Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Drop Back Five And Punt

Today, the other shoe finally fell in the story of embattled Oakland Raiders' coach, Lane Kiffin. Over the past decade, it seems that all the Raiders have had are "embattled" head coaches. Most of them have cited their relationship with the team's owner, Al Davis. Kiffin’s job security was in question as far back as January, when a dispute with Davis over whether he could replace their defensive coordinator led to the owner sending his coach a letter of resignation to sign.
And that's when the bell went off in my head. Remember in last Friday's debate, when John McCain started off by telling a story about Dwight D. Eisenhower: "President Eisenhower, on the night before the Normandy invasion, went into his room and he wrote out two letters. One of them was a letter congratulating the great members of the military and Allies that had conducted and succeeded in the greatest invasion in history, still to this day, and forever. And he wrote out another letter, and that was a letter of resignation to the United States Army for the failure of the landings at Normandy. Somehow, we've lost that accountability." He went on to link Eisenhower and his letter to McCain's repeated calls in recent days that Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox resign for his role in the financial crisis. Mister Cox wrote this in response: "History will judge the quality of our response to this economic crisis, but now is not the time for those of us in the trenches to be distracted by the ebb and flow of the current election campaign.... The best response to political jabs like this is simply to put your head down and not lose a step doing the best job you can possibly do on behalf of those you serve."
For history's sake, the actual note Eisenhower wrote wasn't a letter of resignation, but rather one assuming responsibility for a failed invasion, if it had come to that. Eisenhower should be lauded for his strength of character, but it doesn't take a lot of guts to point fingers and assign blame.
And so, we watch as Al Davis pulls the lever on another head coach. One who only managed to win five of the twenty games he coached, so one might understand the response. Meanwhile, John McCain continues to look for someone else to fire as the nation's financial crisis continues to swirl ever closer to that open drain.

Monday, September 29, 2008

For You

Well, we're just four weeks into the NFL season, and we already know who is going to be playing in the Super Bowl. Okay, to be more specific, we know who will be playing at the Super Bowl: Mister Bruce Springsteen. And as is my custom, I couldn't be more ambivalent.
Of course I will watch. I'm a football fan. I'm a Springsteen fan. Why wouldn't I? Maybe because I have made such a loud and cynical point of deriding all those other "dinosaurs" who have showed up on Super Sunday over the past few years. Paul McCartney. Aerosmith. The Rolling Stones. Prince. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. U2. It's only a matter of time before AC/DC shows up to complete the "classic rock" setlist. Once again, I feel compelled to mention that I like all of these artists, but the notion that they have all been deemed "safe" by the National Football League. Sure, I know that we live in more enlightened times, and the TV networks probably wouldn't even flinch even if Mick Jagger did sing "Let's spend the night together." After all, many, if not all NFL franchises like to blast the Stones' song "Start Me Up" just before kickoff, they just don't get to that last verse.
That's beside the point. It's not Bruce's lyrics that will get him into trouble. It's his politics. I'm guessing that he won't be cranking on "Devils and Dust" or "Long Walk Home," and if he does play "Born In The U.S.A." you can bet it will be with more than a touch of irony. I'm guessing that it will be a pretty straightforward Greatest Hits set, and that will be fine, though something about watching Springsteen play for twenty minutes as opposed to three hours just seems wrong.
When I was in high school, one of my peak experiences was playing in front of seventy thousand Denver Bronco fans, along with the rest of the Boulder High Band and Color Guard. Up until 1988, marching bands were the featured halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl. Yes they often had to share the field with Up With People, but it you practiced and kept your uniform clean, you might get a chance to be on TV. Nowadays they don't even show the bands playing on college halftime shows. Instead we're getting scores from around the nation. On Super Sunday, there are no other scores, just very expensive commercials, so sit tight and watch the extravaganza unfold.
Or not. By the time February first rolls around, I will probably have forgotten all these misgivings, but I reserve the right to wince as they announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, Bridgestone Tires is proud to bring you a man who has a Hungry Heart and is Born To Run..." Yeesh.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I have been trying, since Friday night, to have some sort of open mind about this whole presidential election. But it's just not working. It probably has a lot to do with my approach, which has been somewhat akin to the way I look at professional sports. When I sat down to watch the debate, I was wearing my "jersey": my Kelly green O'Bama shirt. We had pizzas and soft drinks, and sent the kids out of the room so we could focus on the competition. What competition?
No one ever showed me a final score, but both sides were quick to claim victory. The conventional wisdom espoused by the pundits suggested that Obama didn't win the debate, but McCain didn't lose it. Does that mean it was a tie? From where I was sitting, along with a roomful of bleeding heart liberal types, Barack scored early and often and appeared much more relaxed and presidential. John looked old.
I don't know what I expected to happen. This is the filter that I put in place months ago, and barring some ugly unforeseen revelation, I don't imagine that it will change much. Barack Obama was preaching to the choir in my living room. Every time John McCain invoked the past: Reagan, Kissinger, and anything connected to "victory" in Iraq, I felt the urge to turn off the television and go outside for some fresh air.
This morning I walked around the neighborhood with my son, to get a little fresh air and help him complete his science homework. Just around the corner, I saw that the guy on the corner has a "McCain-Palin" sign taped up in his window. I was a little surprised at first, since this is the only other Denver Bronco fan I have encountered outside of my house within the city limits of Oakland. Then I remembered the "Support Our Troops" sign that had been in the window where "McCain-Palin" had taken up residence. I wondered if I shouldn't limit my discussions with him to football for the next thirty-eight days.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I grew up watching Paul Newman. I remember being impressed that a star of his magnitude would appear in one of Irwin Allen's disaster epics, "The Towering Inferno." In a skyscraper filled with greats and near-greats, including the likes of O.J. Simpson and Fred Astaire, Paul was the voice of calm reason amidst the flames. Compared to the other nominal hero of the piece, Steve McQueen, I understood this guy. He had seen his dream compromised by the bean-counters who had sacrificed quality for quantity and now he was the designer of a one hundred and forty floor death trap. I didn't get that same sense of authenticity from O.J.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the few movies that I will stop everything to watch, no matter where I happen to tune in. It is the model on which all other "buddy" movies have been made in the past forty years. Whether it's the pending knife fight with Harvey for leadership of the gang, or the last few desperate moments before he and Sundance go out in a blaze of gunfire glory, Butch is the epitome of wiseacre cool.
But nobody was as cool as Luke. I first saw "Cool Hand Luke" when I was in high school. It was, I believe, an attempt to get us to relate film to the written word, as well as a nice two-hour chunk of time that our English teacher could catch up on her grading. That didn't matter. I would happily have spent the entire semester dissecting the symbolism and character of this ne'er do well who, like Butch Cassidy, always had an answer for everything, even if that answer wasn't always right. I suspect that Luke's egg-eating exhibition may have been the thing that sparked my own interest in stunt-eating.
As role models go, I expect I could do a whole lot worse than Paul Newman. When asked about his ability to remain faithful to his wife of fifty years, Joanne Woodward, he said, "I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" The fact that he was included on Nixon's enemies list because of his liberal views was one of his proudest achievements. He was also one of the most dedicated and generous souls, giving tens of millions of dollars to charity, including setting up camps for severely ill children.
And he drove race cars. Professionally. How cool was that? Tom Cruise only wishes he was that cool. Paul Newman was.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Legacy Of Fear

This morning on the radio, a commentator made this mind-boggling suggestion: "Why don't we wait until after the election to sort this whole financial mess out?" I guess this guy doesn't watch much TV. If he wasn't spending all that time on radio, he would know that this is a CRISIS. It is a MELTDOWN of EPIC proportions. We should, to quote Geena Davis, be afraid. Very afraid.
After all, wasn't that what we did in 1929? On Black Tuesday, didn't terrified investors fall from the windows like rain? After all, that's what people do in a PANIC. It's an image that lives up to the name: CRASH.
Well, here it comes again. Only this time it appears as though we can buy ourselves out of it. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be full of fear. On the contrary. Ever since the turn of this century, we have been operating in a near-constant state of terror. There were a great many folks who expected Y2K to be the end of the world, or at least the financial world, as we knew it. The lack of a few digits didn't bring down the system. Eight years later, we are just now finishing off the duct tape that we were given as a "Whew-the-lights-are-still-on-and-there-were-no-riots" present from a friend who had prepared for the worst.
The worst, sadly, was yet to come. Pinhead's entire presidency has been leveraged by fear. Thanks to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we were given a color-coded vision of the future. He has decided that we are better off living with suspicion and anxiety in a very limited range of hues. Have we been allowed a day of green among the past seven years of yellow, orange and red? Not one. Then there were the hurricanes. And the blizzards. And after much debate and discussion, global warming. We have spent most of the last decade fearing for our lives and livelihood. This administration has made its hay off of terror.
And so, I'm looking forward to more rational discussions. Ones that are not based on the reactions of our lizard brains. I'm looking forward to decisions based on long-term goals and proactive reasoning. I'm looking forward to a president who is a thinker, not a decider.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sadie Hawkins Day

It was a banner week here in our household. For a change, this didn't involve the purchase of any electronics or the completion of any household improvement projects. No, this week will always be remembered as the week during which my son was first asked out by a girl. I understand that at the ripe old age of eleven, he would much rather stay at home and build fantastic machines out of Legos, but it was still a milestone.
Apparently, this girl had been following him around at lunch time for a couple of weeks, along with one of her friends, and with the Fall Dance fast approaching, it was time to strike. She told him that she thought he "looks like that kid in 'Stuart Little.'" I had made the same observation, but that was a few years ago, and since that movie was made nine years ago, little Jonathan Lipnicki is now eighteen years old, and even he doesn't look much like little Jonathan Lipickni anymore. I am also his father, not a sixth grade girl, so I don't expect my opinion to factor in quite the same way.
As his father, however, I did feel the need to pry. Was she cute? Did she ask you in front of all her friends, or did she wait for a quiet moment alone? And most importantly, what did you say? He told her no. He was polite, and he let her down easy. I told him this was a good idea since he couldn't be certain of the next time something like this would happen. I waited for many years before any girl asked me for anything except to act as go-between them and one of my friends. Then again, I spent a lot of time hanging around my house building with Legos, so maybe I missed a few of those opportunities. Whatever the case, a new era has begun at our house, and I'm looking forward to meeting the girl he likes more than Legos.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barley Pop

I remember smelling my father's cold Coors beer when I was a kid and thinking that it was probably a very refreshing drink for a hot day. I remember thinking that it would be almost as good as the can of Coca Cola that was waiting for me at the bottom of the ice chest. Time does interesting things to our perspectives, and these days I feel about the same way as I did back then. But I can also recall the first time I tasted somebody else's beer: My cousin Dex was sitting on the hillside behind our mountain cabin, sipping on a bottle of Miller High Life. When I approached, he leaned forward to show me the writing on the label, "King of Beers." At the time I hadn't fully connected with the notion that my cousin's last name was also Miller (no relation), but I suspect this was the source of his pride. He asked me if I wanted a sip. How could I turn this offer down? My cool cousin Dex was sharing his beer, the King of Beers, with me and I was only twelve.
My first thought was: "Wow, it's just like Seven-Up," but then suddenly it wasn't. It didn't have the refreshing taste of "The Uncola," the flavor was more reminiscent of a sock. I must have made quite a face, judging from the chuckle I got from Dex.
"How about another?" he asked, still grinning.
I already had an older brother to get me to try things that I probably wouldn't like, so I thanked him as politely as I could amid my gagging sounds, and trotted off down the hill to get a can of anything that didn't taste like a sock.
Years later, when I started drinking beer professionally, my brew of choice was Miller High Life. I know that I spent many afternoons and evenings peering through that amber liquid at the back of the label: "Miller Stands Clear." I learned that if you drank it fast enough, the refreshing part lasted a little longer, and if you drank enough of it, the sock thing became less of an issue.
These days the only beer I see comes from roots, and I'm happy not to have to reconcile my taste buds with my age. Come to think of it, there are probably a few more lessons I learned when I was twelve that I could benefit from right now. I hope I live long enough to remember them too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It might be a little unfair to characterize the kindergartners at my school as small rodents, usually found in or near the Arctic, but this was one of the visions I had in my mind as I watched them work through their first experience playing soccer. They moved as one tight mass, moving in the approximate direction that the ball was. They wore pullover jerseys that identified them as two separate teams: orange and blue. That didn't matter. The challenge of getting the ball from one side of the field to the other was something in which everyone needed to be involved. If the goal was to achieve full participation, then I rang that bell.
As for teamwork, well, we've got a few more years to work on that. Most of the kids were excited about getting to kick the ball and wear the jerseys and run back and forth. The object of the game was almost completely secondary. When the ball rolled out of bounds, they chased it, right past the colorful cones I had set up and off that metaphorical cliff.
Again, compared to the fourth and fifth graders who alternated between seeing the game as deadly serious and an opportunity to whine about how long it would be until they went to lunch, the kindergartners just wanted to play. It made me think of my older brother's years spent coaching his daughter's youth soccer team. He kept his job and his cool not for just one season, but for years, until the girls grew out of it. My day as assistant P.E. coach in charge of the soccer concession did nothing but build my respect for him.
For him and those furry little kindergartners.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sometimes The World Of Illusion Needs A Little Help

I remember the first time I saw David Blaine perform. Back in 1997, I caught what was probably the second or third go-round for his "Street Magic" special, where he wandered up to ordinary folks like you and me, and proceeded to confound them with impressive tricks and illusions that could be done on any corner. It was his low-key delivery that made his audience's reactions so much more expressive. "Wanna see something kinda weird?" he would ask passersby. A camera crew is following the guy around, so it's probably going to be a little interesting, right?
Well, most of the tricks were variations on simple card forces with a dramatic flourish at the end to create the right amount of astonishment. His big finish was to "levitate" a few inches off the ground, just a few feet away from his slack-jawed patrons. When he came back to earth, he would return to the little crowd of onlookers and would appear to catch his breath, as if floating a few inches above the earth would wind even a trained illusionist.
And that would have been fine. It was a nice little bit of television, and even the second hour managed to be somewhat captivating, even if it meant we had to watch David chat it up one more time with his good buddy, Leonardo Di Caprio. Now, eleven years later, David feels the need to keep topping himself with successively more arcane feats of human endurance. This one is hanging upside-down. He intends to spend sixty hours suspended by his ankles over Wollman Rink in Manhattan's Central Park. He's not levitating. You can see the cable that is holding him sixty feet in the air. What's the point?
What was the point of being buried alive? Or frozen in a block of ice? Or staying underwater for seven days? Or sitting for a week in a Plexiglas box suspended over Potters Field near the Tower of London? Some might say that it's a modern-day geek show. I would say that he's giving geeks a bad name. Anyone who has watched magicians for any length of time knows that keeping your audience guessing "how did he do that" is the best trick. David Blaine is no longer content to confuse us. He just wants to gross us out. I was more impressed when he was just a few inches off the ground.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Armageddon Time

It was tough getting to sleep at our house last night. My son had a pepperoni calzone for dinner, and then we all watched the pilot episode of "Battlestar Galactica." For those of your who are unfamiliar, in both the original version and in this revisioning, most of the human race has to be wiped out in order to get the ball rolling. With a belly full of pepperoni and a brain full of genocide, we packed my son off to bed, imagining that three weeks of middle school would have prepared him for such an arduous late-night journey. We were wrong.
On a good day, this is a thoughtful kid, and the idea of the entire population of a planet being blown up by scheming humanoid robots did not let him go quietly into that good night. He was not going to be lulled to sleep with any of that "it's only a movie" talk. He had life and death on his mind, and he wasn't going to simply roll over and forget about it. Sometime after midnight, i went into his room and decided to confront the problem directly. I asked him why it was any different from Darth Vader blowing up Alderaan with the Death Star.
"The Cylons used nukes, dad."
This was a point I had to concede. Using that quaint twentieth century device instead of some colorful "laser," the the Battlestar folks created a much more intimate apocalypse than George Lucas. My oh-so-clever-son had made this fine distinction at what was approaching one in the morning, and he was unable to shrug it off. On the contrary: in the darkness, the fear was magnified, and even though he was gamely accepting all my suggestions for distraction, he needed some kind of reassurance. He wanted to know that if he called out in the night to his mom and dad that they would hear him.
I know that my job as a parent is to make sure that he doesn't have feel that way. It starts with having the presence of mind to anticipate the effects of the movies and TV that he watches. It includes the sense of what certain images will do in concert with minor dyspepsia. And it made me think that I need to have him read Kurt Vonnegut's version of the end of life in "Slaughterhouse Five": "The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist." But maybe not this week. We need to get some rest.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Such A Tragic Waist

I went out last night to our favorite little pinball palace, Lucky Ju Ju, for a little end of the week recreation. There are now so many different machines to choose from, I found it easy to stay entertained for nearly three hours. The variety of machines was important for me because I don't tend to stand in front of one for very long. I have written before about my limited pinball proficiency, but last night was the first night that I began to try and comprehend it.
I watched a number of good players to try and dissect their technique. The ones who were able to keep a ball in play for minutes at a time were the ones who used every part of their body to keep the lights and buzzers and bells flashing. But what I noticed most was the hip action. To be really good at pinball, it became apparent that the ability to get a little extra going on "down there" was the thing I was missing.
I have been reintroduced to this hole in my physical prowess over the past few weeks as I have been working with our Sports 4 Kids coach teaching P.E. every Tuesday. One of the featured skills for elementary school is using a Hula Hoop. I have watched in amazement as kids of all sizes and shapes have picked up a hoop and kept them in orbit around them with an even swivel of their hips. I have achieved some of my biggest laughs by attempting to copy their movements, but I have been unable to do much beyond embarrassing myself.
This is nothing new. When I was their age, I was Hula-Hoop impaired. My body will not accommodate such activity. I offer as evidence of such a condition the three-minute-fifteen-second mark of Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey's video for their hit "Easy Lover." Phil and I share something aside from our hairline. Neither of us have what could be described as a free-floating pelvis. There's a lot rocking back and forth in "Sussudio," but nobody is going to mistake Phil for Elvis. Presley or Costello.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How Much Is Too Much?

At the beginning of each school year, there is a great push at just about all the grade levels to promote understanding of place value. I have spent the past week trying to wrap my head around that very same concept. Adding zeros to numbers makes them bigger. I get that. But just like fourth graders, there comes a time and a decimal place when my brain just locks up. For fourth graders, it's somewhere in the hundred thousand to million range. For me, it's in the billions.
I took astronomy classes in college and I became familiar with the practice of using scientific notation to describe numbers by powers of ten. It was that tricky little exponent above the ten that could mess you up completely. The distance from the earth to the moon is in the ten to the fourth power neighborhood, and the distance from the earth to the sun is in the ten to the seventh power vicinity. What I found even more useful was the concept of Astronomical Units. Knowing that the distance between the earth and the sun could be described as one Astronomical Unit, I began to use this measurement in as many different impractical ways as possible. For example, what fraction of an astronomical unit is it between here and the nearest 7-11?
When I heard that the government's bailout of the various failing financial institutions was going to cost somewhere close to half a trillion dollars, I found myself searching in vain for some kind of real number that I could start with. Remember, I'm the guy who struggles with a million of something. A "trillion" just seems as made up as Laurie Anderson's "kerjillion," or Dennis the Menace's "lebentyseven." If only this sum could be paid in nickels, then it would be meaningful to me. Take your half trillion and multiply that by twenty. Now that would be a number worth pondering.
Instead, I would like to suggest the following: From now on, just as we have come to do with astronomy, let us now use this half-trillion mark as a single unit. I propose that we now refer to this unit as a "Greenspan" in honor of the man who once rode herd on all those zeros. Now when we say "It's only going to cost the government a Greenspan to cover the fallout of this financial crisis," we can all rest just a little bit easier. But I guess we'd all feel a little better if we didn't have to think about it at all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The entire quote goes like this: "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much." This comes from the Oliver Stone film, "Wall Street" that came out in 1987. You may remember this as the waning days of the Reagan Revolution. This was just about the time that the wheels were coming off the fast train to nowhere. And if you've seen the movie, you may recall that the character who spoke those words was Gordon Gekko, the villain of this morality tale. A man so vile that no one really noticed that he was named after a lizard.
That was twenty-plus years ago - a generation. We're not worried about saving a fictional paper company from financial ruin anymore. We're now focused on rescuing financial giants. Things have changed, right? Twelve years ago, I had a friend who insisted loud and long to anyone who would listen that there should be such a thing as a "personal salary cap." At that time, he felt that anyone should be happy and comfortable making fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars a year. We did not own houses back then. We did not have children. We thought about retirement only when forced to by our wives. Things have changed. For some of us. I don't need to worry much about imposing a salary cap on my career. Fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars a year for teaching in a public school is a pretty good deal these days. As more and more of our life savings get swallowed up by the economic vacuum that has become our new reality, I wonder if I didn't make a bad choice back in the eighties. I wonder if my career choice was a prudent one, given the fact that I have chosen to live in a house with dependents in a state where being "comfortable" and being "well-off" are notions to which half of its population cannot relate. The rich do indeed get richer and the poor stay that way.
And all of this makes me wonder: "Do I want the person who will decide my economic future for the next four years to be the kind of person who cannot remember how many houses he owns?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chew On This

I believe it was my father who first set the notion in my head that if you swallowed a piece of gum, it would stay in your stomach for twenty-five years. This piece of wisdom dovetailed nicely with his general and overriding distaste for gum-chewing. Though my father had a much more profound sense of the time it would take to digest a stick of Juicy Fruit, there are plenty of other parents who would tell you it takes at least seven years for your body to be rid of it. Twenty-five or seven, the truth is that it is indigestible and it will move through your body in much the same way that corn makes the same trip.
This was the thought I had as I listened to the announcement this morning of Coastal Cleanup Day. This Saturday, volunteers from around the Bay Area will descend on area beaches to put litter in its place. A cigarette butt would decompose quicker than that lump of gum. It takes somewhere between two and twenty-five years for them to return to the earth. Aluminum cans, by contrast, take two to five hundred years, and everybody's favorite plastic six-pack rings can take up to four hundred and fifty years to become just a memory. That's why we need to pick this stuff up and put it where it belongs. Happily, the recycling process helps in some of those tough cases. It seems a wonder that there are any unattended aluminum cans left anywhere, given the number of industrious types I see weekly rummaging through our recycling bin, but maybe there are still certain locales and destinations off their beaten path.
But cigarette butts? What can you do with those? There are over one hundred seventy-six million pounds of discarded cigarette butts in the United States each year. What sort of craft project can you envision? I'm back to thinking about that undigested wad of gum and believing that is a much more palatable discussion. Or maybe we should ask smokers to chew up their own litter. That way we know exactly where it would be, at least for a few hours, if not twenty-five years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sorry - Wrong House

John McCain is not reading this blog. If he was, he probably would not have sent me a letter soliciting funds to support his campaign. It was a rambling, two page discussion about how desperately we needed to band together to help defeat the "liberal agenda" proposed by the opposition. If John McCain had been reading this blog, he would have understood that I am that opposition, and I fully support that liberal agenda.
I know John's a busy guy. He's running for President of the United States, and I know that must keep him away from his screen, but you might expect that he would keep up with me on his Blackberry or some other wireless device. I know that we don't always see eye to eye on things, but I would expect that, from time to time, he would drop me a note. Just a quick text or a comment on the blog, letting me know how he feels.
But instead, I got this great big diatribe filled with italics and bold type, telling me that I needed to get in line and send him some of my hard-earned dollars to help fend off the cataclysm that would erupt on the fifth of November if the election doesn't go his way. "A Democratic President - particularly one who is rated the most liberal member of the US Senate - working hand in hand with a Democratic-controlled Congress would truly spell disaster for our nation." For the record, I spell "disaster" with a great big "M." And a little "c."
And so, on the bottom of the letter John sent me, I wrote the following: "I'm sorry, but I have no money to send you. I am a school teacher in Oakland. My district is under state control, in part, because of the demands put upon it by the current regime in Washington. As a member of that liberal elite that seems to chafe you and your running mate so very much, I can't imagine that you'd be interested in my contribution anyway." I signed my name and stuck it back in his prepaid envelope, noting that he hoped that I would affix my own postage to "save desperately needed funds." I did not put on my own stamp, and I stuck it in the mailbox. I wonder if he will write back. I wonder if he'll read this blog.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Credit Report

On Saturday I received my new Bank of America credit cards. These replace the ones that they sent me some time ago that replaced the ones that were from MBNA, which they swallowed up three years ago. I had originally applied for a credit card through the University of Colorado Alumni Association because I thought it might be nice to kick back a few dollars to my alma mater when I was buying things from Amazon.com. And it had a cool running buffalo logo on it.
That card sparked a number of different conversations. With it, I was able to make a number of interesting connections with strangers across a counter. Even when B of A engulfed MBNA, I got to keep my buffalo. Then they started playing games with our interest rates and our credit limits and making things difficult to manage our account, so I paid off the card and filed it away.
No longer was I able to strike up a casual conversation about the campus in Boulder as I waited for my purchases to be tallied, bagged and passed over to me. I take all the "convenience checks" Bank of America sends me to consolidate my debts and shred them because the word "convenience" and Bank or America have been mutually exclusive in my dealings with them.
I've kept the card "just in case." I have been told that it is good to have an open line of credit "just in case." The new card they sent me is sleek and black and would look cool if it were a cell phone, but it has no running buffalo. They didn't even send along a little note of apology, or a call to ask if I would mind. Nope. Nothin'.
Today Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch owns our mortgage. I wonder if the guys at Merrill Lynch get to keep their big black bull.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Health Plan

I have not met my doctor, but I have heard good things from my wife. Those good things are echoed on his web page by a number of other happy patients. This comes as good news, since I am now set to meet my fourth new doctor as a California resident. It doesn't help that we have just changed health care providers, and I haven't met any of the folks whose job it is to look after my physical well-being down at Kaiser.
This is not particularly troubling for me since I have spent most of my adult life in conscious avoidance of doctors. The mild irony in that stems from the fact that my father-in-law is a physician. Since I have been married, he has become my go-to medical support staff when my aches and pains veer away from the acceptable range. He's been there to answer those occasional questions about why this started to hurt after I did that, or what I could possibly do to keep from having that feeling again. He's been an excellent source of free medical advice.
But now it's time once again to greet my new flesh-and-blood doctor. This only seems appropriate since he will be dealing with my flesh and blood, both literally and figuratively. I haven't made an appointment or anything, since I feel that makes me seem to be just a little to desperate. After all, I wouldn't want to appear too needy. Or sick. Because that's my little problem. I'm not much for preventative maintenance. I tend instead to focus on maintaining my own limbs and innards until some crisis develops. I know this isn't the best plan, but it keeps me from having to get a second opinion, especially from somebody who graduated from medical school.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


"Obama for president..."
That's exactly the way it appears, in spray paint, on a brick wall six blocks away from my house. It's not the words that stuck with me. It's not my general disdain for graffiti. On the contrary. It occur ed to me that if ever there was a sentiment that needed to be scrawled across city streets and sidewalks, that would be it. It's the urban equivalent of a yard sign, I suppose. It was not the opinion expressed that struck me. It was the punctuation.
According to Wikipedia: "The triple-dot punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot." An ellipsis is generally used to indicate an omission. Maybe just a word, or a phrase, but it could be a thought or conclusion that has been left out. I use this device myself on a regular basis when I am writing notes or e-mail. It is a great way to lead a reader to a conclusion. It is very effective in comedy, when you write your setup, and leave the punchline hanging in the guise of those three dots.
Parents use it when they don't want to give voice to their threats. Teachers use it when they expect their students to know an answer. It is not a question, but a rhetorical pause. The response should be known to the reader or listener. "Or there will be trouble." "George Washington and the Continental Congress." "Voodoo Economics." What follows "Obama for President..." leaves me wondering. Is it a threat? Is there an obvious response?
I want to believe that the author's intent was to suggest that the election of Barack Obama is a foregone conclusion. I hope that whoever wrote that on the wall had something in mind when they left me hanging. I have decided that this is what the politically-minded vandal had in mind: "Obama for president, because the alternative is unthinkable."

Friday, September 12, 2008

System Requirements

It's been one of those weeks that my wife would refer to some relative motion of the planets to explain the way that machines and technology have fought against me. As the officially anointed "tech guy" at my school, I have spent the better part of the past three weeks connecting this to that, chasing down this piece of software and eliminating this or that bug from this or that system. All of this I do with a smile on my face and joy in my heart because in another version of my life I am still repairing modular office furniture for IBM.
Things at home have been just as frustrating. The power cord for my laptop has become useless unless it is held at a certain angle with a very specific tension in order to charge the battery. My bike had a flat tire on Wednesday morning. Machines at all levels of complexity are failing on me and I am scrambling to keep up.
But this is also the first week that I am getting back to teaching kids. As challenging as I found last year's class, I am already enjoying my new position as prep teacher in a palate-cleansing-sorbet-kind-of -way. I don't teach twenty-four kids. I teach three hundred and fifty. I get to meet all of them. I get to learn all of their names. I get to teach the whole school. I am especially fond of the kindergartners. This week all we managed to get through was the rules and procedures for the computer lab, but they were excited about that. And they were all excited to see me after school too. "Hi Mister Caven!" they squealed from across the yard as they headed toward the gate at the end of the day, waving furiously.
Kindergartners don't care if the scanner you are trying to install is compatible with the operating system on your CPU. They want you to know what their mother's name is, and when they need to go to the bathroom (which is often). I'm even getting hugs from the third graders. I know that it won't always be like this, but I know that the machines will start working again soon too. It might be the motion of the planets, but it's much more likely that it's the first weeks of school.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For A Moment

Ground Zero was common ground today for Barack Obama and John McCain. They put their campaigns on hold today long enough to pay solemn tribute to the memory of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. They laid flowers at the pit's commemorative reflecting pool. A pink rose from Obama, a yellow rose from McCain. They bowed their heads and walked off to speak with fire and police personnel. There were no speeches. There were no TV ads. Maybe it was the calm before the storm, but it was nice to see them both as representatives of a country that continues to recover from that early Fall morning when everything changed.
Meanwhile, President Pinhead continues his tradition of standing on the South Lawn in a moment of silence. His recognition of this anniversary is different than the quiet reflection of the two men who aspire to take his job in November. These seven years reflect on the seven minutes that he sat in that Florida classroom, trying to imagine a response to terror. He chose to declare war on an abstract noun.
Seven years ago. Four thousand seven hundred and twenty-one lives ago. As we attempt to simultaneously bring evil-doers to justice while installing a fresh new democracy in the Middle East, construction begins at Ground Zero. This is the last year that visitors will be able to touch the bedrock at the bottom of the pit. Seven years later, the void will be filled.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Parent Teacher Association

For six years, I made a practice of working long hours at my little urban elementary school in Oakland, then after a brisk two-mile bike ride home, I would switch hats and head up the hill to my son's elementary school to volunteer my time as a parent. In my teacher's head, I constructed elaborate "Compare and Contrast" lessons. Sometimes I wondered how these two things could really be the same, much in the same way that a Saint Bernard and a Chihuahua are both dogs. But it really was at their core that I found similarities that made me comfortable. It took me most of those six years to become accustomed to my dual role, and that's when my son had to go and get promoted to middle school.
Tonight I went to my first PTA meeting. For that past half-dozen years, I had avoided this experience by sticking strictly with the Dads' Club. They were the Delta Force of parental involvement. They were an action-oriented group that moved in to fill the gaps left by buildings and grounds, or organized fundraisers that could be done in a weekend. Whatever we talked about in our monthly meeting, we were generally acting on before we all got together again at the neighborhood coffee shop. We pulled a lot of weeds, built a few benches, and performed a lot of amusing skits in those six years. The meeting I attended tonight wasn't about action, it was about procedure.
Don't get me wrong, I have an appreciation of process, but I don't care to discuss it. That's why I was intrigued when a woman stood up as the principal was concluding her report and said that she had something that she believed needed immediate action. She said that her grandson had been shot with a BB gun the other day, and she wanted to know what was going to be done about it. I had the impression that she was more in the mood to see somebody lose their job, but instead there was a great deal of talk about what could, should and would be done. Apparently this girl had shown a number of other kids at school her weapon, and nobody had reported it. She shot three different students, including the grandson, who nearly lost an eye. Suddenly I found myself wishing desperately to be discussing the pizza and cookie dough fundraiser for the Fall.
When the meeting finally ended, I came home and asked my son what he knew about a girl at his school carrying a BB gun. He sheepishly admitted that he had seen this girl showing off her weapon. They had gym class together. He didn't tell anyone. "Everyone knew that Shelly had a gun," he said.
"Sherry?" I asked. "She's in sixth grade?"
I felt my stomach roll. I knew that one of the kids from our school had moved on to go to middle school where my son goes. Small world. Too small. "Sherry Crawford?"
I went and got one of my old class pictures just to be certain. The same troubled little girl who had struggled to control her temper in my fourth grade class was now set to be expelled from my son's middle school for shooting another kid, a friend of my son's, in the eye. And now my two worlds have a nexus. I think I'll skip the next PTA meeting.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

When I Grow Too Old To Dream

"I'm going to try and win an eighth Tour de France." With these words, Lance Armstrong launched a thousand blogs. And a few thousand more casual conversations during which we come to find that we prefer our legends to remain legendary. In an interview with "Vanity Fair," he offered this assertion: "Older athletes are performing well," he said. "Ask serious sports physiologists and they'll tell you age is a wives' tale."
Aside from thumbing his nose at his age, which will be thirty-seven years young next week, Lance will be doing his bit to raise worldwide awareness about cancer. I should say that if Lance Armstrong decided to take on the national debt along with these other concerns, my money (literally) would still be on him. Even if you believe that he is a liar and a cheat, he is at least a world class liar and cheat, and should be afforded the dignity of his station.
But do we really want him to come back and fail? Plenty of people would take smug satisfaction in seeing the seven-time winner of the Tour de France finish at the back of the peleton. He's divorce, you know. He broke up with Sheryl Crow, you know. He rides bikes with President Pinhead, you know. In some cosmic fashion, he doesn't deserve all the success he's achieved, you know.
That may be, but I'm just hoping he doesn't embarrass himself. Joe Montana decided to stick it out for two more years in the NFL, and was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1993, Joe led the Chiefs to the AFC championship game at the tender age of -wait for it - thirty-seven. He even managed to help them to another playoff appearance the next year, then hung up his cleats. But is that how history remembers Joe Montana? And who remembers that Babe Ruth ended his career with the Boston Braves? He made the leap back to Boston when we was forty. And he didn't come back.
Maybe Tiki Barber will get tired of interviewing celebrities and get back to carrying a football before he becomes "officially old." But please, don't let Cal Ripken Jr. come back - or Cal Ripken Sr., for that matter.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bridge Of Sighs

Definition of "pork barrel": slang - A government project or appropriation that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative. Three years ago when a project like this, a bridge to connect a tiny island in Alaska with another town that was already serviced by a ferry, some Alaskans reacted with embarrassment. David Raskin of Homer, Alaska, wrote to his local paper, “Alaskans owe an apology to the people of New Orleans, to Alaska Native people and to the Nation for their selfish shortsightedness in sending these scoundrels to Washington and voting to keep them there.” Sarah Palin indicated during her 2006 campaign for governor that she supported the bridge, but was wishy-washy about it. She told local officials that money appropriated for the bridge "should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done."
Sarah Palin did abandon plans to build the nearly four hundred million dollar bridge from Ketchikan to an island with fifty residents and an airport. But she made her decision after the project had become an embarrassment to the state, after federal dollars for the project were pulled back and diverted to other uses in Alaska, and after she had appeared to support the bridge during her campaign for governor. The McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the "Bridge to Nowhere." She didn't say "no thank you," as she suggested in her speech at the Republican National Convention. She vowed to defend Southeast Alaska "when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." Something that John McCain was busy doing at the time, as a fierce critic of the bridge.
And when all was said and done, the bridge didn't get built, and Sarah Palin got to get in line to be on the list of "The Original Mavericks." It doesn't take much of a Maverick to turn down something that nobody wants anyway. The grapes at the end of that bridge were probably sour anyway.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What's The Matter?

What are you doing this Wednesday? Maybe a trip to the grocery store? Seems like you're always running out of milk in the middle of the week. And apples. Don't you need a few more apples for lunch for the rest of the week? Well, maybe just this one time, wait until Thursday before you get yourself too committed to a refrigerator full of food. You might not need any food come Thursday. You might not need much of anything come Thursday.
Why? Because the most powerful atom-smasher ever built comes online Wednesday. The multibillion-dollar Large Hadron Collider, located in Geneva, will explore the tiniest particles and come ever closer to re-enacting the big bang. "Bravo," you say, "but what does that have to do with me and need for groceries? Frightened skeptics have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii and in the European Court of Human Rights to stop the project. Could the collider create mini-black holes that last long enough and get big enough to turn into a matter-sucking maelstrom? Straight-faced and serious minded scientist types are quick to dispel such concerns, though it doesn't keep them from making a rap video about all the giddy good fun they're going to have smashing atoms. By contrast, there are plenty of scary conspiracy theories that make connections to Nostradamus and the Bible, but they don't have much of a beat, and they're not easy to dance to.
Still, the best thing might be to stick close to home on Wednesday, just in case a hole is torn in the fabric of the universe. That kind of thing plays havoc with your morning commute.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


It's Fall, and that means it's time for the leaves to start dropping from the trees. Up in Berkeley, there's more than just leaves. Hippies are starting to fall from the grove of oaks and redwoods located just outside the University of California stadium. Twenty-one months after activists climbed into the trees to protest the university's plan to raze them and build a one hundred and forty million dollar sports training center, crews began cutting down trees next to UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium.
The four remaining protesters, wearing black ski masks in ninety-degree weather, hit one of the arborists between the eyes with a bottle from their perch. That didn't keep the guy from getting back to work chopping and trimming. The trees will come down now. After nearly two years of legal wrangling and hand-wringing on the university's part, the state Court of Appeals denied a request for a new injunction by two community groups making a last-ditch effort to stop construction of the training center.
But this is Berkeley, right? Birthplace of the Free Speech movement? Once upon a time, perhaps, but students have not been a large part of the protest to save the trees. Most of the activists are older, unemployed individuals who have promoted the "save the oaks" campaign for the last two years while also using the grove as a gathering place to promote other social justice and environmental causes. And there were also plenty of steadfast tree supporters, such as Ayr aka Erik Eisenberg, who was arrested and led away in handcuffs late Friday, and Dumpster Muffin, who said Friday was a "sad day."
For the University, it was a day of relief. The cost for security fences and personnel over the duration of the protest reached three hundred thousand dollars back in April. And now four masked desperadoes make their stand in the lone redwood left in the grove. "We're going to give them a couple of days to let the reality sink in, and hopefully they'll see that, with the trees gone, their protest is completely pointless," said university spokesman Dan Mogulof. Then again, it takes a long time for reality to sink into the sap inside the tree, or hanging from it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Free Speech

I told myself that I could watch just as much of the Republican Convention as I did for the Democrats. I failed. Hurricane Gustav did me the favor of limiting the time I had to spend on Labor Day. Besides, there was this barn-burner of a college football game on between Tennessee and UCLA that went into overtime. On Tuesday, I peeked in for a few minutes, but I was still on track to meet or best my attention span from the week before.
Wednesday night I sat on the couch with gritty determination. I was going to check out what the other side had to say. I was going to take it all in with an open mind. It was my intent to stay objective as I took it all in. Maybe the mistake I made was starting with Rudy Guliani. Maybe my expectations were too high, or too low. Maybe my mistake was having any expectations at all. About the time that Rudy launched into his bit about how Barack Obama "never had to lead people in crisis" and just before he began his signature refrain of 9/11, I turned the television off. I never made it to the presumptive nominee for vice-president, Sarah Palin.
From the bites of sound that I have witnessed in the wake of her speech, I guess I probably did myself and my digestive tract a favor. I was not up to this task. My wife was much more courageous. She sat through John McCain's video tribute as well as his acceptance. Strong stomach on that one.
She's the one that got to see my sister-in-law carried out of the hall. As a member of Code Pink, she was there with the expressed purpose of making her voice heard, even if it was at the expense of the viewers at home. The crowd in the hall responded to each disruption with loud chants of "USA, USA!" to drown out the single, unamplified voices of the protesters. That didn't keep the cameras from catching her being escorted up the aisle with one hand sticking straight in the air, making a peace sign.
And me? I wonder if I will have to limit my viewing habits strictly to Cartoon Network. That is, until Spongebob Squarepants announces his third-party run.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fifty-Seven Channels And Nothin' On

What are you going to be watching this Fall? Now that we have hundreds of channels to choose from, we're having some trouble trying to decide just how to spend our daily four hours in front of the television. The newest issue of "Entertainment Weekly" promises to tell me about ninety-two different choices we will have come mid-September or so. Hundreds of channels. Dozens of new shows. Even if I exceeded my national average of hours watching the tube, I don't think that I could squeeze in all the quality programming that the major and minor networks would have me see.
But what would I be missing? I watched a few minutes of the two-hour premiere of the redux of "Beverly Hills 90210." I will allow that this may not have been my proudest moment, but I found myself drawn to watch anything other than Olympics and Convention. There was some mild comfort in seeing what amounted to familiar faces, or at least familiar situations. Then I recognized my folly and passed the remote control to my wife, who calmly took charge of the situation. I rolled over and went to sleep.
How I miss Premiere Week. With all the special events and the writer's strike, some of my favorite shows won't return until early next year. "Must See TV" as become "Must Wait TV." Still, I expect that, through the magic of digital video recording and living in a home with four (one for the dog) TV sets, we will all be caught up on what we need to watch and when. Just in time for the Spring TV Preview.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Juno, Alaska

"I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?"
How about getting mixed up in all the colorful hijinks that surround a presidential election? I have spent the last few days puzzling over the timing of the revelation of Bristol Palin's pregnancy. I have had a great many discussions with a number of different people and all of them end in decidedly different ways. When did mom find out, and when did she tell "Big Daddy" McCain? None of the answers seem to affect the overall reek of hypocrisy.
I agree with Barack Obama at one level when he says, "I think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president." On another level, I wonder what this says about the decision-making abilities of John McCain. If he had known about the impending bundle of joy in advance, would he have made a different choice for his running mate? An advisor, who refused to be named, insisted "Senator McCain knew this and felt in no way did it disqualify her from being vice president. Families have difficulties sometimes and lucky for her she has a supportive family."
Again, I agree. But what about all this preaching of abstinence, and cutting funding for for an Alaskan state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live. What about all the teen mothers who aren't lucky enough to have a supportive family who just happen to be running for vice president? So many questions, so few answers. Time will tell. Until then, we can keep ourselves busy fuming over Sarah Palin's vision of God's Will, which includes sending U.S. troops to fight in Iraq and completing a pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to North American markets.
I guess it's all in the benevolent tentacles of the Flying Spaghetti Monster now, anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

When You're Hot, You're Hot

There are lots of reasons to miss Jerry Reed. The man was a great songwriter. He told stories like "Amos Moses": "Well, Amos Moses was a Cajun. He lived by himself in the swamp. He hunted alligator for a livin'. Just knock 'em in the head with a stump. The Louisiana law gonna get you, Amos! It ain't legal huntin' alligator down in the swamp, boy!" I guess I don't have to tell you that anybody who would mess with ol' Amos is lookin' for a heap o' trouble.
He was also quite the thespian. He understood his limitations as an actor, telling an interviewer "When people ask me what my motivation is, I have a simple answer: money." Even so, he managed to appear in more than twenty different films and TV shows over a thirty year career, and contributed to nearly as many soundtracks along the way. And this is how I will choose to remember Jerry Reed.
I was introduced to Jerry by my older brother, via Burt Reynolds. He was a big fan of one of Jerry's first films: "W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings." I understood that Burt was the star, but there was something about that second banana thing that really made me appreciate the laid-back twang of his good buddy Jerry. This friendship was on full display in the first two "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, but Cledus "Snowman" Snow isn't the role I will remember best. That distinction lies squarely on Bama McCall.
In the summer of 1976, Burt Reynolds' directorial debut and the sequel of sorts to his 1973 film "White Lightning," was playing up the road at our local drive in. My older brother took me to see "Gator," squeezed into the back of his Toyota pickup along with several other friends of ours and enough lawn chairs and bean bags for us all to take up two or three stalls. I have a fond memory of Lauren Hutton's brief nudity, and Burt's sweaty tough-guy, but it was Jerry Reed's Bama McCall that stole the show. This was a guy who was every bit as nasty as the characters in his songs. Bama would just as soon pat you on the back as empty both barrels of his sawed-off shotgun into your gut. He was a very bad man.
And Jerry Reed was a very nice man. That's why they call it acting, I suppose.

Monday, September 01, 2008

In Harm's Way

A good friend and constant reader of this blog called just a little while ago, concerned for the safety and well-being of Geraldo Rivera. It seems that Jerry (to his closest associates) was standing on top of a levee, apparently unclear on the concept of what evacuation in advance of an oncoming hurricane means. Perhaps he had lucked on to some new information as to the whereabouts of Al Capone's vaults, or maybe he was busy sketching classified storm movements in the mud. Whatever the reason, there he was in all his wind and rain-swept glory reporting so that we could decide.
I have made my decision. He's a twit. And he's not alone. In spite of the fact that nearly two million people have left the Gulf Coast area in anticipation of the advancing storm, thousands more have streamed in, bringing their satellite trucks and crews. We are now being treated with 'round the clock coverage of impending doom. So far, the reporters and all their foul weather gear have been let down by Gustav. You can almost hear the disappointment in their voices as they tell us that the storm has been downgraded to Category One, and only one storm-related death, involving a woman killed in a car wreck, was reported in Louisiana. What a waste of good Gore-Tex.
I changed the channel to watch the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. I wanted to see if Jerry was packing heat. Now that would be news.