Sunday, May 31, 2009

Unscheduled Departure

It's a habit left over from back when I used to wander into record stores on Tuesday afternoons, knowing that it was the day that the new releases would hit the bins. After a cursory look at the racks on the wall, I would move on over to the real workout. Starting at the "A's" and working my way through the alphabet, just in case anyone form AC/DC to Warren Zevon managed to sneak in a new album while I wasn't looking. Then there would be a few more minutes inspecting the cut-outs, again on the off chance that something good might have fallen through the cracks. Now I don't go to record stores anymore, but I do check the new releases on Amazon and iTunes on a weekly basis: just in case.
It was on one of these cyber-searches that I discovered that there was a new Barenaked Ladies album coming out. A live album, which isn't necessarily a curiosity for them, but what caught my eye was customer review: "This was BNL's first show without founding member Steve Page." I went back and looked at the artwork. No lie. There were just four of them. The lead singer was gone. I left the virtual record store and headed out to the virtual newsstand where I received confirmation that yes, Steven Page had quit the band back in February to pursue solo projects, "including theatrical opportunities." Or he was fired. It was an amicable parting of the ways after more than twenty years. Or he got the boot because his new "drugs and younger women" persona didn't fit in well with the new kids' album the band was trying to promote. Whatever the case may be, is no longer a member of the band.
I thought about how I dealt with the disintegration of other groups that struck my fancy. I was able to cope with a variety of different bassists in Cheap Trick, and though I know that Alan Myers has been replaced on drums he is still DEVO's drummer. But this Steven Page thing was more like a David Lee Roth kind of thing. Bombastic as any Canadian could be, Steven was the voice of the band. Sammy Hagar just won't do.
And so I grieved for a while. About a week. Then I did the only thing that made sense to me: I started pinning my hopes on a reunion tour. And the commemorative live album. I'll be checking back next Tuesday, and once weekly thereafter. Just in case.
Drove downtown in the rain
nine-thirty on a Tuesday night,
just to check out the late-night record shop.
Call it impulsive call it compulsive, call it insane;
but when I'm surrounded I just can't stop. - "Brian Wilson" Barenaked Ladies

Saturday, May 30, 2009

It Ends Tonight

Some have called it the end of an era. I'll just say, "Next." The star on the dressing room door is getting new peel-off letters. It will now read, "Mister O'Brien." Jay Leno has rung down the curtain on the second-longest tenure as host of the "Tonight Show." He lasted seventeen years, and here's what I can loudly proclaim: I never watched one night. I confess that I may have peeked in for a moment or two if I knew someone from my interest group was going to show up on the guest list, but for the most part I steered clear.
I made this decision primarily based on my fondness for David Letterman. Long before there was a book or a TV movie, I thought Dave got a raw deal from his previous employers. I was happy to see him hop networks and set up shop in the same time slot as Jay. I still don't understand how the Gods of Showbiz allowed the guy who used to show up periodically on Dave's show with "a beef" would get to jump ahead of him in the big money sweepstakes that was hosting the "Tonight Show." Besides, Johnny always liked Dave better, and so did I.
The other element that played a part in my Leno-abstinence was the fact that when Johnny Carson retired, I moved to California. I turned thirty just one month after Johnny's last show. I packed up my things and headed for the coast. Out here, whichever late night show you watch comes on after the news, and Pacific Time puts that at eleven thirty. Dave and Jay both became casualties of my new time zone and lifestyle. By the time we got Tivo, I had stopped caring so much about talk shows. Now I watch Jon Stewart for my topical humor and occasional Bruce Springsteen appearances.
I like Conan O'Brien. The fact that he honed his comedy chops writing for "The Simpsons" puts him in good company in my Pantheon of Yuks. I don't guess that I'll be staying up late for him either, even though he has the same drummer The Boss does. And I don't expect that having a chance to watch Jay five nights a week at ten o'clock will make me any more of a fan. For me, the "Tonight Show" ended on May 22, 1992. They may have been selling weight-loss supplements on NBC late night for the past seventeen years. Or maybe it was chin implants. No matter. I'm old, and they don't make 'em like they used to and you kids and all your fancy Leno T-shirts can all just hold your horses while I continue to reminisce about the good old days.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Driving The Memory Lane

I was surprised on Wednesday by the comment I had pointed at me: "My second most hated team is the Nuggets." The woman who said this to me and I have a long-standing football rivalry. Her nephew played for the Oakland Raiders, and most autumn mornings find me wearing my deep and abiding affection for the Denver Broncos literally on my sleeve. And my back. And on cold days, on my head. I accept that I make myself a target here in the heart of the Silver and Black Hole, but what was going on with the Nuggets? Are we now tossing down a basketball gauntlet?
The Denver Nuggets are currently having a bit of success. I confess that I was surprised to be told that the last time they made the Western Finals was 1985. That's long enough ago that I can remember living in Colorado and following the team, but I could never call myself a "fan" as in "fanatic." All of my basketball ya-ya's came from watching high school basketball. Once I graduated, I preferred to hop on the Boston Celtics bandwagon.
But there was this one night, when my older brother managed to get us a couple of "really good seats" to go see the Nuggets in action. We chugged some nachos and threw back a few souvenir cups of Coors Light as we enjoyed ourselves in an intensely brotherly way. When the game was over, we got ourselves down near the player's exit where we offered our Hawaiian print Nuggets caps up to Wayne Cooper for his autograph. He signed on the underside of the bill, so we made an immediate show of flipping it up to reveal our celebrity connection. For years afterward, we would often greet each other with this odd gesture, usually without the hat, announcing "Wayne Cooper."
And now, upon reflection, I can see that my concerns for the Denver Nuggets run more deeply than I might have at first imagined. It is most certainly the reason that I flinched when she said "second most hated team." I can assume that number one must be the Broncos, but I guess I don't really want to find out.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life Is A Lot Like Reality TV

My sister-in-law has always maintained that the last, desperate gasp of a marriage comes when you decide to renew your vows. Though I didn't choose to follow her advice to the letter, having my own "do-over" with my wife and Elvis a couple years back, but I get her point. If you sign up for "til death do you part," what else is there? It's a little like having a sequel to "The Neverending Story." What's the point?
Using this as a base point, what are we to make of the following of the following headline: "Critics say kids on reality TV are exploited." I don't know if there are letters big enough to spell out DUH. Perhaps next to the Hollywood sign, or Mount Rushmore? What sort of benefits would one expect children to reap from having their family's personal life aired on a weekly basis? Though the veil between Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana is incredibly thin, at least her episodic cavorting generally comes under the heading of "fiction." Watching a kid melt down because his birthday party didn't feature a pony isn't going to help the kid. Loyal viewers of "Supernanny" may take quiet notice of the reassuring words parents are given to deal with their barely controlled children, but what sort of reality is created when a camera crew shows up? I would have a pretty hard time staying in bed if there was a couple of big hairy guys standing over me with a microphone and a night-vision lens. And if I were a "bad kid," why not put on a show?
I know why this issue is getting so much heat right now. Ten million people watched the season premiere of "Jon & Kate Plus 8." I wasn't part of that multitude, but I suspect that eight of those ten million were watching the slow-motion train wreck that has become Jon and Kate's marriage. Hey kids, want to find out what mom and dad really think? Watch tonight's episode.
Or not. CBS managed to get past that whole potentially dull adult thing by creating their own version of "Lord Of The Flies" a couple of years back with "Kid Nation." If you're a fan of child exploitation and you missed this one, too bad. The irony of parents filing lawsuits on behalf of the children they sent off to fend for themselves in the New Mexico desert is almost too thick to ponder. As Jon and Kate teeter on the edge of Splitsville, I'm sure they will have a chance to reflect meaningfully, for the cameras, on the renewal of their nuptials last year on Maui. The kids should be calling the ones who really care about their welfare: their agents.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Pursuit Of Happiness

Rhode Island was the first to abolish slavery way back in 1774, two years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Vermont came along in 1777, followed by Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut in pretty short order. New York came along in 1799, and five years later New Jersey caught up. The following states never allowed slavery within their borders: Maine, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Oregon, California, and Illinois. There are two reasons a state wouldn't make this list. First, the state may not have been part of the union before the Emancipation Proclamation. Second, that state may have needed to lose a war to be reminded of that "all men are created equal" part of the aforementioned Declaration of Independence.
The nearly hundred years between that declaration and the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 gives us all a sense of just how hard-won freedom and equality truly are. Another hundred years passed before segregation was outlawed. Keeping in mind that these were all pieces of legislation and the actual experiences and attitudes of those impacted may not have had the same moment of magical transition to equality and understanding.
Interracial marriage was made legal in all fifty states in 1967. There are currently four states, Iowa, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut that allow same-sex couples to marry. Compare that list to the one from two hundred and thirty years ago. We are all endowed with certain unalienable rights, but sometimes it takes us a while to be able to use them. Sometimes it takes a little while. Until then, I suggest we all continue, like the man said, to pursue happiness.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Missile Envy

I suppose I should thank the folks over in North Korea for giving me a break from this incessant economic-education-urban drama navel gazing that has afflicted me for these past few weeks. There are more important things, after all. Outside our borders, there is a world of trouble waiting for us to take notice, once we get tired of our insular cares and woes.
Yes, North Korea defied world powers by carrying out a "test" of a ten - to - twenty kiloton nuclear weapon. If the United Nations were having their annual Science Fair this month, they would no doubt feel compelled to award them some kind of ribbon or certificate. But since the UN is busy keeping the peace and trying to keep such detonations from occurring, that probably won't happen. Besides, this isn't exactly "original," is it?
I understand how this has to burn other countries. The United States got to the moon first and stuck their flag in it. We got "the bomb" first, way back in 1945. That one really was a test, by the way. After that, it was pretty obvious what the results of compressing a plutonium sphere. Seven years later, we upped the ante again with the hydrogen bomb. While Japan busied themselves with tiny radios and tape recorders, we ushered in a new age of nuclear devastation. But not to worry. We have tested this notion more than a thousand times, and it seems to be pretty effective. The Russians put up a satellite first, then a man into space, but Americans continue to lead the way in the redundant art of nuclear testing.
That is history. Remember the United Nations? They've got this thing called a "Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty." Part of the idea behind the treaty, though not clearly stated, is to keep whack-jobs like Kim Jong Il from getting hold of a nuclear weapon. Or six. With missiles that can launch them into neighboring countries, or even across the ocean to island targets like Hawaii. Then again, people in South Korea didn't seem all that concerned. "I see this test as North Korea's marketing strategy. They just seem to be playing games," said Kim Sun-joo, who works at a travel agency. "I wouldn't say that South Korea is completely free of danger, but I don't think we are any more in danger than we were before. People here are used to these kinds of threats."
Well thanks, Sun-joo. I'm going back to worrying about the bailout and Adam Lambert.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Extended Service Contract

Our president, the commander-in-chief, has asked us all to reconsider Memorial Day and what it means to us. Specifically, he asked us to keep in mind what this day is all about: "It is about doing all we can to repay the debt we owe to those men and women who have answered our nation's call by fighting under its flag. It is about recognizing that we, as a people, did not get here by accident or good fortune alone."
It got me to thinking about the number of U.S. presidents who reached that office by way of military service. George Washington set a precedent for presidents, after all. He was commander in chief before he was Commander-In-Chief. Then there was Ulysses S. Grant, who probably did a better job running the Civil War than he did with the country as a whole. Dwight Eisenhower helped save the world from the Nazis before he took over the office in the fifties. Was D-Day more challenging than laying down a network of interstate highways?
There were a lot of guys who served in World War Two: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Bush the First. The greatest generation gave its all on the battlefield as well as the Oval Office. The two fellows before him had their own reasons for skipping that portion of the program, but Barack Obama shows up as the first president of the post-draft age. Military service is voluntary, and that choice is something that he would like us all to acknowledge and respect. "We have a responsibility to serve all of them as well as they serve all of us," he said.
For today then, let us consider the wisdom of Dick "Dick" Cheney, who received five deferments for the draft during the Vietnam War which left him uniquely qualified to be named Secretary of Defense by Bush the First. Let us also keep in mind the ongoing legacy of Rush "To Judgement" Limbaugh and the pilonidal cyst that kept him on the bench during the war in Vietnam. On second thought, it's Memorial Day. Let's extend our thoughts and prayers to those who have earned it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Big Wheel Keep On Turning

I watched my son guide his Camaro down city streets at speeds in excess of the posted limit. Backwards. In fact, his driving in reverse got him up near one hundred miles an hour at one point, and as he cackled with glee, I had to leave the room. I was pleased to know that his expertise was still limited to joysticks and video games, but I wondered what we all might be in for in just four more years. This was a kid who, upon finding his stroller unattended in his first year, was wont to turn the thing over and check out the chassis.
I know that I am not the only father who has had to stand for hours at a construction site, watching big trucks with their small children. It was only recently that we were able to let go of our collection of "Monster Machine" videos. Maybe that's why a pair of recent news items never struck me as particularly odd.
Like the one about three-year-old Pipi Quinlan, a little New Zealand girl who used her mother's Internet access to purchase an earthmover. Not a toy. Twenty thousand dollars of real-life heavy equipment. A phone call to the seller "straightened things out." Translation: No big digger, and a heartbroken Pipi. Mom might check out Bob The Builder before the Barbie aisle on the next trip to the Kiwi equivalent of Toys R Us.
Then there's the six-year-old from North Platte, Nebraska who grabbed the wheel after his dad passed out in the family pickup. Tustin Mains jumped from the back seat and into his dad's lap to steer the truck for several blocks until police officers were able to catch up and stop it. Tustin says he was happy when he saw the officer reach in the window and pop the transmission into park. Obviously, Tustin hasn't spent enough hours playing "Need For Speed." My son would probably still be driving. Fast. Backwards.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Race To The Bottom

That gurgling sound you hear? "Our entire state's going down the tubes." Those were the words San Francisco Superintendent of schools Carlos Garcia used to describe the current state of the Golden state. He was referring, specifically, to the already spare education budget and the proposed additional cuts that will almost certainly take place before the new fiscal year starts in July.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in San Francisco for a meeting with California's mayors, and he told them they were probably going to be on the outside looking in when a five billion dollar federal program to improve schools called "Race To The Top" is rolled out next fall. Superintendent Garcia didn't have to read it in the newspaper. He got to hear the news firsthand. "I have huge hopes for what California can do," Duncan said. "I'd love to have California at the table, but California has things it needs to change."
And now my mind turns, as it often does, to Bill Murray. At the beginning of the movie "Stripes," Bill comes home from a pretty awful day to find out that his girlfriend is moving out. She tells him that his act isn't cute anymore, and she kept hoping that he would grow up. As she walks out, our hero cries after her, "Talk about massive potential for growth!" That's pretty much where California is right now: looking up.
This is the way the education biz works: Prove that you don't need the teachers' assistants in your classroom and you get funded for those assistants for anther year. Low test scores are a sure sign that you're wasting money, so it's time to cut something. Become a lean, mean, educating machine. In the wake of his budget Titanic hitting the iceberg called reality, the Governator has decided to cut the school year by seven and a half days. By contrast, Duncan said the reforms he has in mind would lengthen the school day so that students could take classes for longer than the typical six hours. Another way to "improve schools" is to close the ones that are low performers. An interesting notion. Perhaps teachers could use this approach on low-performing students. But we can't can we? It is public education, after all. We appear to be headed in opposite directions, through the looking glass.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Survey Says....

Back in high school I was convinced that my lack of sex appeal was directly connected to my lack of mid-digital hair. It was this little tidbit of biological information that helped soothe my tortured male ego as I braved the turbulent world of teenage mating rituals. It never occurred to me that it might be a character flaw of some sort. My dearth of dates in high school must certainly be genetic.
Or maybe it's simply because I never learned the rules. You know that part about waiting three days to call a girl back? Or was it two? Then there's that whole "hard-to-get" thing. I never got that either. I never wanted to appear as anything but available. Or was that desperate?
A recent poll of single women rated the top five things that kept them from going on a second date with a guy. Number one: The Puppy Dog Syndrome. As one woman put it, "The early stage of dating is just one big game, whether we like it or not. It's a cat and mouse game; puppy dogs don't win."
Being eager to please, flattering, and the dreaded "too nice" are all Turn-offs with a capital "T." Women who are dating don't want nice. They want a guy who will mistreat them. Or at least that's what they tell the folks who run these surveys. Perhaps being too eager is something that most people can modulate. I never could. I can still remember the silence on the other end of the line when I told the woman who would become my wife that I was thinking about moving out to California. And into her apartment. And just maybe that's the moment when we stopped dating, because according to most polls, women really like a husband who is available. But not too nice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Everything Must Go!

When the smoke cleared, or what little dust that could have been stirred up by seventeen percent of the registered voters, only one of the proposed budget measures won: the one that keeps lawmakers from voting themselves a raise when the state is running in the red. Such is the way of things here in California, where we need to put common sense up to a vote. As for the rest of them, now the real fun begins. We've got to come up with more than twenty-one billion dollars to balance our budget. Or start cutting programs.
But wait! The folks in Sacramento have always shown a willingness to think outside the box, as long as that box is the cozy place they call their office. The Governator wants to sell off California's landmarks as a way to ease our economic crisis. Notable spots such as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, San Quentin State Prison, and the Orange County Fairgrounds could be on the block as part of a revised budget plan. The money generated from these sales, between six hundred million to one billion dollars, would not be available for two to five years, and no mention has been made about what to do with the prisoners currently doing time in San Quentin, but we've learned not to disturb genius at work. The real estate brochures practically write themselves: "Stunning views highlight this beautiful Marin estate, with 3,082 bedrooms, 1,542 baths and a death chamber, a well planned, efficient chef's kitchen with massive storage and a huge dining hall. This baby's got it all and it's priced to move!" Former tenant Charles Manson had nothing but nice things to say about the place.
I'm afraid it's only starting to get weird. Tune in next week when Arnold sells the naming rights to Half Dome to

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clear Expectations

On Monday, an eighth grader in Louisiana brought a gun to school. He shot over the head of one teacher, then went into the restroom and shot himself in the head. So far, everyone who say that they knew this kid cannot imagine that he would do such a thing. This is in spite of the fact that he made detailed plans in his "deadly diary" and stole the gun from his father over the weekend. It's an old refrain: "He was quiet and kept to himself. We never would have expected that he would be involved in anything like this."
Why not?
On Monday, a kid brought a gun to my son's middle school. Security personnel caught wind of it and turned the him over to the police before he got it out of his backpack. There was shock and dismay, but no disbelief. In some small way, a kid in Oakland bringing a gun to school doesn't raise the same alarm. Perhaps there is a simple connection to the number of homicides in Oakland compared to any given suburban setting. Our surprise is mitigated by the violence that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Or maybe we should stop taking it for granted. Yesterday I watched a kid write his name on the inside of his brand new RIF book, followed by the legend "Gangsta Crip." This fifth grader had been trying on his thug persona for a few weeks, but it was the "Crip" that struck me. Now he wanted to try on a specific affiliation too. Then I was reminded of a carelessly scrawled bit of graffiti in the stairwell next to the fifth grade classrooms. It read, "Crip." By some coincidence, the RIF book was left in my room, so at lunch I walked out on the yard and asked this young man if he had forgotten something. Then I made a point of walking with him down to the landing where the offending message was. I gave him four tries at denying it, holding the book up next to it, comparing the handwriting letter for letter. Exasperated, he confessed.
He cleaned the wall, with the custodian's help. He got a call home as well. His mother assured me that wouldn't be "having that trouble" with her son anymore. I appreciated the matter-of-fact tone of her voice. I'm pretty sure that she won't be having that trouble with her son anymore either. Because we wouldn't expect that kind of thing from him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Have A Propostion For You

There's another election here in California. We won't get to toss a governor out or make way for a new era of hope and change. This time we're going to try and decide upon the best way to untangle the budget mess that is currently keeping our state from catching any kind of relief. We, who are not professional legislators, are being asked to make sense of a problem that has apparently confounded the pros in Sacramento for several years now. My hunch is that no one wants to be the person who says, "I have an idea: Let's raise taxes."
As a homeowner who happens to be a public school teacher as well, I am always conflicted on these matters. But then again, it does give me a shot at choosing when I get a raise. If only it was that simple. None of what we are being asked to vote on will actually fix the problem. Like Arkansas and Rhode Island, the California legislature require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. This does not happen with any kind of regularity or speed. Months pass and deadlines pass until some semblance of a compromise can be shaken free long enough to get two out of every three lawmakers to agree on it. Forty-seven other states make this process a simple majority.
We are not being asked to fix that. Instead we are sorting out things like a "rainy day fund," and tobacco taxes. I do like that we have the chance to keep lawmakers from voting themselves a raise when the state is running at a deficit. Since every election we have costs the state millions of dollars, calling for voters to make these choices seems to only exacerbate the lack of funds.
But what about those schools? The state's teachers' union is asking its members to support the first two propositions, while my local union is advising against them. The message is clear: This is precisely what it feels like to be a senator or representative. Conflicting information and opposing views cause us all to simply shut down. When the going gets tough, the tough go on vacation. Who's with me?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fair Minded Words

This weekend, our president's wife had a little easier gig than her husband. Both were givng commencement addresses. Hers was at the University of California at Merced. His was at Notre Dame. She was addressing the very first graduating class. He was speaking to the one hundred and sixty-third. She walked into a small-town love-fest. His crowd was a little tougher.
"Remember that you are blessed," Michelle told the crowd on the west coast. "You must bend down and let someone stand on your shoulders so they can see a better future." She reminded them that, like half of the student body at this four-year-old campus, she was the first in her family to attend college. "We are going to need all of you graduates," Missus Obama said. "Make your legacy a lasting one. Dream big." And the audience went wild.
Out in South Bend, things were a little more tempestuous. The President of the United States was only a few moments into his prepared remarks before he was interrupted by anti-abortion protesters. The stretch of logic that connects a commencement address to one's view on abortion is a wide one, on a par with Arizona State University choosing not to bestow an honorary degree on the President Obama because "body of work is yet to come, it’s inappropriate to recognize him at this time." To that end, Mister Obama seemed to be coping with his disappointment: "And I also want to thank you for the honorary degree that I received. I know it has not been without controversy. I dont know if youre aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I'm only one for two as President."
He gave words of encouragment and praise, and then addressed the controversy that almost kept him from coming to Notre Dame to speak. "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions." He continued, "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words." Congratulations to Notre Dame's Class of 2009 for having the hearts and minds that would invite those words to their commencement. And congratulations to the graduates of UC Merced as well, for giving "first-timer" Michelle a chance to inspire them. Real life awaits.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's A Wonderful Reality

Over the years I have had my imagination tweaked by the idea of multiple realities and outcomes. Reading Flash comics back in my pre-teen years first hipped me to the notion that there could be another Earth just next door to our own, vibrating at a frequency that makes it impossible to see, unless you can control your vibrations like the Scarlet Speedster can. Things over there aren't a whole lot different, but just enough to keep things interesting. It is the "what if" portion of the DC comics galaxy. On Earth 2, Batman and Catwoman could get married, for example. Different planet, different choices.
That whole "alternative timeline" thing came back to me in the new Star Trek movie got me thinking. There could be a reality in which I decided to stay in Santa Fe as a freshman. Instead of washing out after one night in my dorm room, I stuck it out and became best friends with my roommate, who I met only once on this plane. This would have set off a new flurry of forks in the road: Would I have been able to cling to my high school sweetheart? Our angst-filled passion eventually wore us both out. Maybe the distance would have saved our romance. Or time and space could have done the same job we managed ourselves back here on Earth 1. If I graduated form the College of Santa Fe, I never would have met the boys from Slocum Hall, and no one would have had to choose to move to Boulder. I wouldn't be left behind on that sunny October afternoon. No crash. No funeral.
I would have missed the start of my management career at Arby's. No Beef 'n' Cheddar and eventually no Trivia Bowl. I might have made a home for myself in the desert southwest. Close enough to make it home for Christmas, but far enough away to have to find a place to do my laundry. Eventually, I would have reconnected with that girl from high school who ended up at Saint John's College, just up the road. Maybe we kept in touch, and eventually I came to visit her in the Bay Area when she transferred to Mills. We fall in love and make a home in those hills. And maybe things just have a way of working out no matter what planet you're on.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spy Games

Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, "We were told that waterboarding was not being used. That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were." For those of you who may not have been following the current soap opera, "they" are the Central Intelligence Agency. The Speaker of the House is suggesting that the CIA lied to her. I have another briefing for the Speaker, and I will keep it brief: Duh.
It is the CIA's job to lie. It is their business. Covert operations and so forth, you may have heard? According to United States law, they are the only agency allowed to carry out such actions. The overthrow of Iran's government in 1953, the Bay of Pigs, several failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, the "secret war" in Laos, and then there was the arming of thousands of Afghan moujajedeen. These are the ones we know about. The notion that we have now achieved full disclosure from a group that regularly refers to themselves as "spooks," seems disingenuous. If there was any torture going on by a United States agency, wouldn't you expect it to be the CIA? Doesn't the Speaker watch "24?"
I understand how let down Nancy must feel. I would like to believe that the United States will always act in the most noble and courageous manner. I would like to believe that torturing anyone puts us on the same moral footing as "the bad guys." I also understand, without the benefit of a private briefing on "enhanced interrogation techniques," that this is not the reality in which we have been living since 1947. CIA spokesman George Little said, "It is not the policy of this Agency to mislead the United States Congress." As far as we know. It should not be the policy of the United States Congress to simply take the CIA at their word.

Friday, May 15, 2009

No Justice, No Sense

I was making conversation with one of my fellow teachers as we wound our way toward the administration building downtown. I was trying to catch on to some of the chants and slogans that were being shouted out into the warm afternoon. I suggested that we try "No justice, no peace," since it seemed like a thought for this and any other time. We all savored the periodic honking of horns as citizens rushing past us showed their support. Or was it derision? It's so hard to tell with horns.
I was on my way to a "work action." Teachers from Oakland were asked to meet in front of the district offices before the school board meeting. We meandered down the sidewalks, being careful not to block driveways or intersections, many of us clad in our green shirts. We were going to rally and speak out against the proposed cuts in education in our city, state and nation. We were showing our solidarity.
I helped carry a banner that I didn't get a chance to read until I handed it off to another volunteer. I listened to the leadership of my union tell me that, contrary to the state teacher's union, we were encouraged to vote against the upcoming ballot measures meant to safeguard funding for education. I tried to make sense of it. I realized that I have been trying to make sense of this union for twelve years now, and I'm no closer than I was back in my first year of teaching. It is a very telling statistic that every one of our school's prior union representatives are no longer teaching in this district. Some of them left teaching entirely. Others just went to districts that offered more money or benefits or just more direction.
I went to some union meetings when I first started. I was impressed by how much rhetoric could be mounted on one topic, before another could be addressed. Teachers love the sound of their own voices, and sitting through a meeting with a bunch of politically directed teachers created a night of filibustering. No one could agree on the central issue of the day. Was it salary? Benefits? Class size? Social justice? No justice, no peace. No focus, no point.
Teachers don't get paid enough. That's why we have a union. We are in the middle of a recession. That's why we don't have money for education. Bailing out banks and auto manufacturers comes first. And maybe someday there will be peace in the world and the priority of our country will shift to education. And maybe someday I will stop feeling so horribly ambivalent about going to these rallies. Maybe someday it will make sense.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Learning Curve

The apocryphal tale goes something like this: I tell the guy who is interviewing me to become a part of his teacher credentialing program that the reason that I feel that I would make a good teacher is that "I am good with kids." I learn later that this answer was widely scoffed at, and the powers that be decided to keep me in the program in spite of it.
What made me say it then? It could be that I had spent most of my previous thirty-plus years pursuing a lifestyle that kept me in touch with all things "kid" and remained, in many ways, a child myself. This changed abruptly on May 14, 1997, when I could no longer diminish my role as an adult, because I became a father. Now there was a whole new generation behind me reflect my age and maturity.
In the past twelve years, I have learned plenty of things about being a grown-up. It has been a unique circumstance, as I have found my parenting skills growing and challenged as I have grown and been challenged as a teacher. Being a teacher is different. Eventually you can hand off your student to that higher power, parents, and resume your normal cares and worries. As a parent, you are never free of those concerns. Happily, I have been blessed with a son who is extremely patient and awesomely resilient.
I like to honk my horn from time to time about what a swell job I'm doing raising my kid. The truth is, he makes it pretty easy. Every so often, I find myself in lecture mode, and I can see it in his eyes: "You really need to tell me this?" But he doesn't say it. He knows that what I am secretly hoping is that he will be just a notch or two better at everything that I ever did. No pressure, dad.
And so today I celebrate the day on which we both started to grow up. It's not as scary as I thought it would be. I've had plenty of help from his mother, and along with some of the tricks I picked up from my parents, it turns out that I am pretty good with kids. Of course, it helps to start with a pretty good kid.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May I Check Your Facts, Sir?

"One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear." Maurice Jarre never said that. Nor will he have a chance to say it, since he passed away on March 28. This quote was attributed to him by Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald. When I say that "attributed," I mean he made it up. Then he posted it on Wikipedia, and people around the globe believed it.
Why wouldn't they? Hooligans and pranksters don't just go putting things on Al Gore's Internet that aren't true, do they? Perhaps I should point at your inbox and tell you that the fellow from Nigeria isn't really going to send you half a million dollars for helping to expedite the estate of his recently deceased compatriot. And some of those hot guys and gals on those singles sites aren't using their own pictures. Some of them aren't even using their own genders.
I am sorry to be the one to shatter your belief system, but the cyber-world is a shifty place. As anyone who has bothered to click through on any of the links on this blog knows, I have often used Wikipedia as a source to confirm or reiterate my conjectures and opinions. But would any of this hold up in court? I sure hope not.
I make a practice of telling kids who come to my room to do research on the computers to find another source in addition to Wikipedia, since it is quite possible that it was another fifth grader who posted that expose on George Washington's wooden teeth. Wikipedia reminds me of the TV show my younger brother and I wanted to make once upon a time. It was going to feature all the people who weren't quite incredible enough to make it on "That's Incredible." Our show was going to be called "That's Kind Of Interesting." If you want to know who owns the world's largest ball of twine, check Wikipedia. Then you might just want to drive out there and check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It's recommendation time. Not that you need me to tell you what mouthwash to use or from whence your next meal should come. I'm talking about the written kind. The letter kind. The kind that parents hope that I will write for their kids. How can I put into words all the different and varied ways that your son/daughter has made my life such a joy over these past nine months?
I teach in an elementary school, so the actual number of opportunities I have to impact any of our students' future is limited. Oh sure, there's the "permanent record" that follows every kid around in his educational wake. I imagine many kids and their parents would be surprised by just how much documentation gets passed along as you make your way through from kindergarten to high school. Far from the electronic snapshot that would seem to make sense in the twenty-first century, it is instead a big manila folder that is marked inside and out with various test scores and personal statistics and stuffed full of report cards and every other sort of formal and informal evaluation imaginable. These things are as thick as suburban phone books in many cases, and they haven't even made it to middle school yet.
But that's not where I feel my power. It's when little Sally or Johnny gets a chance to go to that special school and all they need is for me to fill out this form or send an e-mail to the director of that august institution. The angry voice inside my head always screams, "Do you really want me to tell the truth here?" I know the answer. If the kid throws erasers from the back of the classroom, I can say that they are talented athletically. If they have yet to shut their mouths when I am giving directions, I can compliment their oratorical skills. Truth is, the really hard cases don't come to me in the first place. They're the ones headed wherever the winds blow them, and I hope that some happy coincidence will change their trajectory. It's that first act of good faith, asking for help. I can't say no. I want all our kids to succeed. It's like the poet said, "In the end, nobody wins unless we all win." Give me that form. Where do I sign?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Prime Directive

I ate a lot of popcorn yesterday. There were free refills for the large tub that cold have been used to bathe a small child once all the kernels had been emptied. I gnawed anxiously as I watched Kirk and Spock made yet another last-minute save of life-as-we-know-it. Why was I so nervous? Did I really believe that Paramount would spend millions of dollars jump-starting the Star Trek franchise just to kill off their intergalactic show ponies? Don't bet your Federation credits on it.
And so I sat back and enjoyed the ride, since that's exactly what it was: I knew that when I was done I would be dropped back in the same spot that I left, and only needed to gather my belongings as I headed for the exit. It was the cinematic equivalent of Chinese food. After about an hour I wanted to go see a movie. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, since just like Chinese food, I have developed a taste for franchise films. It's not nutrition that I'm after. I'm after things that go boom, and this one had plenty of them. Not only that, but I got to feel clever as I sat in the darkened theater, spotting references to previous Trek visions.
As my mother pointed out to me the other night, I was never exactly a Trekkie. For most of my generation, it was a whole lot easier to learn the ways of the Jedi. But that didn't keep me from sitting in dorm rooms, staring at a little black and white TV, absorbing the original series and staring incredulously at the one guy who, after watching for half an hour, perks up just enough to say, "Hey! I think I've seen this one before."
Of course you have. Star Trek is part of the social consciousness of the United States. Stephen Colbert might not have been able to talk NASA into naming a room in the International Space Station after him, but there were enough letters written back in 1976 to get the first space shuttle named for Gene Roddenberry's flagship. As I pawed to the bottom of our second bucket of popcorn, I wondered if Scotty hadn't somehow arranged for Spock to travel back through the centuries to a time when minds were so much easier to manage.Then that the first generation of what would become several more could be filled with the promise of visiting strange new worlds, and going boldly where - well - you know.
I sat through that first Star Trek movie, and then I watched the "expanded version" on video. I guess that makes me a fan. My wife maintains a polite little father-fixation on Jean-Luc Picard. My father's memorial service provided an opportunity for my brothers and I to enjoy a massive in-joke, as a bagpiper strolled down the center aisle playing "Amazing Grace," the only words the three of us could imagine were William Shatner's halting eulogy for his fallen comrade: "Of all the souls that I have encountered in my travels across the galaxy, his was the most," wait for it, "human!"
So it goes. I went wading knee deep in the murky pond of pop culture for a couple of hours and though my feet got a little wet, I didn't feel the need to go any deeper. If you've read this far without needing to access any of the allusions I have made, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're scratching your head, maybe I could off you some tranya. I hope you relish it as much as I.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother Lode

Mother of Invention
Mother's Love
Mother's Milk
Mother's Lament
Mother of the Bride
Mother of all Battles
Mother Goose
Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother
Mother Theresa
Mother Nature
How I Met Your Mother
Your Mother Should Know
Your Mother Was A Hamster
Mother Superior
Mother Ship
Every Mother's Son
Mother's Apron Strings
Swear On Your Mother's Grave
Atom Heart Mother
Mother Jones
Mother Russia
Queen Mother
Mother Tongue
Mother of Pearl
Den Mother
Mother and Child Reunion
Mother's Day

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Getting Into Her Head

What signs do we need that our country has begun to turn around from the past eight years of fear and misery? The jobless rate is still as high as it has been in twenty-six years, but the number of jobs lost this month was the smallest in the last six. The stock market continues to climb out of the depths. Schools are re-opening after a month of swine flu scares. But none of that compares to this: The crown of the Statue of Liberty will reopen this Fourth of July for the first time since September 11, 2001.
Thirty visitors an hour, chosen by lottery, will be allowed to visit the crown in groups of ten. That means if you are one of the chosen, you can have twenty minutes at the top of one of the most recognizable icons on the planet. Twenty minutes if you count the time it takes you to hike up the one hundred and sixty-eight step spiral staircase and the time it takes to absorb the attending park ranger's description of the experience.
If you wanted to go all the way up to the top of the torch, you will still be disappointed. That part of the statue has been closed since 1916, when German agents sabotaged a munitions dump on an island adjacent to Liberty Island. Only a few lucky staff members get to climb that extra forty feet to the extremity of Liberty.
Twenty-five million dollars of stimulus money will be used to spruce up our lady and her environs. The work will include stabilizing a 1908 building and making repairs to the island's crumbling seawall. For now, we'll be fixing up the place where huddled masses and wretched refuse have been landing for the last one hundred and twenty-three years. If you're yearning to go up there, make sure you take the time to breathe free.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Freedom Of Song

It should come as no surprise to regular readers where my sympathies lie in a battle between Bill O'Reilly and Bruce Springsteen, but the most recent dust-up brought by Mister "No-Spin" continues a long tradition of glomming on to celebrity news in hopes of generating more fury for his sound, both of which are considerable. He was looking for signs of how "far left zealots" believe America is a flawed nation: "The other day a birthday party concert was held for left-wing singer Pete Seeger who's ninety years old. Bruce Springsteen performed at the concert, and then Bruce popped off as he often does.” O'Reilly played a video clip of Springsteen saying of Seeger: “At ninety he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself. He sings all the verses, all the time. Especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people.”
These were the fightin' words. ". . . now Bruce Springsteen's not exactly a PhD in political science, obviously. But his snide reference to America defines how the far left sees this country. And you know what, most liberal and conservative Americans disagree with him.” Now here's the the deal: he didn't choose to take issue with Pete Seeger. He chose to go after the guy who is currently all over the news, promoting a new album, touring the world. He didn't want to take a shot at the legacy of Pete Seeger, which Bruce made reference to, but chose instead to kick dirt on the pop star. Not the ninety-year old folk-singing legend who wrote "Dear Mister President" back in 1942, or in 1966 when he wrote "The Housewife Terrorists." He was ranting about Bruce talking about how Pete Seeger still sang all the words to "This Land Is Your Land."
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my freedom highway,
Nobody living can make me turn back,
This land was made for you and me.
How's that for a talking point, Bill?

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Today is the day we celebrate "The Day of the Teacher" at my school. "DOT" for short. It's all a part of being a professional educator and knowing your TLA's. Three Letter Acronyms. If you look on the calendar, you might see that some locales have May 5th as DOT, while others have a whole WOT. Week of the Teacher.
And that seems about right to me. Considering the number of teachers we all have had, formally and informally, it's probably worth taking a moment or two to pause and acknowledge the contributions they have made in our lives. I say this because not only am I knee deep in the hoopla of education, I feel like I have been profoundly affected by those who took the time to share their knowledge.
For example: Mister Gauthier taught me math in the eighth grade. That was when I was still on target to be in the upper division classes. He was a crusty old coot. He told you things about algebra and geometry like he couldn't believe that he had to explain it, and then he would. He is also the guy who, in the middle of a test while we were all hunched silently over our desks, crept on top of a chair in the back of the room holding a trash can out at arm's length. When the silence was most profound, he let the can go, resulting in a thunderous crash, squeals of terror, gasps of surprise, followed by a tumultuous release of tension.
Mister Clements taught me geography in seventh grade. Not everybody liked Mister Clements, but I will always remember how he taught me about perspective. He drew a picture on the board of a tree with a leaf falling from one of its branches. He asked us all to choose the answer that best described the direction that the leaf was falling: A) North, B) South, C) East, D) Down. Being very clever and knowing that I was in geography, I chose B. Only a few lucky guesses got the correct answer: D. Never assume, he told us.
I assumed that I was in for a tough year with Missus Pyle. Her name alone conjured up feelings of dread. I had been spoiled by being the star of Miss Hoff's second grade class, and now third grade loomed as an unbearable challenge. Everyone knew Missus Pyle was "tough." What I didn't know was that she was a fine teacher. Across the hall, Missus Dillon was tying kids to their chairs when they acted out. Nobody ever imagined anything like that happening in Missus Pyle's class. She just wouldn't stand for it. It was never a question. We did as we were told and we learned everything there was to know about third grade.
The list goes on. Jeff Arnett who taught me "the habit of a pen." Miss Kunesh who taught me to "always use my mistakes." Even Mister Schemp, who taught me to hate P.E., eventually taught me to be a better P.E. teacher. To all of them and the rooms full of educators whose names I have yet to list, thank you and HDOT.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Case Of The Giggles

I have no qualms telling you that I spent a number of hours in my youth watching Burt Reynolds movies. Burt was cool. So cool that he could even act like a goof when the mood struck him. And when he did, inevitably Dom DeLuise was standing right next to him. Dom passed away Monday night. He leaves a void. A great, big, silly void.
You know those hours I spent watching Burt Reynolds movies? My favorite parts were the outtakes. Hal Needham, the man who gave us both "Smoky and the Bandit" as well as "Cannonball Run" and their sequels, was fond of tacking on the flubs and miscues from his productions over the credits. It's quite possible that Mister Needham is the person my friends and family can blame for my persistence in my seat after a movie is over. But it was the moments that Dom DeLuise was alternately whimpering and giggling as he messed up another take that made for the biggest laughs. Burt took to threatening his friend, saying that he would slap him if he didn't get serious and get the take right. The only effect this had was to make everyone, including Burt the tough guy, laugh even harder.
And that was me, too. I sat there until the house lights came up, hoping for one more little snicker or guffaw. The credits were the best part of "Cannonball Run II." And now the credits are playing for Dom DeLuise. Don't leave just yet. I'm sure there will be one more laugh.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Good Old Golden Flu Days

Three hundred and thirty thousand kids in the United States are getting a little extra spring vacation while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to figure out the best advice to give schools with students who have been diagnosed with Swine Flu. They had been recommending closing schools for up to two weeks while the virus runs its course. Instead, they think that maybe asking that the infected kids stay home and let everyone else finish up the year.
My principal is of two minds on this particular subject: On the one hand, we have just begun our rather tumultuous period of standardized testing, and after months of preparation, closing school now would steal away a lot of our momentum. Conversely, if the disease could wait its turn and infect our students next week, then it would serve as a nice respite from filling in all those bubbles with a number two pencil. Timing is everything.
The teachers are maintaining a positive outlook, but most of us flinch every time we hear a kid sneeze, and we are being a lot more liberal with our hand sanitizer. We all know that we spend each day wading through a petri dish, and if there's swine flu out there, we're a pretty sure bet to get our share. At least that's what was going through my mind Sunday night.
I woke up with a start. My stomach was doing a triple gainer, and I lurched into the bathroom in search of Pepto Bismol. Without waking the rest of my family, I began to diagnose my symptoms and drew the obvious conclusion. Then I considered an alternative. I made a return visit to my son's elementary school for their annual Pancake Breakfast. Though I am not much of a breakfast eater on any given day, I chose to work out my alumni hunger on the six years that I had been grilling sausage and flipping pancakes all in one morning. This year they had bacon. As is my way, I created a canape out of a piece of bacon wrapped around a pat of butter. For the amusement of others, I ate it. And when one of the other dads came out of the kitchen feeling that he had missed something spectacular, I repeated the stunt for him. For this I was awarded the princely sum of one American dollar.
Did I have the swine flu? No. But now feel comfortable giving kids advice on how to avoid that late-night queasy feeling: If you want to stay healthy, stay far away from the bacon-wrapped butter.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Before I Sleep

Through a sleep-condensed brain, this phrase came to me: "Late at night a big old house gets lonely." I knew why I was thinking those words, but I was stuck on the source. My wife stirred and I mumbled them to her, and at that moment, we both arrived at the same conclusion. It was the Eagles who sang those words in a little ditty called "Lyin' Eyes."
But it wasn't the context of the song that was keeping my mind wandering. I had inadvertently pushed the fast forward button and I was imagining a home for just the two of us. Twelve years ago, that was the case, after all. Though she was heavy with child, there were only two residents of this house when we first moved in. We had to wait for the baby. Then we had to wait for the dog. The alarm clock was the thing that got me out of bed back in those days. Or my own neurotic impulses.
My son had taken our dog along to his friend's house for a sleepover. He continues to establish dominance over his own homesickness demon, and his parents are the beneficiaries of his expanding world. However, as a number of our friends have suggested, once he gets comfortable with the notion of spending the night away from home, we might not see that much of him. Without the dog to pad noisily across our wood floors or chase rabbits in her sleep, there wasn't much to keep me from my own eight hours of slumber, aside from the aforementioned neurotic impulses.
It's a lot of house for just two people when they're hanging out in one corner of one room and laying very still. I listened for the refrigerator and the pendulums of our analog clocks. I listened to the deep rhythm of my wife as she drifted away on her own night journey. And that's when I thought of that next line: "I guess ev'ry form of refuge has its price." Then I was off on my own dream time.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Plant Food For Thought

Today I received an e-mail announcing "Patch Perfect is like grass seeds on steroids." This made me wonder: What impact will this have on the future health of my lawn? Will my lawn be more susceptible to high blood pressure and heart disease? What about severe acne, especially on the front and back? And then of course, there's impotence. It gives you pause.
Then there's the enduring legacy of my yard. Oh sure, the immediate benefits would be amazing. It's a pretty sure bet that it would lead the neighborhood in just about all statistical categories: Green, Lush, Weed-Free. Given the poor performance of my lawn over the past few seasons, the temptation is enormous. To be able to walk outside and see a world-class lawn and know that it was as simple as getting that extra little juice, It's hard not to rationalize just a little bit. Isn't that what grass is supposed to do anyway? Why not have the thickest, best, most aggressive patch of grass in the city? Get our picture on the front of the Home and Garden section, and live the dream, if only for a moment.
But all glory is fleeting. Eventually people would talk. All of those accolades and awards would be tainted. I doubt that they would let us into the Turf Hall Of Fame once our little secret was out. And the side-effects would catch up to my lawn. Its career would be cut short. Soon we would have to start replacing sections with drought-resistant landscaping, or even decorative rock. I would be left with a little tuft of grass that I could sit on in my lawn chair and together we could sit around talking about the glory days, but it would be a lie.
No. It's raining outside right now, and I can see the bare spots and the varying shades of green. I know where the weeds are, and I kid myself that while the earth is wet that I will get out there and manage them. Just like I did last year. I may not have the best looking lawn in the county, but it's honest. And it doesn't' take steroids.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Morning In America

Barack Obama has cruised through the first one hundred days of his presidency, and taken the country on a whirlwind ride of his vision of how the country should be. He said he would close Guantanamo. He did it. He encouraged Chrysler to file for bankruptcy. Done. He wanted to get some cool pictures of his plane flying past the Statue of Liberty. Check. What else could he do?
How about get a playoff system for college football?
During the Monday Night Football broadcast the night before his election in November, Obama said, "I think it's about time we had playoffs in college football. I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this that and the other. Get eight teams -- the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion." Now, seven months later and a whole lot of history later, lawmakers pressed college football officials to switch the Bowl Championship Series to a playoff, with one Texas Republican likening the current system to communism and joking it should be labeled "BS," not "BCS." BCS officials were not amused. John Swofford, the coordinator of the BCS, rejected the idea of switching to a playoff, telling a House panel that it would threaten the existence of celebrated bowl games. This list would include the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which used to be the Nokia Sugar Bowl back in the day. The tradition of corporate sponsorship could be seriously marred by any actual competition. The five BCS games are just the tip of the bowl iceberg. Twenty-seven other games are played from late December to that first week in January, and BCS officials insist that there is no way to insure the integrity of such classics as the Meineke Car Care Bowl if teams were allowed to play each other for a chance to win the still somewhat arbitrary National Championship.

The world has changed a lot in just one hundred days. The Mountain West Conference, which currently does not get an automatic bid to the BCS, could experience a little of that redistribution of wealth that has been in the wind for the past few months. What if the National Champion was the best team, not just the best sponsored? In a unique show of bipartisan cooperation, Democratic Bobby Rush and Republican Joe Barton of Texas have introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from calling a game a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff, bluntly warned Mister Swofford: "If we don't see some action in the next two months, on a voluntary switch to a playoff system, then you will see this bill move."
So let it be written. So let it be done.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Fear Of Flying

My wife suggested that the powers that be should start getting their stories straight when it comes to the swine flu. "Are we supposed to panic or not? If we're not supposed to panic, why does 'pandemic' sound so much like 'panic?'" Our Chief Gaffemaster, Joe Biden certainly seemed on the edge of his seat when Matt Lauer asked him whether or not his family should get on a commercial airliner to Mexico in the next week, Biden said: "I would tell members of my family - and I have - I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now."
Joe's people were quick to remind us, and Joe too, "The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico," said Biden's rationalizer, Elizabeth Alexander. Okay, but how is that any more reassuring? I work with a woman who is getting ready to fly down to Cabo San Lucas next week for her friend's bachelorette party. The event has been scheduled for months, deposits made, tickets purchased, and now the big day is here. Is this necessary travel to Mexico? For the record, the last time we spoke, she was panicking.
Maybe that's what we're left with, now that the war on terror is over. We need something to be afraid of, and a flu that has killed hundreds of people seems like a logical alternative to suicide bombers. But did anyone else notice that the bombing didn't stop when the flu started? For that matter, the economy didn't suddenly repair itself, and a New York City-sized chunk just broke off the Antarctic ice shelf. Our calm voice in the storm, President Obama is said to channel Franklin Roosevelt in times of crisis. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. It's a great quote, but just exactly how does this reassure us? What are you afraid of? "Fear." Why? "Dunno. I just know that fear scares the heebie jeebies out of me."
I find myself wanting to flip to the end of the chapter to see how this one ends. Fear is about the unknown, and when doctors and politicians can't agree on what our national reaction should be, there's bound to be some anxiety. But there's also the flip side: If you have a fear of flying, you've just been given a golden excuse to avoid that cross-country jaunt. If you're worried about that big test, your school could be closed until further notice. I'm just afraid that I might run out of things to be afraid of.