than one hundred thousand dollars a year. Anything more than this just clogged up the works and made excess the thing that people strived for. Why couldn't we all be happy with a hundred grand? At the time, I chose to play the devil's advocate and ask what he might do with more than one hundred thousand dollars. Couldn't you, for example, use the extra money to donate to the charity of your choice? Take care of others less fortunate? The easy answer was that everyone would be afforded that same opportunity to make their salary cap, so there wouldn't be such a need to stretch. Plenty for all. No surprise that this fellow found his way to Bernie Sanders over the past couple of elections. 

Meanwhile, we all continue to chase that dream of financial independence. Somewhere between the arguments for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage and the demonization of Jeff Beezos, we attempt to find our comfort zone. As I round the corner that has regular and continued conversations about retirement, I wonder how it is that as hard as Bill and Melinda Gates try, they cannot give away all their money. Elon Musk makes a big show about giving away his money. The afore mentioned Mister Beezos lives a life of perpetual comfort while his employees struggle to put food on their tables. It's easy enough to make Mister Amazon the bad guy here. But how far down the ladder does one have to climb before we no longer resent them?

My cynical notion is this: one step below wherever you find yourself. I own my own house. Well, I will once the mortgage is paid. In a few more years. Right now I've got what we call "equity." Which is ironic, because this word either means "the value of the shares issued by a company" or "the quality of being fair and impartial." 

Too much? 

Never enough. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Hillary Was Right

 Many years ago we were warned. Hillary Clinton used the term "deplorables" when she was speaking about followers of Donald Trump. To say that there was backlash for this remark would be akin to saying that Noah encountered a few sprinkles just before completing his boat. I confess there was a moment of regret on my part when I heard her, allowing for a world in which there were many and varied opinions and we should leave room for all points of view. Back in September 2016, the Democratic presidential nominee said, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” At the time, I felt like I needed to make excuses for Hillary. And she didn't say "all" she said "half." I was still embarrassed. 

Turns out, I needn't have been. The past five years have been nothing but a wake up call for those of us who weren't watching and listening. The show this past week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the complete lack of shame and the strained connection with reality was on full display. Featuring such acts as fist-raising Josh Hawley and Ted "Luxury" Cruz, the show was a blur of a reminder. Ted Cruz made a joke about being in Orlando, and how it was not quite as nice as Cancun. Get it? Because he fled his home state for a luxury resort while people were freezing to death. Everybody's favorite fist-pumping inciter, Josh "Hollerin'" Hawley actually said this in his speech: "We're proud to live in a country that liberated slaves."

Ladies and gentlemen, these were not the rabble outside the auditorium handing out pamphlets printed on their home computer. These were the featured speakers, elected officials who still have jobs in our government. Both of these men were busy on their phones during opening testimony about the Capitol riots, or dragged in their homework to keep them occupied during the impeachment trial. Thirteen members of Congress chose to vote by proxy on the COVID relief bill, not out of concerns about safety, but so they could speak at CPAC. Those were the Republicans. The four Democrats who voted by proxy were meeting with President Biden in Texas, they state they represent, to inspect the damage brought on by the recent winter storm. The same storm that sent Ted Cruz packing off to Cancun. 

All of this with an eye toward the first appearance of the former game show host and former "president" since he fled Washington DC just after the riot he helped incite. With his lies and bile, he brought together thousands who attempted to halt the peaceful transition of power in our country. Something that has not happened before in history. Not during wars or depressions or threats of terrorism or snowstorms. 

Deplorable? That may be a little kind. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

What Would You Do?

 The question I have for myself is this: Would I have the courage of my convictions to not call in the Army, Navy, National Guard and those pesky airplanes if King Kong were to actually show up in my city and begin to stomp about in that way he has?

Big question. Lots of words. Plenty to consider. That's why I am taking you all with me. At this point in my life, knowing what I know, would I still be afraid of a twenty-five foot tall gorilla rampaging through the downtown area? Or would I take a more laissez faire attitude, telling my fellow suburbanites that the buildings in downtown have been in a state of disrepair for years and a certain amount of wear and tear has to be expected in a major metropolitan area. Gentrification, urban renewal or giant robots. Time takes its toll. King Kong showing up might be just the thing that local businesses could benefit from: There would almost certainly be increased foot traffic through the area afterward. It may not be exactly the kind of tourist attraction that we all wanted or expected, but that big hole in the ground made by the impact of a giant ape's foot might be just the thing to draw in those out-of-towners. 

I would also imagine that there is money to be had from our federal government. If you can get a loan for repairs after a hurricane, I am guessing most states have something in place for acts of enormous beasts. Or the aforementioned robots. Why not take the opportunity to build it back better?

Then there's the humanitarian angle. Kong is, after all, an animal. A really big animal with a laser focus on what he wants, but don't we owe him the same latitude for his behavior that we would give any creature, great or small? If we hadn't taunted him with that blonde girl in the first place, Kong would almost certainly still be King of his own jungle, instead of a gargantuan delinquent tearing up the city looking for his dream girl. I myself am married to a pretty blonde girl, and I wonder if I could let such behavior go unchecked. I should note here that at no point during my pursuit of this pretty blonde girl did I pull a subway train from its tracks or climb up the side of a skyscraper. 

Not that the thought didn't occur to me. But I am more evolved, and I am also not twenty-five feet tall.

So what would I do if King Kong showed up in my neighborhood? Would I try to reason with him, make a deal or attempt to lure him back across land and sea to his ancestral home, where all would be forgotten and forgiven? I do believe that Kong's heart is in the right place, after all. Right in the middle of that great big chest of his. And while he may not mean any or all of the harm he caused, I believe that it wasn't the airplanes or beauty that killed the beast. It was that knucklehead Carl Denham. I think the last scene of the film should be a police officer handing the master showman and captor of King Kong a broom. You clean it up, mister showbiz. 

Monday, March 01, 2021

For The Long Run

I ran across Scotland recently. 

Virtually.

Well, I did the running, but it wasn't in Scotland. I ran those ninety-some miles in Oakland. It was a way for me to experience the world outside my neighborhood without actually leaving my neighborhood. If this seems a little counterintuitive, that would be correct. It is the part of not making sense of these altered times in which we find ourselves living that does make sense. 

For my birthday last June, my family gave me the gift of a fitness tracker. It was a way for me to return to those days of yesteryear when I used to keep a running journal. When I first moved to California, I dutifully documented each of the runs I took, including the time, distance and route. The last one I completed was done the year my father died. My father was the one who coaxed me into running in the first place. After he was gone, some of the joy I had was leeched out of that avocation. So I stopped writing it down.

But I didn't stop running. Though I did slow down a bit. And I had some guests to bring along on my trail. I pushed my baby son in a jogging stroller. And not long after that, I leashed up our dog when she joined the family. I was the consistent part of the equation, as were the streets and sidewalks around our house. Like so many other elements of my life, I fell into a rut that felt comfortable. A routine that gave me solace in the face of enormous change. Many years later, after our dog had run her last mile with me and my son had long since grown out of his stroller, I received the gift of accountability. Technology that allowed me to keep a digital journal of all the steps and miles I was going to be doing anyway. Which turned the whole thing into a bit of a video game. 

Once again I was thrust into a position of competing with myself. I felt challenged to push myself beyond the rut. I started to find myself further from my home, staying away for longer periods of time. I recognized the conditioning I was getting from my digital coach, but I was still a sucker for those gold stars. 

Oh, and I felt better too. I realized that I was on the verge of being the same age as my father when we took our last run together. I was holding back time. "Running" is a kind description for the plodding I do these days, but it keeps me off the couch, with legs and arms and lungs all working. And when my wife offered up this virtual trek across Scotland, complete with souvenir T shirt and medal, I leapt at the chance. 

When I looked out at the Irish Sea, with the island of whole of Scotland behind me, I felt satisfied. And oddly enough, right at home.