Thursday, September 30, 2010
Whose Castle Is This?
That doesn't mean this line is always clear. Way back in my bachelor days, I used to sit down to dinner in front of my very own Tombstone frozen pizza. Sometimes I didn't even bother slicing it into eight smaller pieces. Instead I would chop it into four big slabs and commence to gnawing. When I moved in with my wife-to-be, We shared that same pizza. Now the eight pieces were split five to three. I got the five. When my son was born, he was more than happy to take the nodules of sausage we would drop on his high chair tray. One of his first words was "meat." Eventually we had to give up one of our pieces of pie to the growing boy, and I was quietly pleased when my wife sacrificed one of hers. I held steady at five, while she dropped to two. Soon my son's appetites could not be satisfied by one piece, and so I let one of mine go. Now that he is in middle school, the ratio has changed again. Mom is still a solid two, while my son and I hold steady at three each. Even now I am getting questions from my son that sound like this: "Are you going to eat that last piece?" Or "How many have you had already?"
Does it matter? I'm the dad. I should be forking food off of your plate. But that's not the way it really works. It's only a matter of time before we're cooking two pizzas, and watching our little boy inhale his very own. It's the mathematics of parenthood.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Dear Mister President
Now, with mid-term elections just a few weeks away, my president is taking aim once again at education, linking it to the economy by suggesting that our future success depends on teaching our children better than we were taught ourselves. A valid point, but we continue to struggle with just what that future will look like. Not the "every kid has a video screen in front of them and projects his or her answers holographically on a display above their heads" future, but the what will my kids do when it's time to go to middle school. Or high school. Or college.
A recent study showed that giving teachers bonuses to improve their students test scores failed to achieve the expected result. They weren't giving the money to the right people. They might have had better success if they had paid the students themselves, or even given cash to parents who brought their kids to school every day. That vision of the future seems less likely. Then there's the "Race to the Top" vision, which on Monday took a slightly confrontational tone when my President said, “We’ve got to be able to identify teachers who are doing well, teachers who are not doing well. Ultimately if some teachers aren’t doing a good job, they’ve got to go.” Presumably to make room for the ten thousand math and science teachers that he wants to recruit and train. Along with this tough talk came the admission that “We’ve got to raise teacher pay generally,” to ensure that teachers can afford to stay in teaching. Somewhere in there is a message that seems to say, "Get motivated or you won't get to stick around for the big raises."
Mister Obama, I know it's been a tough year, and this next month and a half looks to get even tougher, but maybe you could use this time to go after some more challenging targets. The economy, for one. The war in Afghanistan. Global warming. Educational reform is as old as Plato, who we all know as Mickey Mouse's dog. Perhaps this program for "do your job or get out" could be applied to other realms of public service, if you catch my meaning. I don't deny that public education isn't broken, but I do believe that throwing money at the problem or trying to save it with a swift kick isn't your best bet.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
A Certain Age
Suddenly, my life was vaudeville: "Doctor, I want a second opinion."
"You want a second opinion? You're ugly too." Ba dum dum.
And so the aging process continues to work its magic on me along with the rest of the planet. As someone who regularly espouses the inevitability of entropy, I should take all of this with a big steaming cup of karma. But it doesn't make me happy.
There was a time when I lived with little more than a tube of toothpaste and dental floss in my medicine chest. Now that I am, as a friend of mine intones, a "man of a certain age," I can't avoid the turbulence of time. The pits between my teeth have grown deeper. My eyes, not unlike an old TV set, take a while to warm up in the morning. I make that old guy noise when I bend down to pick up the stray Lego. I am moving from an ordered state to a less ordered state. If I were a planet, and feel free to insert your clever astronomical joke here, my orbit has begun to decay.
But I'm not ready to crash into the sun. Quite the opposite, actually. It is not my intent to buck this trend completely. I accept that I will continue to experience gravity more profoundly as I grow older, but I look forward to doing it gracefully. That starts with the next interaction I have with that particular physician. You may have noticed that I have not referred to him as "My Doctor." His diagnosis may have been spot-on, but his bedside manner should be put on life-support immediately. He should know that I always need to be the funniest guy in the room, even if I am the guy wearing the paper nightgown.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Forward Into The Past
The facts about global warming continue to be debated. The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster wants us to believe that global temperature is in inverse proportion to the number of pirates. Unfortunately, what the Church has failed to take into account is the recent rise of pirates, in Somalia and Johnny Depp. Global warming? All evidence points to the coming of another ice age, the kind we haven't seen since "The Day After Tomorrow."
Maybe that's why MegBay Whitman decided to go ahead and vote against a measure that would repeal a greenhouse gas law she called a "jobs-killer." She's been saving up all those votes for the past twenty-eight years for something really important. There are bigger concerns for us now: protection against renegade ice floes and polar bears. Happily, we've got Sarah "Quitter" Palin around to help us with that second one, and the anti-piracy task force of Clive Davis and Carlos Santana to help us with the first. These are dangerous times, but if we all pull together, we can make it out alive.
Then and only then can we get back to our main concern: Debunking the "myth" of evolution.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
A Very Short Book
The book is called "Pledge To America." It is not about furniture polish. That would be a funny book. It is not about the Pledge of Allegiance. The book that is making them smile is about how the men want to save their country. That is why they are not wearing suits. Saving the country is hard work that could not be done in suits. Even though these men usually wear suits when they are doing their job, they want to show how hard they are working by rolling up their sleeves. This is called a "metaphor." The men are not sitting in a book store. They are sitting in a hardware store. That is where people who do hard jobs like saving their country shop. Hard working people buy hammers and nails and saws, and these men want them to buy their book, but not at the hardware store.
The men don't really want you to buy their book with money, either. This is another "metaphor." They really want you to believe like they do. They want the government to stop spending money. These men think that government is getting in the way of people being happy. Not the part of the government that they are in. They think that part is fine. They don't like the ideas that are not theirs.
For example, they want to tear up all the work that was done so that everyone can see a doctor when they need to and replace it with a plan where everyone can see a doctor when they need to. That is a funny idea. They want to keep the bad guys out of our country. That is not a funny idea, but it is funny how they think that anyone who does not look and act like them is a bad guy. Their book is forty-one pages long. It is not a long book, but it does have a lot of pictures. All of the people in the pictures look just like them. Isn't that funny?
Saturday, September 25, 2010
"Do you have 'Picnic At Hanging Rock?'" I asked without a trace of the setup I was giving them. Peter Weir's creepy classic was as scarce as hydra's teeth, and I knew it. It was one of the titles that I was constantly on the lookout for at our shop down the street. The happy droid scurried off to his terminal to check his database, but I already knew the answer.
"Gosh, I don't see it even listed here," came the sad reply from behind the counter.
"How about 'Faces of Death?'" There was no subtlety in my friend's query. He was out for blood. He knew this collection of snuff was one of the "extreme" titles available at this proudly family friendly establishment while plenty of more mainstream films, the ones that featured procreation rather than execution, were not allowed inside Blockbuster's shiny happy facade.
Smug as our little interaction made us, there was no denying the acres of new releases that covered one wall of that great big box of a store.
It was obvious that the demand we were able to create at our shop for the newest titles would disappear abruptly in this environment. Our customers were routinely disappointed to find out that the copy of "Top Gun" they had reserved for Friday night hadn't returned from its slumber party the night before. We saw their disappointment and seized the opportunity. "So, you're looking for a little Tom Cruise to spice up your evening? Why not check out 'Endless Love' and see his film debut?" Curious and ever-trusting, most of our loyal customers would take our bait, and return the next day with a shrug and a grin, thankful for the absurd detour from the norm. It's what we did back in those days. We took pride in the breadth of our catalog and our ability to steer people to movies they might otherwise have missed. My friend and I carried on for hours this way every week, and every so often when someone insisted that they needed something "new that's good that I haven't seen," we would sigh and write their name down in the reservation book for that weeks hottest new release. Whether it was good or not.
It wasn't long before the Blockbuster way became the way. We closed our store and went to seek our fortunes elsewhere. Now we're on opposite sides of the country, and every so often when life gets sad or lonely, we kid ourselves about getting back together and opening our own video store once again. Those were our salad days. Before DVRs and Netflix. Before you could watch movies on your phone. Before Blockbuster.
Do I feel a pang of sadness that the video rental business itself has all but disappeared as well? Not really, since I know that once there was a spot, not unlike Camelot, where college pukes such as my buddy and I could offer money-back guarantees on films like "Birdy" and "Videodrome" without flinching. We knew our customers would be back, even if was just to take another chance on our staff's obscure recommendations.
In the meantime, the store that my buddy and I always secretly wished we worked for, The Video Station, continues to rent movies and talk to people about them. Not just what's new that's good that's in. Blockbuster is dead. Long live the new flesh.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Jacobs was flagged for a personal foul for a late hit and had gained only eight yards on four carries, that's when he threw his helmet at the bench. He missed. Instead, the protective headgear landed about ten rows up in the lap of an Indianapolis Colts' fan, who briefly waged a tug-of-war for this souvenir with stadium officials. The main reason for denying this citizen his rightful dibs was that Brandon might need his hat if he wanted to go outside and play again.
No need to worry about that, since his coach had him put his bottom on the bench that he had such a hard time finding with his equipment.
The next day, the National Football League decided that this lapse in judgement should cost Brandon Jacobs ten thousand dollars. Fine to be paid to the league office, obviously. The fan who gave up the helmet was bribed with plenty of nice things in trade then had his new toy pulled from his hands by authorities. He won't be seeing any of that ten thousand dollars. He gets to be part of sports lore, not unlike Steve Bartman, except that Bartman kept his team from winning. This guy in Indianapolis got to watch his team mop up the mess that was the rest of the New York Giants and took home some lovely parting gifts. Steve Bartman is still in a witness protection program.
Rumor abound that Brandon Jacobs wants to be traded because he doesn't think he'll be able to perform to his potential in his new backup role. He was mildly effusive with his apologies: "We were losing the game and I was mad," Jacobs said. "No one wants to lose, and I kind of lost my cool." Kind of. If he had been on the playground where I was watching the behavior, he would have bypassed the bench and been headed straight for the Principal's office. He wouldn't be traded to another team. He would be asked to sit in the Principal's office for the next few recesses. And I would probably get to keep the helmet.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Or maybe it's not a dream at all. There are plenty of political strategists who believe that the fortunes of the 2010 elections may spin on the pointy little heads of a certain number of Tea Party candidates. Initially embraced by the GOP, these anti-establishment, free-thinkers are taking dead aim, if you pardon the Palin-pun, on those who have been conducting "business as usual." That certainly works in the races where a Tea Party candidate is running against a firmly ensconced Democrat, but lately the TP'ers have not been above biting the hand that feeds them. There are plenty of Republicans who have grown fat and happy as career politicians and are not thrilled with the idea of being brushed aside for this breath of fresh air. Especially when that breath of fresh air smells faintly of bedbug crazy.
In the meantime, the Green Party continues to show their color by being the conscience of the Left half of the country. They aren't afraid to stand up to South Carolina's Jim Demint, who has been spending his own campaign funds to Tea Party-ish candidates in other states. That would be the very Right half side of the country. All of this hustle and bustle causes those at the center to fret and strain at the idea of "fringe elements" running the country.
All of which makes me wonder how Ralph Nader might have handled the events of September 11, 2001.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
All Is Well
Living as we do in a twenty-four hour news cycle, it seems hard to believe that we missed this little bit of news: The recession ended in 2009. Pardon me? The "Great Recession," the one that had us teetering on the brink of Another Great Depression, is over? It's been over for more than a year, according to a blue ribbon panel of economists whose job it is to sort out such matters. This was, for history's sake, the longest recession our country has endured since World War Two. It clocked in at a whopping eighteen months.
So, for those of you who aren't sitting in front of a calendar, here's how it breaks down: The recession began back in December of 2007 and wound up a year ago last June. All that prosperity you thought you were feeling but had to dismiss it over the past year turns out to be recovery after all. The economy is growing again. Good times are just around the corner. A very dark, and scary corner.
"The hole was so deep that a lot of people out there are still hurting." These are the words that our President used to describe the situation. People who are out of work. People who have lost their homes. People who won't know the recession is over until the newspaper under which they are sleeping carries that headline. Meanwhile, Republicans, Democrats and Tea Partiers will be holding thumb-wrestling matches and other feats of relative strength to determine whose vision of the American Dream we will be saddled with for the next two to six years. More government, less government, tax cuts, tax increases, or a jobs program for newborns, it's all going to be sorted out before November, you can count on that.
Unless the election is already over and nobody thought to tell us.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Before that, the term "witch hunt" was much more literal. In the late seventeenth century, people were actively looking for people who were practicing witchcraft, casting spells and consorting with the devil. Literally. For about eighteen months, the happy campers in colonial Massachusetts executed a dozen of their number for being "witches." These were mostly single women who failed to conform to a rather rigid sense of propriety. Some say it was bad bread. Others suggest that their behavior could have been post-traumatic stress after attacks by the natives. Whatever the case, they were different and were therefore eliminated.
It is historically how we deal with people who are different in our culture. The official platform of the Montana Republican Party says that homosexuality is illegal. Some scoff at the notion, since all such laws were struck down by Montana's own Supreme Court in 1997, but according to party officials up in Big Sky Country, The fact that the matter has never come up for discussion since is a pretty good indicator of where their collective head is. Stonings and lynchings are, for the time being, suspended however.
Then there's the case of Tea Party Celebutante and Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell. Way back in 1999, she appeared on Bill Maher's old TV show, "Politically Incorrect" to discuss her own experiences "dabbling in witchcraft." And suddenly she's far too busy to appear on "Face The Nation" or "Fox News Sunday." Maybe she's holding out for the reality TV reboot of "Bewitched." No news on the ghost of McCarthy.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Truth Or Consequences
Friday afternoon, my son had planned to go to his weekly after school robotics program, where he would primarily spend his time playing with Legos and SimCity. He was meeting his best friend, the same one he has had since preschool, and when they were finished sometime after five, they were going to walk back to his friend's house for dinner and perhaps a little more video game time. That wasn't exactly what happened.
When he arrived at his after school program, my son discovered there was going to be a lecture on programming, a basic component for robotics. There would be no Legos. There would be no SimCity. The decision was made to blow off the class, since it would be way too much like school for a Friday afternoon. The two of them hustled out the back and hopped a fence. It was a shortcut, but a forbidden one. The gate had been chained and locked to keep the undesirable element of the neighborhood out, and to keep the kids in. As part of this daring escape, my son tossed his backpack over the fence, which he later discovered had crushed the brittle plastic of his binder. The binder was the least of their concern at this point. They were on a mission.
When they got to the house, they only had a few minutes before parents started to arrive, and questions began. That's when our phone rang. My first inclination was to drive up the hill and bring my miscreant offspring back home and throw him into the dungeon. Lacking a dungeon, my wife and I decided to let the evening play itself out and deal with him when he came home. For the next two hours, I puzzled over what I might say: "I'm disappointed in you." That sounded a little dated. "Why didn't you call us on your buddy's cell phone?" That was very practical, but lacked the sting I was hoping for.
And then, he was home, with a shamed expression on his face. Whether it was rehearsed or sincere, I felt the need to prod still further. "What was going on in your head?" All that rehearsal of my own seemed to have left me as unprepared as I was hours before.
"I'm sorry dad. I messed up."
After that, I tried to make some grand pronouncement. I wanted to be able to put in just he right words to that he would be able to take them with him as wisdom for the rest of his life. Mostly I just sputtered and fussed. The message had been received. All that was left was for his parents to pronounce sentence: No video games or YouTube for the weekend. Do all your chores. Do all your homework. No fun.
He took his punishment, such as it was, standing up. I spent the weekend looking for ways to impart that missing wisdom, but became slowly convinced that his first big brush with "the law" was all the wisdom he needed. For now.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
So Many Choices, So Little Time
And so the trend continued throughout our childhood. I became indoctrinated into the ways of brand-name loyalty. I hung desperately to the Captain Action franchise while the GI Joes overpowered the action figure market. My younger brother was left with the sad shadow of the Adventure Team GI Joes. At least they had life-like hair. I felt a little schadefreude for my brother as the Beatles broke up and had quiet satisfaction when I saw the Monkees reunite. My younger brother listened to the Residents. And so it went for years and years.
Now that I'm all grown up, I still find myself in conflict, only nowadays it is most often with myself. My DVR is set to record Jon Stewart every night. We get a little tease at the end of most of those recordings for Stephen Colbert's upcoming show. Even though I have been witness to some of the most incredibly amusing moments on television recently via Mister Colbert, I just can't shake that brand-name sure thing of Stewart. Now I understand that the two of them will be staging competing rallies in Washington: Stewart is promoting a "Rally to Restore Sanity" on October 30 for people too busy with their normal lives to go to other political rallies. Nearby, Colbert is promoting a "March to Keep Fear Alive." He is encouraging participants to bring an overnight bag and five extra sets of underwear. I which rally my brothers will attend.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
It is significant to note that my brother-in-law and I are both teachers, and our high-minded science talk is really veiled justification for our dismay about NCLB, or "No Child Left Behind" for those of you who live your lives less connected to acronyms. This is the government's assertion that "all" students will be reading and doing math at or above their grade level by the year 2014. Even if you were teaching blue-green algae in a frictionless environment, you would be unlikely to meet that goal. Since we're teaching kids, and there seems to be no end to the friction we encounter, one hundred percent seems like science fiction.
This was the week that my principal announced that we, as a staff, had at last emerged from "PI," no relation to Thomas Magnum. Those letters stand for "Program Improvement," and they meant that we were under constant pressure to catch our scores up to schools like ours. It took several years and a lot of extra hours and hard work on the part of teachers, parents and especially students. At the lunch that we were given to celebrate our emergence from PI, a number of our teachers asked, "what does this mean?" "Can we stop doing after school tutoring?" "Can we go back to our regular math program?" "Can we stop working so hard?" The answer was "No."
The steady, glacial movement of the state and federal standards toward that mystical "all" keeps us from letting down our guard. It is quite likely that within the next year or two, we will be swallowed up once again by the PI swarm. Certainly, by 2014, when one hundred percent of the kids in our school need to be at or above their grade level. I won't list all the factors that intrude on this dream, but instead leave it to you and any other reasonable person to imagine all the things that might interfere with this high-minded goal. But for now, I'm enjoying the accomplishment, and will mark it with a big steaming plate full of blue-green algae.
Friday, September 17, 2010
When I first found out about the Four Mile Canyon Fire, I was relaxing at the end of a long holiday weekend. In my mind I tried to picture the roads and terrain that might be affected. I used Al Gore's Internet to find images and maps that would help me comprehend the scope of the fire's progress. I remembered my own experience with forest fires, particularly the time my mother took my younger brother and I over to Barker Dam to fish one afternoon because she figured if the fire that was beginning to creep its way toward our mountain cabin found its way over our little hill, we could always hop in the lake. Happily, that never happened, and the trees on our property suffered more from the dreaded pine beetle and my father's chain saw than any nasty conflagration. Even that time when my dad errantly dropped one particularly tall Ponderosa on a power line. He took off, and decided to blame it on "those meddling kids" if asked. Happily, there were sparks but no ignition. Another tragedy averted.
The people in Four Mile Canyon and the surrounding ten mile radius weren't so lucky. While there are no reported deaths associated with the fire, at least one hundred and sixty-six homes were lost. I called my mother periodically over the next week as the flames continued to rise, and even though in my mind I knew that she was safe, I had that impulse to take her fishing near a lake.
And so I sat there, on my couch, waiting for the NFL season to commence and take me away from my worries across the Continental Divide. Then, just before half time, the slow news crawl appeared at the top of the screen: "Explosion near San Bruno, residents being evacuated." Slowly the story began to encroach on the importance of the Vikings and Saints rematch. A gas pipeline had exploded, sending a fireball a hundred feet in the air and eventually an entire neighborhood was destroyed in just a few hours.
I got some advice from a friend: "Turn off the TV." I confess that it's not in my nature. I tend to stare into the fire until I understand it, or at least I try to. In both cases, Boulder and San Bruno, it is almost certain that some human made an error in judgement, not unlike cutting down a pine tree too close to a power line, and then the natural force took over. Impressively. The people who lost their homes begin the long process of rebuilding their lives.
The Saints ended up beating the Vikings, but fire was the winner that night, as it is so very often.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
These Are Our Choices?
"Bill Clinton was an excellent president," Jerry Brown, California's attorney general, said Monday at a news conference. "It was wrong for me to joke about an incident from many years ago, and I'm sorry." It wasn't probably the relative tastelessness of the joke that got him to apologize, but the percentage points he sits behind Megbay Whitman. Three points, currently. While many might consider this a dead heat, others might point to the fact that Ms. Whitman continues to lead the race for governor of the Golden State as she has since it began. She's got the moxie and the money to do just about whatever she wants, including buying herself a stay in the governor's mansion for a few years.
So why would Jerry come out slinging mud at a Democratic icon like ol' Bill? It all goes back to 1992 when the two were vying for their party's nomination for president. Their mildly heated exchange from eighteen years ago has been scooped up by Whitman's campaign to show how "even Bill Clinton" has issues with the once and future Governor Moonbeam. And so, we assume that a clever politician like Jerry would simply ignore the noise and rise above this easily dismissed skeleton from his closet. As my wife says, "Never make an assumption. It makes an ass out of you and umption."
On Sunday, here's what Jerry had to say: "I mean, Clinton's a nice guy, but whoever said he always told the truth?" Brown then mocked Clinton: "I did not have taxes with this state." He went on to say, "Hey, be sure and tip your waitress. I'll be here all week. Try the veal."
Okay, that last bit was mine, but one has to wonder when the former governor's son, governor, mayor, attorney general, and so on will stop cracking wise about the former president and start focusing his energy on the campaign that's taking place in this millennium. Isn't there something he might like to say about California in 2010? Or how he might go about solving some of the problems we face, and how we might recover from the savage economic beating we have taken over the past decade? It's on his web site, after all, so why not put aside old issues and focus on the challenges of the future? Leave the character assassination to us bloggers. Thank you.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Then there was some hoopla on the other end of the line, and after a few moments, a dial tone. I had been cut off. A wave of panic, then frustration, followed by a desperate search for the redial button on my phone. Would they try to call me back? Surely they had caller ID at their state-of-the-art studio and were hastily going about trying to reconnect with me. In the background, I listened with one ear as the my phone continued to ring in the other. As long as I wasn't being shut out by that horrible, incessant busy signal, I was still in the game.
Then the song was over, and a voice other than my own came on the radio, "I think they were making moose calls?" This woman was tentative and mild. She had obviously been coached, but the DJ and the rest of the morning crew celebrated her as if she had discovered a cure for the Mondays. She got my prize: a request for anything in the music library. She asked for "some Pink Floyd," not even a specific tune. I would have asked for "Us and Them," or "Set Your Controls For The Heart Of The Sun," but the droids at the radio station probably just set about playing "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)." I don't know. I didn't stick around to find out. It was time for a shower, then breakfast, and off to school for another day of excitement, vague disappointment and barely perceived injustice.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
And then, just so I don't forget the essential piece of my job: cover a classroom while a teacher gives their students initial placement assessments. That was a nice way to re-introduce myself to the kids who had been coming to my class for the past two years. Then there was Kindergarten.
There is a special place in Valhalla for those collected souls who choose to teach our smallest children. I'm a parent, and I love kids, but a room full of them who have just begun to speak and eat and be in groups will always be a challenge, especially at the beginning of a school year. For the record, I only made three of them cry, and not the ones I expected to. The ones who burst into tears were the ones who happened to be sitting near the object of my attention: "Roger, quit rolling on the rug," I asserted in my Mister Caven voice, and Julie fell apart. Now I had a sobbing five year old girl and a boy who continued to flop tirelessly across the multi-colored surface. I could see Teddy's lip start to quiver as I turned a hard eye past him toward Sally who has crawled under his desk. So very fragile.
Until they are unleashed on the playground, where suddenly they become fearless adventurers, monsters, bunnies and princesses. All of that order placed on their chaotic little minds feels like torture, I'm sure, and I wish that I could simply let them run around their imaginary landscapes for hours at a time. But the bell always rings, and it's time to go back inside, where Mister Caven will try and get everyone to sing the first third of the alphabet song with him one more time. If it means you have to roll on the rug a little, that will be fine. You're only five once.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Ghoulishness aside, it has been every politician's job to put a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage ever since there have been chicken, pots and garages. Feeding people, housing them, and keeping them healthy all fail to hold a candle to the promise of giving them money. Not that anyone out there today would lower themselves to actually buying votes. That would be unseemly. Instead, they will suggest that whatever their opposition is suggesting will cost you money, and there is no way that you would want to throw away what little money you have on such wasteful notions as health care and rebuilding our nation's infrastructure. Even the Democrats have backed quietly away from their shining achievement of creating a National Health Care Program. The efforts to get the country's economy off life support have not been as successful as many might have hoped, even though we haven't fallen off the cliff into a full-scale depression.
That's the victory. That's the problem. Stupid. Recovery from nearly a decade of war and tax cuts won't happen overnight, and certainly not before November. While we're waiting, however, you can bet that progress toward any substantive change will have to wait while the finger-pointing builds to fever pitch. Then there will be the customary victory lap and then a break for the holidays, giving us all pause before we plunge into 2011. And the presidential election be just months away. Twenty-some months, but just months away. I promise.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
It's a water-cooler thing. Being able to speak knowingly of the catch or the controversy takes the edge off of what may or may not be happening in the classroom. It's not strictly avoidance, it's more like a quick breath of air before we go back underwater. Showing up on Monday morning without some working knowledge of the ups and downs of the local franchises would be forgivable, but puts one in the position of having nothing to talk about before the bell rings. Breaking down the average weekend of professional football takes about six to eight minutes. If it's playoff time, maybe a even less.
But this is the first weekend, and every team is a potential Super Bowl contender. Every game has "playoff implications." That being said, it is also potentially devastating for your team to drop that first one out of the gate. A loss means you spend the week hoping for some sort of redemption before the next week begins. A lot of eye-rolling and shrugging will take place before the season concludes, but as the sun comes up this morning, it's all potential. My wife will say goodbye to my complete attention on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. My son will check his interest level and still slip out at halftime to work in the Lego Lab. I will take my position in front of the TV, just in case something really amazing happens. And even if it doesn't, I'll have something to talk about tomorrow morning.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Mourning Has Broken
The burning of Korans and the building of mosques will continue to be discussed, debated and forgotten, but the date will always hang there, just as football season gets underway and the leaves begin to fall. Nine years of flinching in anticipation hasn't changed the fact that it will come back again, raising old questions and opening old wounds.
I grew up with Pearl Harbor Day. It seemed an odd thing to commemorate, not unlike remembering the day that Kennedy was shot or Elvis collapsed on his throne. Moments of tragedy and death that ring of "do you remember where you were when...?" It's not a time for selling mattresses or appliances. It's not a celebration. It's a commemoration.
And so it goes. We continue to mark time's passing by remembering when our world changed, or perhaps when we here in the United States caught up to the rest of the world. I was watching footage of the natural gas explosion in San Bruno Thursday night, and I was suddenly transported back: Endless repetition of the same video. The same odd details about shelters being opened for those affected by the fire. This went on for hours, until there was no news left, and then went on overnight. The vision of the planes hitting the towers. The slow crawl of information at the bottom of the screen. The assumptions. The assertions. The declarations. The Zapruder film. The black and white photo of John-John saluting his father's casket.
How do we politicize sorrow and grief? Tune in tonight and find out.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Is It Just Us?
Ms. Ashtiani, a mother of two, was convicted of adultery in 2006, for which she received ninety-nine lashes. She was accused of having an affair with two different men, but her husband was reportedly already dead at the time. Iranian officials insist that the second time she was tried and convicted of adultery, she was also convicted for the murder of her husband and that is why she is being stoned to death. Suddenly that Iranian nuclear weapons program seems just a little more problematic. Nuclear weapons in the hands of stone-age vengeful ninnies seems like a really scary notion.
On the other side of the world, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a littering citation. Why all the fuss about littering? Daniel Millis, a volunteer with the faith-based organization No More Deaths, was arrested in 2008 for leaving bottles of drinking water on trails near the Arizona-Mexico border so immigrants walking through the desert would not die of thirst. Millis was convicted and given a suspended sentence. When he appealed the first time, he lost. On his second appeal, the three judge panel came down on his side: two to one. Now, two years later, he can go back into the desert and repeat his random act of kindness, but could just as easily be convicted under another part of the same law that got him arrested in the first place: the part that says it is illegal to abandon property in a national refuge, or to place certain property in a refuge without a permit. Even if that certain property might save a human life. Those guys must be stoned.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
Revenge Of The Nerds
Sometimes I get in trouble for tossing that label around: Geek. Not the circus performer, but the social outcast type, more interested in his or her collection of science fiction memorabilia than social interaction. I have a friend at school who makes a yearly pilgrimage to Comic-Con and keeps his collected comics "bagged and boarded." He also plays basketball on a city league team, and has a girlfriend. He happily embraces the epithet "nerd," but flinches when referred to as a "geek." Maybe he knows something I don't.
Or perhaps the world has begun to change. He is twenty years younger than I am, and it could be that the way these things are measured has become less severe. Jim Parsons just won an Emmy for playing what could be politely described as an extremely intelligent introvert: Sheldon. Though the character's name and demeanor don't necessarily exert manliness, Sheldon has become somewhat of a "chick magnet," that is if "Blossom" can be considered a "chick."
All of this comes as happy news to a man who lives with his movie posters and complete set of "Planet of the Apes" movies on DVD. But it may also mean that I have yet another confession to make: My wife, who is every bit as stunning as Julia Roberts, was right.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Onward Christian Soldier
I am increasingly concerned by the ease with which even those amongst us with less-than-pointed heads have demonized one of the world's religions wholesale. The horrible irony of the addendum to Reverend Terry's list, "Five More Reasons to Burn The Koran," includes the assertion that this fear-soaked ritual is somehow connected to Free Speech. The rant complains, "Even the Gainesville Fire Department has stepped in to aid the suppression of free speech by using an unconstitutional application of a burn permit." Vile heretics! How dare they limit free speech by keeping yahoos from setting fire to piles of flammable material. Don't they know this is the Lord's work? If God didn't want us to burn the Koran, he wouldn't have given us matches and kerosene. Then there's our godless men in uniform: General David Petraeus warned Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
See, I don't think Reverend Terry remembers that we're supposed to be the good guys here. Burning flags and such is the kind of thing the bad guys are supposed to do. Nazis burned books. Hasn't this guy seen "Footloose?" All of this fuss about "burning copies of its own books, on its own property" has got the Reverend a little nervous, to the point of strapping a forty-caliber pistol on his hip. Nice job, Terry! You managed to get the First and Second Amendments mixed right in there with God. I suggest we send Kevin Bacon down there posthaste to straighten him out.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Being Hassled By The Man
Well, once upon a time in a magic land called "San Francisco," there was a spot called "Haight-Ashbury." A long time ago, there were mysterious forces at work on the people there. At first, it only affected their clothes. They started to wear turtlenecks and berets. Then they started drinking more "coffee" and "tea." After a while, their hair began to grow, and the black clothes gave way to a rainbow of colors. They called it "tie-dye." There was music and many other things in the air, way back when, and peace and love reigned, even if personal hygiene suffered a little bit.
Times changed, but these people, called "hippies" because they were so "hip," refused to change with them. Many of the original hippies became "greed-heads" and moved away from that mystical intersection. When they looked back, they found that the language and customs that they had left behind had become strange and confusing. No matter how they tried to find their way back, Haight-Ashbury existed only as a dream.
There were those who believed that they were still hippies, even though the magical vibe had been lifted from them: Jerry Brown, P.J. O'Rourke, and those guys who put together Woodstock '99. And even though the spirit had been diminished, and the tie-dye river had been dammed by Ben and Jerry, it still flickered like a distant star. Nowadays, when we see people going to Phish concerts, or the homeless, we wonder what might have been. And now the McDonald's in the Haight wants to get rid of their dollar menu. It makes me wonder if Morgan Spurlock was ever a hippie.
"Daddy, did you take a lot of drugs back in the hippie days?"
Monday, September 06, 2010
And that's where it gets confusing. I won't watch college or professional basketball, unless it's the playoffs. Again, I don't have the time. Or at least that's what I tell myself. Sitting on the couch is a privilege that I generally reserve for the end of a day, after the pigs have been slopped and the fires have all been put out. If I am reclining, I must have completed all the tasks I had put in front of me. Watching a sporting event, primarily football, falls into a different category. This is event television, and consequently must be watched live. It confounds my wife, from time to time, why I have to watch every minute as if I had some vested interest in the outcome. Why not record it on our DVR and play it back later without all the time outs and truck commercials? For an efficient fellow like myself, that makes a lot of sense. We have a friend whose husband has a similar affliction, and her reasoning goes still further: "Why not just wait until ESPN has all the highlights all put together at the end of the day? That way you can see all the best parts without having to wade through all the rest of that fuss and commerce?"
It makes sense, if you can divorce yourself from the absurd connection to the event itself. If I am asked, "Did you see that catch?" I feel the need to confess, "No, but I did watch it on SportsCenter." I suppose if I really cared, I would have season tickets for something, somewhere. I don't. Instead, on Saturday I sat in front of my computer and watched little lines, one of them representing my alma mater's football team, track from left to right across my screen. The game wasn't on television, and I couldn't pull in a radio signal from the other side of the Rocky Mountains. I sat there, transfixed, as the Golden Buffaloes roughed up the Colorado State Rams 24-3. I know this because I was "there."
Now I'm signing up for another season of fantasy football, most of which takes place in the same virtual realm I found myself in on Saturday. I could order additional cable channels and pay for the chance to watch what takes place in real time, in high definition. But I don't have that kind of money or time. That's the fantasy.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
How Can A Laboring Man Find Time For Self-Culture?
Saturday, September 04, 2010
The idea has always been that if I kept picking them up, eventually I would have five cents, then ten, and so on. I dutifully take these pennies home and drop them in the coin-counting bank where they await eventual wrapping in convenient rolls of fifty. Suddenly, it all seems worth it. All those bends at the waist with the attendant "old man noise" as I reach for the coin. Every so often I am rewarded by a flurry of dropped change, perhaps even the occasional dime or quarter. If I can avoid the oncoming traffic, I figure it is all, literally, money in the bank.
But for how long? Just a few years back, the U.S. Mint informed Congress that the cost of making a penny and a nickel will soon exceed the actual value of each coin. Plans have been afoot for at leas that long that include a slow phasing out of the penny, creating a reasonable rounding system, increase the production and circulation of the two dollar bill as well as the Sacajawea golden dollar, and possibly change the composition of coins to include less-expensive metals. Since then, we have seen the redesign of the penny to reflect Honest Abe's two hundredth birthday. I found one of those in the street just the other day.
And so, while the consumer in me bristles quietly at the notion of fishing for that extra penny at the cash register, the pinching part of me continues to snatch pennies from the ground. Their amassed worth may eventually pay for the elaborate network of trusses needed to save my spine from all that bending over. As for the luck part, it was just the other morning after I had plucked my second cent from the pavement and was back to pedaling when a black cat trotted straight across my path. No word yet about whether Congress might seek to diminish the severity of the bad luck brought forth by ebony felines.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Barack Obama Covers Bob Seger
East of Kandahar
You can listen to the engine
Moanin' out his one note song
You can think about the imam
Or the kafir you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wandering
The way they always do
When you're ridin' sixteen hours
And there's nothin' much to do
And you don't feel much like ridin',
You just wish the trip was through
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' war again
There I go
Turn the page
Thursday, September 02, 2010
It makes me long for the day when bad guys used to hijack planes. They would hold a gun to a stewardess' head and demand to be taken to Cuba. That's back when there were such a thing as stewardesses and Cuba seemed like the other side of the world, instead of ninety miles. This was made even more ironic as the flow of Cubans trying to get the the U.S. completely overwhelmed all those who got it into their heads to kidnap everyone on an airplane long enough for a ride to Havana. Nowadays, you can book your flight on CubaJet.com, though you will have depart from Nassau. Please remember to give yourself plenty of time to get through security, since things are pretty tight out there.
Which brings us back to Mister al Soofi, who had a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, multiple cell phones and watches taped together, and a knife and box cutter in his checked baggage. And he was carrying seven thousand dollars in cash. None of this was sufficient enough evidence to detain him here, but once he got to Amsterdam, the net came down. And his alleged accomplice, Mister al Murisi had changed his plans to fly to Yemen, which along with his surname, was all the authorities needed to haul him in. A vast network of coincidence, toiletries, cell phones and cash, but still coincidence. A little like finding an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory in downtown Manhattan, just two blocks from Hallowed Ground. Just like it's a coincidence that there are three churches within two blocks of the site of the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Scary and sad, but still a coincidence.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Not that either of my brothers nor I skated clear of all the possible dangers of youth. Between the three of us, we managed to find the bumps in the road while steering clear of the gutters, for the most part. It is worth noting that none of us spent any time behind bars, considering the amount of time we spent in front of them. We all had friends who weren't nearly as lucky, and when my big brother got his job in law enforcement, he assured me that although he couldn't keep me out of jail, he could make sure I got a good room.
And thus I walked a line that kept me out of any "serious trouble." Embarrassment, hangovers, and a modicum of property damage were the currency of my youth. I didn't expect to get my damage deposit back when I moved out of an apartment. I figured that it was about equal to the damage my roommates and friends were going to do the place, and so I let it go. My buddy once gave me a funny look when he found me scrubbing the bathtub and asked, "What are you doing that for? We're not moving, are we?" It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that it fully occurred to me that getting money back when moving out might actually help with the moving into a new place.
These were, no doubt the kind of characters that my brother got to celebrate with as he marked another trip around the sun. I'm sure they were happy to drink to his health, or to Tuesday.