Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fair Game

Just as roughly one billion other humans did, I watched the opening ceremonies of the thirtieth Summer Olympic Games. Alternately confused and amazed by the spectacle mounted by the Brits and orchestrated by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, I spent the evening wondering. First and foremost, I wondered why there weren't medals given for performances in the opening ceremonies. Certainly, her majesty the Queen deserved some sort of "good sport" tribute.
I was also wondering about how Great Britain chose to share their history with the world. They went from a very bucolic agrarian bunch to an industrial power who got caught up in global conflicts, and then suddenly found themselves immersed in the digital age. Who knew that some British guy came up with the Internet? I suppose next they'll be telling me that Tim Berners-Lee came up with global warming.
But mostly I sat on my couch, listening to Bob Costas and Ryan Seacrest take turns introducing the nations of the world. They offered up trivia bits to connect the viewers to the struggles and sacrifices that the athletes had made to make it this far. They also described the various political skirmishes that made each team's participation a part of a global quilt of conflict. This country won't march next to that one and these guys were only recently allowed to carry their flag and this bunch just decided to let women come and play. I wondered what all that fuss was about the Olympics transcending politics was about. Like Erich Maria Remarque and Holly Johnson have suggested for decades, maybe we should send our leaders into that ring and let them fight it out, to see who's king.
We know how Mitt "Rhymes with Grit" Romney would fare in the equestrian events, but I'm guessing Barack's three-point shooting would help out even more.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back In The Day

In 1985, Bruce Springsteen had the number one album in the country. Madonna came in at number three. In many ways, this was the high-water mark of both artist's chart power. Single after single from Bruce and Madge came out and had their day in the sun, only to be replaced almost as abruptly by another. "Into The Groove," "Dancing in the Dark," "Material Girl," "I'm On Fire." You could not escape them on the radio, and as MTV began to find its audience, these were the videos that were in nearly constant rotation. The notion that these were two different sets of fans seems a little unlikely, since the Boss sold more than fifteen million copies of "Born in the USA," and Her Midgeness topped that with twenty-one million copies of "Like A Virgin." Tours for both records crisscrossed the globe, raking in millions of dollars for both of America's biggest stars.
Twenty-seven years later, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have survived the digital age, and continue to make music and perform live. Both have been halftime entertainment for the Super Bowl. A few weeks back, London officials pulled the plug on Springsteen's show at Hyde Park when an encore with Sir Paul McCartney pushed past the curfew. Madonna showed up a few days later and was warned about exceeding the limits at that same venue. She and her people complied.
Maybe that's what was going through the Material Girl's head as she took the stage at Paris' Olympia club last week. She and her crew kept their show to a tidy forty-five minutes, sparking outrage among the crowd and online viewers who were watching a streaming version of the concert. Considering three-quarters of an hour is what the E Street Band refers to as "sound check," perhaps the "boos" that Madonna was hearing were actually "Bruce."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fast And Furious Food

Common sense. That's what we would like from our leaders. Boston's Mayor, Thomas M. Menino had this to say: "There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail, and no place for your company alongside it." The company to which his honor was referring was Chik-fil-A, the fast food chain perhaps best known for putting cows in charge of their advertising. But that's not what has Mayor Menino all hot and bothered. It's Chick-fil-A's very human president, Dan Cathy, comments about gay marriage. "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'" Or our hooves, as the case may be.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared this Wednesday "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" to support a business "whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values." Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who like Huckabee ran for president as a darling of social conservatives, joined the cause along with religious leaders. Meanwhile, the felt puppet lobby is having none of it. The Muppets are done with Mister Cathy. “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors." There was no mention of Ernie and Bert, but we don't have to ask or tell anymore, do we?
For now, I'll  be hanging around In n Out, staying away from the Chick-fil-A, even though I may disappointing some cows. At least I won't be upsetting a pig and a frog, whose union defies traditional mores, but has lasted more than thirty years.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


First impressions are not always the best impressions. "I wasn't a big fan of his policies," Elton John said of President George W. Bush. "I was very against the Iraq war. So, you know, his policies didn't sit well with mine." Well, times change and so do opinions. In 2004, "At the Kennedy Center concert we spent some time in the intermission with the President, George Bush, and he was amazingly informed about AIDS," John recounted.
Amazingly informed. Yes, you read that right. "One of the old adages in life is never judge someone until you meet them," Captain Fantastic said. "I found him charming. I found him well informed. And I found him determined to do something about the AIDS situation. So I changed my opinion of him. I learned a lesson." Apparently W's determination to do something about AIDS translated into   enacting the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a fifteen million dollar program aimed at prevention and treatment in Africa.
So the Rocket Man and W are pals now. In the meantime, he seems to have frozen out his buddy the Piano Man with a lot of talk about "tough love" and rehab. Billy doesn't seem impressed. Of course, I'm waiting for the three of them to sit down with a Diet Coke or two and swap war stories, but not real war stories.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Daily Bread, and Cheese, and Double Patty

As I was walking down the street the other day, I spied a poster that insisted that one in six Americans suffers from hunger. That converts to just about seventeen percent of us. The hope of this particular bit of advertising was that we might all consider those less fortunate than ourselves, in particular the thirty-four percent of us who are trending toward obesity. I found this interesting since there are approximately twice as many fat Americans as there are hungry Americans. Of course, it also occurred to me that the main problem with obese America is that they're pretty much every bit as hungry as those who are underfed. That leaves just a little under half of America that seems to have things figured out, more or less, meal-wise.
What then, can be done with this other half? It seems to me that when we say "Super Size," what we really mean is "Family Size." If you consider an active male needs about three thousand calories a day to get through a typical day, and an across the board Large for your trip to McDonalds' would put you right around half of that, most of it in the lurching, slow-moving death calories that taste so good. That's part of the reasoning behind the New York City ban on sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces. The government wants to save us from ourselves. This is why I understand that part of the new Obamacare regulations require a redistribution of our food intake. Each of us will be allotted a number of calories a day, and when that has been exceeded, any and all snacks or meals will be subject to confiscation and those tasty morsels will be doled out to those who really need it. You want that Twinkie? You're going to have to prove that you need it, first. Your personal Calometer will be the determining factor. If it says you've already red-lined for the day, that skinny kid next to you is going to get your Oreo. Sorry. It's only fair.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sticks And Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. I grew up with that little bit of rhyming wisdom to steer me clear of many playground confrontations. As hurtful as the names I was called were meant to be, my bones remained intact. That's why I chose to pass these words along to my son as he began his own path through the brushes and brambles of growing up. Looking at the news lately, I am wondering if I might want to revise my thoughts on the matter.
The advent of cyber-bullying has certainly had many parents re-evaluating their stance on name-calling. Especially when the one calling the names is a member of Congress. weeks ago, Minnesota's Representative and former presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann sought the assistance of inspectors general in the State, Homeland Security, Defense and Justice Departments, asking them to investigate potential "policies and activities that appear to be the result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood." She was calling out longtime Hillary Clinton aide-de-camp Huma Abedin. In a letter, Bachmann tells Minnesota's Representative Kieth Ellison that she is concerned about Abedin's familial connections to the Brotherhood, and raises concerns over her security clearance. She sent this letter because Ellison is a practicing Muslim himself, and asked her for "credible, substantial evidence" for her claims.
Never mind that Ms. Abedin had been working for the White House since 1996, and had certainly given the intelligence community ample opportunity to uncover her ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Never mind that both John Boehner and John McCain have both come out in full support of her character and service to her country. She's also the wife of former New York Representative, Anthony Weiner. Something tells me she's probably already heard it all. But none of the names and labels mattered much until she started receiving death threats. Turns out that names can be dangerous.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I've got a few thousand questions that need to be answered. Here are just three: How did that five-year-old girl get shot in Oakland last Saturday? What private citizen needs armor-piercing shells? What private citizen needs a magazine capable of carrying a hundred rounds of armor-piercing ammunition?
I could go on and on, but that's what I tend to do every time we, as a country, experience an event like the shooting in Aurora. I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I get answers. Reading the comments on the articles about the shooting, I found that just about every list included a solution like this: "If only somebody would have been carrying a concealed handgun in that theater. They could have smoked that guy." Smoked. Killed. Shot. Never mind that it was a room filled with hysterical people scrambling to get away from the other guy with a gun. Never mind that it was dark. Never mind that there was smoke in the air. I'm sure that wouldn't have ended well. Nothing like a crossfire in a crowded movie house. Somebody yell "Fire."
I want a real answer. This time I don't want it from the people with whom I agree. What does the Gun Lobby say? What about the NRA? What does Wayne LaPierre have to say? While I wait for answers from these folks, I figure it's about time to go dig up Charlton Heston and pry the gun from his cold, dead hands. It's not an answer, but it might make me feel better.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Positive Thinking

At least twenty-one people were treated for burn injuries after participating in a firewalk last Thursday night at a Tony Robbins event in downtown San Jose. The event was called "Unleash the Power Within." Following the event, the crowd walked across the street to the park where twelve lanes of hot coals measuring ten feet long and two hundred twelve feet wide rested on the grass. Participants were encouraged to walk across coals between one thousand two hundred and two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. The crowd was estimated at approximately six thousand. 
How many of these individuals chose to bare their tootsies to the red-hot coals is anybody's guess, but it's a pretty sure thing that twenty-one of them did. Why not? Oprah did it, and that all worked out just fine. It's a mind-over-matter thing. A conquer-your-fears thing. It's also a bit of a trick. If you keep moving, your feet don't have enough time to heat up to the temperature of the coals. A quick touch of the iron doesn't singe your finger, but it does tell you that the iron is plenty hot. Not two thousand degrees hot, but also not linger-there-for-a-while cool.
A spokesperson for Mister Robbins, who has already done this firewalking thing so don't even go there, said "We have been safely providing this experience for more than three decades, and always under the supervision of medical personnel. We continue to work with local fire and emergency personnel to ensure this event is always done in the safest way possible."
San Jose Fire Captain Reggie Williams, a local fire and emergency personnel, had this to say: "We discourage people from walking over hot coals." Captain Reggie won't be getting his own show on the Oprah Winfrey Network anytime soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Feature Attraction

I love the movies. Part of the reason that I still head out to my local movie theater is the feeling of community that I get when I sit there, in the dark, watching the screen. Laughing, crying, squirming, wincing, applauding. We do it together. Not that we always agree. Sometimes I feel like the only one who got what was happening in the shadow dance in front of me. That's why I rarely go to the movies alone. I want to have someone to check in with after the show.
"Did you see that?"
"I know. And when he said..."
"I couldn't believe that part."
"I can't wait to tell my mom about this one."
Coming out into the light again, is like waking up from a dream. Sure, sometimes it's a poorly written dream that was horribly miscast, but I'm always a little sad when it's over.
Events of this past week won't change that. I will always be more afraid of the things that happen outside the movie theater than in, and I refuse to surrender my favorite pastime for the illusion of safety. Watching on-demand video in my living room isn't the same. It never will be.Sticky floors, chatty patrons with cell phones, commercials, and all the other annoyances that come along with a trip to the local superfaplex drift away as the lights go down. I'm home. Until the lights come on again and we head back out into the streets to meet the real world. The one that has been waiting there for the past two hours while I was somewhere else.
It's magic. I'm not giving it up.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Tom Davis Decade

"I want to remind you that dead people are people too." That's the kind of wisdom that people who are dying can hand out, especially the funny ones. This one was Tom Davis, and if you are hastening to Wikipedia to find out the answer to the musical question, "Tom Davis Who?" Don't waste your time. It's right here. Or you can take my word for it: he was one funny guy. The tall part of "Franken and Davis." The one who didn't turn out to be a U.S. Senator. He was the straight man when Al was happily announcing the "Decade of Me, Al Franken."
So, what did Tom do, besides stand in the short guy's shadow? Well, he helped create "The Coneheads." He wrote many of Bill Murray's finest moments as Nick the Lounge Singer. He showed up in "Trading Places" and the little seen "One More Saturday Night." Mostly he was a writer. He was one of the guys who was in the trenches when Saturday Night Live was "NBC's Saturday Night," because Howard Cosell already had the "Live" part all sewn up. He didn't have to write about it, he lived it. And then he wrote about it.
For me, he's the guy who brought a straight face to dadaist comedy. It was a unique port in the storm of the late 1970's, but I was there and I laughed. Even if I wasn't always sure why. And so, to that dead guy, I sing my praises, since he's one funny dead guy. Aloha, Tom.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Sometimes I get nostalgic for the olden days. Way back when gas was only three dollars and fifty cents a gallon. An election year. In 2008, the world waited on pins and needles for the answer to one question: Where was this Barack Obama character born? How had this foreign insurgent missed all other checkpoints in our political system and found himself running for the highest office in the land if he wasn't even a citizen?
Okay, so it turns out that he was a citizen, born in Hawaii and had the documents to prove it. He got elected, and he made some decisions that people didn't like, so the brain trust decided to check into that whole birth certificate thing one more time. Over the next four years, since it's a fee country and all, some people spent a lot of time making sure that this Obama fella didn't just sneak into the line for president and take somebody else's turn.
Perhaps no one has been more vigilant in his quest to unmask this pretender to the throne than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. You know, the guy who doesn't like the way George Lopez talks about him. Or the U.S. Justice Department. Or the ACLU. He's not particularly fond of a great many people and institutions, and that may be why he chooses to describe himself as "the toughest lawman in America." How tough is Joe? Well, his own mother died while giving birth to him. But all this tumult and drama could not deter him from his mission: figuring out just how this Obama character got himself elected with a fake birth certificate. Never mind that Hawaii is way out of Joe's jurisdiction, or that a county sheriff in Arizona might have one or two more pressing local matters on which to spend his time. The posse Joe put together has been working, off and on for the past year, to find holes in the elaborate network of deceit that the President and his cronies in the records department in Honolulu have been spreading.
Or maybe somebody should tell Joe to get his own documentation together for the civil lawsuit the Department of Justice is about to drop on his head. I'm no expert, but that one looks pretty official.

Friday, July 20, 2012


John Sununu called the President and his campaign "a bunch of liars" on Tuesday. He told reporters Obama "comes out of that murky political world in Chicago where politician and felony has become synonymous." John may be working from a different thesaurus than I am, but I suppose I get his drift. This summer certainly brings to mind some of the murkiest of the murk from Chicago and other less-than-polite election cycles, but then Mister Sununu piled on with "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
What is more American than dirty politics? We seem to be in the midst of a spitting contest where the contestants seem intent on standing face to face. What possible good comes from pointing out the other candidates' perceived flaws? Are there truly undecided voters out there who will be swayed by a clever thirty seconds of TV advertising? What happened to polite discourse? How about the fair exchange of ideas?
That's not going to happen in a win or lose environment. Somewhere at the bottom of all of this murk lies a plan for our country that involves compromise and a shared concern for all of us. Billions of dollars are not currently being spent to find that solution, but instead we have murk-spattered veterans and rookies showing up for what appears to be a four-month long Celebrity Death Match. Buy your tickets and find your seats, ladies and gents, it's going to be a murky ride to November.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Elvis Has Left His Senses

If I said I wasn't here to judge, I would be lying. It is something that I do on a daily basis, beginning with my choice of breakfast cereal and ending with the side of the pillow I choose to drop my head. In between these momentous decisions, I make hundreds if not thousands of little choices that add up to a day full of judgement. Today I would like to add this to the pile: Elvis Dumervil is a dolt.
You may or may not be familiar with Mister Dumervil. If you are not, a brief biographical sketch: Elvis (his real name) is a professional football player currently employed by the Denver Broncos. His job is to find the player on the other team who has the ball and tackle him. For this he is paid a very handsome salary. He is scheduled to be paid twelve million dollars this season. It should be noted that in 2010, he was paid three million dollars not to play, since he was injured. This is an important statistic, since we don't know what his agent will be able to get for him if he ends up spending the 2012 season on the bench. In jail.
Elvis was arrested last Saturday night in Florida after he was involved in a road rage incident. Tempers flared. Guns were brandished. Police were called. Charges were filed. And here's what I can't comprehend: It didn't have to happen. Let's start with the part where Elvis didn't need to be driving himself. He could pay someone to drive him wherever he needed to go and still have plenty of that twelve million to spare. He could have stayed in the car he was driving and waited for the other nincompoops to settle their differences, and then motored on to his destination. He could have even jumped out of his car and hurled invective at those who might have limited or halted his progress. But then he went and brought out a gun. When the police showed up, he denied having one. "You mean this gun that you don't have in your glove compartment?"
And so, the wheels of justice grind on, and the processes that will determine just how much football Elvis gets to play for the Denver Broncos remains to be seen. But I've already made my judgement. Professional athletes are sometimes awarded with colorful nicknames to reinforce their unique abilities. Elvis had a nice start with his first name, but the powers that be granted him the scary epithet, "Doctor Doom" as a tag on his last name. Pretty cool when he's chasing quarterbacks around the backfield, but when he's waving a gun around in south Florida because he can't get to the night club of his choice, I'll stick with "Doctor Dum." Short "u."
Now I've got to go figure out what's for lunch.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Power of the Press

Sports, entertainment, comics. That's how I used to read the paper when I was a kid. Sure, there were times when a picture on the front page would give me pause, but mostly I was hot on the trail of news that I cared about. What was happening with the local sports franchises? What movies were opening that weekend? What was up with Cathy?
And so it went, year after year. Presidents were elected. Governments were toppled. Fortunes were won and lost. I kept reading those three sections, not oblivious to the world around me, but with the purpose of gaining all the information that would allow me to get through the day. It makes me think of one of the best Steve Martin bits. In "Roxanne," Steve walks out of a cafe, buys a newspaper, looks at the headline, screams in terror, then pays again to put the newspaper back into the machine. It is a work of considered genius, and it informed me for lo these many years.
These days I open up my browser window and make a quick scan of the headlines, searching for the one the one that won't elicit a scream. "Romney Attacks Obama's Negative Campaigning." Eek! "Egyptians Pelt Clinton Motorcade With Tomatoes." Yikes! "Obama: DC 'Feels As Broken As It Did Four Years Ago.'" Ak! "Springsteen And McCartney Cut Off By London Curfew." There we go. Finally some news I can use.
Combine that along with the Oakland A's creeping ever-so-quietly out of the American League West cellar, and I can go about my business. If only we could find a swimsuit for Cathy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The Los Angeles Superintendent of schools is getting a lot of attention currently for his decision to remove and entire school's staff after he learned that a teacher had been accused of playing classroom sex games with children for years. Years. Perhaps no one would be upset to hear that the teacher in question had been let go. Even the hard-core union folks would probably be okay with the idea that this person had limited contact with children for some time. But the entire staff? What was going through this guy's head?
Well, it was this phrase: "culture of silence." The idea that no one at the school would have a suspicion or clue to what was going on next door for years seems a little hard to fathom. So what would or should these teachers, custodians, aides, parents, administrators done in such a case? Who wants to be the rat? Who wants to stand up and be accountable for such an accusation? Sure, if it turns out to be a mistake, do you want to be the person responsible for almost ensuring that someone's teaching career is over? On the other hand, how could you live with yourself if any one of the children you were there to educate and protect came to any kind of harm?
For me, it turns out to be a pretty easy choice. It's not one of those TV movie of the week questions where a good-looking, caring teacher is wrongfully accused by a bitter and confused adolescent with a chip on his or her shoulder. It's about protecting six-to-ten-year olds. The bad guy was fired, after being charged with twenty-three acts of lewd act on a child, and the rest of the staff is being given jobs elsewhere. How awful would it be to have to give up your classroom in a school where you had spent the last fifteen years? How about if it was your first year of teaching and you had no idea who this terrible person was, let alone what he was doing behind closed doors? These are grown-ups who have to deal with that struggle. The investigation led to the firing of another teacher who was charged with three counts of lewd acts on a child. About three too many. Both were veteran teachers who had taught at the school for more than twenty years. It makes me wonder how many other stories are waiting to be told, and how many will never be told.
Think Penn State. Think Joe Paterno. Think Jerry Sandusky. Think.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Glass House

You know the old adage, so I won't be throwing any Stones around here. Not Mick, or Keith, even Ronnie. This is the Band That Would Not Die, with apologies to Brian Jones. It might be easy enough to assume that all that consorting with the devil brought that little bit of tragedy on, but it seems to have had a pretty positive effect on the rest of the group's experience. Getting a multi-album deal with the Prince of Darkness turns out to be just the kind of luck for which the Stones are most well-known.
There are plenty of other solo acts and parts of bands floating about that can trace their lineage back to the early sixties and before. Jerry "The Killer" Lewis has tour dates scheduled for this year, and he's still knocking over piano benches, though without some of the reckless abandon. Half of the Beatles continue tease the public with the potential of a reunion, but the difficulty of getting all two of them on the same stage doesn't seem as daunting as the chore facing the Stones' management team. Finding a bass player continues to be one such challenge. At least they know where their lead singer is.
Across the pond is another band that is giving the Stones a run for their money. The Beach Boys' endless summer has been resurrected in honor of their fiftieth year together, more or less. These American rock and rollers had their own brush with Satan, in the form of Charlie Manson, or maybe you prefer to discuss their association with John Stamos? These surfing legends match the output of their British counterparts, except when you start counting live albums, which the Stones seem to issue on a bi-annual basis.
So, in the end, maybe it isn't so much a contest as it is a matter of personal taste. Congratulations to both of these groups of groundbreaking artists, and look forward to 2023 and the golden anniversary of Cheap Trick.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dave Everlasting

Much to the chagrin of a couple of my friends who came to my birthday party, I announced that I had no plans to pass on. Not just in the near future. In the forever sense. It put a good many of the conversations that might have been had about mortality on the back burner, at least for me. I told anyone who cared to listen that I was pretty sure that I was going to live forever, primarily because I had no anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
Oh sure, there have been plenty before me who haven't managed to lick the whole eternal life problem, but that's everyone else's problem. I've been dropped from heights and wrecked cars and passed out in all kinds of improbable places and yet I've managed to come bounding back like that bunny in the battery commercial, only even more long lasting since the pink rabbit didn't show up until 1989. And, for the record, I've had to dispose of my share of Energizer batteries, so I've already outstripped that particular test of endurance.
In what is generally considered a fairly chaotic universe, I offer up my life as an experiment in the orderly. By knowing where my car keys and glasses are at any given instant throughout the day, as well as those of my wife and son, I feel that I am doing what I can to subvert this notion of inevitable decay. I'm fixing things all the time, and because of my efforts, the house I live in that was built in 1895 continues to stand.
The other anecdotal evidence I have to describe my shot at eternity? Well, I have an iPod that currently holds more than six days of music, and just the other day when I was listening to random songs on the "shuffle" mode, I heard Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" followed immediately by the live version of that same song. Again, I am the agent of order in this sea of chaos. I believe this is a sign that I will live forever.
Or maybe I have too much Devo on my iPod.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fuzzy Wuzzy

I think of two people when I think of beards: First, I think of George Carlin. It's hard to think of him without one, since his was a kind of a badge of honor. When I listened to "Class Clown," long before the notion of shaving my own face occurred, I heard this: "That's the thing. The word 'beard' shook a lot of people up. Beard! It's not American sounding. BEARD! Lenin had a BEARD! Gabby Hayes had 'whiskers'. Monty Woolley had whiskers." Whiskers were the things my father would rub against my cheek before he sent me to bed. Hippies wore beards. Hippies like George Carlin.
My dad had a lot of opinions that he seemed to have acquired from a manual on the first day of Dad 101 training. Don't chew gum, it make you look like a cow. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. And people who wear beards are hiding something. I heard these pronouncements as a kid, and they became part of my road map. I still flinch mightily in the presence of gum chewing. Most home improvement projects involve me channeling my father's advice on how to open or close a valve or tighten a screw. And I have never taken growing a beard lightly.
In my late twenties when I had a job moving furniture, I figured that shaving was  a chore I could leave for another time or place, and I grew quite scruffy. I remember telling my father, who never asked, that the thing I was hiding with my beard was my interest in shaving. When I moved to California, I brought my beard with me, and it may have been hiding something, but once my son was born, it had to go. I shaved off my beard and mustache when I saw how his little face squished up when I leaned down to kiss him goodnight.
Imagine my surprise when, after a decade and a half, my son asked me why I didn't grow a beard. It was summer vacation, and having recently shaved my head, my chin was free to be the place where hair sprouted. It wasn't until the fourth or fifth day when those whiskers began to organize themselves into a more recognizable form. I thought about the ads in the back of comic books that offered paste-on facial hair. I thought about the way gray hair made my face look. And I thought about what I might be hiding. For now, I guess I 'm hiding from all that worry about what I might be concealing in the depths of my soul. That and I'm too cheap to run out and buy new razor blades.

Friday, July 13, 2012

“Crime is naught but misdirected energy.”

Those words are from Emma Goldman. Nobody needs to tell me that we have a lot of misdirected energy here in Oakland. A recently released report gave the police department's ninety day crime suppression program mixed reviews. One area showed "a small reduction in homicides, but there also has been an increase in other major crime categories during that same time period, including auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon and burglaries." Three hundred and twenty thousand dollars later, "Robberies, burglaries and shootings (also) continue to be a challenge." In the past week there was a shooting at a local movie theater, and another out by the zoo. Motivation for all this gunplay? Maybe the ten fifteen show of "Spider Man" was sold out, or perhaps the Meerkat enclosure was closed.
Maybe they're just plain mad. Out in Chicago, things are worse. Chicago already has had two hundred seventy-five murders this year. Putting an extra thousand officers on the street didn't make the dent city officials had hoped. Mayor Rahm Emanuel blames gangs. "We've got two gang-bangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley. Don't touch the children of the city of Chicago. Don't get near them. And it is about values. ... And I don't buy this case where people say they don't have values. They do have values. They have the wrong values. Don't come near the kids—don't touch them." He asked nice. Sort of.
Back here in the Bay Area, the Santa Cruz police department has decided to let computers help out. Officers are dispatched to places where machines anticipate there might be crime. You may have seen this in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise film, "Minority Report." Future crime. Arrest them before it ever happens.
Or try and eliminate the causes of crime in the first place. Use computers if you have to. And stay away from the kids.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Borg

When I heard the Borg was dead, the call went out. Not to my wife, who is the one who cared about The Next Generation of Star Trek, but to my buddy out in NYC. This was not a Picard-related issue. This was the Borg: Ernest Borgnine. The guy who beat Frank Sinatra to death in "From Here To Eternity." The guy who battled Ethel Merman to a standstill in their six-week marriage. And yes, the guy who killed Socrates. I'm guessing Willard would have gone much easier on Ernie if that wouldn't have happened. Alas, some things just can't be undone.
Like the passing of the Borg. He lived just five years short of a century, won an Academy Award, and always got the best of ol' Leadbottom. I spent my youngest days watching a nearly uninterrupted loop of "McHale's Navy" reruns, always relating more to Ensign Charles Parker than the burly, conniving Commander Quentin McHale, but still respecting and admiring the work this slab of a man put in. That's why it was such a revelation to discover that Ernest Borgnine had been a very busy man when he wasn't racing about the Pacific on the PT-73. More than two hundred film and television credits, including his Oscar-winning performance in the title role of "Marty." It should be noted that in this film, he beat no one to death, man or rat.
But that's not the reason I e-mailed my pal in Manhattan. It was our shared fascination with another of his less celebrated roles: Jonathan Corbis. Yes, that's him giving some mild credibility to a cast that included Eddie Albert and William Shatner. The guy in the man-goat makeup. It's a pretty scary movie. Or at least it was back when we saw it at a drive-in in 1975. For a thirteen-year-old, man-goat trumps Academy Award just about every time. A few years later, he showed up as "Cabbie" in John Carpenter's "Escape From New York," mostly so people could say, "Hey! Is that Ernest Borgnine?" It was almost enough to make you forget that the guy behind the eye patch was the computer that wore tennis shoes.
Ernest Borgnine was the guy who, for us, originated the "boxed credit." You know, where everybody else was listed in order, but he was listed at the end, with a box around his name. Like John Lithgow in "Footloose," only way before that. The sadistic sheriff in "Convoy?" Ernie with a box around his name, and we started to refer to him as "The Borg." Long before Jean-Luc and his crew began to quake in fear of being assimilated, we knew resistance was futile. Aloha, Ernie.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You Know, For Kids

A while back, Hamas had a kids' television show that featured a Mickey Mouse clone who encouraged his viewers to "help wipe out the Jews." International outrage from individuals both private and corporate put a stop to that nasty little bit of anti-Semitic imagery. Instead, they now have a more generic pink bunny who reminds children how they will lose a hand if they get caught stealing, for example.
That's what's happening on one end of the Axis of Evil. Meanwhile, a little further to the east, we find more Disney characters cavorting about on North Korean television. The most notable thing about this appearance was that they were not spouting anti-American rhetoric, nor were they shouting the praises of their beloved leader, Kim Jong Un. Though Mickey and friends were definitely there for Kim's entertainment, it should be noted that the Korean Central News Agency has announced a "grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year." If that includes bringing to the Korean masses Disney-fied versions of classic tales of Winnie The Pooh, Beauty and the Beast, and so many others, it is potentially a very expensive one. Disney lawyers threatened to sue the producers of the Oscar telecast back in 1989 when Rob Lowe sang "Proud Mary" with a girl who looked just a little too much like "their Snow White." While they might not have squeezed any cash out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you can spend a good long time looking for video evidence of such an occurrence on Al Gore's Internet and come up empty. It's like it never happened.
Which brings up back to the new openness of North Korea. Rather than the more traditional shows of dancing pandas that reflect their country's ties to China, the million or so televisions were able to receive pictures of dancing rodents and a cubby all stuffed with fluff. Kim Jong Un probably doesn't fear our missiles as much as he does our Intercontinental Ballistic Litigators. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cult Of Personalities

One of those freedoms that we here in the United States enjoy is the freedom of speech, which is odd, since it sometimes bumps up against other freedoms, such as our freedom of religion. There has been plenty of rumbling about whether or not we could survive with a Mormon as President of our great land. All that talk of magic underwear and Frontier Jesus, not to mention an avoidance of caffeinated beverages, makes people nervous. It doesn't seem to matter that we've had a Muslim in the White House for the past four years, so why start getting nervous now?
Maybe because we're not as tolerant as we make ourselves out to be. For the past week or so, I have avoided wading into the whole Tom/Katie pool of sorrow. Tom Cruise is neither Muslim nor Mormon. He is a Scientologist. That means that his beliefs are crazy and his wife and children should flee them as if their very lives depended on it. Doubters point to the practice of using an "e-meter" as an interrogation device, answering lengthy lists of questions founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote that a member should be asked by an "ethics officer" to make sure they weren't hiding any covert hostilities to the organization. Even if that member is only six years old. Then there's all that science fiction stuff about Thetans and so on that makes us rational folk frightened. You know, those of us who believe that there is a ghost that hovers around us, forgiving us whenever we remember to ask him to, or those of us who have no qualms about whittling on newborn's privates.
I'm not going to make excuses for Tom or Katie, just like I won't exclude my choices for elected office based on their spiritual beliefs. When those beliefs start to cross the line into policy decisions, then we have something called a Theocracy, and that's something right-thinking Americans have avoided ever since we stopped putting "In God We Trust" on all of our currency. Wait a minute -

Monday, July 09, 2012

Numbers Don't Lie

My son would like everyone to know that summer vacation has only just begun, but if a certain New Hampshire state legislator had his way, it might go on for a while longer for some of his state's youngest students. Bob Kingsbury recently claimed that analyses he’s been carrying out since 1996 show that communities in his state that have kindergarten programs have up to four hundred percent more crime than localities whose classrooms are free of five-year-olds. Bob's municipality has the only kindergarten program in the county and the most crime, including most or all of the county's rapes, robberies, assaults and murders.
Is it any wonder then that he opposes New Hampshire's public kindergarten mandate? "We're taking children away from their mothers too soon," Kingsbury said. Never mind that essentially every other published bit of research suggests just the opposite, Ol' Bob points out, "In World War I, London was being bombed by the Germans and they sent the children out of the city. That was a disaster for England." If you're having trouble with that train of logic, hold on. It gets shakier. "Children go to kindergarten at the point of a gun," Kingsbury said. "Children go to day care and it's not the same; there is no point of a gun." Day care and preschool are choices. Kindergarten is not. Never mind that for many working parents, having a place for their school age children to go is not a choice, not that anyone is pointing a gun at them. That would be a crime, and would have to be included in those very curious statistics he's espousing.
Did I mention that Bob is a Republican? A Tea-Party-ish Conservative Republican? Maybe the kind of guy who might be able to fathom the relationship between the global average temperature versus the number of pirates over time. After reading all of this, you might reconsider that job as a kindergarten teacher and decide to become a pirate.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Lights, Camera, Eternity!

A few days ago, a Fourth of July Fireworks Extravaganza occurred in San Diego, California. Four barges of fireworks were ignited, due to some technical glitch, at the same time. Instead of a twenty minute show of "oohs" and "ahhs," there was a twenty second barrage of sound and fire in the sky. For many, this would be described as "an epic fail." My son chose not to see it that way. "Are you kidding?" he enthused, "I'd pay to see that." Once again we see that beauty is, at least pyrotechnically, in the eyes of the beholder.
It also got me thinking about Tralfamadorians again. Their concept of time, specifically the one espoused in "Slaughterhouse Five," suggests that past, present and future exist all at once. For this reason, they see everything as predetermined. Everything is as it was and will be. For a Tralfamadorian, the show in San Diego was every bit as enjoyable as a three hour display. It's also helping me think about the recent flurry of activity that surrounded my fiftieth birthday. For nearly two weeks, friends and family hovered about, sent greetings and remembrances of my time on Planet Earth. All that attention was, at once, both edifying and embarrassing. Why fifty is any more significant than forty-nine or fifty-one was lost on me at times. Then I was caught up in that whole "half century" notion. Yet, in the big, Tralfamadorian picture, it was all a show of enthusiasm for all the years I've been here, as well as those I will ever be here. With that perspective, two weeks is a blink of an eye when considering a lifetime. And those fireworks in San Diego are still going on.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Image Is Everything

Chuck E. Cheese is getting a reboot. Way back when, about a week ago, Charles Elliot Cheese looked like your average, baseball cap wearing rodent. Sometimes he appeared in skateboard gear, just to show off his hipness to all the kids. Just not quite hip enough. The powers that be at CEC Entertainment Incorporated have decided to give him a makeover. Mister Cheese will now appear as an electric-guitar-playing rock star. There was no mention as to how this might impact the flavor or taste of the pizza at their restaurants, but that's never really been the reason for lining up at Chuck E. Cheese, right?
I have a very painful memory of they way they messed with my Quake, back in the day. He started out as this burly miner with a hard hat, and when they were finished with him, he was this tiny-waisted super hero-ish guy wearing a hat best suited for the Australian outback, not the mines. How was he supposed to stand up to Quisp's taunting now? At least they left Quake's primary motivations intact. I can remember being asked, as a youth, if I thought it would be okay for the rabbit to have some Trix. I believe that it is in the hearts and minds of every rabbit to know what is best for every individual rabbit, and if Trix will fix what ails them, who am I to stand in their way? I know Trix are for kids, but sometimes they are for poor, afflicted, desperate rabbits.
At least Trix has done us the favor of maintaining one particular rodent for that product's lifespan. The same cannot be said for Cocoa Krispies. The mascot for that breakfast treat has had at least nine different spokescharacters over the past fifty-four years. Is it that hard to sell puffed bits of rice that have the magical attraction of turning your milk chocolaty? You could sell that to me with a picture of burning tractor tires on the front of the box and I would eat it.
But I'm not everybody. Apparently there aren't enough millions of dollars being spent at the place where parents take their kids when they want to combine a video arcade with Disneyland and Shakey's. A rat with a Stratocaster strapped to him will bring them in droves, I'm sure. I guess that's why I'm still watching "Mad Men."

Friday, July 06, 2012

Down To The Fishin' Hole

This might get me in trouble with a couple of my friends, but I confess that I have never watched an entire episode of "Matlock." The way I made room for old Ben and his associates in Atlanta by imagining that Andy Taylor had grown older and finally out of Mayberry, turning his experience with the law as a small town sheriff into a thriving law practice under an assumed name. Andy Taylor was just too significant a presence in my televised world to make room for another persona for Mister Andy Griffith.
Though I was just a mere slip of a lad when it came on, I knew that "Mayberry R.F.D" was merely a shadow cast by the institution that was "The Andy Griffith Show." It was a comedy monolith that produced homespun moments of quiet genius as well as an Academy Award winning director. Goober, Floyd the Barber, Otis the Town Drunk, even fussy old Aunt Bea were people I welcomed into my living room a half an hour at a time, from black and white to color. It didn't matter, I was happy to spend a little time with the denizens of that North Carolina burg. I listened with great interest to "What it was was football," and watched "No Time For Sergeants" with that same cozy feeling.
Even when Andy started selling crackers, I was happy to believe that everything tasted great when it sat on a Ritz, since he seemed so genuine in his endorsement. But by the seventies and early eighties, my vision of Andy was disrupted by a pair of cinematic appearances. First came "Pray For The Wildcats," in which Andy goes on a motorcycle tour with Mister Brady and Captain Kirk. It doesn't end well. When I was in college, I caught a much earlier vision of Andy's country entertainer in "A Face In The Crowd." That one didn't start too well and ended worse, but it was testament to the power that Griffith had as an actor. It made me glad that he tended to use his powers for good and not evil.
I'll miss Andy as a physical presence, but his genius lives on wherever reruns exist. Aloha, Andy. Tell Goober I said "Hey."

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Fact Is...

Geraldo Rivera had been fired in 1985 after criticizing ABC for canceling a report on an alleged relationship between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. He then hosted the special The Mystery of My Closet which was broadcast live on July 2, 2012. The two hour special (including commercials) was greatly hyped as potentially revealing great riches or leather gear on live television. This included the presence of a taste examiner should any wire hangers be found and agents from the Fashion Police to collect any of Geraldo's leisure suits that might be discovered. When the closet was finally opened the only things found inside were dirt and several empty cologne bottles including one Rivera claimed was Old Spice body Wash. Despite the ending, the special became the most-watched syndicated television special with an estimated audience of thirty million. "Seems like we struck out," Rivera was quoted as saying after the show, though he later wrote of the event in his autobiography Exposing Myself that "My career was not over, I knew, but had just begun. And all because of a silly, high-concept stunt that failed to deliver on its titillating promise." The term "Geraldo Rivera's Closet" has become slang for a heavily hyped event with disappointing results.
Somewhere, Anderson Cooper is rocking a black T-shirt and smiling.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

It's Not Pink - It's Lightish Red, White and Blue

Fourth of July, and it's time for Jamboree! James Turley, a Boy Scouts of America national board member, announced that he will work from within the scouting organization to change its long-standing position barring gay Scouts and gay Scout leaders. So this year there will be even more to celebrate, right?
Unless you're Chuck Norris. "Is Turley working on his own initiative, or has the White House prodded him with perks and favors?" Norris asks in an article on Ammoland.com, which also suggests that Obama has tossed several political plums Turley's way so that he will carry out what he describes as the White House's pro-gay agenda. "Is it a coincidence that Turley is in tight cahoots with the White House and that he is the only BSA national board member in one hundred years to oppose its pro-traditional family stance?"
First off, let me say that I have only recently returned from a trip to Disneyland, so I was intrigued by this contrast to the happiest place on earth: Ammoland. The most homophobic place on earth? Sorry, I meant "family-friendly." I'm not guessing there are any rides there, but you might be asked to field strip an AR-15 while live automatic weapons fire is sprayed overhead. You won't find any of those Nancy-Boys signing up for that one, I bet. Unless it was David Nelson, gay gun enthusiast. The right to bear arms is really not too terribly different from baring all sorts of other things, and it's what we should be celebrating this Fourth of July. Freedom and Tolerance should go hand in hand, but probably not in public, right?
I just know there's a Chuck Norris joke in here that I haven't fully mined, but right now, I'm going to exercise my constitutional right to ignore him.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Back In Time

June 28, 2012: The day that Marty McFly picked to land in when he went "Back to the Future." Not the past, but the future which as we all know is part two. Hoverboards, and pump-up sneakers. When that day finally arrived, I found myself at the epicenter of this storm at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California. I was there to take in a concert featuring the musical talents of Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, and Donald Fagen, collectively called The Dukes of September. Fascinated as I was with this trip down memory lane, I was also captivated by the venue. I had heard of the Universal Amphitheater for decades, most prominently in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties. This was the place where Steve Martin and the Blues Brothers had each recorded an album, records that I internalized and made part of my life. In the past.
Now here I was, in the future, thinking about how I had seen the Blues Brothers at another amphitheater, Red Rocks, so many years ago. That's what I was thinking as we made our way to the gate that night. That's when I saw the two gentlemen in black suits, skinny ties, sunglasses and fedoras. One of them was carrying a briefcase which was, no doubt, full of blues. That shook me just a little. Once we were inside, and sat down, there was a guy a few rows in front us wearing a t-shirt featuring the silhouettes of both Jake and Elwood, below which was the caption: "We're putting the band back together."
The show was a trip down memory lane, featuring hits from Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, and Mister Silk Degrees himself, Boz Scaggs. I was expressly amused as I watched the lady at the front of the auditorium whose job it was to translate each song for those who are hard of hearing try to power her way through "Kid Charlemagne." That was as bravura a performance as anything we saw that night.
When it was all over, we walked back outside, since the amphitheater had become an indoor venue back in 1982 when Universal opened a theme park adjacent to their concert venue. We took in the sights and sounds of the present, as we made our way back to the car, and the future.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Costs Of Good And Service

Millions of dollars are currently being raised for the coming presidential campaign. Both parties are throwing parties and hosting dinners in hopes of wringing one more dollar than the other guys out of their supporters. Super PACs are gathering and dispersing cash in a flurry not seen in our political history. If the race to the White House was settled on a purely monetary basis, the Democrats would have their work cut out for themselves, but the pockets on both sides seem to be awfully deep.
Twenty years ago, Democratic strategist and Skeletor impersonator James Carville insisted that the focus of that election was "The economy, stupid." While not exactly affirming everyone's self-esteem, he seemed to have given his candidate, William Clinton, a direction. Of course, it helped that his campaign was supported by a very impressive war chest, stuffed with the hard-won nickels and dimes of those who truly believed in his vision. And a bunch of big checks from private donors. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on that election, and when the smoke cleared, a new era had begun.
More than a billion dollars were raised and spent on the 2008 campaign. You might think an infusion of cash like that into our moribund economy would get things started over again. This time around, we're almost certain to top two billion dollars. The attack-ad industry just got the bailout they so desperately needed. For the past four years, these folks have been living on the edge of society with their hands out, looking for a way back in. The crepe paper and Mylar balloon industries have suffered as well, but now all of that is going to change. America is back on its feet again, thanks to the hard work of a few rugged individualists with money to throw around. All of those dollars are bound to trickle down to the rest of us before next November, right? Or am I missing something?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Greatest Hit

It was somewhere around the middle of "Sleepless In Seattle" that my wife and I began to roll our eyes. This reaction escalated into the third act of this remake of "An Affair To Remember," until we began to pantomime the screenwriter of this tripe hammering away at her typewriter wearing boxing gloves. Nothing clever of subtle, just a ticking clock and two star-crossed lovers: America's Sweethearts, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This was sad, since we had been quite enamored of both of them up until that point. Until they had been swallowed whole by Nora Ephron.
Was this always the way I felt about Ms. Ephron? No. As a matter of fact, there was a shining moment when she was elevated to private cult status with a little flick entitled "When Harry Met Sally." Meg Ryan was in that one too, but her cute quotient hadn't run its course and Billy Crystal was just the right amount of a wiseacre to carry off being a leading man. It was sweet. It was funny. It was swunny. I watched it over and over, savoring the notion that my wife would later describe thus: "You marry the one you can't get rid of."
For us, that was the high water mark for Nora Ephron and us. We got tired of the formula, but we kept showing up to her movies because we were hooked on the possibility that her next one might be another home run. We waited through "Michael" and "You've Got Mail." We should have been tipped off by the presence of Hanks and Ryan, who by this time were phoning in their romantic comedies. Who could blame them?
My wife and I could. We finally learned our lesson and started staying home. Sometimes we caught bits and pieces of her later films on television. We inevitably wanted the time we spent back. We had hoped for more Harry and Sally. It never came. And now it never will again. I will miss Nora Ephron for what she gave to me in that one story of two young people who discover over a decade or two that they belong together. The Hollywood story of my life with my wife. Thank you for that, Nora. Sleep well. Aloha.