Sunday, April 30, 2006

United Nation

So far I've seen three spots in my neighborhood where, in bright pink spray paint, someone has written the words: "We all immigrants in America." The fourth grade teacher in me bristles initially at the lack of vowel in the sentence, but it's hard to argue the point. I suppose if one was predisposed to arguing, there could be some lengthy debate about those who crossed the Bering Strait when there was still a land bridge and those who were spontaneously generated on the continent of North America. If you're Tom Cruise, you would argue that we're all just colonists from another planet anyway, so stop whining about who was here first and pass the placenta, please.
No, instead I prefer to recall the words of the sage Bill Murray in "Stripes": "We're all very different people. We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans. With a capital "A", huh? And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts." As he points out, further, is there any dog more lovable than a mutt? This is where we live, in a land of promises and dreams - some of them broken, some of them made.
In the past couple weeks, I've been teaching my kids about the Holocaust and the Middle Passage. They wanted to know how people could treat each other so badly. I have kids who can trace their heritage from Salvador, Jamaica, Guatemala, Tonga, Thailand, Mexico, Africa, and one who is "pretty sure" she's "at least one sixteenth Native American." I told them that America has a history of treating the newest members of its club poorly. I tell them that I don't know why that is. I told them that George Washington, the father of our country, was a slave owner, but in his will, he arranged for all of the slaves he owned to be freed after the death of his wife, Martha. We are a nation that learns from its mistakes. We learn slowly and painfully, but we learn. We all immigrants, after all.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Read Only Memory

On the new album from Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, they sing a song called "This Is Us" that sounds like an old married couple sitting on the sofa, leafing through a photo album. When we look at pictures and remember how we used to be, "This is us in our living room." "This is us on our honeymoon." The supporting cast changes, but the featured players are always there - not in every shot, but when the page turns, there they are again.
That's the media we cart around with us. We have a suitcase sitting by the door full of memories that we hope to be able to escape with in the event of a flood or fire or earthquake. Then there are the megabytes of digital recollections sitting here on the hard drive. Those are the more recent ones - the ones that occupy my screensaver while I sit and ponder what to write today.
There are reminders of another sort, floating around in the airwaves. There are songs, and TV shows and movies. These are the squirrely ones. These are the ones that remind of us of a time when "we were just like that." Sometimes it's about being married. Sometimes it's about how hard it is to be married. Sometimes it's about having kids. Sometimes it's about how hard it is to have kids. Sometimes it's about how hard it is. We used to watch "Mad About You." We agreed with their assertion that "everything takes four hours." I still get a twinge when I flip past Steve Martin in "Parenthood" as he growls at his wife, "My whole life is 'have to.'" Bruce Springsteen sang about the birth of a son in "Living Proof": "In his mother's arms it was all the beauty I could take."
Laurie Anderson said that life wouldn't be so dull if we just had better editors, but for now, "This Is Us."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Younger Brother Gets Older

Cheers to my younger brother, Dan on the event of his forty-first birthday. Last year saw us filling the night with howls and yowls on a rented Karaoke machine (an awakening that I continue to thank him for with every opportunity I get to sing "Hell's Bells" or "Summer Nights" at the top of my lungs). It is coincidental that his birthday also marks the anniversary of our moving into Rancho DeLuxe - nine years ago, Dan gave up any hope of a relaxing or sedate day of relaxation to schlep all of his brother's worldly possessions - as well as those of his sister-in-law. He did it for the pizza, and a few liters of Coca-Cola.
This guy is a mensch. If he were not my brother, I would still be tempted to sing his praises, if only to highlight his refreshing world view. Having grown up in the rather quiet suburban enclave of Boulder, Colorado, I was surprised to see him so at home in the very urban sprawl of Los Angeles. During a visit to his vast concrete loft living space, filled with murals and objects of art and curiosity, I asked him how he managed to navigate the vast spaces of the City of Angels. He explained to me that he lived his life via a series of well-worn ruts: the rut to work, the rut to coffee, the rut to friends house. He didn't try to incorporate a larger geography, he was happy to know where the things he needed were. It was on this trip that he imparted his wisdom for dealing with California traffic: "Avoid impact." I marked those words and live by them to this day.
Three decades ago or more, I used to get away with calling him my "little brother." Not anymore. We used to tease him and call him names to get him to throw his lunch box at us. Then he just adopted the name that used to infuriate him so. Pretty Gandhi of him, I think. He's been a roadie for a rock and roll band. He's lived in the bitter cold of Minneapolis, and the sweltering heat of L.A. He's seen "Repo Man" more times than either one of us can remember.
Did I mention that he is an artist? A painter. I am as chagrined as can be, considering the frustration I know he felt when teachers and other grown-up types would fawn over my cartoons, while he gnashed his teeth quietly in the shadow. I am proud to say that I now have several of his paintings gracing the walls of my home (again, the one he helped me move into). And I could go on with the adulation for weeks, but here's the deal: I know he reads this blog, and I wouldn't want to embarrass him. You won't read his comments here on-line. As a semi-practicing Luddite, he will read the blog, but then carefully consider his response, put them on amusingly decorated postcards, and mail them to me. Happy Birthday, Dan - avoid impact.

Bonus Rant!

Paul Harvey Writes:
We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I'd like better. I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would. I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated. I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen. It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep. I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in. I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother/sister. And it's all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he's scared, I hope you let him. When you want to see a movie and your little brother/sister wants to tag along, I hope you'll let him/her. I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely. On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don't ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with someone as uncool as your Mom. If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head. I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a boy\girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like. May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole. I don't care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend. I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandma/Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays. I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor's window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Hannukah/Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand. These things I wish for you -- tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it's the only way to appreciate life. Written with a pen. Sealed with a kiss. I'm here for you. And if I die before you do, I'll go to heaven and wait for you.
Here's what my buddy Joe and I wrote back:
I hope you learn that the words "Danger: Do Not Submerge While Plugged In" are a challenge;
I hope you learn that a barking dog wagging its tail is no match for a good shot of pepper spray;
I hope you learn that money won is sweeter than money earned. And that stolen money beats them both;
I hope you understand that calling one part of the gun a "safety" is kind of funny;
I hope you learn that sticks and stones rarely break bones and that you arm yourself accordingly;
I hope you learn that those "hourly rates" motels are a rip-off and that phone booths are free.
I hope that you gather rose petals - and then tell the lady in the flower store that you're not paying for them but you'll give them back.
I hope you fall down a lot. Scraped knees build character.
I hope that when you are learning to walk, you get polio - those vaccines and March of Dimes people are a bunch of cry babies!
I hope you can still enjoy getting your finger in your nose clear up to the third knuckle without hope of reprisal.
I hope you slam your finger in a car door, where most of life's most valuable lessons are learned.
I hope your parents buy you lawn darts. If you can survive an afternoon of that fun, you deserve butter brickle ice cream.
I hope your mother lets you lick the tuna cans clean. It will teach you the value of recycling.
I want you to live in a world where being double jointed means you can clip your own toenails with your teeth.
I hope you live in a time where you can choose from several types of salad dressing, but still ask for creamy Italian.
When your older brother/sister catches you going through his/her drawers late at night, I hope you remember a time when cross-dressing was "cool."
I hope your hamster dies. It's not a real pet anyway.
I wish that people would stop yelling at me. I'm only going to be parked here for a minute.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Put On A Happy Face

Maybe the reason people become more conservative as they grow older is because it takes so much less energy than remaining liberal and idealistic. Vice President Dick "Dick" Cheney is several decades old (the only way to be certain of his actual age is to cut him in half and count his rings) and he is the most conservative being on the planet currently.
Hippies used to be America's youth. Now they run politically correct ice cream companies or sign on-line petitions for Move On Dot Org. Liberals stopped calling themselves that after Michael Dukakis drove that tank into infamy nearly twenty years ago. Being a conservative, by contrast, is so achingly cool that we now ascribe the prefix "Neo" to them. Welcome to the Matrix.
From "To a conservative, the goal of change is less important than the insistence that change be effected with a respect for the rule of law and traditions of society. The traditional enemy of conservatism, therefore, is radicalism (not, as is often asserted, liberalism)." Radicalism, then must really take it out of a person. Who do you know over the age of twenty-five who you would consider "radical?"
Back in the late 1800s, there were even radical Republicans. I know this because I looked it up. These were the ones who demanded a more aggressive prosecution of the war and the faster destruction of slavery and Confederate nationalism. Liberal Republicans (like Abraham Lincoln) were more tolerant and argued for restraint against the Radical Republicans hard-line "total war" view. For what it's worth, most of these guys had beards.
So maybe it's still all about the energy expended. There is an old saw about how it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. If this is the case, then why are there so many crabby old conservatives?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Power of the Press Secretary

The Tony Snow era is set to begin. Just when you thought things couldn't get anymore baroque, President Pinhead goes and hires himself a talking head from Fox News to serve as White House Press Secretary. First of all, it seems odd that any working journalist would allow themselves to become the latest in a series of whipping boys for the press. What could anyone possibly do in this job presently but cower behind the podium?
Upon further review, it seems that going straight to the source - or "spin central" (despite Bill O'Reilly's claims to the contrary) - that the news delivered from the White House will come to us in easily digested, pre-dismissed bites. Mr. Snow was given a clean bill of health by his oncologist Tuesday, providing him that vital link with the medical miracle that is Dick "Dick" Cheney. Now he will be free to roam the halls of power, wrapping information in delicate terms and phrasing them just so. Leaving his present spot as host of "The Tony Snow Show" (where do they come up with these catchy titles?) he expects to be leading a more difficult life, full of challenges and disappointments, and "a massive cut" in salary. He told Bill O'Reilly (how did he get that interview?) "There's no guarantee after you get out of the White House whether there's any landing place." If recent history is any measure, one might guess that the bigger mess he makes of things, the more he'll be rewarded.
Interestingly, there are a number of "hanging chads" left in Tony's closet - specifically his concerns about his future boss' domestic policy, which he has referred to as "listless." In another column, the new Press Secretary suggests, "The newly passive George Bush has become something of an embarrassment," and Republicans "wish he would stop cowering under the bed and start fighting back against the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Wilson."
Hmmm, wouldn't it be refreshing if this was the kind of news we were going to get on a regular basis? "Secretary Snow, has the President had any further thoughts about a staged troop withdrawal from Iraq?"
"Well, I wish that he would stop trimming brush in Crawford long enough to check his poll numbers, but you know how he can be."
That would be some kind of press. But don't count on it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Burn On

Twenty years ago today, "meltdown" became a reality. April 26, 1986 and explosion in Chernobyl's fourth reactor and subsequent fires during "an experiment" contaminated large swaths of territory in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Soviet authorities took two days to inform the world and their own people. There was no containment building for the reactors. The radiation that escaped went directly into the atmosphere. The disaster released over four hundred times more radiation than the atomic bomb of Hiroshima. The World Health Organization puts at 9,000 the number of people expected to die due to radiation exposure, while the environmental group Greenpeace predicts an eventual death toll of 93,000. Hundreds of thousands were evacuated. The United Nations says 7 million still live on land with unsafe radiation levels. Twenty years later. Still.
In 1979 when there was a partial meltdown in the core of the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, there were no radiation-related deaths or injuries, but the event itself took several days to control. There was plenty of debate about whether or not a full-scale evacuation of the surrounding area was necessary, but in the end, the reactor was brought back on line. The punch line: No nuclear plant has been built in the United States since 1978.
Ready for the really sick part? The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is still up and running. Feel free at this point to make your own Homer Simpson/Mr. Burns analogies, but it seems almost incomprehensible that something that messed up could be allowed to function. The concerns over nuclear energy are as real now as they were twenty years ago - whether the subject is building a new concrete sarcophagus to entomb the waste left over from Chernobyl or regulation of more "experimentation" by countries seeking to join the nuclear fraternity. Another mistake in this arena could make Hurricane Katrina look like a late summer shower.
Light a candle for all of us tonight.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gonna Have To Face It...

I know I'm putting a great big "freshness dated" sign on my forehead by saying that I can remember when MTV stood for "music television" and furthermore I have clear and distinct memories of the gallons dial spinning slower than the dollar dial on a gas pump. Heck, I can remember when there were dials on gas pumps, not these fancy-schmancy LCD readouts that whirl madly as the price of gasoline continues to creep into new and bizarre territory.
How much is too much? I've ruminated here in this blog before about the relative absurdity of the price of this and that. I have made the connection between the price of gas and the price of cigarettes. A pack of cigarettes runs somewhere between three and five dollars a pack, so we'll just call that four dollars for twenty cigarettes (don't start whining about "half-price" cigarettes on the Internet either) - that would make each cigarette worth twenty cents. This makes R.P. McMurphy's assertion (while playing poker in the day room) to Martini in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" that "If you break it in half, you don't get two nickels, you get shit. Try and smoke it. You understand?" Now you could get at least a dime for half a cigarette, so the exchange rate is going nowhere but up. My point is this: Smoking cigarettes, while causing death and birth defects, is still not so expensive that people have stopped doing it.
Pinhead George has told us that America is "addicted to oil." Watch us flinch mightily as we raise the pump nozzle to our tanks and listen to the distant whine of fossils finding their way into their final incarnation. Buy a hybrid and console yourself with the joy of getting forty to sixty miles per gallon, you can even use the carpool lane! It's still using gasoline.
What are we to do then? A new study finds that the supermassive black holes at the hearts of some galaxies are the most fuel efficient engines in the universe. "If you could make a car engine that was as efficient as one of these black holes, you could get about a billion miles out of a gallon of gas," said study team leader Steve Allen of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University. I guess that means it's up to a Cal Berkeley engineer to figure out how to get one of these babies underneath your hood for the 2008 model year.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

April 23, 2006 - 2,380 Dead

It's been a while since I mentioned this, but it seems that soldiers continue to die while attempting to install Democracy (version 2.0) in Iraq. The most recent count puts that number - confirmed by the Department of Defense - at two thousand three hundred eighty. Here's one way to think about that: There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League. Each team has a roster of sixty-five players, or two thousand eighty players. If you add in eight to ten coaches per team (coordinators, position coaches, etc.) then you start to approach this number. If the players and coaches of the National Football League disappeared, wouldn't everybody - okay, a whole lot of people be up in arms?
I went to a Peace March a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn't say that it was sparsely attended, but it didn't have the "Let's levitate the Pentagon" vibe of the sixties, nor did it have the righteousness of sheer multitudes. As Dave Mustaine of Megadeath so aptly put it in 1986, "Peace Sells, But Who's Buyin'?" The chorus says, "If there's a new way I'll be the first in line, But, it better work this time. Can you put a price on peace?" Twenty years ago.
Meanwhile back in this century, A Marine reservist returning home after eight months in
Iraq was told he couldn't board a plane to Minneapolis because his name appeared on a watch list as a possible terrorist. Instead of immediately meeting their families, other members of his unit waited on a bus for Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown. "We don't leave anybody behind," First Sgt. Drew Benson said. "We start together, and we finish together." Can you put a price on peace?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Greetings From Beyond

I never expected John Lennon to be the Beatle who would be communicating from beyond the grave. "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky." That would seem to imply a certain amount of skepticism for the possibility of an afterlife. Besides, wasn't Paul supposed to be dead first? It reminds me of a number of late night experiments in reel-to-reel tape recording and slowing down and speeding up "Revolution Number 9" carried out by my older brother and his friend. They were listening for clues: the crackling flames of a car burning, the dying moans of Paul (the cute one), and the cries of mourning. I remember how profoundly creepy I found that experience, and that was when they were all still really alive.
Well, all that ambivalence falls away when one hears about the recently conducted seance with John Lennon, available this Monday on pay-per-view. For just nine dollars and ninety-five cents, you can find out what "the smart Beatle" has on his mind (or consciousness) these days. Now that half of the group is gone, it's probably important to keep up with what is going on here and in the netherworld. The disembodied voice of Lennon will be heard speaking via Electronic Voice Phenomenon. "EVP" is based on a belief that spirit voices communicate through radio and TV broadcast signals. The seance was held in one of his favorite New York restaurants, La Fortuna.
This visit to the other side is brought to you by the same folks who made eight million dollars on a similar "psychic experience" in 2003, in which they tried to contact the departed spirit of Princess Diana. It reminds me of Harry Houdini's promise to his wife, after years of exposing fakes and charlatans, that he would attempt to reach his wife when he reached the Great Beyond. I wonder if Houdini would have made his return from the grave on pay-per-view. I know George wouldn't - the shy one.

Friday, April 21, 2006

We All Scream For Ice Cream!

Hey true believers (I always liked that when Stan Lee called me that) - it's time to check our reality meters as April showers bring the promise of May flowers. It seems that Ben and Jerry's, unit of Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever Plc, prides itself on its commitment to friendly business, and would therefore never do something as crude as naming a new flavor of ice cream after a notoriously violent British militia that operated during Ireland's war of independence.
Or perhaps they wouldn't if they had stopped long enough to consider their cleverness more carefully. The friendly folks over at Ben and Jerry's (and they really are friendly, just ask them) insist their new taste sensation is based on an ale and stout drink of the same name. "Any reference on our part to the British Army unit was absolutely unintentional and no ill-will was ever intended," said a Ben & Jerry's spokesman. "Ben & Jerry's was built on the philosophies of peace and love," he added.
Who were these British soldiers? The Black and Tans, so-called because of their two-tone uniforms, were recruited in the early 1920s to bolster the ranks of the police force in Ireland as anti-British sentiment grew. If it was intended as any sort of recognition of Irishness, the boys from Vermont missed - wide right.
But while we're at it, why stop there? I have a deep and abiding resentment for so-called "jam bands," and I believe that I would rather choke on my own vomit than eat a dessert called "Phish Food," and I'm still getting over September 11, so don't try to fudge coat any "New York Super Fudge Chunk" on me - okay? And doesn't "Cherry Garcia" glamorize substance use and wasn't Jerry diabetic anyway - God that's sick. But most of all I have a deep and crystalized resentment for "Chubby Hubby" - need I say any more?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Snow Daze

I remember it like it was yesterday: My brothers and I are huddled around the radio in the kitchen, none of us willing to take off our pajamas and therefore giving into the inevitable. We knew that there was a small window of time - essentially between six and eight in the morning - when the superintendent of schools could call off school. We listened to the local station, KBOL (1490 on your AM dial), and listened to each county, then each city, then individual schools within our hometown.
We understood that whatever storm that might close the public schools of Boulder County would have to be more than just a little skiff of snow or a sudden breeze. We were still paying for the "hurricane force wind" that roared through town one morning in March. More to the point, the gust of wind that blew through Boulder at approximately six AM at more than one hundred miles an hour. Doctor Benard D. "Pat" Ryan made the call and cancelled classes for all schools in the Boulder Valley School District. Trouble was, the rest of the storm never materialized. Just that one lusty blow, then blessed sunshine and singing birds. We took that day and were glad for it.
We were cursed with a completely sufficient bus system and a very efficient snow removal crew, and we knew that if the roads were clear, school was on. I could glamorize it further by declaring that I walked to school through blinding snow and drifts up past my knees, and I wouldn't be stretching the truth by much. A plague of frogs might have been too much to hope for, but if we could see out the windows, we were probably going to be in a classroom by eight thirty. On the oh-so-rare occasions that we got our wish - "All schools in Boulder Valley School District will be closed today" - we wasted little time shoveling in some breakfast and strapping on our boots and our knit hats to head outside - to play.
Ten years ago, in the middle of the night, John Yagielski watched his car burn outside his home and decided then and there to end his 30-year career in education. No one was ever arrested, but police believe the fire was set because school superintendent Yagielski (of the large suburban Shenendehowa Central school system) had extended the school day by forty minutes for a few weeks to make up for a snow day. Those kids in Shenendehowa don't know how lucky they had it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's A Teacher Thing

Teaching is a political act. My good friend the card-carrying communist (literally) told me this when we first signed up for this gig here in Oakland. If anyone would know, it's this guy. If you look up "the sixties" in an encyclopedia, you're probably going to see at least one picture with him in it. He dodged the draft. He protested the war. He roused a lot of rabble. When I realized that I was becoming part of a union when I became a teacher, I was woefully under-informed. I had spent a large chunk of my professional life prior to this on the management part of that equation. Being a union member wasn't easy for me, since I tended to see things from "the other side." Needless to say, this lead to a few lengthy discussions about my loyalty to the union. I am happy when collective bargaining brings me higher salaries or better health care, but I am firm in my commitment to the Groucho Marx axiom: "I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member."
Fast forward nine years, and here we are on the brink of a "work action." I had taken the job to help kids, not myself. I was committed to keeping my classroom of low-performing students in a low-performing school open the week before standardized testing (the measure of all things educational) was slated to begin. What good will one day do? What possible difference could it make? I'm not sure, but I haven't missed a day in two years with the fervent hope that one day really would make a difference.
All of that drama culminated this afternoon as I was dismissing my students. I told them that there would be a strike tomorrow, but I was coming to teach. More than half the class told me that they would be there too, to learn - to prepare for "The Test." The bell rang, and they left. Only moments after my room was free of kids did the cry come out from the office that there was an urgent communication from the State Adiminstrator, Doctor Randolph Ward. "In response to the planned strike, on Wednesday afternoon, the school district declared a 'state of emergency' and asked students to stay home from school because it believes that school service workers will also be honoring Thursday's strike, and the district wants to protect the safety of its students." I went back to the office, got my class list, and started calling parents. I told them that Doctor Ward had asked that they keep their children at home tomorrow. None of them protested. Most of them sighed and said, "Oh well."
Now I'm stuck without kids to teach. My little moral high ground was usurped by the State Adminstrator. I won't be crossing any picket lines tomorrow. I'm headed up to my son's school where I will help kids write letters to Doctor Ward, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, and Governor Schwarzenegger, and President Pinhead. I'll be working with kids. I will be teaching.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

News on the March

Let's see what's in the news today (shuffle, shuffle, shuffle). Well, how 'bout that? Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes finally had their baby. Says right here that it is human and apparently female. The planet breathes a collective sigh as the child is born into the world to continue the spiritual and creative lineage of the star of "Losin' It" and "Teaching Mrs. Tingle." At last I'll finally get some sleep...
Wait a minute. What's this? "Bush won't exclude Iran nuke strike." Okay, maybe there are one or two more pressing matters than the birth of "Suri" (What, all the "good names" like "Apple" and "Banjo" were taken?). Back at the underground lair that has become our nation's capital, asked if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush said: "All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so." To be fair, the United States is encouraging the imposition of sanctions before the use of "Nookyoolur" weapons becomes necessary.
Still, speculation about a U.S. attack has increased since a report in New Yorker magazine said this month the Bush administration was considering the option of using tactical nuclear weapons to knock out Iran's underground nuclear sites. Sadly, I used to read the New Yorker for the cartoons. Now I am stuck with this: "One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites." I want more funny pictures with captions I can pretend to understand.
Didn't these people see "Dr. Strangelove?"

General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
President Merkin Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war!
General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

The problem here is that it's the President who's got the wild-eyed look. Well, him and the flesh-eating cyborg he has for a vice-president. Maybe "Strangelove" isn't quite it after all. Maybe instead our lives are starting to resemble a David Cronenberg adaptation of a Stephen King novel. In "The Dead Zone" psychic Johnny Smith envisions a near future with a local politician who has worked and clawed his way into the Oval Office, and he is on the brink of his own "final solution":

Greg Stillson: Put your hand on the scanning screen, and you'll go down in history with me!
Five Star General: As what? The world's greatest mass murderers?
Greg Stillson: You cowardly bastard! You're not the voice of the people, I am the voice of the people! The people speak through me, not you!

Okay, now are you ready to look at some baby pictures from Tom and Katie? Keep watching the shiny object. You're getting sleepy. Very, very sleepy.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Don't Feel Like Satan, But I Am To Them

"I raise my hand in peace ...
I never bow to the laws of the thought police ...
I take a holy vow ...
to never kill again ...
"In the big hotels ...
in the mosques and the doors of the old museum ...
I take a holy vow ...
to never kill again."
- Neil Young, "Living with War"

These lyrics come from an upcoming album in which Neil makes his feelings about Iraq and our nation's Pinhead in Chief as clear as - well, as clear as Neil can make himself. Interesting change of pace from a Canadian who once came out in favor of the Patriot Act. Shortly after September 11, 2001, he recorded the song "Let's Roll," a tribute to passengers who apparently fought back against hijackers on doomed United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.
Neil's fondness for George Dubya has lessened to the point that he is now releasing an album that includes a track titled "Let's Impeach the President" (and not the guy who got an intern's blue dress all dirty - the guy after him).
Neil Young is no stranger to the protest song. In 1970, Young wrote and recorded "Ohio," a song about the four Kent State University students killed by National Guard troops during an anti-Vietnam war rally. "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, We're finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, Four dead in Ohio." It's not a stretch to imagine this guy won't be voting Republican in the next election.
Neil is also the guy who helps me refuel my teacher batteries. Aside from being an avid model train collector and twenty per cent owner of the Lionel Train Company, he is the guy who wrote these words for "Rockin' in the Free World": "That's one more kid that’ll never go to school/Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool." That's why I'm out there, fighting what I believe to be the good fight.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jesus Was Way Cool

"Jesus wept."
I remember this verse from the Bible only because of its length. Its the shortest verse in the Bible - John 11:35. Sadly, at this point in my life I do not believe that I can give you the context for his weeping, but heaven knows he had plenty of things to cry about.
I earned my Young Readers Bible by going to Sunday School at Boulder's First Methodist Church. I toiled away in the basement, filling in worksheets and answering questions about the Good Book. It was a fairly self-directed curriculum and I could move through it in much the same way I did math practice pages in "regular" school - I paced myself, but I stayed ahead of the other kids my age. I knew that I needed to finish before summer came because my family would be heading up to the mountains for three months and all that work would be for naught. Well, I suppose I could have come back in the fall and finished it off, but that would have been a hollow victory at best.
In the end, I was successful, and I carried that big old book out into the bright sunshine. And I read it too. I read that Bible as well as any young reader could. I liked the New Testament better than the Old, since there seemed to be more character development in the Gospels. In junioir high, there were a lot of kids who were getting involved in church youth groups - specifically my childhood sweetheart. My family had all but stopped going to church at all, but I had my big book of God and I turned to it for inspiriation. To be more precise, I started in memorizing bible verses again to try to impress a girl. I still remember John 16:24, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." There were others, but it seemed like this was the one that best fit my situation. If I never asked her to go out with me, how could my joy be full? This strategy only got me invitations to Bible study and more youth group meetings (which included Bible study).
In college I took a course called "The Bible As Literature." This renewed my appreciation for the stories - especially the Old Testament. Discovering the density of images and meaning was like reading it again for the first time. The New Testament, with its varied narrative point of view, became an exercise in spin before there was such a thing.
To recap: The Bible is a great book, easy enough to earn, but it will never get you chicks.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


It's that time of year when young people's thoughts turn to Spring Break, and love, and standardized tests. When I was a first year teacher, a friend of mine had his third grade class settled in for the first in a series of Language Arts tests. The entire school was eerily quiet. One of his girls,Britney, stood up, snaps her pencil in half and runs literally screaming from the room. What if you have a really bad day when you are taking this test that will decide the rest of your life?
It reminds me of my freshman year in college. I was sitting in my dorm room, poring over every image in Janson's History of Art when there is a knock at the door. Darren sticks his head in the door, "Beatles Night at Benny's Basement." I stared at the color plate of Theodore Gericault's "Mounted Officer of the Imperial Guard." I tried to place it in a larger thematic or stylistic context. What period was that? What year? French? Another knock at the door. "Beatles Night." I didn't look up from my book. The test was in twelve hours and I had to know the second half of the history of art back to front. Another knock. "Dollar pitchers." I closed the book. I surrendered and spent the next three hours singing Lennon and McCartney tunes at the top of my lungs while swilling cheap beer. The next morning came painfully quick. I skipped breakfast and went straight to my exam, giving myself fifteen more minutes to recover. I believe that I was still drunk for the first half of the test, and then the hangover set in. We looked at slides and had to identify their period, artist and influences. I could feel my eyes drying in their sockets. The writing in my blue book was painful and cramped. Then suddenly, it was over. I had survived and walked out into the midday sunshine.
When I got my paper back I was surprised and smug to see that I had received an A-minus. What is the lesson I learned? I learned to check the syllabus and compare it to the calendar of Benny's Basement.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Spring Break

I'm busy decanting my CD collection. To be more specific, I am taking all the compact discs out of their jewel cases and putting them along with their booklets and tray cards into thin plastic sleeves. Where there used to be ten I can now fit thirty. It's proving to be a great way to refamiliarize myself with the music that I already own, as well as the obvious feeling of accomplishment for saving all that space. It connects me to the mountain of music that I have acquired since the time that I chose to stop spending a large portion of my monthly paycheck on Lite beer from Miller. That great big pile of plastic is a monument to sobriety.
Or so I like to think. These days I don't feel the need to keep housing a tribute to what was essentially a life choice. I can't give them up though. I'm far too fond of at least one song on every single one of them to part with any part of the collection. So, I'm stuck with a rather dreary task that reminds me of music that I will never have enough time to fully enjoy, but knowing that they are there still provides me with great solace.
There are worse household projects to be mired in. I have spent entire spring breaks remodeling our kitchen. One year we did all the lower cabinets and installed a new sink, and last year we removed a thick layer of paint (as well as a layer of skin from my hands) from the doors of the upper cabinets, then covered them in wood veneer. Taking CDs out of their cases seems like a pretty refreshing way to go, by contrast.
Spring break was never a big deal for me anyway. For the most part, I used the opportunity to pick up more shifts at Arby's - or at the video store. Back in those days it seemed a little ridiculous to leave the state to go someplace else to get face-down when I could use the money I would spend on a plane ticket to buy more drugs and beer. Then one year I sobered up, and to celebrate that anniversary, I made a plan to meet a couple friends in Key West. When we arrived at our hotel after a beautifully relaxing drive in the moonlight through the upper Keys, the dazed manager looked at us with hollow eyes. "You're not spring breakers, are you?"
We assured him that we were all in fact college graduates, or something like that, to which he replied, "Well, good then. I won't have to charge you the extra two hundred dollar deposit on the room."
As the night turned to day, it became apparent why the manager had the look of a Viet Nam veteran. The couch in our room was supposed to be a pull out bed for one of us, but when we took off the couch, we found the message "Broken, Do Not Use!" scrawled in magic marker across the back of the mattress. When we went out to find some breakfast, we discovered a pair of high-top sneakers that had been burned down to the soles on the mat in front of the room next to ours. We were in the middle of the party zone. We did our best to fit in, having brought our designated drinker. Since we had rented a convertible, we agreed that no one was allowed to get in or out of the car via the doors. We saw some amazing sunsets and witnessed the phenomenon that would later spawn "Girls Gone Wild." We didn't go wild, we just took it all in. We were there because of a youthful fascination with the music and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett. That would be the stack in drawer number two.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Brokeback Galaxy

There is every reason to believe that without the aid of mind-altering chemicals I took one evening that I would never have fully understood just how queer James T. Kirk and Spock were queer for each other. I might have made the connection while I was straight, but something about the altered perspective of that night gave me new insight on the relationship between the Captain and his Science Officer.
The episode we stumbled on was "Amok Time." If you're not familiar with the original series, this is the one where Kirk discovers that Spock gets very cranky if he doesn't get his pointy little ears tickled every seven years or so. They change course (against Starfleet's command) to Vulcan, where we get a taste of arranged marriage, Vulcan-style. What plays out is vaguely reminiscent of "Fiddler on the Roof" - with Spock's intended choosing Kirk as her champion to battle his best friend for this woman he's never met. It gets Kirk's uniform torn, but also gets him dead. Or he appears to be. That wily Bones slips Kirk a Mickey to get him to look dead long enough to creep everybody out and send them back to the Enterprise where Spock is reunited with - Surprise! - a hale and hearty James T. Kirk. The payoff is when Kirk comes around the corner and Spock lurches forward, "Jim!" and you know that we were only an NBC censor away from TV's first man-on-Vulcan kiss. Of course, Spock abruptly regains his composure and Bones (isn't that name enough of a tip-off?) starts to rag on him about it.
And it's not just Spock who is holding it in. Check out the last reel of "Wrath of Kahn" for some serious male longing. After Spock gives his life to save the ship (come to think of it, both of these guys were a little too married to their jobs to ever really commit), Kirk gives his half-human friend and longtime companion a loving send-off to the strains of "Amazing Grace" (on bagpipes): "Of all the souls that I have encountered in my travels across the galaxy, his was the most," wait for it, "human!" I would suggest that he could have been more succinct by growling, "I can't quit you, you crazy half-breed!"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Cost of Solitude

It is a little alarming how quickly some of the grungy quiet habits of bachelorhood can sneak back into your life. I was left to my own devices just a few days ago, and already I am reveling in the simple joys of single life. None of that tawdry stuff that could get me in trouble later - it always ends up costing money or time or both somewhere down the line.
The things I'm talking about are the ones that maintain the solitary existence. Eating TV dinners in front of the TV is a good example. It should be noted that there are plenty of occasions when our whole family will drag their microwave-safe trays out to the living room for an evening of video. It should be further noted that the TV dinners in question were purchased for me by my wife before she handed the place over to me. Are you ready for the big difference? I eat when I'm ready. I don't wait for everyone else. I don't check to see if everybody has a napkin. If there's anything else I need, I can waddle on into the kitchen and fetch it myself.
You can tell how low impact this existence is by how empty the dishwasher is. Before I moved to California and started living with the woman who became my wife, I lived in an apartment where the dishwasher never got used. I used a bowl and spoon each morning for my granola. The cup I used for juice was the same one I used at dinner for water and the one fork I used got washed with its partners at the end of a week. In the last month that I lived in my bachelor pad I had some friends over for ice cream sundaes and we dirtied a great number of dishes. We loaded the dishwasher and the next morning before I went to work I turned it on. When I came home that evening, the floor was soaked and the whole place smelled like a wet dog. Apparently the rubber seal on the dishwasher had ceased to be useful because it had dried and cracked from so many months of disuse. The carpet and the machine had to be replaced. They might have raised my rent if I wasn't moving out in two weeks.
So there is my point: Isolation is cheaper than fraternization. That being said, I miss my family.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Queen for a Day

If it's good to be king, as Tom Petty and others have observed for many years, then it's even better to be queen. Queen Elizabeth II will turn eighty years young on April 21, and I have to say that she doesn't look a day over - well, she certainly looks regal, doesn't she?
What do you get the woman who doesn't actually have everything, but she knows where to send her servants to fetch it? She owns all the dolphins and whales that swim in British waters. She got her first pony when she was five (I suspect that she didn't even have to whine much) and she presently owns twenty-five race horses. Other thoughtful gifts over the years have included Brazilian jaguars and a grove of Maple trees. This considerable menagerie would not be complete without the thirty-odd Corgi dogs that have been her constant canine companions for her entire reign.
Meanwhile, Queen Liz shows no signs of slowing down. Prince Charles must harbor some dark fantasies about leaving the latch of the jaguar's cage open, or maybe a nice cruise out on the open sea to visit some of the royal sturgeon, "See Mummy? I think that one's waving to you! No, look just a little closer..." I believe that the Queen has yet to step down because the notion of retiring seems so absurd. In Canada, she gets to be the flip side of their coins opposite a beaver - silly Canucks. How does she manage all her royal duties and find time to make the 1,450 Christmas puddings that she gives each year as gifts? Heaven only knows.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save the Queen. - traditional

God save the Queen,
She ain't no human being - Johnny Rotten

Monday, April 10, 2006

Got Your Number

I'm glad to hear that the buses and trains are rolling again in Denver. Their Regional Transportation District suffered a week-long strike that ended with concessions being made on wages as well as health care. That's good news, but I can't help but feel just a little responsible.
When I was a sophomore, I rode my bike or walked the two miles to Boulder High School on the days that I couldn't finagle a ride from my parents (a fairly rare occurrence). On the way home one day, I spotted a brown square of plastic with the number four painted on it. I recognized it immediately as the number from an RTD bus, route four. This was back in the olden days before the advent of fancy computerized LED readouts in the front and back of every bus. I considered my options for a moment or two, then popped that ten-inch square into my backpack between my spiral notebook and my algebra book. When I got home, I mounted my trophy on the wall of my room. It was quite the conversation piece for weeks after, "Hey, what's that?"
"It's a bus number."
"Really? Where'd you get it?"
"Found it."
"Really? You stole it, right?"
I am proud to say that I stole none of the bus numbers that eventually adorned the walls of my bedroom. Most of them (the two, the five and the six) came to me the same way the first one did, as a souvenir of my walk home as I crossed a number of different bus routes. The three and the seven remained elusive for some months, and on separate occasions I was awarded first with a number three, and then the seven. The seven was especially hard-won, since it was not only a route that went east of town and was made of tin - not the traditional plastic.
At last the collection was complete, but the numbers kept coming. Friends kept bringing them to me. "Did you need a six still?" "I thought the five you had was pretty scratched up." Others started to create and manage their own bus number collections. I heard stories of how souls more daring than myself would wait at the transfer station and wait for a bus to start to pull away from the curb - and that's when they would slide the number out of the aluminum rail frame on the back. It added an element of danger and criminality with which I wasn't comfortable.
One day I dragged home a Stop sign. Then a "Fishing For Fun Area" sign with the rules and regulations which I hung directly above the toilet in my bathroom. For three years my room filled with various bits of civic property. My brothers dabbled in this realm of interior decorating as well. When I finally went off to college, my parents were stuck with three sons worth of road signs, pylons, flashing barricades, and bus numbers. In the dead of night after all three of us had moved out of the house, my father loaded all our ill-gotten booty into the station wagon and unloaded it stealthily on the steps of the Municipal Building. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Some twenty-five years after the fact, I have no way of knowing what my friends' parents did with all the bus numbers that found their way into their homes. It is because of this that I still feel, at least vaguely, responsible for the fiscal challenges faced by the Denver metro area's Regional Transportation District. Again, on behalf of myself and my cohorts, my most sincere apologies.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Let Nothing Come Between Us

At the corner, I waited for eye contact with the driver who sat at the light, waiting to turn right. I was running in place, to keep my heart rate up and my legs from cramping. She was chatting on her cell phone looking for oncoming traffic, not acknowledging the crosswalk that her Sports Utility Vehicle was straddling. Even though I had a "walk" signal, I waited for some outward response that would tell me that I wouldn't be crushed under her wheels. Then the "don't walk" signal started flashing. She finished her conversation (for the moment) and made her turn. Now The light was yellow heading my way, so I waited for another cycle for the light to cross the street.
Much has already been written and said about the way we feel invisible when we are inside our cars. There is a whole "Seinfeld" episode about being caught "in flagrante nostril" - other people can see you with your finger in your nose. This notion stands in stark contrast with the "merge wave" that drivers across the globe insist upon before letting someone in on the highway, exit ramp, or parking lot. This is the moment where the windshield really is just a piece of glass and you expect to see through it and the glass that separates the other guy from you as well. Once everybody is back in line, the glass returns to opaque and we go about our day.
There is a similar interaction between runners and bike riders: The head bob that occurs just before you pass someone else heading the opposite direction. It usually includes some faint grimace that reminds the other that there is physical exertion involved. If you don't have your ipod turned up too loud, you can sometimes hear a groan or wheeze as well.
The problem comes when you try to mix the two. Try to get a motorist's attention if you are trying to get across a busy street. If you're driving your car and trying to wave the bicyclist in front of you across before you turn left, you know the difficulty. Maybe this is how we can solve the crisis in the Middle East: get everybody on bicycles. It works great in China...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Judas Priest

Judas was an alright guy after all, it seems. Two thousand years after the fact, it turns out that we had this guy all wrong. He was a favorite after all. He only ratted his boss out because he was told to. "You will be cursed by the other generations and you will come to rule over them," Jesus tells Judas in the "Gospel of Judas," released earlier this week. Apparently he was only following orders.
This text was found in the 1970's in Egypt and is only now coming to light thanks to the National Geographic Society (and you thought they were only good for pictures of waterfalls and naked natives). This version of the gospel was first mentioned around A.D. 180 by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, in what is now France. The bishop denounced the manuscript as heresy because it differed from mainstream Christianity. It was in the 1970's that I discovered my own personal Judas (cue the Depeche Mode here). "Jesus Christ Superstar" depicts a very sympathetic Judas. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber begin their testament with Judas confronting Jesus and questioning his rise to - well - superstardom. Judas' betrayal of Jesus comes at the urging of Caiaphas, and once his holiness is arrested and taken away, the guilt drives Judas to hang himself.
At this point my story diverges slightly from the text with the breathless recollection from my mother about seeing Ben Vereen descending from the rafters in a silver jockstrap. Ben played Judas on Broadway and it was one my mother's peak life experiences to behold thisfieryy spirit unleash his venom on the martyred Christ:

"Every time I look at you
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication"

"Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom," Jesus says to Judas, In the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, singling him out for special status. "Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star." A Superstar, no doubt, but alas no mention of a silver jockstrap.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Goodbye Mister Chips and Salsa

Last night the family went out to dinner at Chevy's. It's not our usual food court rendezvous, but it was for a good cause. We were there along with a goodly number of other parents and teachers who brought their families to help raise money for my son's school. It was a fresh-mex-fajita-fiesta for everyone who attended, but there was something else.
I was struck by how excited my son was to look up and see his third-grade teacher eating at the table across from us. "Isn't that a little creepy - having dinner with your teacher?" I asked.
He didn't take the bait. "No dad. Geez." And with that he went bounding over to talk to his teacher, who spent a fair amount of time chatting him and a friend up, considering he was there with his wife and two small children. I felt very happy for my son to have that experience.
Then jealousy set in. What, I wondered, would my students do in that same situation? Would they run to sit at my feet as I pontificated and joked with them? Would they make the slightest sign of recognition? If I'm being completely honest, I think I would have to give a qualified maybe. For most kids it's a big enough twist in their reality to see their teacher walking down the street just outside of the school, let alone at a restaurant. The one that creeps the kids in my class out the most is when they see me riding my bike to and from school. "I saw you yesterday on your bike." They say.
"Don't you have a car?"
"Yes I do."
"Why don't you drive it?"
"To save gas, cut down on pollution, save money, and so my wife can use it to take my son where he needs to go."
Then we're done. Do I wish it went on from there? Sure I do. Maybe something like, "Gee Mister Caven, maybe I could ride my bike to school someday too to save gas like you, " or "Wow, I never thought about how much pollution one car could make." Every so often I see a former student who has moved on to middle school and they ask if I'm still riding my bike. It's flattering that they remember me.
I once had a discussion with some friends about favorite movies in which we determined that it is likely that somewhere there has to be somebody waiting for the special director's cut DVD of "Anaconda." Somewhere out there is a student for whom I will be their favorite teacher, and I have statistics to prop that assertion up.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pop Culture Is Still Culture

About sixteen years ago, I to together with a couple of my buddies for a trip to Key West. The whole island is a conch-fueled fantasy for Jimmy Buffett fans. I say this because I had a special moment of recognition when I found myself walking down Caroline Street. What's the big deal? Steve Goodman and Jimmy Buffett wrote a song titled "Woman Goin' Crazy On Caroline Street" for the "Havana Daydreamin'" album. And there I was, going crazy with the recognition of being in a real place referenced in a song. Keep in mind I was just a few blocks from Hemingway's house, and probably even closer to the Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant - but this was the obscure reference that made me stop and say, "Huh."
Another moment like this came on one of my visits to the Bay Area before relocating here. My wife, who was then just my girlfriend, was driving me through Marin on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. She looked up as we made a turn and pointed. "That railroad bridge was in 'Dirty Harry' I think." I knew in an instant exactly what she was talking about. Near the end of the film, Harry stands on a railroad bridge and jumps onto the school bus that the bad guy has hijacked. It was another moment of media crystallizing with my mundane life. I think I decided to marry her then and there.
Then there was the strange case of the Timberline Lodge and the Stanley Hotel. I knew that Stephen King had based his novel "The Shining" on his experience with an old hotel in the mountains of Colorado - the Stanley. When the movie was made, there was a very brief establishing shot of the foothills outside of Boulder, then the action moved up to the hotel. Only this wasn't the Stanley. It was a beast of a place in Oregon called the Timberline Lodge at the foot of Mount Hood. When I lived in Colorado, I made a few trips to the Stanley, once with the expressed purpose of getting drunk just like the main character, Jack Torrance. I sat down at the bar and asked the bartender for a "Martian" - just like Jack did in the book. The bartender rolled his eyes and asked if I wanted him to call me "Mister Torrance" and tell me "Your money's no good here." I slumped back on my bar stool and finished my martini in silence. Years later, while visiting friends in Oregon, I had a chance to walk up to the Timberline Lodge. It was every bit as imposing as the slate grey sky that hung above it. I didn't drink anymore by that time, so I had a cup of cocoa and imagined the goings-on in its labyrinthian interior. Stanley (coincidental first name?) Kubrick filmed the rest of the film on stages in England, so there was no haunted rooms to visit there.
These days I wander around streets that may have been traveled by Jack London and Gertrude Stein. I keep waiting for that same little charge, but I think it's more likely I'll feel that way the next time I wander across Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, looking for Elaine and Benjamin.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

How Soon?

Are you ready for September 11 all over again? Theater chains are anxiously waiting to see how "United 93" will be received. If you aren't up on your recent American History, United 93 refers to the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania before it reached its intended target five years ago this fall. "One of the reasons why Flight 93 exerts such a powerful hold on our imaginations is precisely because we don't know exactly what happened," says the film's director, Paul Greengrass (best known for his work on "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Bloody Sunday"). It's a nagging bit of time that cries out for definition.
I sat on the couch a few months ago, dazed and terrified by A&E's "Flight 93" - the TV movie version of the same event. My wife and I watched the inevitable unfold, and tried to imagine those moments of lingering goodbye. The politics ceased to be important, just good guys and bad guys. Sure enough, the plane hit the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and then everything else changed.
I remembered walking up the stairs in my mother's house after watching "The Day After" back in 1983. I leaned on the kitchen sink and looked out the window into the street that was still there. I pushed the horror of nuclear war back to my subconscious as I stared at the lights from the living rooms across in the neighborhood. The events depicted in that movie never happened, but they could have. It was an economy-size "What If" designed to make the unthinkable just a little more tangible.
The events of September 11, 2001 don't live in that world anymore. Wars are being fought, business is being conducted and lighters are being confiscated because of what happened that day. Oliver Stone is gearing up his rendition, and Adam Sandler will star as a man who lost his family on September 11 and is still grieving. The Hollywood machinery is beginning its digestion of the people and times and places. I'm not sure I'm ready just yet to dive in again. I don't usually get through Bruce Springsteen's "You're Missing" without a tear.

"Pictures on the nightstand, TV's on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you're missing, you're missing"

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


We're not going to have Tom DeLay to kick around anymore. "The Hammer" will not be seeking re-election to his seat in the House of Representatives. Last year Tommy lost his post as Republican majority leader in the House after he was indicted for alleged election law violations and was implicated in the expanding Abramoff scandal. If every picture tells a story, then you really need to check out this guy's mug shot from the day that he surrendered to authorities on those charges. He looks alarmingly chipper for someone who was just booked on conspiracy and money laundering charges.
Even though he had vowed to stay and fight the good fight, Tom is packing it in as yet another one of his top aides pleaded guilty to crimes connected to the corruption scandal surrounding convicted mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Still, it makes you wonder, since in early March he easily beat three Texas primary foes in his first election since the indictment. I guess Texas voters are more forgiving than most.
Now he's leaving that all behind. He is planning on quitting at the end of May, after all the spending bills have been pushed through the House Appropriations Committee (of which he is a member). In announcing his retirement, DeLay said he would move to his Virginia home and work promoting conservative causes. If that includes money laundering and conspiracy, I think they've got their man.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Poor Howard

Poor Howard Stern. His listeners number only in the millions. His listeners on the Sirius Satellite Radio Network. His listeners who pay the Sirius Satellite Radio Network $12.95 a month for the privilege of listening to all of Howard's broadcast antics. That's less than fifty cents a day, but right now only four million people are taking advantage of this opportunity. "I was just at my psychiatrist and I said, `I just got great news: We hit the 4 million mark. And I'm angry. It should be 20 million,'" Stern says in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Here comes my disclaimer: I was never a big fan of Howard Stern. I appreciate him in that Lenny Bruce/George Carlin kind of way where he exists after a point simply to stir things up, morality-wise. I can't say that I was ever particularly offended by what he did or said, it just never quite struck me as funny. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the radio station out here that used to carry Howard's program bumped a local guy in favor of playing his show (based in New York) out here (in the Bay Area) on tape. That "local guy" was (is) Alex Bennett, who can now be found gracing the satellite airwaves on - ready? - Sirius Satellite Radio. I was fond of Alex's show. He was a bit of a curmudgeon, and he regularly had A-list comedians on to riff mightily into the morning drive-time slot.
Okay, I'm happy to embrace a new technology. I've even considered satellite radio as a window into commercial-free music and talk. I pay for Tivo. I pay for digital cable. Why not pay for satellite radio? Here's how Howard Stern is pitching his show to his audience: "I want to say to my audience ... `You haven't come with me yet? How dare you? We're up to wild, crazy stuff, the show has never sounded better. You cheap bastard!'"
Sorry Howard, if that's your pitch, I'll be dialing up my FM dial for a while longer. I hope he gets to feeling better soon.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Golden Door

Are you familiar with the Minuteman Project? This isn't a secret missile project, or even a study of faulty male plumbing. "The Minuteman Project (MMP) is a citizens' Vigilance Operation monitoring immigration, business, and government." Oh, and by the way, they are "Americans doing the jobs Congress won't do."
And just what job would that be? Securing our borders. Well, they're pretty much okay with the stray Canadian or two wandering into Montana by mistake - Minutemen watching the border up north won't be wearing sidearms, but the flood of illegal immigration from down south - well that's another matter. Don Goldwater, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor, said he had a message for President Bush"Build us that wall now!" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just a scant quarter century after Ronald Reagan's impassioned plea for Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, we have the nephew of the late Barry Goldwater promising that if elected, he would put illegal immigrants in a tent city on the border and use their labor to build the wall. Apparently these folks' sense of outrage has become so highly developed that they can no longer sense irony.
Jim Gilchrist, Minuteman-in-command had this to say about last week's demonstrations in Los Angeles (and elsewhere): "These armies of bused-in demonstrators who have converged on Los Angeles, most of whom are in the U.S. illegally, are demanding citizen rights, privileges, and benefits, and threatening that if their demands are not met, then the ultimatum is anarchy." I'm wondering when the last time Jim visited the screaming Metropolis and melting pot that is New York City. I wonder if he has ever considered the three hundred foot reminder of some of our country's principles, standing out on the eponymously named Liberty Island (another case of immigration related name-change, it was once "Bedloe's Island"). A plaque with the text of the poem "The New Colossus" was mounted in 1903 on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Written by American poet Emma Lazarus , the most famous lines read: "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Chris Simcox, the Minuteman group's national leader, said four watering stations placed by the group Humane Borders to keep migrants from dying in the desert will be among the sites under surveillance. Last year, more than 400 people died trying to cross the desert, many from dehydration or heat exposure, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
"We watch them all the time," Simcox said of the water stations. "It's a great place to report illegal activities." Is it just me, or does this start to conjure up mental images of Wile E. Coyote setting out "Free Bird Seed" signs to catch road runners?
My favorite thing about the Minuteman site? I finally have an answer to the problem with education here in the United States: "The education system is being destroyed by anti-American teachings that encourage the destruction of the constitution." I'm not sure, but I think they're talking about algebra.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Misspent Youth

One of the first things you learn in Teacher School these days is "Don't Ever Play Dodge Ball." I considered this solid advice as well as validation for all the times I had been pummeled within an inch of my young life during a "friendly game" of dodge ball. I lost track of the number of times that I caught a flattened soccer ball square in the face, sending my glasses skittering across the floor, often with a trickle of blood from my nose just for effect.
Aside from the obvious lessons in Darwinian evolution, what else does this game provide society? It's an outlet for aggression, but if that was supposed to be the end of it, well I can't understand why I was still getting punched in the shoulder later in the day - "two for flinching." There was still plenty of aggression left for the dodge ball pros to pound out the rest of the day. Dodge ball is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance these days. "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller is probably the most obvious sign of this resurgence. There is a National Amateur Dodgeball Association, whose web site assures us that "Dodgeball is now safe and more enjoyable with rubber coated foam balls, safety conscious rules, and a festive tournament atmosphere." Yeah, right.
I guess they should have been around last month when a youth minister was charged with assault for allegedly knocking a 16-year-old boy down and kicking him in the groin after taking a head shot from the teen in a dodgeball game. Authorities said the teen missed David M. Boudreaux with one throw but then knocked the youth minister's glasses off with the next. The boy apologized, authorities said, but Boudreaux pushed him backward, and when the teen got up again, Boudreaux kicked him in the groin and left. So much for "turning the other cheek." I guess these guys hadn't been reading up on the "new" dodge ball - again I quote from their web site: "Teamwork and strategy are more valuable factors in dodgeball than athletic skill and individual competitiveness. Anyone can play! Experience is countered by enthusiasm. Dodgeball promotes maximum social enjoyment."
Well thanks, but I think I'll stick to something safe - like "Bloody Knuckles."