Saturday, July 31, 2010

Happy Happy, Joy Joy

It's around this time of year that I find myself looking to my wife and asking her, "Do you remember what we were doing x number of years ago?" Of course the variable in this equation is the number of years that have passed since our wedding. Presently, that would be seventeen. It's not a traditionally recognized anniversary in terms of its commercial significance. Those who have a stake in such things would like to sell me furniture or amethyst, or perhaps furniture made from amethyst. But I won't be swayed. Not this time.
Instead I would rather spend a few moments wallowing in the memories of the day, or rather the days leading up to the moment we "made it legal." There was a baseball game, where my friends and hers took in the contest between the newly formed Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants. For the record, the Rockies were hammered that night, and my best friend's fiance made the mistake of loaning a very special pen for one of our less-than-invited guests to keep score who lost it. Box score: Rockies 10, Giants 4, Pen 0. The next day was full of rehearsal, featuring the hijinks of the groom and his best man getting into an angry tussle about whether Certs was a breath mint or a candy mint. Then we all drove back down the mountain to have dinner in my mother's back yard. Afterward, there was a trip to the swings at Scott Carpenter Park in which childhood was reveled one more time before the nuptials.
Then came the day we had planned and anticipated for months. The cake melted on the ride up. The bride had a raging case of poison oak. I forgot my pants. The items we had planned to have on our little altar in the meadow were left behind as well. So were our rings. Everything turned out perfectly. My dad loaned me his pants, my older brother and sister-in-law loaned us their rings, and my younger brother put it best when he began his reading with the words, "Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!" It all came off as most beautifully and most gloriously planned, to paraphrase Tracy Samantha Lord. Just like the last seventeen years.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Pair Of Pants With Every Law Suit

"I'm going to sue you because my dad is a suer." These unfortunate words were used throughout our neighborhood when there was some perceived slight or injustice that could not be settled by a simple punch in the head. As you might well imagine, there was little if any actual litigation generated during these outbursts. They were primarily threats of some larger force that would hopefully create enough fear to cause a split lip to heal, or the water from a balloon to magically evaporate. I confess that up until I turned ten or eleven that I did get a little worried when faced with a pending lawsuit. My father was not a suer.
It would seem that my generation has grown older and now has more access to the legal system. A whole lot more access to our legal system. If you don't like how hot your coffee is served, or wish that you could get more rides on the Tower of Terror, you can sue. To paraphrase everyone's favorite courtroom weasel, Doug Llewelyn, "Don't take matters into your own hands, take them to court." And that's just what we do, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. One web site has the number at fifteen million a year, or one new lawsuit every two seconds. One of those will no doubt be the one filed by Shirley Sherrod against Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart is the blogger who put up an edited version of a speech given by Ms. Sherrod in hopes of proving that racism exists in the NAACP. Apparently it does, at least in the version that Mister Breitbart sees fit to present.
Would an apology have been better? It certainly would have been less expensive and less time-consuming. She got one from just about everyone else, including the President of the United States. Come to think of it, if I would have simply apologized for whacking the kid across the street with a wiffle ball bat in the head in the first place, I might have avoided that whole ugly interaction myself. Live and learn, I say.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Russia, With Love

Look out Moscow, here comes Tony Hayward. He will be getting his life back in your hemisphere, so start preparing the caviar and yacht sloops. You have until October to get everything ready. I might suggest "Tony-proofing" your country's infrastructure, and if there are any leaky faucets around, get them fixed before he arrives since there's really no way of knowing how or when he might get around to shutting them down if left to his own devices. Also, if you've got any offshore oil rigs that might be on the verge of spewing millions of gallons of oil into large bodies of water, you might put up some "Tony Tape" just to be sure.
What I can't figure out is how this guy gets a new job so quickly. Across the globe there are countless numbers of people searching for employment, and many of those have never overseen the one of the worst ecological disasters in history. Some of them would probably even work for less than Mister Hayward. By powers of ten. And yet, when the leaves start to turn, this paragon of executiveness will be welcomed into a brand new position with salary and perks commensurate with a one-time ruler of the universe.
Part of me wants to believe that this is no lateral move. It should be a step down. Like when they used to talk about shipping Commandant Klink off to the Russian Front when things at Stalag Thirteen weren't going so well. There are plenty of CEO's who have lost billions for their companies and managed to hold on to their jobs. Not many of them have the visible mess left in the wake of our boy Tony's departure, but Rupert Murdoch's mess is on display every day, twenty-four/seven. While the contents of Fox News are considered by many to be toxic, as yet no beaches have been closed because of it.
And so as the sun sets slowly in the Gulf of Mexico, I hesitate to say "goodbye" to Tony Hayward, as his kind seem to have a way of popping back up when we least expect it. Instead I will say "das vidania," and don't hesitate to give us a call when he gets settled. Just as soon as he gets his key to the executive tyanet, and be careful not to make a mess in there.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

In this case, the box of chocolates turns out to have worms in it. At least that's the story that Greg Dixon and his wife would like you to hear about John Mantooth. The episode six years ago that best exemplified why Mister Mantooth is such a lousy person, giving his daughter and son-in-law a "golden basket" filled with a pocket knife and the aforementioned worm-ridden chocolates, and why he would make such a lousy district judge. Did I mention the bag of "scentless potpourri?" That it came in a rush to the son-in-law and was intended as a Christmas gift for Mantooth's daughter?
Being a district judge, especially in Oklahoma where Mantooth is running, would apparently require a good deal of thoughtful consideration and careful adjudication. Mister Dixon and his wife Jan believe that this poorly offered and executed gift exchange is evidence enough to keep voters in District 21 to steer clear of dear old dad. That and the seven lawsuits they include on the web site, including one that lays bare the ugly details of the elder Mantooth's divorce from his first wife, Jan's mother. It's not a pretty sight, but consistent with the theme of worms in your chocolates.
All of which still begs the question, would this guy be a good judge? Is this guy's private life really the stuff we should be seeing in our voter guides? I'm guessing folks like Mark Sanford and John Edwards would probably like to continue to run on their records rather than their tabloid clippings, but that doesn't seem likely. It makes me glad that I don't have to roll up my pant legs and wade through the muck that is the Palin family politic. On a scale with the rest of these guys, a bag of scentless potpourri doesn't quite show up. I suppose that's the difference between local and national office. If you want to be president of the United States, you'd better have a secret love child in that golden basket.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio

Monty Python once recorded their "Contractual Obligation Album." Being a fan, I felt compelled to buy it, even though it was apparent from the title that it was a sell-out on their part. It was a way to complete the group's commitment to their label, EMI. There were a lot of enjoyable bits on that record, mostly songs primarily recorded by single members of the troupe, but it was obvious even to my teenaged ears that I was listening to filler. Nothing I heard quite matched up to "Penguin on the telly" or "Argument Clinic." This was no Holy Grail.
No matter. I am a collector and a completist, and felt relieved at some level to own it. But it opened my eyes to the reality of the recording business. I do not own a copy of "Metal Machine Music," even though I am a big Lou Reed fan. I can appreciate his experimental kiss-off to RCA without having to own it. Listening to an hour of feedback and distortion doesn't help me get the joke any better. The fact that he went on to record a few decent albums for Arista records, before RCA swallowed them up again, for "The Blue Mask" makes the whole exercise seem pointless.
Which brings me to Sting. I was sad to see him leave the Police, but I drank the Kool-Aid when he "returned to his jazz roots" on "Dream of the Blue Turtles." In hindsight, maybe I should have poured it into my ears. I bought the solo albums. I paid to see him and his ego perform. I appreciated his politics and listened to his records in hopes of becoming more aware. Then he started playing lute, and no amount of rain forest saving or tantric sex could get me to buy that. And just recently he's been touring with a symphonic orchestra, and released his greatest hits in an orchestral way. Thank you, no. It makes me wish for sixty-four minutes of feedback, or "I'm So Worried." Just a little.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Regrets? I've Had A Few

Here I sit, hundreds of miles away, as the magic continues to unfurl hundreds of miles south of me. It's not the Magic Kingdom that I'm missing. It's Comic-Con. Described by many as "mecca for geeks," I have yet to make my pilgrimage to those hallowed convention halls in San Diego. Forty years of debate about Marvel versus DC, collecting and trading back issues of Creepy magazine. Did I say "creepy?" That's probably because I believe that while I sit somewhere on the demographic slide that feeds this beast, but I don't know if I have what it takes to hang with the big dogs.
Don't get me wrong, I can toss around cultural references with the best of them, but when it comes to obsessive fandom, my box of silver-age Spider Man comics hardly qualifies me to get to the front of the line. Nor does my ability to recite the entire scripts of "Animal House" and "Caddyshack." The fact that I have no love for Japanese anime and the backward comics they inspire probably keeps me from being offered a guest membership.
None of these things, however, keeps me from pining over what I might be missing in the lectures and symposiums going on down San Diego way. Would I have liked to have been amongst those who got to see the cast of the Avengers movie introduced by Samuel Jackson? Would I have liked a chance to find a reasonable facsimile of Captain America's mask amongst the myriad booths of obscure collectibles? Would I have enjoyed a chance to be amongst those people with whom I grew up?
In a word "yes." And "no." I went to the Bay Area version of the big event, Wonder-Con this past spring. I went with my wife, who got us all in because she is a "creative professional," having just recently published her cartoon memoir, and was eager to hob knob and network with those like her. My son was looking for a very specific action figure. I was eager for a chance to hang with my peeps. My wife made some very nice connections. My son found his "War Machine." I felt like I was drowning.
That's the thing about crowds: the bigger they are, the more people show up. Soon I felt the walls of the vast underground bunker that is the Moscone Center closing in on me. I wanted to be more interested, but I had this sudden, sad urge to watch it all on TV. I don't know if it was any more crowded than the car show we attended just a few months previous in the same location, but my eyes began to rotate counterclockwise and I began looking for the door after an hour or so.
Maybe I am more accustomed to being the only one in the room with an unhealthy attachment to super heroes. Or perhaps I could hear William Shatner's admonition to the audience of Trekkers on Saturday Night Live: "Get a life." And so I will continue to pursue each new dispatch from Comic-Con 2010 on Al Gore's Internet with bated breath. In my Venom shirt, drinking from my collectible Simpson's tumbler. I suppose the best reason to make the trip to San Diego each year is the chance to get out of your mother's basement.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How Do They Expect Us To Prosper?

I've been in the teaching biz for a full thirteen years now and I've become very good at certain things while I still have plenty of room to improve in other areas. In the eyes of the state, I am a "highly qualified teacher." This tag allows me to remain employed when a number of my fellow educators who have not completed this test or that required class may have been let go. As I endeavor to learn the best way to teach kids to read or to help them understand fractions, I am also honing my skills at finding gum chewers and mediating disputes about who gets to take the ball out for recess. I have also become quite proficient at spotting cheaters.
The first thing to keep in mind is that everyone is tempted, now and again, to look at someone else's paper. It's reassuring at best, and at worst it is outright theft. I remember other kids pleading with or threatening me to give them my answers. I was told they would either be my best friend or be pummeled in exchange for the correct response. Back in the olden days, that was supremely powerful motivation. I caved a few times, being desperate for friends or terrified for my health, but mostly I hunched over my paper and guarded my answers like they were gold.
It wasn't until I became a teacher myself that it became apparent to me just how important it is to keep each student's responses separate and discrete. That test is a measure of what a student has learned, and if they don't do well, it tells the teacher a lot of different things, not just how much the kids know. It can also say a lot about how the information is getting to them. If everybody fails the test, it could be that the teacher needs to do a better job. Or maybe that was the day right after everyone in the class stayed up late to see the Spongebob Squarepants special. If everybody passes the test, that's a good thing, but if everyone gets all the answers right, a good teacher will be suspicious.
That's why the bells went off here in Oakland this past week when the scores for one elementary school fell under scrutiny. A district investigation found that a teacher reviewed the answers on students' state reading and math tests, checked off incorrect answers in pencil or on sticky notes and returned the booklets to the children to fix. There was another incident at a high school where students were allowed to use their biology textbooks to repair their state science tests. The inquiry determined that the high school sample was not big enough to affect their overall Academic Performance Index, while elementary school's scores will be invalidated.
As a teacher, I know why my colleagues might have thought they were doing the right thing. There is an unbelievable pressure to deliver good standardized test scores. They affect funding for the school, the district and even the state. The federal measure of Adequate Yearly Progress, along with their state API, are the things that most schools use to display a school's success. For most of us, it all comes down to a couple of weeks in April or May when we cover up everything in our rooms, make sure the kids get a good breakfast, and then turn them loose in the silence for hours at a time filling in bubbles to show how much they have learned in the previous seven months. Then we hold our collective breaths.
It would take a little of the pressure off if the kids got to use their books or had a chance to change their answers. That would be cheating. That makes everybody else's job harder. Maybe they should have spent more time at the beginning of the year teaching fractions, or trying to catch those kids who were chewing gum. As long as we continue to put all of our educational eggs in the basket of high-stakes testing, we probably shouldn't be shocked to find out that cheating is going on. It's a part of the Desperation Index, the one that doesn't show up on any school's web site.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Time Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

There's a congressman out there who is fed up with the way our government wastes time and money. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah would like Congress to stop spending their time on creating and voting on resolutions that acknowledge what, for some, are important milestones in history. The straw that finally broke the honorable Mister Chaffetz's back was the one that was slated to memorialize the start of the one hundred and forty-second season of the Saratoga race course in New York. Not the centennial or sesquicentennial, the one hundred and forty-second season. Add this to this year's previous resolutions to honor the likes of golfer Phil Mickelson, the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson and the Penn State women's volleyball team and you get a sense of what might be wedged into the junior representative from Utah's craw.
Mister Chaffetz was concerned that visitors to the House Chamber, especially children, might wonder why their government officials were discussing a race track rather than weightier issues like the war or the economy. It should be noted that last year Chaffetz proposed his own resolution honoring the Real Salt Lake Soccer Club, from his home state of Utah, for winning the 2009 Major League Soccer Cup. He admitted that he was a new lawmaker then and "made some mistakes." Maybe he means commemorations of national pollinator week, national dairy month and national train day, but he says that he draws the line on sports resolutions because athletes already get "more than their fair share of accolades."
It's nice that he can draw a line frivolous legislation like those honoring last years BCS Champion, Alabama's Crimson Tide. Instead they can focus their attention on more pressing matters like the resolution recognizing Norooz, the Iranian New Year. Or maybe it's just easier to read one of those one pagers compared to one of those whoppers like the supplemental health care bill. Maybe they need to get some help from those kids up in the gallery, since the Reading Is Fundamental funding has run out. I hope Representative Chaffetz can find some time to work that resolution into his busy schedule.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blame Alice Cooper

Thank heaven for the journalistic supersleuths at Time magazine. They have really blown the lid off this whole summer vacation thing. "We associate the school year with oppression and the summer months with liberty," they tell us. Well, there's that and the fact that Independence Day falls squarely in the midst of those three months we call "summer."
But in real life, there was once a much more realistic concern that drove planners to create a school year that allowed kids to be free to help out in the fields during harvest time, and then get the fields plowed in time for the next cycle. Now some school districts give students "Ski Week" in order that they not miss out on any of that gnarly powder found in February. Then there's Cesar Chavez Day, and my personal favorite, "In Lieu of Lincoln's Birthday." As a teacher, I know that there is some drop-off in student learning over the course of any vacation, whether it is a day or a week or three months. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we won't be making any more rocket scientists if we keep giving these kids days off. The best place to learn is in school.
Well, mostly. There are plenty of things to do and see and learn over the course of a vacation from school, and the question is whether or not our kids are being led to those opportunities. Since the current trend is to cut back on the number of days in a school year because of our state and our nation's budget priorities, it seems odd that this question is being raised. Then let's keep in mind what happens to children when they are kept indoors for prolonged periods. Remember the way the minute hand creeped toward twelve, whether it was noon or three, lunch or recess or time to go home. There's a little Fred Flinstone in all of us, and when the bird on the pole screeches we're all sliding down the tail of our dinosaur and headed for the parking lot. Especially when you're a kid. Kids aren't getting paid to stay in their seats. They don't have mortgages or groceries to buy, so their motivation to stick with the program longer is diminished.
Of course, we as adults can all sigh and point out that those kids are getting something much more valuable than a paycheck: an education. That's not how kids see it. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks. My son, spawn of a teacher, bristles each time he hears an "expert" suggest longer school days or extending the school year. He gets it. He got all the seventh grade he needed in one hundred and eighty days, give or take the odd field trip or stomach ache. For those who don't, there is summer school. Four more weeks of sitting in a room, watching the clock, counting the days and waiting. Waiting for September to come and having their teachers roll their eyes and ask them, "Didn't you learn this last year?"
"Yes, I did. Then I went on vacation and promptly forgot it."
As much as we try, times tables and phonics are not survival skills for many of our kids. Maybe we should be turning them loose on the fields for three months, then see how happy they are to return to their seats. It's a thought.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome To Paradise

The news here in Oakland has been very entertaining lately, from a vicarious point of view. Living here can be a little nerve-wracking at times, what with all the seeming contradictions flying around, narrowly avoiding the eerie coincidences. This past week has been a good example.
On Saturday night, the kid across the street had a "little party." To his credit, he warned most of us neighbors ahead of time, but when our house continued to vibrate past two in the morning, it began to press on a nerve that I try hard to ignore: the "those darn kids" nerve. Having once celebrated Bruce Springsteen's birthday on a Thursday night by splitting a keg of beer between two of us and finishing off by pounding on the floor, which happened to be someone else's ceiling, to the beat of "Born To Run," I find it hard this pot to call that kettle black. I get youthful exuberance, but three in the morning passed and it was still going on. That's when it occurred to me that Oakland's police force, which had just been pared down by some eighty officers due to budget problems, was no longer responding to non-violent crimes. I couldn't imagine how filling out an on-line report would help me get to sleep. And so I partied into the night with my pillow over my head.
The next morning, my son and I walked up to the park where a number of local merchants were sponsoring a community picnic. As we made our way under the highway overpass, we noticed that traffic was stopped in both directions. Later I found out that it had been blocked off in both directions due to an overnight shootout between a self-styled anarchist and a number of different law enforcement agencies, including the Oakland police. Luckily, no one was killed as an estimated one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition were exchanged. The bad guy never did make it across the bridge to the San Francisco ACLU, where he intended to set things right in his own inimitable fashion. Even if I had called the police about my neighbor's party, I doubt they could have made it over much before the time it finally collapsed under its own fun.
All of this happened in the wake of the riot that followed the verdict in the Johannes Mehserle case. Many of the officers who held the line and helped quell the ugliness that night were among the ones who were let go. Such is the nature of things. Much in the same way that Oakland's city council voted on Tuesday night to permit industrial-scale marijuana farming, initially to fill the needs of medicinal pot users, but with the anticipation of a November ballot measure that could lead to the legalization of recreational use.
And so it goes here in the city by the bay. Not the one that Steve Perry sings about. The one that shows up in those Green Day songs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Play Ball!

First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with Major League Baseball to help fight childhood obesity. Wearing her sneakers, she made this announcement at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It's all a part of the Let's Move campaign, a group that hopes to "raise a healthier generation of kids."
As a part-time PE teacher, I say, "Bravo." I want to believe that each successive generation of humans will to become more and more fit. It makes evolutionary sense that we will continue to weed out the weaklings and only the strong will survive, but maybe we're looking at this through the wrong filter. We've always looked at obesity as if it were a bad thing. Lethargy is discouraged and laying on the couch all day is reprehensible behavior. "Get up and exercise!" we enthuse. "Go play outside!" When we were kids, we didn't have all these indoor distractions to keep us from our prime directive of going out to play.
Perhaps Science has bamboozled us. High blood pressure, breathing problems, and sleeping problems don't seem like such a bad deal when you consider that a sedentary lifestyle could be just the thing to get you master Yoshi's flutter jump. We could be on the verge of developing a generation with massive new thumb strength and exponentially increased capacity for watching things move from left to right on a screen. The potential for diabetes and risk of heart disease might be an additional downside to this choice, but with carefully monitored levels of inactivity, there could be a dozen or more good years of couch time.
Or, maybe a few more laps around the base paths with Mrs. Obama. I guess my real regret in this is the timing. A few weeks ago, she could have nabbed the United States Soccer team to be their spokesthletes. I mean, have you had a look at some of these major leaguers? I guess we need to be careful who we trot out for our role models. At least she didn't pick professional bowlers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where's The Party?

This past week's shakeup in the Tea Party, along with the creeping uncertainty that surrounds the Republican Party' leadership, has got me thinking about my own affiliation. When I fill in those forms or somebody calls to ask, I tell them that I am a Democrat, and fiercely proud of it. Or perhaps I should say, by comparison.
Howard Dean hasn't been making the rounds lately, spouting off about "the war of Obama's choosing," or writing blog posts disguised as letters to Abraham Lincoln from "coloreds." Isn't that what the C in NAACP stands for, after all? We're the good guys in this movie. Democrats are large and in charge right now. We have majorities that have given us health care reform and a new Supreme Court Justice. Democrats are moving and shaking.
So why don't I feel better? Maybe because the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are still there. Maybe because the housing bubble has yet to re-inflate. Maybe because the cap on the well doesn't get all that oil out of the water or off the beach. Maybe this doesn't feel like winning, after all.
The Tea Party rages on, and Sarah "Quitter" Palin keeps hanging around. Once sure bets in California like Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown are struggling against this anti-establishment tide. When did these guys become the establishment? Somewhere over the last twenty years, I suspect. Women on the Supreme Court? Ho hum. An African-American president? Yawn. The Republicans have women and African-Americans all ready to go for the next election, how progressive is that? It's time to throw all those politicians in Washington out on their ear, they tell us. To be replaced by a bunch of upstart rebels who will become, before the next election, the establishment. And that's when we'll strike!

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Becomes A Legend Most?

Out here in the general public, we spend our time trying to answer life's most intriguing questions: Will Lindsay Lohan do hard time? Do Sasha and Malia get really get to enjoy themselves on vacation? Who are these people from the Jersey Shore, really? And better yet, why would anyone care? It's part of being "the public." We have a zeitgeist to maintain. The more speculation we can generate, the more fabulous the answers must surely be. More Twitter! More Facebook! More Attention!
Which brings me to today's contest: Who can survive longer under the harsh summer rays of our incessant gaze, Mel Gibson or British Petroleum? Mel has just recently been relieved of his personal representation, and BP has just engaged the services of one Raoul Duke for massaging the way we think and feel about their corporation. Keeping in mind that none of this is real, it is important for us to remain completely judgemental.
BP is a gigantic conglomerate with tentacles that stretch far beyond the scope and imaginations of most of us wage-earners. It is a great big target that will be as hard to bring down as Phillip Morris, at least until someone creates a fossil-fuel patch to help us manage our dependency on crude oil until we're really ready to quit. And they've been very apologetic, too.
Mel? Not so much. While he's not busy fouling thousands of miles of our coastline, he seems intent on generating a toxic amount of sludge of his very own. If the train wreck of his relationship continues to be broadcast, who will be left to believe that he knows "What Women Want." Or men. Or their house pets. At this point, if a director is looking to Mel to play against type they had better have a script that has him portraying a human being.
And so, the summer drags on and we wait to be shocked out of our months-long delirium by the outrageous behavior or scandal that will cause us to turn the page or switch the channel. Or run screaming out the door into the sunlight.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Comparing Apples To Oil Rigs

British Petroleum will give free protective caps to buyers of its latest offshore oil platforms to alleviate the so-called "oil slick" problem in which drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico could cause irreparable ecological damage. BP CEO Tony Hayward announced the giveaway Friday during a news conference at the company's headquarters, even as the company denied that the wells have a leakage problem that needs fixing. The more than three million sea birds who have already displaced and newly hatched sea turtles through September 30 will all be eligible. People and sea creatures who already purchased the $29 "Bumper" caps will be refunded.

Hayward began the event by saying, "We're not perfect," but was quick to point out that no oil well is perfect. He played a video showing competing oil wells, including an Exxon rig from Shaanxi Xinlong Petroleum Equipment Co Ltd., oozing crude when held in certain ways.

Oil wells usually have an valve inside the body. In designing the Deepwater Horizon, BP took a gamble on a new design, using parts of the well's outer casing as the plug. That saved space inside the tightly packed body of the offshore rig, but meant that covering a spot on the lower left edge of the platform causes oil to shoot out into the pristine waters of the Gulf. Consumer Reports magazine said covering the spot with a plug or even a piece of duct tape alleviates the problem. It refused to give the Deepwater Horizon its "recommended" stamp of approval for this reason, and it had called on BP on Monday to compensate buyers. On Friday, in the company's first remarks following the magazine's report, Hayward said BP was "stunned and upset and embarrassed." Us too.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wait Time: Approximately 55 Years

Today Disneyland turns fifty-five. I know what you're thinking, it doesn't look a day over forty, right? It was fifty-five years ago that my family, in the person of my mother, began what would become ritualized treks to the Happiest Place On Earth. That was back when it was still an amusement park nestled in a sea of parking lots, and many of the attractions broke down or just plain didn't work. Things have changed since then.
These days, many of the attractions break down or just plain don't work, but there are so very many of them that it doesn't seem to matter as much. Try as I might, there are still corners of the park that I have carefully or callously overlooked. The Storybook Land Canal Boats are a great example. Even though I have spent hours taking multiple rides on Casey Junior, the Circus Train whose rails take him above and around the path of the Canal Boats, I have never made the simple step to the right to get into line. If I want a leisurely boat ride in Fantasyland, I'll queue up for It's A Small World. Then I will spend the next six to eight days trying to get that song out of my head.
Disneyland is also the place I bought my first monster mask. I purchased a full over-the-head Frankenstein monster mask at Merlin's Magic Shop, just inside the gates of Sleeping Beauty's castle, the same establishment that a young Steve Martin began his career in entertainment. I rushed outside to Main Street U.S.A. where I sat on a bench, with my very patient mother, wearing the mask. Eventually, a kid much smaller than myself wandered by, jaw agape and pointing to me as he grabbed his mother's hand: "Look mommy! Mickey Mouse!" In many ways, this was my own entry into the world of show business.
Growing up in Colorado made Disneyland a more exotic destination, and those trips my family made when I was just a kid have taken on a more epic scope as the years roll by. One particular spring break that culminated with the Easter Bunny leaving our Disney gifts in our Disney hotel room comes to mind. It should be no surprise then that when I came to California as an incipient adult to visit the woman who would become my wife, I told her that I hoped for a return to the Magic Kingdom. This was with little or no understanding of the geography of California. My wife, then my girlfriend, tried to explain the distance between Oakland and Anaheim, but it never sank in. We got up early and roared down I-5 in time to meet up with two more of my friends and my younger brother. We had a memorable time. That one was epic, too.
I've celebrated birthdays at the House of Mouse, and when my son was old enough to waddle from attraction to attraction, we put him in line with us. When my mother turned seventy, we brought her back with both brothers and their progeny. The submarines have returned, but the magic shop is gone. The parking lots have been replaced by another amusement park and posh shopping district, and Star Tours is about to get a redux. The more the place changes, the more it stays the same, and fifty-five years into the run, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment. Happy Birthday, Disneyland.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It was my idea to give it a name. It was the oral surgeon who came up with the idea for alliteration. His suggestion: Freddie Fibroma. It was a way to add a dose of familiarity to the little bump in the corner of my mouth. I wasn't born with it, but I don't have a specific memory of the moment that it showed up. It has been a point of mild concern for my dentist once a year since I started visiting him over the past seventeen years.
It all reached a head last month when, as a part of my regular examination, my dentist noticed that the little bump in the corner of my mouth had grown since he had last made a note of it. It was now five millimeters long, where it had been quietly hanging around at three millimeters for most of the past decade. He made yet another in a series of referrals for me to see an oral surgeon. "It's no big deal," he assured me in the same way that he always had before when handing me the slip of paper with the names and address of a group of more expensive mouth-care providers. "They'll probably just look at it, and they might just lop it off right there."
"Just lop it off." Those words lingered in my mind as I continued to put off making the appointment. What if they found it was connected to something bigger? What if it was the first sign of a creeping melanoma? "It's probably nothing," was the other phrase I heard, and they were the ones that convinced me to make the call. It was a chance, during this lazy summer, to get something that had been on my to-do list longer than my son. Courage.
I drove up to their office yesterday morning, saying all those calming words that I had assembled over the years. If it really was a big deal, wouldn't my dentist have been more insistent way back when? My wait was pleasantly short, and I was led to a small room with no dentist's chair, just a very comfy blue lounge chair where I had a chance to read a few pages of my book before Dr. Oral Surgeon appeared.
He put on rubber gloves, asked me a few general questions, and then proceeded to fiddle with the nub in the corner of my mouth. "It's what we call a fibroma, and it usually comes with an adjective," he began. I flinched in anticipation of the adjective he might use to describe mine. "Yours is no big deal. The fact that it grew two millimeters is a big deal for us, since we deal with things on that scale, but if it doesn't bother you, we'll just a take a picture of it and I'll note what I observed."
Which, it turns out, was no big deal. If it should continue to expand or become unsightly, he explained that it might be worth freezing and cutting it off. For a moment, that idea appealed to me from the sheer standpoint of being done with it. But then I found myself attached to it. "My fibroma," I said, "like a pet." Then I added, "I should name it."
The creeping fear that I had felt for the past few weeks had passed. I know now that I have a bit of scar tissue in the corner of my mouth, and it's no big deal. I may not have it forever, but for now we keep each other company, and that's all we really need for now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I enjoy watching "Freaks and Geeks" with my son. Way back when the series first aired, it was a nostalgic touchstone for me and my wife, but my son was far more interested in the adventures of Bob the Builder than those of the Weir clan. Now that IFC has begun to show the series without commercial interruption on Friday nights, I have a chance to introduce my progeny to his legacy. There has already been plenty of discussion regarding "were you a freak or a geek, dad?" For those of you unfamiliar with the series, please pause after this paragraph and go set your DVR.
Now that you are prepared to continue our dissertation, I can tell you that I would love to make the answer more complicated than it truly is, but I was a geek. I was the guy who had memorized Monty Python skits and could point out the minuscule variations between the TV show and the record albums. I carried a lunch box. I sat with the same sad, silent friends at the back of the cafeteria every day. I was a geek.
Not that we made the distinction back in those days. We had our cliques. There were the jocks, and the cheerleaders. We had smokers, who we all assumed were stoners but didn't say it aloud. There was a large group of cowboys, most of whom had never set foot in a cow pie, but wore the belt buckles, boots and hats as if they had been born to it. And then there was this swirling mass of kids who seemed to live perilously close to popularity, while another even larger mass walked the halls in quiet anonymity. To be an outsider, a real geek, you had to show up.
And show up I did. Being in band helped, but taking the high math courses sealed the deal. Little by little I felt the need to hop that group in the middle and start preening for acceptance. If only I wore the right clothes: painter's pants, acrylic shirt. If only I could get a date: meaning I would have to talk to a girl first. If only I could have lunch at one of those tables near the windows: and leave my lunch box behind?
By the time I graduated high school, I had worked my way up the ladder to Pep Band President. That was good enough for an extra photo in the yearbook. I had a girlfriend. Most days, I ate lunch out on the front lawn, in the sunshine. Still a geek, but king of the geeks. It would make a great TV show.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The House That George Built

George Steinbrenner is dead. Long live the king: Seven World Series Championships, eleven American League pennants, and sixteen AL East winners. He never threw a pitch. He never swung a bat or caught a pop fly. He was the owner of a sports franchise that became iconic beyond anyone's expectations. He even became a character on "Seinfeld."
For a year or two, back in the late seventies, I became a Yankees fan. It was easy enough to do, since there was a major league baseball vacuum in Colorado at the time, and Yankee paraphernalia was being sold on virtually every street corner. A small group of friends and I purchased royal blue batting helmet with the classic NY logo on the front. We wore them to marching band practice, which may have mitigated our potential coolness factor. We had hitched our wagon to a winner, three World Series in a row. The Yankees didn't win that year, and I learned then to sneer at all things Steinbrenner. He had let me down.
When I moved to Oakland, I became aware almost instantly of Sir George's penchant for raiding other teams' lineups, specifically the Athletics, for his "championships at any cost" ethos. I watched him poach Jason Giambi away from the Bay Area after the 2001 season, much in the same way that he had nabbed Reggie Jackson years earlier. He snapped up Nick Swisher in 2007 just like he grabbed Catfish Hunter way back when. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "Nothing green and gold can stay."
He yelled and screamed and gave illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, but he was an icon in the world of sports. He defined, for better or for worse, hands-on-ownership. Now his sons, Hal and Hank, will have the run of the ship. Only time will tell if the boys can live up to the old man's expectations. "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," he used to say. Now that he's not breathing anymore, we'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Character Flaws

When you put a pair of pointy ears and arched eyebrows on just about anyone, they start to look like Lieutenant Saavik. Brunette and female helps, but computer graphics can do amazing things these days. I cite this particular character from the Star Trek logs to make this point: characters are bigger than actors, just ask Kirstie Alley. She was replaced by Robin Curtis for the third and fourth chapters of the film voyages of the starship Enterprise, after Kirstie's agent asked for more money than Bones was getting. She never did fully grasp the lessons of the Kobayashi Maru.
Such is the nature of episodic entertainment. We've had several Batmen, and even more Supermen. Those vampires in "Twilight" and the kids at Hogwarts don't know how lucky they are to have steady jobs. The Time Lords' ability to remake themselves over the years has been used to explain the eleven different faces of Doctor Who, but I don't remember Samantha Stevens wiggling her nose at her suddenly transformed husband in "Bewitched." Maybe the fact that she was also her cousin Serena caused her not to notice such chicanery.
Marvel Entertainment has decided to go another way with the Hulk. Well, to be fair, the Hulk will be his same old green computer generated self, but Doctor Bruce Banner will be portrayed by someone other than Edward Norton. Or Eric Bana. Or Bill Bixby. And since Bill was playing a guy named "David Banner," one guesses that his estate will probably be fine with this transition, though Lou Ferrigno may be a tad irate, and you wouldn't like him when he's a tad irate. That's showbiz, after all. Hollywood is more powerful than gamma rays or Kryptonite. And if you don't believe me, watch this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In My Life

Way back in high school and into college, I was very fond of the pop/rock band Cheap Trick, so much so that I even bought one of their imitation silk tour jackets. When they recorded a cover of the Beatles' "Day Tripper," I was happy to presume that this somehow elevated them among their peers and moved them one step closer to their inspirations on the Rock and Roll Pantheon. Having grown up in a household in which the Beatles were the alpha and the omega, it made my fanaticism for this little band from Rockford, Illinois more legitimate. When they went on to record an entire album, "All Shook Up," with the Fab Four's legendary producer, George Martin. They even went so far as to open the record with the same chord that played at the end of "A Day In The Life." I felt that I was happily attaching my wagon to the next big thing.
Little did I know at the time that the next big thing wasn't going to be Cheap Trick. Or Boston. Or AC/DC. The era that could support a cultural phenomenon like the Beatles was over. Even the solo albums from John, Paul, George and Ringo failed to whip the world into the frenzy that their recordings as a group once did. Very few artists cite one of their major musical influences as "Wings At The Speed Of Sound." Cheap Trick never attempted a note-for-note cover of any of the Plastic Ono Band albums, as they did with Sergeant Pepper. But I listened to them all, and waited for the next big thing.
Until I stopped. Saturday night, I went to AT&T Park and sat in the upper deck to watch one quarter of the Fab Four run through his career. The cute one played from a catalog that spanned nearly fifty years. I knew all but the most recent tunes by heart, but the ones that the crowd consumed most readily were those from the Lennon/McCartney songbook. These were the ones that people could sing and remember where they were when they first heard them. They could remember wearing out vinyl albums from repeated plays. They could remember having a favorite Beatle. For three hours on Saturday night, Paul was my favorite, and as he played, I watched from my lofty perch and tried to make him a real person. He was there in front of me, but the gigantic images of his grooviness projected on the video screens on either side of the stage kept pulling me back. That was the size of a Beatle: Oversized. Enormous. Super. In my mind, I could rationalize being in close physical proximity to this force, this phenomenon. But my gaze kept slipping back to those video screens. I could not fully reconcile my image of Sir Paul as a sixty-eight year old speck of a man standing in front of a bank of speakers bigger than my house. He was that kid strumming away at his Hofner Bass next to his mates from Liverpool at Candlestick Park, just down the highway from where I was sitting. The last time the Beatles played live.
Now I was here, and so was he, and Cheap Trick was nowhere to be seen. It was him and all those memories. I thought of my older brother, who once did the now impossibly generous favor of bequeathing me his "old" Beatles records, most of which were on the Apple label, so that he could buy himself newer, more pristine copies. I thought of the jukeboxes that we loaded up with our nickels and dimes to play "Hello, Goodbye" and "The Long And Winding Road." I thought of the hundreds of times we called KIMN to request "Yellow Submarine." I thought about how desperate I was to have that last dance at my ninth grade prom to "Let It Be." Now I had come back to the mountain. I looked and listen with a mixture of awe and familiarity. I sang along. At the top of my lungs. It made me laugh and cry. It made me keep looking back at that oversized video screen. It was just the right size for a Beatle.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monsters Of Rock

I did not have tickets to see Van Halen at Folsom Field in 1986. At that point in time, I had made a judgement call about what types of music I was going to listen to, and heavy metal was off that list. I was going "alternative" at that time. These lumbering beasts with their screaming guitars and drum solos were on their way to extinction. Or at least that's what I told myself. It was a curious reaction from somebody who had once sat in that same stadium to take in a bill that included the Scorpions, Rainbow, and Ted Nugent, headlined by REO Speedwagon. And yes I understand that one of those things is not like the others.
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I was attempting to distance myself from all things metal. After all, it was my friend Darren who introduced me to the Scorpions and Rainbow. It was his idea to hike up the hill to the stadium for that ear-splitting day-long marathon of head-banging. Capped off by the moderate rock of the Speedwagon. Did I mention this was the day after our housewarming party? The one where we all drank our weight and then proceeded to collapse in a pile wherever we happened to be standing, only to wake up the next morning having lost the capacity to digest solid food or form complete sentences. But we went anyway, and by the time the Scorpions stormed on stage, we had begun to believe that rock and roll might just save us.
Fast forward four years to the Van Halen show. They were Darren's favorite, only he couldn't make that show. Or any others. He had gone to that big rock show in the sky, and he was probably hanging around backstage with John Bonham and Randy Rhoads. There is little doubt that Darren rocked the afterlife.
But that may have been what kept me at home. That and the need for reconstructive knee surgery that I created for myself the night before the show when I jumped off that swing at Scott Carpenter Park, just a Peavey amp's toss from Folsom Field. I don't know if I would have gone even if I had a snoot full of Jack Daniels or a plate full of corned beef hash. And two good knees. I spent the day of that show laying on my couch with ice and a rigid splint, awaiting my eventual reconstructive surgery. The fact that David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen had parted ways the year before may have contributed to my malaise, or maybe it was all that Codeine 3.
There are other concerts that I regret missing more, but this one sticks out like a sore knee. Now I make up for it by shredding "Hot For Teacher" on Guitar Hero, Medium, on two good legs.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. There have been thousands of words and as many pictures used to describe the way that justice could or should have been carried out in the case of Johannes Mehserle. You could hear the tension stirring as the trial progressed, and when the verdict was announced, there seemed to be a sort of sad resignation to rioting. Not the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech kind, but the window smashing, looting kind.
Involuntary manslaughter was the verdict. Oscar Grant's father speaks: "This is Oakland...Let's get this place going. I don't like the verdict, but I wasn't on the jury. If you're going to protest, protest non-violently. We got to live together. Let's be peaceful." And then the sun went down.
There will be more pictures like this one. Thousands more words written to try and make sense of the death of a young man and the looting of a Sears store. I don't have those words. I have a deep sadness and regret. But this is where I live, and I will do everything that I can to keep it from happening again.

Friday, July 09, 2010

View Comments

If you're a regular visitor to this little corner of Al Gore's Internet, then you are probably familiar with the "comment" section that you will find below each one of my particularly pithy posts, as well as my fondness for alliteration. Generally this is the place where I will find thoughts from others who have read what I had to say on any particular topic and felt the need to give some of their thoughts back. It is always a treat to receive some outward sign of my words being read by others, even when I don't happen to please or entertain in the way I had intended. Sometimes I need to be set straight.
So, thank you for all your kind and/or corrective feedback. That's not what I am concerned about today. Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to complain about the machines that can, periodically, wind their way through the modicum of security that is in place to protect this blog from random abuse. I have had a number of regular readers send me e-mail confessing their frustrations with the borderline arcane method of unscrambling "the letters you see below" in order to leave a comment. I understand the frustration of not being able to simply jot down your message and press send. That is precisely what keeps me from spending hours on other news or blog sites, offering my opinions on other people's opinions.
But there are machines that have nothing better to do than to spray their random bursts of decoding into cyberspace in order to leave links to Japanese porn sites. I am certain that somewhere this is considered a "service," and if you are willing to pay the fee you can have your web sites dropped into the comment section of any unsuspecting blog. If you've poked around a little on Blogspot, you have probably noticed a wide variety of cultures, languages, and points of view. That is the magic of, if I may toss the term around, the Blogosphere. I wonder how many other sites are plagued by this automated nuisance. I'm certain that there are bloggers from Malaysia who have to periodically scour their sites from offers to meet attractive American girls. It's not that hard to do, after all. It's easier than leaving a comment in the first place.
Which brings me to the point: It will always be worth leaving the comment button turned on even if it means I get some electro-smut now and then. I want to know what you think, too. And if you're writing from Saipan with a really sincere opportunity to meet some very nice but scantily clad young ladies, I promise to seek you out when that becomes my concern.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dry Run

It became apparent to me in the first mile that I ran. I wasn't in a race. I was in a parade. I dodged spectators who felt compelled to cross the course in spite of the throng of the stream of humanity moving perpendicular to their efforts. I had to keep an eye out for parked cars that lined both sides of the street. There were herds of transvestites making their way up the hills of San Francisco in their heels. There were naked people. There were carts being pulled by teams. And everywhere I looked, people were drinking.
I understand the importance of remaining hydrated when one is exercising, but this wasn't the kind of drinking that was going on. Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and plenty of beer was readily available both on and off the course. The snail's pace that I felt that I was able to maintain through the throngs of party goers was further hampered by the behavior of those around me. I might expected to see people lurching or staggering about after an hour of physical exertion, but this wasn't the case. All the stumbling and weaving I witnessed came from those who fully embraced the festive atmosphere found at the Bay To Breakers.
By mile five, I had made up my mind to skip this particular display of Bay Area Bacchanalia. I would seek out other ways to test my strength and endurance. I chose to file it under "not my bag," and leave it at that. Fast forward seventeen years: "Bay to Breakers is very concerned that someone is going to get hurt or worse because of the over-consumption of alcohol," race spokesman Sam Singer said. "Unfortunately, people can't control themselves." So from now on, there will be no floats, and no booze. Those who are caught breaking the rules will be cited and fined.
And I confess, I'm a little bit sad. While I chose not to participate, it was one of those things that was uniquely and absurdly San Francisco. True, it didn't impact me in the way that the neighborhoods along the course of the race were affected. My yard wasn't the target of anybody's queasy stomach or full bladder. I don't have to run behind a chariot full of drunken fraternity boys straddling their kegs of beer. It was the behavior of other people, across the bay. And now, at least for the time being, the party is over. Perhaps race organizers can pick a different time and place to sponsor a twelve kilometer Drink and Puke, you know, for kids.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

No Parents Left Behind

Education reform continues to be a hot topic around these United States, with "low-performing schools" and "highly qualified teachers" getting a lot of attention. This is the time of year where those of us in the education biz pace around our cages, waiting for the scores from those all-important standardized tests to show up. It will be mid to late August before the computers up in Sacramento spit out our marching orders. What list will we find ourselves on this year?
While we wait for that inevitability, it might be nice to visit a happy place, if Detroit can be described in such terms.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says that in Detroit, where the lack of making parents accountable for their children partly is blamed on elevated truancy and dropout rates, as well as a recent rash of violent crimes involving teens, parents should go to jail for up to three days for missing parent-teacher meetings. Three days in jail? Like criminals? Who does this Kym Worthy think she is? "I understand the prosecutor's concern, but jail time?" said Detroit middle school teacher Ann Crowley. Even the teachers are having a hard time getting behind this one.
But we can dream, can't we? In a world where achievement for our children is based on a test taken over the course of five days at the end of a school year that may or may not have included a student's best work or effort. These standardized test scores, as important as they are, do not influence a child's progress. On the contrary, they only become available months after the school year has ended, and that kid's future has already been decided. Any highly qualified teacher would have set up a conference with that student's parent who might be in danger of failing. Maybe they were having trouble getting to school on time, or needed to have the correct permissions to get additional support or simply checking in on the progress they were supposed to be making.
No, I don't believe that tossing parents in jail for missing report card conferences would save our schools, much less our society, but it does tell me that someone has finally caught wind of that third leg of the triangle and that the time has come when students, teachers and parents begin to work together to reform education. Meeting with your child's teacher once a year doesn't sound like too big a price to start.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Diary Of A Wimpy Collegian

There I was, rooting around my basement in search of additional fireworks for him to scoff at our city's statutes against such things, when I happened upon a journal. It was the notebook in which I scribbled my innermost thoughts back in my college days. In my memory, there were several such notebooks, spiral bound, overflowing with observations and witty remarks on the human condition. I must have picked up the wrong notebook.
I was in my early twenties, and I was compelled by two main motivations: appearing clever, and seemingly endless rants about my inability to find romance. To be more precise, the romance part was more about searching for a mate. Perhaps dating would have been a good starting point, but I seemed to be consumed with the need to find a life partner. I wasn't looking to shop. I was ready to buy. And I was such a whiner about it. "Why can't I find love?" I opined. It had not occurred to me, at that time, that simply looking was only part of the answer. Appearing ready for such a lofty enterprise was the part that eluded me. Decades later, I looked on my tightly packed scrawl and winced. Who would want to date this guy? What a train wreck.
To my credit, I seemed to be digging myself out of a hole. For several years leading up to the composition I held in my hands, I had immersed myself in all the drama that teen romance would allow. I was playing big stakes back then, and the fact that I wasn't already married and settled down by my junior year in college seemed to be my chief disappointment in life. I filled page after page with emotional ennui, but I seemed to be aware that dragging myself off the pyre of my own despair was my best hope. I expected to turn the page and find these words: "Lighten Up!"
They never came, and as I continued to flip through the book, I became aware that I was being sucked back down that well, twenty-some years later. I closed the notebook and shoved it back in the drawer, beneath the bag of pop bottle rockets that I kept concealed for just such an emergency. My wife and son were waiting for me. Sometimes you get exactly what you want. It just takes a while.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Meet The New Boss -

General David Petraeus assured his troops, one hundred and thirty thousand of them, that they are "in this to win." This comes as a comfort, I'm sure, not only to the soldiers in Afghanistan, but their families at home. Some of the misguided notions floating around previously about the United States' mission over there, such as we were over there to help ensure the safety of Haliburton employees, can now be put to rest.
"We must never forget that the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human terrain," Petraeus wrote Sunday in a memo to his troops, praising their effort. "Protecting those we are here to help nonetheless does require killing, capturing or turning the insurgents. We will not shrink from that." Again, that might still include Haliburton employees, but I think he means the men and women who live there. Unless they happen to be insurgents, in which case there will be more killing, capturing and turning.
Turning? Did he say "turning?" Are we really expecting that our presence there will convince "insurgents" that they've made some horrible mistake or miscalculation and that these Americans really are here simply to help democracy flower? Well, that and capture, kill or turn insurgents, so why not come on over for the big win? "As you and our Afghan partners on the ground get into tough situations, we must employ all assets to ensure your safety, keeping in mind, again, the importance of avoiding civilian casualties," the general continued. Those civilians, by the way, just might turn out to be insurgents, so keep your head on a swivel, soldier.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, we were informed by Republican Party chairman Michael Steele that Afghanistan is now officially "Obama's War Of Choice." It's not quite as catchy as "Desert Storm" or "Enduring Freedom," but "The Hundred Years War" was already taken. Good luck, general, and godspeed.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


To: TJ
From: BF

Tommy - love the pages I've got so far, especially that whole "preamble" bit. I'll bet that will get George's pantaloons in a twist, especially that whole "repeated injuries and usurpations" thing. And how about, "We hold these truths to be self-evident," where do you come up with this stuff?
That does bring me to my fist note: "All men are created equal?" Have you taken a look around the room recently? You really think old Hawkins is fit to hold your quill, or that Paine fellow with his so-called "Common Sense?" Really. But I understand it's a sales job, after all, and if we really want the votes, we've got to appeal to the fly-over colonies.
Which brings me to my biggest concern. You keep talking about "the people" in here, and I can't help but think that sooner or later some servant or slave, or heaven forbid, woman will get a hold of this thing and start thinking it applies to them. Oh sure, the "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" is all well and good, but you start tossing around freedom and independence for everyone, and sooner or later we're going to have to deliver.
Don't get me wrong, I love your style: just the right amount of pomposity to make it clear that this common man idea thing really only applies to those of us who can read the thing in the first place. I think we're in pretty good shape as long as you don't start advocating for public education.
I guess the good thing about getting all inclusive there with "Men" is that we can probably count on all those farmers and tinsmiths to hop on their horses and grab a musket once the fertilizer hits the fan back in England. And hey, even if they do march on over here to put us back in our places, I've got a feeling we'll still end up pretty near the top of the heap anyway, am I right?
I've gotta run, I'm off to invent the Cheese steak. See you in the morning.
Revolutionarily yours,
July 3, 1776

Saturday, July 03, 2010

For What It's Worth

The other day at lunch, my wife began to describe for my son the nature of economics: "You know, there are people who go to school their whole lives to understand money." I did not attend any of these courses. Consequently, there are plenty of things about money that I don't understand.
For example: How is it that there are pools of seemingly uninterrupted cash for Tiger Woods to pay his wife not to talk to anyone ever about what a horrible husband he was. Three quarters of a billion dollars worth of silence. This news came to me on the same day that, once again, the lawmakers in Sacramento failed to pass a budget for the state of California. All kinds of things happen as a result, including our Governator's plan to start paying state employees minimum wage until the budget gets passed. Since the average salary of a state employee is about sixty-five thousand dollars a year, this had the opposite effect of Tiger's settlement. There was a lot of noise. Budget deficits totalling billions of dollars are causing all kinds of racket, and everyone wants to know where their slice of pie is. I don't know much about economics, but a casual glance at USA Today tells me that money is best understood as pie.
The state of California is also going to be paying twenty million dollars to the family of Jaycee Dugard, who spent eighteen years in captivity, in part, because the state's parole board did not effectively monitor her kidnapper, a convicted sex offender. If you ask me, it seems like the state is getting off cheap, but it still begs the question: where does all this money come from?
Meanwhile, back on the sports pages, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the teams vying to have LeBron James come save their franchise. They are auditioning for the opportunity to write great big free agent checks to Mister James in hopes that he will do something that he never managed to do with his previous team: win a championship.
I understand that much of what makes free enterprise work is the idea of supply and demand. Consumers assign the value for things like Gatorade and street sweeping. Then we stick unions in there and laws to regulate trade and assign taxes and tariffs and suddenly I have lost track completely. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, whose net worth is probably well over a million dollars, "I've looked at cash from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow, it's life's illusions I recall. I really don't know cash at all."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Best And Brightest

Gearing up for the big Fourth of July holiday, contemplating just where I will spread my freedoms most thick, I can not decide between the savings I will enjoy at Macy's or my local Toyota dealership. With those choices still so difficult to discern, I will instead turn my thoughts to the history of this great land of ours. Specifically, those who have been selected to lead our nation through nearly two and a half centuries. A recent survey conducted by Siena College of two hundred and thirty-eight scholars came up with their answer for the Best President Ever. Scholars would know, since they're so very scholarly.
Before we open the envelope and announce the winner to our readers here, I ask you to take the test yourself: Forty-three previous chief executives to choose from, leaving Barack Obama out for the time being, since his stats are still being compiled. If you were to ask any of the kids at my school for their favorite president, it would probably come down to two: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This may be, in large part, due to the fact that kids know of many of their accomplishments: chopping down cherry trees and walking miles to return change. Kids also get days off school to celebrate their birthdays. That is also probably why some of them would tell you that Martin Luther King was their favorite president.
Solid reasoning, and maybe enough for most adults as well. Of course, there are those who insist on naming Richard Nixon just to be contrary, or Franklin Pierce just to get everyone running to Google to see if there really was a U.S. president named Franklin Pierce. Appearances on currency is another quick way to gauge popularity, with George and Abe getting high marks there as well, though our largest current bill denomination doesn't carry the portrait of a president and no, it is not Sacagawea.
So, let Sarah "Quitter" Palin continue to sing the praises of Ronald Reagan, and pity poor Andrew Jackson who came in last. For now, let's toast Franklin Delano Roosevelt as our survey's Best President Ever. Though he only shows up on the dime out of sympathy, he helped drag our country out of a depression and through a war being fought on two fronts while creating massive new social programs that remain cornerstones of our American society today. Now, if Obama can just get three more terms, I'm sure he'll be right there in the running the next time this survey is taken.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Safety Dance

I'm not going to let my son sail around the world by himself. At least, not for the foreseeable future and not because he has been pestering me to do so. He is, after all only thirteen. Now is the time when parental math becomes so very arbitrary. I know that when I was his age, there were a great many things that I felt completely ready for, but my parents would have disagreed. Leaving aside for a moment the example of circumnavigating the globe, let's examine a much more concrete example: crossing the street.
My family was taking a run/walk through the neighborhood yesterday when we came to an intersection where there was no marked crosswalk. It was an odd confluence of three streets, one continuing on uphill with another at a ninety degree angle while on the other side the third came angling in from behind a tall stand of trees. It is also the spot where, just about a year ago, our son had crossed on his bike just before a car came roaring down the hill and put his parents' collective heart in their collective throat. Now, a year later, my son wanted to know, as we crossed on foot, why he "always got busted" for crossing without a crosswalk. My wife made some accurate recollections of his near miss, and left hers with a comfortable "because we're grown ups." Mine was even more succinct, "because we don't want you to die."
More to the point, we don't want him to die knowing that we did not do everything humanly possible to keep him safe. Does that make us "helicopter parents?" I suspect it's a matter of degrees. While some would say that we are less focused, others I'm sure view us as Nervous Nellies, constantly interfering in our child's development. Of course he's going to fall down. Of course he's going to feel disappointment. I don't thinks that's grounds for neglect. But if my son announced that his burning ambition was to be the youngest person to scale Mount Everest, part of me would be full of pride, the rest of me would be stammering all the reasons why it would be too difficult crazy scary impossible. It's a tough balancing act: wanting your offspring to achieve their dreams and keeping them alive.
On the other hand, it's not that hard at all. I'm always going to feel most comfortable watching him from a safe distance. It's up to us to figure out what that safe distance is.