Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Birthday Salute

Another trip around the sun - it's what my older brother always asks for on his birthday. That also means that the Christmas season is now officially upon us, since sundown on his birthday begins the holiday countdown. That is why I pause and reflect on this day of all days, upon the gifts that he has given me.
I got my first Pink Floyd album from him. He gave me "Wish You Were Here." I credit him with going past the simple, go-to of "Dark Side of the Moon." He opened my ears to a world of music that existed just beyond the three-minute pop song. Many years later, when I got my first CD player, he gave me the CD and I listened to it on repeat through my headphones as I fell asleep on Christmas eve.
I have many more musical memories of my older brother. I learned the bass lines of every Beatles song ever recorded by hearing them through the floor of my room, that was just above his in the basement. When "Yellow Submarine" was released in 1969, we burned up the phone lines to KIMN, requesting it to be played even more than the hourly turnaround it was getting. Later I was the lucky recipient of a number of his Apple recordings - which I subsequently surrendered in a fit of hormonal angst to my high-school sweetheart.
And I dropped the Toyota pickup he gave me into an Aspen grove at the top of Magnolia Road. I wasn't always careful with the gifts I received, alas. I didn't always realize what I was getting until I had used it up. I was younger, and I'm afraid, I didn't always appear grateful. He plowed the way through school ahead of me, alerting me of trouble and possibilities. He broke my parents in, making my way considerably easier. He gave up his room in the basement for me, where I played all those Beatles albums myself.
Happy birthday, and here's to another trip around the sun.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Good Night, David Lee Roth, Wherever You Are

We were driving to Alameda this evening to take advantage of the Back To School sale at Mervyn's (that ended up taking advantage of us, as is usually the case), when I spotted a sign in a storefront: "Happy Trails - Unique Gifts." I had an immediate visceral memory from my freshman year in college. In Colorado Springs, stumbling distance from our freshman dorm, there was a head shop called "Happy Trails." When I got home, I did a quick search of Al Gore's Internet to see if I could find a listing for "Happy Trails" in Alameda or Colorado Springs.
Alas, there was no listing for the Springs, but Alameda popped up immediately. From their site: "The store began as an old furniture and collectibles store which quickly grew into northern CaliforniaÂ’s favorite place to buy American pop culture gifts, novelties and memorabilia."
Well, that's mighty quaint, but what if I want to buy unique gifts and, ahem, "smoking accessories?" Back in the early eighties, if you wanted to buy a Led Zeppelin tapestry, a black light, and a mighty-pistol-grip-death bong, you hitched your wagon and headed for Happy Trails. "Rock and roll your own with a wide variety of skins" we were urged by their radio ad. There were times that it seemed like they were the only advertisers on KILO-FM (subtle reference, no?).
I remember the smell, or the variety of odors available, beginning at the doorway with a wave of patchouli. This was no doubt a ploy to throw off the drug-sniffing dogs who would have been better served listening to the radio ads. There was hemp. There was the scent of freshly silk-screened Rush T-shirts. Clouds of assorted incense wafted through the aisles. There was plenty of "fresh air" being pushed through the air conditioning, primarily to compensate for the claustrophobic feeling of the shop itself. And over all of this hung the aroma of burning weeds. I never saw anybody smoke anything on the premises, but that must have been only because I didn't hang around long enough.
Years later, when I moved back to Boulder to further my education, I wandered into The Pipefitter, across the street from the University of Colorado. Grateful Dead shirts held sway, but theparaphenaliaa was there for all to see and examine. This was another time.
But no matter - back to Happy Trails: Maybe the same fate awaited the Colorado Springs store that came upon a shop in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1976, Roy Rogers caught wind of a string of stores using the name of his theme song to sell "pipes and other items looking suspiciously like drug paraphernalia." Roy threatened to shut them down, but succeeded in cutting their name in half, becoming "Trails" overnight.
And so I have my patchouli-scented memories of an age that has passed.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.
Good night, David Lee Roth, wherever you are.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

And Of Course, There Will Be Scandal

The FBI is investigating "Painter of Light" Thomas Kinkade. Maybe you'd expect some sort of art forgery scam, or maybe a scheme to move sensitive, confidential government secrets hidden on the backs of colorfully painted canvases. Who doesn't love a messy scandal involving artist types? Men in berets, women in outrageous hats and enormous sunglasses - it could be so interesting. According to reports, the FBI is looking into claims that Kinkade "exploited his Christianity to persuade people to invest in the galleries, which sell only Kinkade's work."
Exploited his Christianity? "These dealers became investors primarily because they were believers in faith, love, family and God, and the paintings reflect those values," said Joseph Ejbeh, a Rochester Hills, Michigan-based attorney. Poor business planning and operations forced the galleries to fail, and the thought was that this was Kinkade's way of devaluing his own company so that he could buy it "on the cheap."
Have you ever seen a Thomas Kinkade painting? Look if you must, but here's a sample of the master's own description of his piece, "Sunrise Chapel: "I've employed my most dramatic color scheme in years to suggest the radiance of God's love. Wispy clouds illuminated by the barely visible sun reflect in the silvery mirror of the brilliant lake waters, announcing the dawn of a new day filled with discovery, hope, and beauty." Ten million American homes have a Thomas Kinkade painting in them. Dewy, sun-dappled, Bible-verse inspired paintings by the truckload.
It all puts me in mind of the commercials I remember from my youth: "Starving artists' sale - Sofa-sized paintings - Prices slashed! Everything must go!" Then I drift lazily to the work of the late, great Bob Ross, he of the "happy little clouds" on PBS's "Joy of Painting" - a sort of Doug Henning for the oil and easel set. Finally, I settle on the images of my earliest memory of oil painting: Morris Katz. We had two of Morris' paintings in our house as I was growing up. They were thick pieces. He may have worked fast, but you got your money by the pound. I was inspired, briefly, to emulate his pallet knife technique in a series of paintings when I was about twelve years old. I went through a few tubes of cadmium yellow trying to get the fires of Hell just right. Maybe I just wasn't exploiting my Christianity.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Putting a Finger in the Dike

President Pinhead said Monday the huge job of rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina was just beginning a year after the massive storm but expressed hope that the $110 billion of help sent from Washington would be enough. He issued this proclamation from Biloxi, Mississippi - the place where he got his first-hand photo-op exposure to the devastation left in the wake of last year's biggest natural and political disasters. Of the $110 billion in hurricane aid approved by Congress, just $44 billion has been spent. Overall, the administration has released $77 billion to the states, reserving the rest for future needs.
The line for taking pot-shots at FEMA, Pinhead, and the rest of the inept machine that allowed so much suffering forms to the right. Homeowners who are living in government supplied trailers on or near their own property are asked to make way for those individuals who have yet to receive their "deluxe" accommodations from the government. Those who lost loved ones in the week that it took to get medical aid and supplies to those most in need are also given first whack.
And if you don't believe me, tune in tomorrow, when Pinhead Once lands in Louisiana and the folks there get their shot. House Democrats on Monday toured devastated areas of New Orleans and decried the slow pace of recovery. "I think the American public is going to be very, very surprised to know this recovery is way, way behind what their expectations would have been," Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina said after a tour that took more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress through the heavily hit Ninth Ward. "It's hard to believe this is the United States," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Blue Note

Maynard Ferguson passed away this week. For some this name will ring a bell instantly, the bell of a trumpet. For those of you who may not have had the opportunity, Maynard (real name Walter) was a musician and band leader of world-wide renown. He had several nicknames, "Iron Lip," and ironically for me, "The Boss."
My fascination with Maynard Ferguson began years before my infatuation with Bruce Springsteen. As a member of the band in my junior high school, I was always looking for a role model in my chosen section: low brass. My older brother had caught the MF fever ahead of me, and I was introduced to the roar of his horn from a mix tape that included a version of "MacArthur Park" recorded for the "M.F. Horn" album. Then came "Paligacci" from "Primal Scream, " for which we sang along "No more Rice Krispies - there will be no more Rice Krispies."
And "Chameleon." And "Gospel John." This guy played trumpet like a rock star. We flinched a little at his commercial success with "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)," but this was still a musician, not a pop idol.
He came to the Boulder High School while my brother was there to do a benefit for the music program. Maynard Ferguson in the same auditorium my brother played his concerts - the same auditorium I would someday play mine. I thought the roof might come off the place. I remember seeing the "Superbone" in person: a hybrid of trumpet and trombone. It was a revelation of sorts for me. It brought those triple-C's of the Iron Lip down to a place where the low brass could swing with it. Years later, as leader of the Boulder High Pep Band, I perfected my own "screech tuba" technique.
Goodnight, Maynard. Your chops have earned a rest.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Intellectual Property

My wife is in the other room, watching "The Ron Clark Story." It tells the inspirational tale of a teacher who chooses to go to Harlem to be heartwarming.
Okay, okay - there's more to it than that, and I confess that I watched a few minutes and was amused by a few scenes. There was a moment when Mr. Clark was attempting to get his students' attention for a grammar lesson, and he told them that he would drink a carton of chocolate milk every fifteen seconds if they were quiet and listened to the lesson. "You might learn something, and I might throw up."
It made me think of all the things that I have stolen from other teachers over the years. Not things like staplers and three-hole punchers (though I think I still have a couple of those in my desk). I'm talking about the good ideas that make a classroom work. Little things like "1, 2, 3, eyes on me," or big things like a monetary system for my students. My students get a dollar for showing up to school on time, and another for completing their daily homework. These dollars won't buy them an X-Box, but they will pay for such indiscretions as an extra trip to the bathroom, or chewing gum. Saying "shut up" costs two dollars.
And there's still so much left to learn. This year hasn't even started, and I'm already planning responses to parents I haven't met yet. I'm anticipating interactions with kids who only know of me, they don't know me yet. And I don't know them. This will all happen soon enough, but for now, I think I'm going to watch a movie about firemen, or circus performers, or farm animals. The first day of school is coming - soon.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dance Just Like A Casanova

I've had my head so buried in classroom preparation this past week that a certain news item slipped past my careful notice. As a result, I was confounded by the question I received as I went into work this morning about "Mister Family Man." At first, I tried to make some connection to Fox's animated TV show, but that didn't seem right, since that's "Family Guy" not "Mister Family Man."
I must have been standing there for a little too long with my jaw slack, because all was suddenly made plain for me: "The Boss is getting a divorce." Show biz marriage on the rocks, I know it well - but Bruce Springsteen? As a member of the rabid fan base that attempts to account for the Bruce's every move, I didn't see this coming. Or maybe I chose not to see it coming.
A few months back, I was getting my Springsteen mojo on as I looked forward to the Seeger Sessions show for which I felt lucky to have tickets. I ignored the Internet jabber about the relative lameness of this particular tour ("Gee, I can't wait to hear 'Froggie Went A'Courtin' live..."). Then I got an e-mail from a friend - a friend who has been telling me for fifteen years that Bruce has "lost his edge." She suggested in her message that the Boss might be taking Botox. I looked at the photo she enclosed and dismissed the wrinkle-free forehead as a show of the fierce intensity that we have all come to treasure at sold-out show after sold-out show.
The Seeger Session Show wasn't sold out. People were walking up to the box office the night of the show to get seats - good ones. A lot of people didn't go to that show, including Mrs. Springsteen, Patti Scialfa. "She's probably getting the kids ready for another year at school. They're so lucky to have such a functional relationship in the midst of all this fame."
Or not. So, we keep waiting for some proof. John Michael Karr may be a murderer or a media slut. Floyd Landis might be an inspirational story of triumph over adversity or another steroid case in a yellow jersey. We don't have proof. Does that mean that I'll be any less chagrined if it turns out that Bruce Springsteen is a philanderer? We got "Tunnel of Love" out of the last divorce, maybe he's just looking for some fresh tunes. Like the man said, "It's so hard to be a saint in the city."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

God of the Underworld - Big Deal

I am certain that there are a number of elementary school teachers in the same situation I am in: I have spent the past four days getting my classroom ready for the beginning of the school year, and now I have to start all over. Why? Because some oh-so-clever astronomers got it into their heads to reclassify Pluto. It used to be that the question was not "What is Pluto," since we all knew the answer. Pluto is Mickey Mouse's dog. Goofy was the question mark.
Well, not anymore. Pluto is now classified as belonging to the much less exclusive club of "dwarf planet." Experts say there could be dozens of dwarf planets catalogued across the solar system in the next few years. Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."
So, how could this possibly impact the past four days of my life? I've got a shelf full of science textbooks that are now out of date. I know that I can create some fascinating banter with fourth graders about the shape and size and what constitutes a planet, but I'm going to have to learn it myself. And I'll have to add it to the exceptions to the things that they have all spent years learning just so we can tell them that "gh" really sounds like "f." And then there's classroom management. Some teachers use alphabetical order to run things. Others prefer to use students' lunch numbers to keep things orderly. I had foolishly believed that I might utilize some groupings based on the nine planets. "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas." This was the mnemonic device I learned in some prior age for remembering the order of the planets - back when Pluto was part of the club. I suppose I could just go back to having eight groups, and I suspect that I will get around to creating some new, clever way to keep track of the sufficiently massive, self-gravitational, nearly-round, neighborhood cleared orbit objects in the solar system.
Finally, if you can't work up any sympathy for me on this matter, consider the fate of "New Horizons," a spacecraft launched this year to examine Pluto. From the New Horizon web page: "Under proposed International Astronomical Union definitions, two planets that orbit each other around a barycenter (or center of mass) between them are a binary planet. Those same definitions would expand the "family" of planets to include Charon, promoting Pluto's large companion from moon to planet and securing the pair's status as the first and (so far) only binary planet in the solar system." Somebody should have given the guys at NASA a little heads-up as to what was coming about this whole planet-definition thing. New Horizon isn't expected to reach the newly christened "dwarf planet" until 2015. Do you suppose by then that anybody will care? If we had to lose a planet, why couldn't it be the one that makes everybody nervous to say? Go ahead - you know which one I mean.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dick Tater

Captain Kirk looks pained. "We all know from our history - Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, Hitler, Zednorb of Vilvus 5..." It's a science fiction trick: Put in two or three real examples, and then toss in some ridiculous futuristic/galactic sounding topper to give it some context. How evil was Napoleon? Hitler? At least as awful as Zenorb of Vilvus 5.
Out here in what amounts to real life, New York Jets running back Kevan Barlow apologized Wednesday to 49ers coach Mike Nolan for comparing him to Adolf Hitler in a newspaper interview: "He walks around with a chip on his shoulder, like he's a dictator, like he's Hitler." To be fair, it's possible he was referring to Jeff Hitler, of the Barstow, California Hitlers and not the leader of the Third Reich. The "dictator" part is a bit of a giveaway, but still it's possible that he meant no real offense.
It's just that comparing someone to Hitler is so tired. President Pinhead and Rudolph Guliani have been compared to Hitler. Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat have been as well. Lyndon B. Johnson was likened to Hitler by Yugoslavian president Tito after air raids in Vietnam. Chicago Mayer Richard Daley claimed that Richard Nixon asking for an election recount was "Hitler type" propaganda. I found no reference to the baby blue helmets descending on the crowds in Chicago in 1968, but I'm sure the comparisons were made to Daley's oppressive use of force at the Democratic National Convention.
To be fair, Barlow called back to apologize for his outburst. "I was kind of harsh on him, saying he's a dictator. That's bad. Saddam Hussein is a dictator," he told the paper. "I was speaking on emotion." It's too easy. It's too obvious. Next time make your connection to Zednorb of Vilvus 5.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It's Been A Lovely Cruise

Have I mentioned lately how much I dislike Tom Cruise? Well, if I haven't, let me take a moment to clarify: It's not Tom so much as Tom's behavior. Why this particular person's ups and downs with the media should impact my world is probably worth questioning, and so I shall attempt to defend my petty obsession. Tom is very much a product of my generation. His birthdate is just thirteen days after my own. His rise to fame has in some ways mirrored my own.
Okay, maybe he's had a little more exposure than I have, but it's only because he's had such a good ride. It's been a quarter of a century since he first hit the big time with "Taps" as the psycho-cadet David Shawn. Shortly after that he became a movie star for good in "Risky Business." When your parents leave for the weekend, it's time to turn up the stereo and dance to Bob Seger in your underwear. The rest of it, well it was all just a dream, wasn't it?
The same could be said of Tom's life off-screen as well. He made scads of money and married well (twice), adopted children. He had his share of ups and downs, but it was all within a certain safety zone.
Tangetially, I confess that my heart sank a little when I heard that Beck was a Scientologist, but then it occurred to me that it didn't bother me that the Beastie Boys were Jewish, or Elton John was gay. I liked the music. I liked Tom Cruise movies, and every so often he put on a really great performance. "Color of Money" and "Rain Man" showed that he could keep up with some of the big guns in Hollywood. Is he gay? Is he nuts? Does it matter if his movies are any good?
I probably would have been fine if he hadn't picked a fight with Matt Lauer. If you want to get into a shouting match with a journalist, try Bill O'Reilly for goodness sake - but Matt Lauer? So I stopped watching Tom Cruise movies. I had twenty-five years of Maverick and Ethan Hunt and even the Vampire Lestat. I could let that go.
But when the film version of "Miami Vice" came out, I found myself drawn to the work of Michael Mann, a director whose work I had admired, coincidentally enough, since 1981 and the release of his film "Thief." I had heard very good things about "Collateral," but my Cruise boycott prohibited me from checking it out. Then, early last week as my summer began to wane, I sat on my couch and noticed that the house was empty except for myself and my dog, and she wasn't going to question my integrity as long as I remembered to scratch her belly from time to time. And I enjoyed it - the movie and the dog scratching. It was a very tense atmospheric piece and kept me involved for two hours.
When it was over, I felt a little shame. Sad that I had let myself make promises I couldn't keep, and sad that I had made a somewhat arbitrary commitment in the first place. He's not a role model, after all. I've pretty much gotten over the need to dance half-naked to "Old Time Rock and Roll." Today, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Paramount Pictures announced they are ending their fourteen year relationship with Tom Cruise's film production company because of the actor's offscreen behavior. So, it would seem that Paramount Pictures is going to help me keep my ultimatum.
It's so hard being a pawn of the mass media.

Monday, August 21, 2006

That's News To Me

"Who cares what John Mark Karr ate on a plane? This is not news." My wife was having one of her infrequent fits of pique. As someone who tends to let media wash over her and sample only the tiniest important bits, it seemed to me that this might be significant. If my wife was incensed by this bit of information, perhaps there was some level of significance that had been reached.
Why were we, the Bay Area viewing public, invited to consider the in-flight menu of this alleged felon? Could it be that prawns and chardonnay are the preferred diet of pedophiles, and we should be careful in our dealings with those who express similar appetites, especially if we are junior beauty contestants, or aspire to be?
The mounting irony of this moment in history is that it was within this same report that "experts" were asked what possible motivation Mr. Karr might have for coming forward at this time - ten years after the fact. One of the "experts" suggested that this would be a desperate attempt to gain notoriety at a time when the seemingly unsolvable crime had been at last moved to the back pages.
The media is a hungry beast that must stay fed. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are pretty played out. The most recent terror plot was foiled. The Fall television season has yet to begin. Football is preseason, and the pennant races in baseball have yet to heat up. Do we really need to know what this guy ate on his flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles. I don't even want to consider the price of a single coach ticket from Bangkok to Los Angeles. I don't want to think about the jet fuel required to get John Mark Karr from here to there. I prefer to ponder the new pacemaker that was recently inserted into Gerald Ford. That's news.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Straight Talk About Poop

It's been a while since I've been expressly scatalogical here. I try to avoid the truly foul bits of life in favor of a more sublime level of snarkiness. Still, there are times when a frank discussion of poop is necessary. Now is the time.
My father had a way of dismissing his sons' unhappiness with their meals. "Go ahead and just eat it," he'd say. "It's all going to be poop in four hours anyway." This gave me a tiny bit of solace in the face of some of the terrifying zucchini creations that he set in front of us. This too shall pass. I was well acquainted with the digestive process as the designated pooper scooper.
It was part of the division of labor back then. If you weren't ready or able to take over the lawn mowing duties, you got to pick up after the dog. Once a week, I was dispatched to the back yard with a plastic bag and a rusted beach shovel that had been retired from active play duty to be used exclusively for the scooping of poop. Please feel free at this time to create some amusing Dr. Seuss-ish rhymes on the topic.
When your parents get the dog, they tell you how you're going to have to be responsible for it. Feeding and playing and the occasional accident on the rug are the headings that most readily come to mind. You don't really do the math about every meal having a causal relationship with a mess that you will have to clean up later. Sometimes when I was on my weekly search and retrieve exercise, I would look up and see Rupert, our dachshund, sniffing around a particular spot in that particular way. And at that moment, in the third grade, I understood Sisyphus.
Many years have passed since that day, and I'm working on my second dog. Between Rupert and Maddie I have changed my son's diapers, and I am happy to report that he is now fully capable of dealing with his own poop. Maddie remains a project. Lacking opposable thumbs and the ability to read while on the pot, she continues to be committed to the notion that the world is her toilet. Don't get me wrong, she's housebroken and essentially regular in her habits - but she's a dog, after all. This is one of the ways I can show my care and appreciation of my furry friend. Come to think of it, my son is just about old enough to start understanding the digestive process - and Sisyphus.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Condemned To Repeat It, Condemned to Repeat It...

President Pinhead would like us to know that "It is no coincidence that two nations that are building free societies in the heart of the Middle East — Lebanon and Iraq — are also the scenes of the most violent terrorist activity." I'll just sidestep the issue of defining "terrorists" versus "freedom fighters" versus "insurgents" or "radical fundamentalists" or whatever the most frightening version is this week. Instead I'd like to wonder about the "coincidence" of this whole experience. We are reminded by PH that "America's security depends on liberty's advance in this troubled region."
Well, okay, I'll bite. Just exactly how is my security connected to the "advance of liberty?" I've grown pretty accustomed to the notion that anytime I stray from the Bush/Cheney doctrine that the terrorists win. Again, just exactly what they win and how I let that happen will have to wait. I'm still stuck on the coincidence of it all - but first, a little history: Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a seagoing people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Alexander the Great. Carthage, which threatened Rome, was a Phoenician colony. Alexander burned Tyre, the leading Phoenician city, ending the Phoenician independence. The country became part of numerous succeeding empires, among them Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman. The area became a part of the French Mandate of Syria. On September 1, 1920, France formed the State of Greater Lebanon as one of several ethnic enclaves within Syria. Lebanon and Syria both gained independence in 1943, while France was occupied by Germany. The United Kingdom, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon.
Do I need to go on? This is a land of empire making and breaking, and right now it's the folks from Syria and Iran who are causing all the ruckus, democracy-wise. What can be done to ensure the stability of the burgeoning freedom of Lebanon and Iraq? Maintain a military presence. Even though today marks the coincidental beginning of Pinhead's discussion of "phased redeployment," it is by no means coincidental that we find ourselves entangled in the unfathomable politics of aggression in the Middle East. It is the birthright of all great empires. Just ask the Ottomans.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Gassed Up And Ready To Go

I was there this morning - not exactly early, but I didn't sleep in either. I was there because I wanted to make sure that I would get my year started off right. That would involve my having all my desks arranged, posters and maps on the walls, chairs pushed up tight to tables and desks, with papers and books stowed in all the appropriate spots. Computers would be bookmarked with just the right web sites for the first language arts unit, and the number line would stretch across the room just above the white board.
Hold on a second. White board? What white board? Those won't be installed until the evening of
August 28th. Waitaminnit - check me on this - that would be the evening after the first day of school. Alright then, I'll just get to work arranging the desks in my room and -
Not quite ready for that either, since there are four contractors sitting around in my room drinking coffee from thermoses larger than I might have imagined in my youth. I could wait until they finish up, but when they're done, I still have a great big rolling tool box in the middle of the floor that they have shown no interest in shoving out of the way. They still have a job to do, after all.
Don't get me wrong, I want these guys to finish. I need them to finish. It's just that the irony of this experience is that it began eight years ago. At the beginning of my first year of teaching, I was told that we needed to be ready to pack up our things and be ready to move into portable classrooms in order to facilitate the "modernization" process. They brought us a pallet of boxes to make ready, and we waited for our marching orders. They never came. Years passed. Principals came and went. Teachers quit, retired, changed positions and came back, and we were still waiting for "modernization" to begin. The computer lab that I built when I was the computer teacher was put into storage as I changed position from "specialty prep" to "fourth grade." A set of portables was demolished, and another was brought in. The classrooms on the top floor were contaminated with mold, so more portables were brought in. The tile in the lower floor was coming up by the dozens, so they removed it while we finished out the year on concrete floors. Two years ago, I moved my fourth grade classroom out of the basement and into a portable on the playground.
Construction started in earnest during the spring of this year. During standardized testing, heavy machinery pounded away. I was still skeptical. During summer school, we watched the foundation for the elevator shaft that would bring us into twentieth century compliance being poured. I began to believe that this thing might happen.
Ten days from now, I will have a new crop of fourth grade students in my room. There is new tile on the floor. The cabinets have been painted a cheery shade of yellow. I know that there are still things to do. There are no blinds on the new windows. The data plugs trail off into the air that connects them to - nothing yet. The white boards are in a warehouse, awaiting delivery. I await anxiously the end of modernization. I'm ready to go.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Disinformation Age

If you hang around long enough, things can get awfully surreal. Let's start with the word "static." You might initially think of that annoying static cling, or the shock you got when you were twelve and walked across your aunt's thick shag carpet and then touched the steel arm of her oh-so-posh recliner. You might think of the noise that you get on the car radio when you can't find anything with your digital tuner. My mind always picks up on the phrase "static IP" - meaning computers and their peripherals that are assigned a number that never changes. Whether it's a shock or white noise or an address, it's all static.
Which brings me to this morning. As I am counting down the days to the new school year, I have found myself waking up early, but not wanting to leave my bed. So I have been watching more TV from the relative comfort of my bed. Here I am treated to a lasting monument to the events of September 11, 2001: The On-Screen Crawl. This technology existed for decades before. I have hazy memories of watching severe weather warnings drifting across the bottom of "Match Game" as thunderstorms prepared to disrupt a quiet summer day. I learned not to rely on this information, since I understood that if something really important were to happen, Bob Palmer would appear and tell me just how bad things really were. If things had really gone to hell, Walter Cronkite would have to break the news to me.
Not anymore. I've got news, weather and sports flying by at the bottom of the screen, taxing my Evelyn Wood skills. I've got graphs, charts and statistics on the right showing me the latest trends or updates, and tucked somewhere in the upper left hand corner is a picture with another caption telling me about the most pressing of the dire events of the day. And all of this starts to sound like static - because it's not. I'm being told at the same moment that there is a suspect in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder while a voice underneath is providing analysis that suggests that maybe this isn't the guy after all while in Sacramento the skies are clear and there is a backup on the 580 Toll Plaza while Jennifer Anniston denies that she and Vince Vaughan are engaged. Noise, noise, noise. Moving noise. Noise that moves fast. Try and keep up, I dare you. I'll be in bed. With the TV off.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Return of Bruno

Let me begin by saying that anybody who spends his life saddled with the name "Bruno" (not so fast, Bruce Willis - that's just a phase you went through) has a tough row to hoe from the start. You're probably going to have to be a character actor, since that's what Brunos do. You're also going to find yourself playing a schlub more often than not, since that is the fate of Brunos on our planet.
You might not know Bruno Kirby's name, but you certainly know his face. Actually, for the purposes of today's news, many people may have been made familiar with Bruno's "droopy" face. With more than sixty film and TV credits to his name, it's a wonder that he wasn't more easily identified. He was "that guy" in everything from the pilot for MASH (as Private Lorenzo Boone) to Billy Crystal's buddy Jess in "When Harry Met Sally." He even played a young Pete Clemenza in "Godfather: Part II." That's some range.
I've got some favorite Bruno Kirby parts. Lieutenant Steve Hauk in "Good Morning Vietnam" showcased his ability to make the painfully un-funny hysterical - to wit:
Lieutenant Steven Hauk: I understand you're pretty funny as a dee-jay and, well, comedy is kind of a hobby of mine. Well, actually, it's a little more than just a hobby, Reader's Digest is considering publishing two of my jokes.
Adrian Cronauer: Really.
Lieutenant Steven Hauk: Yeah. And perhaps some night we could maybe get together and swap humorous stories, for fun.
Adrian Cronauer: Oh, why not? Maybe play a couple of Tennessee Ernie Ford records, that'd be a hoot.
Lieutenant Steven Hauk: That's a joke, right?
Adrian Cronauer: Maybe.
Lieutenant Steven Hauk: I get it.
Okay, it doesn't read funny - but you have to admire a guy who has the confidence to stand and stare blankly at Robin Williams as he does his best manic-with-a-heart-of-gold schtick. And then there's "Modern Romance." Bruno plays Jay, Robert Cole's (Albert Brooks) friend and co-worker, who offers the distraught editor Quaaludes to get him through the first of several hours after he breaks up with his girl friend.
Robert Cole: [on the phone with Jay] Jay, listen -- I didn't tell you this before, and I think I should tell you now. I love you. I mean, in the right way. I think you're an amazing guy, and I -- I think I just love you.
Jay: The ludes kicked in, right?
It's just a moment in what is essentially a very quiet movie, but it hits just the right note. Thanks, Bruno - I'll be laughing when I watch it again...and again...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tagging Along

There's a new guy out there. His tag is "Krash UCUT." It's all over our neighborhood. He's taken over for "Kermit" who favored a wide laundry marker for scrawling over objects that foolishly stood still in front of him. Before that was "Dokie" who was more of a mixed-media guy, using markers or paint, and even the occasional scratch into plexiglass with key or screwdriver. "Krash" is strictly paint and brush. You can tell by his "font" and the casual drips at the bottom of his letters. This guy is an artist.
Except for the fact that he's slapping black paint on property that isn't his. I tried to figure out what the ethos was for picking surfaces on which to tag. Walls, especially those hidden from direct view of the main street, trucks (mostly white panel jobs with lots of room to write), and the occasional fence - as long as the slats were reasonably close together. The walls and fences make sense to me. They're flat and they don't tend to move. The trucks would seem to fit in that category, but there is no assurance as to when they might suddenly leave the block, or city for that matter. Maybe these were the vehicles that had become fixtures for the neighborhood and therefore were essentially firmament.
Why not tag cars? I suppose if one sat long enough by the curb and showed no signs of being owned by a large and/or insane person then that car could lapse into that stationary thing that is no longer a threat to cause fear or retribution. This is the part that takes the "art" out of graffiti to me. Tagging a school that is dark and empty for many late night hours seems like no big stretch. It seems a little like kicking a blind dog. You're probably not going to get much of a charge out of it. Unless you're a real twit.
That's what I'm worried about. My school has been remodeled this summer, and as part of the millions of dollars that have been funneled into this project for the past seven years, we have had a security guard watching the place at night. That's primarily to keep the construction materials and machinery safe, since it had little deterrent on the fire that was set in one of our dumpsters. Still, the frequency of the tagging at our school has dropped off with all this extra attention. They're supposed to be done with construction in the next couple of weeks. No more security guard. All those big, clean walls. Maybe "Krash" will run out of paint.

Monday, August 14, 2006

What About Pointed Sticks?

This morning as I ran through our neighborhood park, I saw a four-year-old boy with a baseball bat. He stood "en garde" as his mother watched patiently. He was not wielding a baseball bat or any sort of sports equipment, he was threatening with cold steel. It would be easy enough to blame Johnny Depp for this outburst, but I know different.
Fifteen years ago, we were finishing up a visit to Disneyland. My wife was the woman I was dating with all due seriousness, and I was unfamiliar with the ways of her family. On the way down Main Street, we stopped in one last shop to find the perfect souvenir for her young cousin. We walked through aisles of toys and t-shirts and postcards and candy looking for just the right thing, with this admonition: "No weapons. He's way too interested in guns and light sabers." Maybe something educational. At last we found a Mickey Mouse slide rule. It did multiplication, division and converted Fahrenheit to Celsius and the answer would appear in Mickey's eyes. The perfect thing for the young scientist.
We made the long drive up Highway 5 feeling very confident in our purchase. The day after we returned to Oakland, we dropped by her cousin's house to drop off the gift. Her aunt and uncle were most impressed with the care that we had taken to deliver such an appropriate token of our brief trip to the House of Mouse. Her cousin unwrapped it, pushed Mickey's head all the way to one end of the slide and held it aloft, "A sword!" he cried and ran out into the back yard to slay dragons and thieves and stormtroopers and evil doers of all stripes.
Years later when our own son began to develop these aggressive impulses, his preschool teacher let us know that all the boys she had encountered in her many years of watching boys form that eventually they all needed to experience what she referred to as "Power Extenders." Sometimes they were guns, sometimes they were swords, and sometimes just pointed sticks.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bounce Back

Ah yes, the Morning After. Not that god-awful movie with Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges, nor am I referencing the 1974 TV film starring Dick Van Dyke. Both of these have a solid sense of what can happen when all those good night time ideas back up on the other side of the meridian, and the dawn brings all that massive payback. I'm here to say it's not just drinking to excess that carries around consequence piggyback into the dawn.
This morning I can barely make a fist, and my lower back feels as though I was a GI Joe twisted around backward one too many times. I am sure that if this teaching gig doesn't work out for one reason or another, I'll be able to find work on somebody's landscape crew, or moving sheet rock. But I'm not sure I want to. Imagining that there are calendars in somebody's office that read: "Monday - Caven's Chimney, Tuesday - Pave Wilson's Driveway, Wednesday - Paint Eastern Hemisphere," and so on just makes me tired. Tired just thinking about it. I used to move and repair steel office furniture.
In my youth. Now it takes just a little while longer to recover. Jimmy Buffett used to sing "If I don't die by Thursday, I'll be roarin' Friday night." These days it feels more like another one of his songs: "A Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I know that I am done because I made the phone call to my mother to tell her about it. It's become quite the ritual: I spend a day or two slogging away at some home repair/improvement project, and then once the dust finally settles and the furniture is back in place and any broken bits have been carefully disposed of, I call mom. That's how I know that I am finished.
This morning I began at eight thirty. I draped plastic around the bottom of our chimney, then made a narrow alley out our basement barn doors where all the refuse would go flying. I knocked a big hole in the base of the chimney, and found it clogged with soot and cinders. This shouldn't have come as a surprise since the house was built in 1895 and the fireplace didn't get walled off until 1964, so there was almost seventy years of ash to deal with. Oh yes, and the bricks. We had what was essentially a three story brick structure to dismantle, and it all had to pass through one tiny little opening.
By ten o'clock, our contractor friend and guiding force arrived and helped facilitate the exhaust fan situation. It was vital that all the dust and sand and debris would draw out from the bottom, not up into the face of the poor soul trapped in the wall as the fireplace was dropped, brick by brick, into the basement where I scurried to keep up with the demolition. I dragged wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow out behind our house where my wife made neat little stacks of the recently disordered masonry. Clouds of dust poured out of the basement and we kept going. We worked from the top down, and we kept going.
And then I saw legs coming down through the hole that had once been my chimney. Too early for Santa, but the gift he brought was welcome nonetheless. By one thirty in the afternoon, we had a pile of rubble, and a hole in our roof. With the demolition complete, there was a matter of patching the roof, and managing debris. I watched as our friend made short work of the patch, and a new cap for our water heater vent. It was all over before supper time.
What did I take away front he experience? Certain jobs require expert help. Many tasks of these jobs can be done by the minimally skilled (but I am willing to learn). Our house, which has lived with the structural equivalent of an appendix can now rest easy here in earthquake country, because that great big brick tower doesn't run through it anymore. No major injuries, no broken glass or hurt feelings, nobody had to be carried away from the job site.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear the couch calling my name.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Carrying On

Pity poor Stephen Colbert. Among the various liquids he has grown accustomed to carrying on an airplane are such important items as Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper (which he rightly asserts is actually three liquids in one), and a five gallon can of gasoline (he's seen "Mad Max" and he knows that in the event of a nuclear holocaust that's as good as gold in the post apocalypse world). Me? I would be fine with a can of Coke - some airlines choose Pepsi, which is their constitutionally guaranteed and protected right, but it's not for me.
So the terrorists win again, right? The idea that all bags would have to be checked is outrageous to a world full of people who have become accustomed to having a "smaller version of their stuff" (to paraphrase George Carlin). This little bag is all that comes between you and survival if you end up at the airport without your "real luggage." You've got your laptop, your mp3 player, an extra pair of socks, and the Deluxe Special Edition DVD of "Road House," and half a tin of Altoids (curiously strong). No liquids or gels, sorry. And if you've seen what Mentos can do in contact with Diet Pepsi, I think you know why even the Altoids might raise an alert.
Was all this fuss really necessary? The London police are rightly patting themselves on the back for foiling this most recent plot, but if we had all been paying a little more attention eleven years ago, we might not have been caught with our metaphorical pants around our metaphorical ankles. In 1995, a movie was released called "Die Hard: With a Vengeance." Okay, I know that by the third one, most of the fun had been sucked out, but if you saw the film, you may recall that the bad guy - not exactly a terrorist, more of an extortionist played by Jeremy Irons - blows things up with a series of explosions created by combining two inert liquids. Interesting connection? Perhaps, but consider this: Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is aided in this episode by a fellow named Zeus - played by Samuel L. Jackson. So here's what I'm suggesting: Do not waste another second, and start screening every passenger and every piece of luggage for snakes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stars In My Eyes

For the most part, I'm a pretty cynical character. I tend to look for the strings attached to most everything. I'm quick to point out to my associates that the nice Nigerian man who needs help arranging his finances over the Internet might not be on the up and up. Wishes really do come true - with a whole lot of work and financing. Then there's this whole astrology thing.
Maybe it's because I've spent my life "on the cusp." I have lived on a line between Gemini and Cancer, and for the life of me, I can't figure out which one I'm supposed to be. Oh, I know the horoscope routine, and I will generally cop to the dates that they print in the paper. I know that "experts" in this science will tell me that being on the cusp is a profound state and therefore I should be endowed with all the spiritual gifts from both signs. But really - if this were true, in an empirical sense, wouldn't there be some sort of way to pro-rate those qualities given the number of hours into the last day of Gemini and the number of minutes into Cancer - and daylight savings time, and wind velocity, and was the sparrow African or European?
I've never read a horoscope that seemed to apply to me. Many times during my life I've had people "read my chart" (at their insistence) and then tell me just how profound the connections are between me and everyone else on the planet who had the fortune to be born on June twenty-first.
Then I found Harvey Sid Fisher. Harvey may at first seem like a talentless hack with an annoying nasal voice, but he just may be the link to Astrological phenomena I've been looking for. Consider this: Two of my closest friends on the planet were born on the same day. Okay, probably not getting shivers just yet, but then I read the lyrics to Harvey's song about Leos:
It's like he knew them all of his life. Harvey really opened my eyes to a wider world. Now if I could just figure out which song I should listen to...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

No Surprises Here

I have long maintained this notion: When I die, I don't want people scratching their collective heads trying to imagine what could have possibly done me in. I expect that the number of cheeseburgers, french fries and Coca-Cola Classic will be the most obvious sign posts for my imminent demise. Don't get me wrong. I know what a "proper diet" is. I know what exercise is. I have begun to imagine moderation as a form of life-extending assistance. Still, I don't want my passing to be like Jim Fixx - the health equivalent of the serial killer living next door: "He seemed like such a quiet/healthy guy. We never would have expected him to cut sixteen girl scouts into filet strips/drop dead on mile twelve of a thirty mile run."
I just don't want you to be surprised. Which is why this morning's news came as a lovely little eye opener. Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. (M.O.U.S.E.) would like us to know that certain healthy food choices aren't that healthy at all. 2% Reduced-Fat Milk: 2% reduced-fat milk is not that low-fat/low-calorie when you consider that whole milk is 3.3% fat. Oops. I suppose I'll have to switch to that grey liquid called "Skim Milk." The very name sounds unappealing, doesn't it? "This would be what was left over after all the milk was gone."
Ready for more? Consider this: 12 small pieces of dried mango = 320 calories, 2 red apples + 15 grapes + ½ small cantaloupe = 320 calories. That's because dried fruit has no moisture, but all the sugar. Great. Joy continues to admonish us that, "One 24-ounce smoothie provides about 450 calories. That's the same amount of calories in 10-12 doughnut holes!" How on earth did she know what my daily allowance of donut holes was?
And so we're left with this: It's not really the food, but the portions. I'm guessing there probably is anrecommendedd daily allowance for Hostess Ding Dongs, it's just soimperceptiblyy tiny that no one has bothered to publish it. There is one other certainty: I am way, way, way ahead on my RDA for Oreos.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Grand Day Out

When I first got married, I believed that someone was in my closet secretly tape-recording conversations I had with my wife and then in turn selling them to NBC for use as dialogue in their television situation comedy, "Mad About You." Nowhere was this more apparent than in the second episode in the series, "Sofa's Choice," in which Paul Reiser (remember him?) and Academy Award winning actress Helen Hunt set off to a mall to find a new couch. Paul is initially fine with the notion of buying a new couch, but when the discussion turns to getting a divan, or God forbid, a love-seat ("too much pressure") he understands that he - not unlike Howard the Duck - is trapped in a world he never made. I had an eerily similar experience surrounding the purchase of "our first" mattress and box spring. It was important, nay vital, to our relationship for this purchase to be made together. I had no way of knowing this at the time.
Here's what I came away after watching this episode, aside from a profound sense of deja vu: Everything takes four hours. The discussion of where to go in the first place, then which place has the best deal, where we might get something to eat along the way, the discussion of the article before purchase, the haggling with the salesperson before the transaction is made, the actual transaction, the pleasantries and warranty information, and probably a little snack for the hypoglycemia that has set in during the forced march that is a trip to the mall - all of these elements must be considered when planning an adventure out in the world.
Want to increase your difficulty by powers of ten? Take the kid along.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Beat The Heat

Today's weather? Well, in Iraq highs will reach 125 degrees. No need to go scrambling for your Celsius conversion table, that's degrees Fahrenheit. Daytime temperatures in the Iraqi summer range between 105 and 125. "I feel like I'm in someone's mouth," said Navy medic Kyle Gribi, 22, of Santa Cruz, California, as he patrolled beside Iraqi soldiers on the humid riverbanks of the Jazeera area in western Iraq.
Oh, and they're still shooting at them too. No caftans for these guys - things blow up where they are. That means body armor, flame retardant suits, gloves and goggles. That means these guys drop more each day than Jared did in a whole year of Subway sandwich binges.
In a seemingly unrelated story, A previously unknown photograph of British nurse Florence Nightingale went on display on Monday at an exhibition dedicated to the woman whose work with wounded soldiers during the Crimean War made her a household name. Nightingale believed the death rates among British troops were due to poor nutrition and supplies and overworking of the soldiers. What might "The Lady With The Lamp" make of conditions in Basra?
"I don't mind the blistering heat,
I think I can endure.
It's freezing cold and I can't feel my feet —
Well, that's the hell of war.
I never thought about the big red wound
When I saw my comrades fall.
Now I'm in this cold and lonely room
Wondering if I'll live at all.
The lady with the lamp,
You know she understands."
The lady with the lamp,
She's the soldiers' friend.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Album of the Year

Last night I stood in my living room, listening to "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)," and contemplating the twenty-seven years that passed between the release of that album and my living room. The anthem of youthful angst and alienation has aged well, but no longer inspires fist-pumping fits of rage. Instead it's a memory of adolescence and a moment of mild chagrin on my part as I realized that I have become part of that "education" that "we don't need."
"The Wall" was the album of my senior year of high school. Sometimes it felt as if they were passing out copies of the record at class registration. It was a commitment to listen to, as most double albums are, but even more so in 1979, as most turntables (pity the poor schmucks with "record players") didn't allow for automatic record changing. This meant that in order to experience the torment of burned-out rock star "Pink," you had to be willing to pop up three separate times to flip and switch the vinyl. The cassette was the only way to move from start to finish without those nasty pauses - provided you had a reliable automatic reverse function on your player. With all of that inconvenience, there were still plenty of us who were willing to sit for hours pouring over the segues and incidental sounds heard as the story of the album unfolds. It spoke exactly to those kids who would sit in front of their stereos, usually beneath a pair of headphones, as the pathos piles up on top of itself. Those of us who really cared took the time to carefully wind our phonograph needles back over the opening of "Empty Spaces" to find "Congratulations. You've just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont...Roger! Carolyn's on the phone!" For those of us in the know, it was a pithy reference to Syd Barrett ("Old Pink). Not really a contest so much as a snarky bit of commentary on backward or subliminal messages found on records way back when.
I wore my copy out, eventually. It got played by myself and my misanthropic pals for months, until we all started to get girlfriends. Suddenly, Pink Floyd lost its allure, and we began listening to more Billy Joel. A few years later, when I was in college, the film version tickled some of those same raw nerves, but proved ultimately one notch too literal a translation. When "The Final Cut" arrived in 1982, it came as a quiet coda to the thunder of "The Wall." Now I'm a teacher and somebody's father, and I still find myself in quiet moments headed back to the stereo with a pair of headphones - to listen one more time.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Injecting Some Truthiness

Just how refreshing would this be: "Yes, I did take the performance enhancing drugs that helped to create the spectacle of my achievements on the field. I did it to make a better show for the spectators, and to boost my own self-esteem. I chose to do this because of my own personal priorities, not out of any sense of peer pressure. I believe that the only way I could compete and to win in my endeavor was to artificially stimulate my body's own natural chemistry. Time and science may later prove me wrong, but I expect that, given the choices I have made with my life and career, this will ultimately be the most satisfying path for me."
Floyd Landis is a cheater? Barry Bonds? Tom Cruise? Okay, maybe Tom didn't take steroids or testosterone. Maybe he just gets high on life. But the dilemma still remains: If the expectations for a given sport or profession continues to rise, won't the need for increased performance ramp up right alongside those expectations? Legalizing drugs - illegal drugs - always falls apart after you start to consider the impact of those drugs on the youngest or most naive users. This is profoundly true as well in the case of steroids. High school athletes injecting themselves with syringes in order to take their game to the next level seems ridiculous, but it happens. Is there anyone who still believes that drugs aren't just as prevalent in college sports as they are at the professional level?
What if we could agree on a three or four year grace period, during which all the records and competitions could be scaled back. Let everybody dry out first. Then let us all appreciate the magic of a single home run, instead of the seventy that we need now to be impressed. Take a moment to contemplate the challenge of riding a bike for two miles, then twenty more, up the side of a mountain. And maybe, just maybe, we can all be impressed by the character of our sports heroes again - the ones who don't need to talk to their lawyers before they comment about the big game.

Friday, August 04, 2006

This Just In...

Fidel Castro - living or dead? It puts me in mind of the long-running gag for Chevy Chase way back in the golden years of Saturday Night Live: "Despite Franco's death and an expected burial tomorrow, doctors say the dictator's health has taken a turn for the worse," and "This just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead."
The Communist leadership assured Cubans on Friday that Raul Castro was in firm control as acting president, and the health minister said Fidel Castro was "recovering satisfactorily" from intestinal surgery. In a related story, online gamblers are placing bets on which day or month the 79-year-old Cuban president will die, the Miami Herald reported. Those placing $100 on Castro dying this month will reap $350 if he does. Those betting $100 he'll die in December will take home $600 if they're correct.
Thinking that sounds like some good action? Let's keep in mind who this guy is, and what he's already lived through. Castro has been Comandante in Cuba since 1959. He survived the Bay of Pigs 35 years ago, and the Missile Crisis the following year, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union - Cuba's closest ally. There have been countless attempts on his life over the years, as well as his manhood (the CIA allegedly has been after that beard of his for decades). His idea of fresh blood for a successor comes in the form of his 75-year-old brother, Raul - who hasn't been seen for several days either.
August 13 is Fidel's 80th birthday, and if I were a betting man, I would put money on him showing up just to put a twist in everybody else's knickers.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Is It Hot In Here?

Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said on Thursday the wave of scorching temperatures across the United States had converted him into a believer in global warming. Please feel free at this point to construct your own joke about hell freezing over.
Now that we've gotten past that, we're left with the tiniest mind on the planet who has yet to confront the scientific evidence of global warming: President Pinhead. This is the guy who pulled out of the international Kyoto Protocol - setting limits on emissions causing global warming - soon after he took office in 2001, saying it would hurt the economy and unfairly favored developing countries. With no effective military response to global warming, President Pinhead was stymied.
Well, good news is on the way for Needle-Noggin: The latest heat wave to strike the east coast has claimed the lives of more than twenty-five Americans (okay, that's not good news - wait for it). In New York, the heat was not unusual for Iman Arbab, 57, a native of Sudan who sells newspapers from a crate outside Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. "For me, 100 degrees — it's normal," Arbab said Thursday. Not unusual? Sudan? Isn't that somewhere over there in the Middle-East-ish? Aren't thesegreenhouseegasess emitted by fossil-fuel burning engines? Isn't the chief export from most of those Middle-East-ish countries some sort of fossil fuel? Therefore fossil fuel is killing Americans! If we raise the temperature by as much as five degrees, the terrorists win! Irecommendd we go to some sort of color-coded warning system that alerts all Americans to the potential threat of Global Warming. Now TV meteorologists can get as worked up as their buddies across the news desk. The Weather Channel ratings will soar. We can still buy lots of plastic sheeting and duct tape for those shifts in arctic climates, but we will also need to stock up on fans and Gatorade. The economy is stimulated, we live in fear, and we can all await the melting of the polar ice caps together. Everybody Wins! And we have God's Little Elf to thank. Pat Robertson, we salute you!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Media Frenzy!

I think the really amazing thing is that we don't have scenes like Mel Gibson's recent DUI arrest even more often. Watch Britney Spears for a day or so and she's bound to do something completely inappropriate. It's the nature of the beast. Once you become so insulated from the world the rest of us call home it must be difficult to remember the rules. Ironically, we have a phalanx of celebrities who will whine and moan about their privacy all the while as they seek to insert their image into our living rooms through E! News or People magazine.
Wait. Maybe they really don't want to be famous after all. Maybe they're victims of a vicious and manipulative media. Trapped in their ivory towers, afraid to venture out for the simplest pleasures. One imagines poor Michael Jackson having to rent out all of Disneyland for his own private amusement - or maybe that's the wrong path again.
People acting like idiots really shouldn't be news. Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a couch isn't' any sort of revelation. Britney Spears appearing on television looking like a three dollar hooker is just bad handling. News starts happening when the famous people start to believe their own clippings. Changing your baby's diaper on the floor of a department store, or Victoria Secret is just tacky. Picking a fight with Matt Lauer is like kicking a puppy. To this end, Mel Gibson's latest statement said he must take responsibility for making anti-Semitic remarks because as a public person, "when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena."
Okay, but what can we expect as retribution? If he keeps his nose clean for a month or two, does ABC go ahead and let him produce his miniseries on the Holocaust? When will he be really done? Robert Downey Jr. is still working. Pee-Wee Herman is making a comeback (pardon the pun). When do we call it quits? When do we pull the plug? Barbara Walters says she's done watching Mel Gibson movies. Fair enough. Maybe the difference is who you choose to mess with. If you want to destroy yourself, go right ahead, we'll keep the cameras rolling. Start stomping around in somebody else's backyard or tormenting children and it's time to pull up the stakes and move the circus to another town.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Living, Loving, Lather, Rinse, Repeat

My sister-in-law has suggested that the true last gasp of any relationship is the "renewal of vows." I agree with her, for the most part, since it does seem like a fairly desperate measure to rekindle whatever flames of passion may have flickered and failed. I know what it takes to get a wedding up off the ground and running, so I cannot imagine why anyone would willingly put themselves through an historical reenactment of that sort of armed conflict.
This being said, I know that there are lots of reasons to imagine having a "do-over" for one's wedding day. I know that I have spent thirteen years with a revisionist. The convertible could have been a stallion instead. The dance floor should have been bigger. The groom's pants should have arrived before the ceremony. The rings might have been more useful attached to our official ring-pillow than locked away in my mother-in-law's closet. Mistakes were made. You'll get no argument from me there. The old adage "Bad rehearsal, great performance" comes to mind. If that day in the sun was just a warm-up for the next few decades of marital bliss, then by that reckoning, we had just the right start. The ancient Greeks always included a flaw in their art so as not to anger or offend the Gods. I believe it is pure hubris to expect a wedding not to take on certain aspects of a public transportation catastrophe. We should only judge our success by the number of people left standing at the end of the day.
Thirteen years ago, everybody was able to walk away. That sounds like a success to me.