Wednesday, July 31, 2013

M T Nest

There was a time when I could not have imagined this: My son has gone off for a week in Hawaii. He's with a friend, and he's staying with his uncle, but there is an ocean between him and his home. It used to be that any trip over a couple miles would require some sort of parental chaperone. Sleepovers were out of the question. His mother and I contented ourselves the very real prospect that he would eventually attend the University of California in Berkeley because, in his words, he "could still sleep at home."
Now he's all grown up and calling to ask us if we could possibly send along a little more money, oh and how are you by the way? Then he's gone again. Off to dig a hole or fight a dragon or whatever it is that teenaged boys do on a tropical island. Back on the mainland, my wife and I exchange puzzled looks and ask each other if we miss him. Of course we do, but at the same time we are tremendously proud of the way he has managed to get himself up off the couch and out into the world. That very same couch upon which my wife and I exchanged those puzzled looks.
For a while, I blamed genetics for making my son such a homebody. My favorite place was always at home with my family when I was a kid, and I took a good deal of grief from my friends and brothers about it. I was never able to fully deal with my homesickness until my second shot at going away to college. The first ended with me pulling a tour of duty at Arby's. That was my father's line in the sand. If I wasn't going away to school, I would have to get a job instead of just hanging around the basement waiting for my girlfriend to finish up her day at high school.
No such roast beef therapy was required of my son. Maybe he heard the stories enough that he got the message early on, or perhaps he just went and grew up on us. I've heard of this happening. This past New Year's Eve he packed up and went off to a friend's lake house, a place he had never been before. It sounded like fun. There we were, my wife and I, sitting on that puzzled-look-couch. All that talk about late bloomers turned out to be somehow connected to his reality.
Now we have to figure out how we're going to deal with having him gone. I hope we're up to it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cheese Heads

I'm guessing that Douglas Adams would be pretty amused. It was the late science fiction author's notion that it was mice who were doing the experiments on us all these years, not the other way around. That's how he suggested that we might learn the answer to life, the universe and everything: by listening to the mice.
Well, as it turns out, scientists at MIT have figured out a way to plant false memories in the brains of our little rodent pals. They told one that he was married to Sharon Stone, but since not everymouse had seen that movie, it wasn't as funny as they had originally planned. It might have been funnier in this blog if I had connected it back to the Philip K. Dick story from whence it came, but most of my memories are stored as video, so this will have to suffice.
Unless these movies and TV shows that seem to clutter my brain were stuck in there by some superior intelligence. Why? To distract me, of course. Distract me from what? That's a more difficult question, one that would benefit greatly from my entire mind's focus. That's not going to happen, however. There's far too much Gilligan's Island in there. And music videos that nobody else remembers. Okay, there may be some other people wandering around out there with songs by the Residents and Snakefinger keeping them from accessing their full potential, but figuring out a way to make them all come together to purge that sector of their frontal lobes to make room for more vital information.
My son's cerebral cortex is constantly barraged by images of sports cars and their various engine sizes and types of transmissions and how this is going to get us all of the planet before it explodes is beyond me. I've suggesting some sort of rewiring, wherein each automotive tidbit gets attached to some fact about global warming or sustainable energy. So far, I've had very limited success. If it became possible to download his high school curriculum into that space, we might all sleep better. Unless, as these merry pranksters at MIT have done, they are installing bad information. "Hey Morty, remember that doe I saw you with last week? Turns out she's really your sister." Not cool, science guys. You're just putting your names at the top of the mouse hit list when the time comes for the real masters of the universe to take over.
Or am I remembering that wrong?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Life In The Big City

When I moved to Oakland from Boulder, Colorado, I was confused when I was told that periodically we would need to go into "The City." What I came to understand was that the Podunk little burg of some four hundred thousand souls was across the bridge from a City: San Francisco. With double the population and boasting their very own Rainforest Cafe, I surrendered to this odd distinction after a few years. That doesn't mean that I have become totally acclimated to this hierarchy. Just about anytime I hop on a highway to travel across town, it tweaks a nerve somewhere in my college-town-born-and-bred brain. And yes, it only gets worse as I attempt to navigate the maze of on and off ramps across the bay in San Francisco. I am even more grateful for the GPS in my car when we make the jump to Hyperspace and land in Los Angeles.
But it's not just navigating that confounds me. City living has its own rhythms, not the least of which are defined by the number of helicopters in the air: news, traffic, police, rescue. The politics of our little-non-quite-a-city-by-the-bay seem to carry an air of intrigue that was missing from the local elections of my youth. There always seems to be just a little more at stake. Which brings me to the really big city, New York.
I don't think I could live there. This probably has something to do with the way that their baseball team seems to have made a practice out of looting the Oakland roster, waiting patiently for stars to rise and then plucking them out of the relative obscurity of an A's uniform and popping them into Yankee pinstripes. The lure of the Big City. Of course that means that they have to deal with the expectations of a team that has won more championships than God, and all its attendant clubhouse drama. Can anyone explain to me what Alex Rodriguez does for a living?
Then there's the politics of New York City outside the Yankees' locker room. There's a guy named Weiner who was, until last week, a serious contender for mayor of the City That Never Sleeps. Now he has been brushed quickly off the pages of People Magazine as the comeback story of the year to being an object lesson for anyone who thought it was "cool" to tweet your junk. Of course, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, as witnessed by the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg who runs the city as if it were a world power. Mayor Mike issues opinions and fatwas against Big Gulps like he was the czar, not some elected official.
Back here in Oakland, we watch as our elected officials wring their collective hands in anticipation of some new wave of rioting or collective outburst. And we hope that those big city fellers will keep their hands off our baseball team.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dressing On The Side

Welcome to day forty-something of wearing shorts and sandals. That's right, I'm on summer vacation and I'm doing everything I can to work through my vast and considerable T-shirt collection. What happens if I have to go somewhere that they require socks? I will avoid it, I expect. That's because I have earned it. One hundred and eighty days a year I show up in uniform, or what amounts to it. When I first started teaching, our school required students to show up every day in white shirts and blue or khaki pants. I say "required" because we probably had more than half the kids buying in, but the rest continued to wear whatever clothes their parents didn't stop them from going out of the house in. As a sign of solidarity, and being an eternally good sport, I decided to put together a closet full of "work clothes" that essentially mimicked the blue and khaki wardrobe that the school district requirements of the short people.
Over the years, I've added a few new colors to the palette, but mostly blue shirts and tan pants get me through the school year. Most of my colleagues follow suit, with a few exceptions. It's the professional thing to do, after all. But there is nobody telling the guy down the hall that the jeans and untucked shirt will get him any sort of demerits. Not when he's teaching a room full of first graders that will contain at least one minorly objectionable T-shirt slogan each day. And some of those women who show up at the end of the year in their sandals. Scandal. Ultimately, it was the priorities of education that made a dress code less important. What the kids were learning became the focus rather than what they were wearing, and the same could be said of those at the front of the classroom as well.
In West Virginia, if state senator Ed Bowman has his way, teacher's dress will need to be up to code.
“I know that from observation, and from others’ observation, that the dress of some of our school teachers throughout the schools in West Virginia, to say the least, is questionable,” Bowman said. “I really believe the teachers are someone that students really look up to and they model themselves after the teacher.” No more sweat pant. No more boots. I guess I'm hoping they are clever enough to stay away from requiring suits and ties on men or women, but I do wonder how this is going to help test scores. Then again, I pretty much fell in line without having anyone put a chalk-dust-filled eraser to my head. For now, however, I'm going to let my nominal freak flag fly. I'll be wearing socks come August 26. Have no fear.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Royally Jealous

I confess that I found myself sitting in front of the live feed from outside St. Mary's Hospital on the morning of July 23. To excuse it away with a mere "I just happened to be sitting in front of my computer" would be disingenuous. I had to click on a link and keep returning to see if those two London cops had found anything interesting to do aside from just stand there and pretend that a planet full of webcam gawkers were staring at them. Just across the street, of course, was an army of press: photographers from across the globe anxious to get any possible sign of the child who was to be born at any moment.
Not just any baby, of course. This was the Royal Baby. The prince or princess who would someday be crowned and rule over the entire British Empire. Well, "rule" may be a little strong. "experience photo-ops across" would be more to the point. So what's all the fuss? It's another child being brought into the world. Does the fact that this child's mother is the Duchess of Cambridge make this event any more significant than that of the boy and girl born in Jamestown, North Dakota? All signs point to the baby boy born in London growing up to be right-wise King of England, but it's possible that one of those kids from Jamestown could grow up to be President of the United States. Where was the media coverage for the birth of the next leader of the free world?
Okay. Maybe that's a stretch. As yet, North Dakota has not produced a President. A Police Woman and an accordion player, yes, but no chief executives.   Meanwhile, back at the Windsor house, er, castle, they've pretty much had the monarchy all sewn up for a few hundred years. As long as you can stick with the program and not date anyone outside your social standing, you get to hang out with all the cool people and give knighthoods to rock stars. The odds of one of those Jamestown kids getting to hang out in the Rose Garden with Justin Bieber or The New York Giants are pretty slim. That may have something to do with the limited press exposure of those children who had the coincidental good fortune to share a birthday with the heir to the throne.
I share their pain. For the past thirty-one years, all the attention I might have received on my birthday has been has been swallowed up by Prince William. While I confess that having unfettered access to cricket pitches across the British Isles would be a nice perk, I'll leave the balcony waving to those best suited.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Boss Of Me

My good friends sent me to see a movie for my birthday. They gave me a certificate for tickets to see "Springsteen and I," which was a bit of a coup on their part. This is because I am generally the first person in my immediate circle of friends to know anything there is to know about Bruce Springsteen. If you've wandered into this corner of Blogspot enough times, you've probably bumped into one or more of my rambling fascinations about the man I call "Bruce." Mister Springsteen would be more in line with the level of respect which I hold this guy, but he is, after all, a guy. That's probably why that "Boss" thing seems to work so well as an alternative.
Back to the movie: It wasn't a concert film. It wasn't a documentary in the strictest sense. It was a compilation of stories from fans and their encounters with this singer from New Jersey. Some of them told tales of a lifelong obsession that began in the mid-seventies. Others spoke of fanaticism that dated back all the way to last April. The common thread, aside from Springsteen, was the way that all of these fans related to their idol. At some point in all of their stories, the thing that came through was how much they related to this rock and roll star.
On the way home from the movie, my wife, son and I took turns imagining what story we might tell if the cameras had been turned our way. My son started off, pointing out that the first sounds he heard in the world were that of the E Street Band playing "Born To Run." This was by no means coincidence, since it was my hand on the "play" button. My wife recalled the first time she saw Bruce way back from our seats on the lawn and said, "He's so tiny, but he's so happy." Jumping forward a couple decades, she reiterated her certainty that she had made eye contact with Bruce from her seat just behind the stage as he came back to make sure that we were all included in the festivities. Again: no coincidence. I bought those tickets.
I bought those tickets and dozens more over the years. I have camped out, been put on hold, and hit the refresh button in order to purchase some of the worst seats possible. Nosebleed? Obstructed view? Who cares? I'm in the auditorium. I have heard, over the years, stories of fans being "upgraded" at the last minute by The Boss's minions. There's one of those stories in the film. That's never happened to me. You might think that I would be bitter.
Not at all. I'm amazed by these stories and happy for the recipients of those magical moments. As I have said before, the important requirement was met: I was in the auditorium. While I watched the movie unfold, there were clips of concert footage spanning four decades of Springsteen's career. I've got ticket stubs from all of them. Not every show. Not front row. I've never been backstage. I don't care.
This man's music and words have touched me in ways that very little else has in my life. Through good times and bad, sad, lonely, scared, joyous, triumphant, Bruce Springsteen has provided me with the soundtrack. This single-minded devotion stands as a stark contrast to much of the rest of my cynical outlook on life, but it is a vital link to the things that matter the most: Love, Friendship, Life.
So, thanks for the tickets. Thanks, once again, for getting me into the auditorium.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What A Tool!

You've heard the old expression: "Not the sharpest knife in the drawer?" How about, "Dumber than a bag full of hammers?" That's a particular favorite of mine. I find it highly evocative, and not just because it paints such a lovely picture. It's also a good way to describe the way that I should be purchasing my home improvement implements.
I'm tough on tools. The most recent victim of my over-zealousness was the pitchfork that I broke while digging in our front yard. When I was finished with it, it had only one tine where previously it had four. The weld that was holding the fork in place gave into the force I was using to pry up some earth under which I had planned to plant some relocated geraniums. Common sense suggests that I probably should have backed off and pulled the fork out of the ground, taking a little smaller bite out of the impacted dirt. But that's not how I do things.
Much to the periodic consternation of my wife, I don't use my common sense when it comes to tools. I break them. It's not a malicious thing. It's just the way I work: real hard. This means that we routinely have to throw away screwdrivers and pairs of pliers. I've broken hammers, which I think gives me a certain air of John Henry. My wife does not share this appraisal of my capacities. She would much rather that I take my time and use my mind to figure things out before resulting to brute force. This vision of hers extends beyond household tasks, by the way.
This predilection toward using up tools has put my family in the position of having to use shovels with broken handles, hiding the "good tools," and putting a cloud of shame over all of us when it comes time to ask our neighbors and friends if it would be okay to borrow this or that. I'm always surprised by the spotless appearance of some of my friends' toolboxes. Nothing is missing and all of the various components seem so shiny and new. I can't imagine what work they must do with them. Maybe the work they do is keeping them pristine in those carefully loaded cases. Taking out a ratchet or wrench would disturb the delicate balance of form versus function.
I truly want to believe that somewhere, in a garage not unlike my own, these people store the tools they really work with. The ones with taped handles, covered with dirt and grime. And the pitchfork with just one tine.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


If Trayvon Martin had felt threatened by George Zimmerman following him, would it have been okay for him to stand his ground and shoot him with the gun he didn't have? If only the first graders at Sandy Hook had been packing heat when their classroom was invaded by a heavily armed nutjob. I remember reading this kind of crazed rhetoric a year ago, after another mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It was suggested that if only the patrons of that movie theater had been carrying weapons to a midnight show about a masked vigilante who happens to pointedly eschew the use of firearms, then things would have ended much differently.
I think the same thing now that I thought a year ago: With all those extra bullets whizzing around, I just can't imagine that innocent bystanders won't be put in even more danger. The suggestion that we all start to defend ourselves with potential deadly force is disturbing in the extreme to me. And now for the grotesque data for the week: By 2015, it is anticipated that the number of gun deaths in the United States will exceed that of traffic fatalities. How could this be? It used to be that you could toss off any concern about guns by pointing at how dangerous it is to drive on our interstate highways. Well guess what? Those highways are getting safer. Our streets are not.
Gun rights advocates like to point at cities like Chicago that have strict gun control ordinances to try and curb the violence that plagues them and laugh: "How's that gun-free-zone workin' for ya?" They chortle. It does seem a little ineffective to tell bad guys who are breaking the law with guns to stop breaking the law about having guns. It's a place to start. Communities that function effectively can only do so based on the agreements that they keep. I live in one of those cities, by the way. Last week, an eight year old girl was shot through the front door of the apartment where she was spending the night. It was, no doubt, a mistake. Somebody with a gun went out to solve a problem and went out and made a bigger one. The fact that places like Oakland and Detroit have the number of homicides they do is a function of anger, fear and available weapons. These are the tools our young people are using to solve the problems they see in their world. It is at this point that the notion of universal background checks breaks down. On one of the message boards I read recently it was suggested that a "motivated killer" would find a way to get themselves a gun if they were determined to do harm. It made me terribly sad to think that the phrase "motivated killer" could so easily slip into our lexicon. Is there another kind?
That old saw about how if somebody really wants to kill, they will use a car or a knife or a pressure cooker. Given the number of motivated killers out there in this great land of ours, I would just as soon not make it any easier for them. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At The Movies

My report on how I spent my summer vacation: I watched a lot of movies. I'm hoping that I can expand just a trifle on that thesis before school starts up again and I have to be accountable for my actions over the past couple of months. Perhaps I should start thinking about how I can expound on this thesis to bring a more educational ring to it.
What did I learn from the movies I watched this summer? Well, for one thing, I learned that the only viable solution to giant monsters from the bottom of the sea is an army of giant robots to knock them back into the hole through which they crawled.
I also watched movies at home. My Home Box Office offered up a pretty terrifying film in which bad guys had turned the world's drinking water into poison gas. It was one of those dystopian visions of the future where, before you know it, we all end up eating crackers that the government tells us is plankton, but they're really made of people. Except this on turned out to be a documentary. The other thing that makes it the perfect summer film is that it's a sequel: Gasland 2. It's got good guys and bad guys, intrigue, and things tend to blow up. Alas, there are no giant robots, just frightened homeowners and giant corporations bent on making more billions of dollars regardless what happens to those who prefer their drinking water with a little less methane in it.
But getting back to the lessons I learned from the giant robots of Pacific Rim, I found it inspiring to think that faced with worldwide destruction by a bunch of scary beasts, the nations across the globe would band together in a concerted effort to rid the planet of these scaly invaders. Pooling their technologies and resources, the human race was able in the words of the much-hyped trailer, "Cancel the Apocalypse."
This got me to thinking. What sort of threat would it take to get us all to band together and go face-to-face, toe-to-toe with seemingly unstoppable threats to our continued existence? Unfortunately, sustainable and renewable energy for all is not nearly as cool as giant robots. It's not science fiction. It's just science. But it does have giant windmills in it. And I don't know about you, but I find BP ever bit as frightening as a twenty-story tall lizard that spits acid.
Now it's time to watch something more diverting, like Fruitvale Station.

Monday, July 22, 2013

My Private Business

There I was, feeling like a Louis C.K. bit, wondering how I ever got here. To be less than discreet, I was sitting in the bathroom, multitasking. I had my fancy new tablet PC with me, and I was checking my e-mail. I was surprised to see that Amazon had sent me a note letting me know that air mattresses were on sale. Wow! How about that for service? There I was, minding what would naturally be considered my own business when, out of the blue comes this reminder that I have had my eye on replacing the inflatable pad which we have used for years and years as the floor of our NewYear's Fort Floor. Our dog's nails should be trimmed sometime around Christmas in order to limit the number of tiny little holes that can be left by just one night of pawing about on our oxygen-infused platform.
Back to my marveling at the preciseness of Amazon's simple offer: It took me a moment or two to realize that I was receiving this message based on a search I had done a few weeks earlier. The clever bots in the deepest, darkest Amazonia held on to that piece of the shopping I had done in an idle moment while sitting in front of the computer, waiting for the latest batch of cute cat photos to load. Then, when the time was right and deals were at their very hottest, a nerve impulse shot out from that entrepreneurial being named after the second longest river in the world. Suddenly, this gesture felt invasive, probably because of where I was sitting, but also because I am the type of guy who never buys anything from a telephone solicitor. If I need something, I'll go out and find it, thank you. I don't need someone to ring me up to let me know that there is a special deal on security systems in my neighborhood. I hang up on them. That's why I deleted the message, though well-intentioned, from the world's largest online retailer.
But I know it won't make any real difference. I've already left my little digital footprints all over Al Gore's Internet. If someone really wanted to sell me something that I really don't need, it would take a very few clicks to find out hot to insinuate themselves into my little world of preferences. I also know that if I were truly vigilant about where I surf and how I give out my e-mail address and to whom I ask to find that crystal blue blender, I could avoid such automated invasions.
Then I thought about all the business I conduct on Mister Gore's Masterpiece. How many times have I gone looking for that perfect gift, appliance or service without even trying to guard my identity to the rest of the cyber-community? "Hey, look everybody! I'm trying to find a place that sells Quake Cereal in bulk!" Why would I care if the National Security Agency listens in on the phone calls I make to customer service, trying to return it once I remember just how awful that stuff really was. Finally, I used the GPS app to navigate myself from the bathroom back to the couch in the living room.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


It was my son who pointed out the sad inequality of the phrase: "No justice, no peace." We as a nation continue to struggle for that elusive mix of compassion and correction that allows us all to feel as though we really do live in the land of the free and home of the brave. We're angry and we're scared. I can say this with some confidence because I was visiting college campuses across the country from where the George Zimmerman verdict was made, and it was easy to feel the waves created by that decision all the way from Florida to California. And these weren't mere ripples, either. These were the kind of metaphorical waves that make one worry about a metaphorical storm brewing.
Riots in Los Angeles and Oakland show how interconnected this feeling is. Jurors and legal experts may want to carry on a discussion about the finer points of the "Stand Your Ground Law," the Florida statute that somehow made it okay for a life to be taken. But that's not what is being felt in the streets. People are angry. Again. They feel as though this promise of justice is made by the same people who promised equality all those years ago. It's easy to feel those good intents when you haven't had the rug pulled out from under you recently. It's easy to feel as though we're moving in the right direction because, after all, we have an African-American president. How much more justice and equality could we get?
I believe we can do better. Much better. As long as we have pinhead pundits making pointed judgements about violent crime and all the reasons why somehow Trayvon Martin deserved what happened to him, we have a problem. There aren't enough hours in a day to try and make up for the casual bigotry and barely concealed racism that still runs rampant through American culture. One need look no further than the adventures of Paula Deen to describe the crooked path that we continue to travel to find that justice and peace which continues to elude us. Rationalizing the death of any young man or woman based on their race or the race of the person who killed them remains unconscionable to me. I'm an American, and still want both.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


It must be nearing the end of summer. I can tell because I found myself thinking of a gum machine. Not just any gum machine. This one was unique. It was the only gum machine at the top of the stairs leading down into the basement of Cottrell's Men's Store, located at Broadway and Pearl streets in Boulder, Colorado.
The inevitable end of ever summer was signaled, for me, by the purchase of new school clothes. As I grew older, and my tastes became more refined, I blanched at the way my brothers and I were herded down those steps and into the sharp creases and pressed look of the shirts and trousers that were to be found down there. We weren't there to buy jeans. We were there to buy the clothes that would be laid out Monday through Friday mornings. These would be the clothes out of which I would need to change before I could go out and play after school was over. It's a little odd to think that there was a time when this was a real thing, but long before I ever started wearing my khaki slacks and my button-down shirts each day to my teaching job, I had a very similar wardrobe for my job as a student.
I hated to try things on. I knew that there would be a certain amount of it, and the pants were the hardest thing to find that fit. My mother would bring me rafts of different hangers from which I dutifully took off my play clothes and pulled on those scratchy pants that weren't supposed to be any fun. The only part of the experience that made it worthwhile was that since we were underground, we escaped the August heat.
That and the gum machine. I knew if I tolerated a dozen or more attempts at finding a pair of pants that fit my pear-shaped body that I would be allowed take a penny up to the landing, drop it in the slot and pull the lever. Out would come two chiclet-ish squares of chewing gum: red, green, white or yellow. These were immediately consumed and chewed feverishly until the mint or licorice flavor had been exhausted only minutes later. If I made it that far, I knew that we were done.
Then it was up the street to try on shoes at Thorton's. I don't remember there being a gum machine there, but if we bought the right pair of Buster Browns, we got a prize. Only now, as a parent, does it occur to me what extraordinary lengths my mother went through to get us all clothed.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I don't know how you missed it, but in case you were locked away in a gulag or in a coma so deep that you had no access to social media, there was a Sharknado last Thursday. It took the nation by storm. Get it? Storm?
Okay, so it was a TV movie. Not even a real theatrical release. It "stars" Tara Reid and Ian Ziering. Ms. Reid's prior credits include dating Carson Daly and was voted off of the British version of Big Brother. Mr. Ziering is perhaps best known for his ten-year run as a high school student in everybody's favorite zip code, 90210. This was a notable accomplishment primarily from the standpoint that Ian was twenty-six when he took the job, and "graduated" when he was just twenty-nine. Acting!
But let's face it, you may tune in to see that chick who was in American Pie, or what Steve Sanders looks like with a beard. You stayed to see sharks flying around Los Angeles. That's the kind of thing that makes the Internet hum, and last Thursday night servers were burning up with everyone's next best idea: Bearcano? Cobrapocalypse? Lemmingquake? So many possibilities, so very little time.
Wait a second. Strike that. There's plenty of time, and seemingly endless wads of available cash. Stuff like Sharknado doesn't get made for free, even if that seems to be the case. It's why they call it Show Business.
Somewhere along the line, somebody had to say "Yes, we'll give you a million dollars to make this practical joke of a movie." Just like it's a pretty sure thing that somebody is going to greenlight a sequel. That's the way things get done.
Somewhere, Roger Corman is smiling. It does make you wonder what Roger could have done with a million dollars. Attack of the Hurricrabs.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Duh List

Attorneys for James Holmes admitted their client committed the mass shooting last July at an Aurora Colorado movie theater, claiming he was "in the throes of a psychotic episode." As revelations go, this one is going to have to find its way pretty close to the bottom of the "really?" list. This is the first time his lawyers have been so explicit about his responsibility for the July 20 shooting that left twelve people dead and another seventy shot or injured. The motion filed by those attorneys reads, in part: "The evidence revealed thus far in the case supports the defense's position that Mr. Holmes suffers from a severe mental illness and was in the throes of a psychotic episode when he committed the acts that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries sustained by moviegoers on July 20, 2012." Evidence also supports that the friends, families and survivors of that psychotic episode continue to suffer through their own emotional episode. Additionally, his lawyers objected to the judge's previous ruling that would have had their client in a harness, chained to the floor. "Other than the nature of the charges in this case, there is no evidence that Mr. Holmes presents a danger to the safety of the courtroom or a flight risk of any kind." Other than that one psychotic episode. That was like a whole year ago. Sheesh.
Meanwhile, over the Rocky Mountains and out to the coast we go for competition on that "duh" list. Kenny Ortega, director of Michael Jackson's comeback tour testified in court about his star: "I thought there was something emotional going on, deeply emotional, and something physical going on. He seemed fragile." Did you ever take a look at Michael Jackson? There just might have been something emotional going on inside, but I think we can all get behind that whole "fragile" notion. It might have something to do with the notion to call that last series of concerts "This Is It." When they say Michael was looking bad, they don't mean it in a Martin Scorsese way.  They mean it in a Judy Garland is taking way too many diet pills way.
So what can we take away from today's lessons? Reality is subjective and we can all be glad that our lives don't take us anywhere near the edges of common sense. Like the suggestion that the crew of Asiana flight 214 used questionable judgement when they delayed the order to evacuate the crashed plane by ninety seconds. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No Exit

When I was in high school, I had to take final exams. We were told in advance how rigorous they would be and how important they were to our futures, at least as far as that future was connected to graduating high school. By the time I was a senior, I understood the game pretty well: If I had been paying attention during the semester upon which I was being tested, I was going to pass the test. That didn't keep the anxiety from crushing down on top of me and all my friends the week before school let out. We all studied, or made the appearance of studying in those days leading up to the end. Final. If we were lucky, we had a really cool teacher who would make taking the test optional. You only had to take it if you really needed it. Or in some very wild cases, there were those teachers who "didn't believe in tests," and instead of filling blue books with all the memorized details of months of higher learning we watched a movie.
Nowadays, some teachers still feel the need to torment their students with the eventual summation of all the knowledge with which they have been imbued, or excuse them from such arduous oppression. That doesn't mean that they go without the experience. Across this great land of ours, high school students are being asked to prove how clever they are by taking exit exams. Not that each and every one of them couldn't point to the way out. If only it were that simple. Instead, almost half of the United States is asking its kids to show how much they've learned at the end of their senior year so that they can be released into the world as well-educated-proto-adults. Make that "adequately-educated."
Then there's this: A new study by researchers Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang at the National Bureau of Economic Research links exit exams to high rates of incarceration.The study found that of the students who take one of these exams, about one percent fail. In turn, they don't receive diplomas. This same one percent had a much greater chance, a twelve point five percent chance, of going to jail. Not that their grades were necessarily worth being put in jail for, but rather "Exit exams represent a single set of tests that trumps years of work that students have completed," Anthony Cody, author of the Living in Dialogue blog and a retired Oakland teacher. "Research shows some students experience great anxiety when taking high-stakes tests, and are unable to show what they are capable of." Taking all those twelve years in school before the test for granted and putting all the pressure on that one morning?
I think I'd rather take those finals, thanks.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trips We Have Skipped

As a parent, I have found that you often resort to trying to replay large sections of your own youth out through your children. Much to the chagrin of those children. Don't like Christmas lights? Too bad. That's how I grew up. Don't care for spectator sports? Too bad. My house, my rules. I know how much you're going to enjoy this because you are spawn of me and how could you not like Lucky Charms?
Then again, there are certain things that were common place occurrences in my childhood to which I have never exposed my son. Specifically: Rodeos and Circuses. Growing up in Colorado, there were plenty of opportunities to check out the ropin' and ridin' talents of all manner of cowpokes. There was the annual Little Britches Rodeo, which was the training ground for all the buckaroos who weren't content with the action in the 4H club. Since I was a kid, Little Britches has moved down the road. Not unlike the very enlightened Bay Area, Boulder is not the place you'd expect to see broncos busted and cows punched in 2013. That would be too cruel. Over in Longmont, however, I guess you might expect such inhumanity.
The National Western Stock Show was never in Boulder. It was a yearly pilgrimage made by my family in our station wagon very much along the lines of our annual pilgrimages to the big city to see the Christmas lights. The Mile High City continues to host what they refer to as "the Super Bowl of rodeos." We went to see all the prize-winning livestock in their pens, but we stayed to see some of those same animals try to toss and hurl young men off their backs and stomp them underfoot. Hindsight tells me, of course, that these guys totally had it coming to them, since that's all I would expect from a bull that had been poked and prodded and tortured for weeks leading up to those eight seconds of release. Rather than take my son to such an exhibition, I would much rather wait until he is ready to hear the ugly truth about such "competitions." Like when he's twenty-five.
Another family adventure that I made a point of shielding from my son was Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey and anybody else who saw fit to train animals with sticks and hooks so that they could be further antagonized and humiliated for our delight. One of my son's favorite movies as a small person was Dumbo. His fascination with the flying elephant was based more on Casey Junior, the circus train, but he became familiar with the themes of bullying and cruelty through repeated viewings. It made him sad to see how they treated Dumbo's mother, and since there is no mention of Mister Jumbo outside of the inference that his mother is Missus Jumbo, as his the dad in this equation I felt nervous about what horrid Disney fate must have been his.
No circus. No rodeo. No fun? I guess we'll have to wait and see what he drags his kids to.

Monday, July 15, 2013

At The Break

We're about halfway through this baseball season, and I have to say that I am satisfied with the way things are going. First of all, the mathematics really help out a lot. When you play one hundred and sixty-two games, it's nice to take a break around eighty just to get a sense of where things might go. The real magic is that, historically, no team is counted out at this point. Magical trades or mythological winning streaks make watching baseball into the Fall an easy sell.
Well, for some more than others. As a long-suffering fan of the Chicago Cubs, even the team from the north side could stitch together a lineup that might lead them out of the cellar and into the penthouse. You probably wouldn't get much action on a bet against the Oakland A's making it to the playoffs this year. The All-Star Break is a little like Wednesday on the old Mickey Mouse Club: Anything Can Happen.
Still, there are those who have already given up on the Boys of Summer. It could be that having a world champion basketball team in their city has made baseball less of a draw for the folks down in Miami. That's why the Marlins have gone to all kinds of extremes to get fans off the couch and into their very fancy new ballpark. They've tried offering Groupon deals, and selling them like hot dogs: buy one, get one free. A recent promotion offered ticket buyers an even sweeter deal: you could buy tickets just like you were the friends or family of pitcher Gio Gonzalez. A very special offer indeed, since Gio doesn't play for the Marlins. He plays for the visiting Washington Nationals. Sure, Gio grew up in southern Florida, but he has played his major league baseball in less tropical climes. Would you believe Oakland?
And so it goes. Out here in Oakland, we do what we can with what we've got. The Athletics play in a concrete bunker more suited for football, but barely that. The payroll is one of the lowest in pro sports, but not surprisingly sits just above that of the Miami Marlins. Fans in Oakland are still getting a pretty good deal on a dollars-per-win basis. Down in Miami, there are still dreams of streaks and players to be named later. In Oakland, it's only a matter of time before the teams with deep pockets show up and start to pilfer the quirky lineup that has taken us this far.
For now, we're just going to sit back and let the rest of the season unfold. Pass me some Crackerjacks.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Taking Bets

I threw away another AARP invitation. Ever since I turned fifty a year ago, they seem dedicated to making sure that I am enrolled in their program. The one that consists of all kinds of discounts to this and that, and that insurance. Such a deal. But what would I be doing in a group called the American Association of Retired Persons? I'm still working for a living, after all, with an emphasis on both the living and working parts.
It was only after the envelope drifted down into the recycling bin that all that worry welled up inside me. Sure, I'm alive and working now, but what happens when I'm no longer able to take care of my family in the manner to which they are accustomed? I had visions of my son setting aside his school books and heading out the front door to his job at the mill. My wife untied her apron and hurried along behind him, on her way to a double shift removing rivets at the flange factory. If only I had been more proactive. They would be sipping lemonade by the pool and smiling wanly at my framed photo just inside the cabana.
Wait a minute. Is the only way my family can get a pool by which they can sip lemonade is for me to A) buy plenty of insurance and B) croak off in an unfortunate and untimely manner? I'm not sure I want to get into that sweepstakes. I've already been the beneficiary of the insurance game. When my father died, my lovely parting gifts were some random personal effects and a down payment on a house. No matter how many times I play that tape back, I believe that I would much rather have a few extra years with my dad than the house. It's not a choice I get to make, however.
The circumstances of my father's passing make a great story. How he cheated death way back in his thirties by missing a chance to fly with his boss in his small plane. That plane crashed. That was the reason my mother refused to put us all on another small plane when we were all stuck in Mexico City with no way to get to Acapulco after Braniff dropped us unceremoniously in a foreign speaking land with only my older brother's junior high school Spanish to support my father's wild gestures. Years later, my father and I flew together in a small plane to the Orange Bowl. We made it to and from safely, even if we were disappointed by the outcome of the game.
It was that same small plane that would eventually take my father's life. I suppose in some cosmic way I feel responsible for part of that plan, since he made a trip to see my wife and I in Oakland and nearly made it back in one piece. That's when gravity took over. If only he had the presence of mind to insure against the way the earth sucks. 
He didn't. My younger brother and I flew back to Colorado to try and help my older brother put my father's affairs in order. It wasn't pretty. When all was said and done, the mountain cabin was sold and the life insurance policy was cashed in, the car was sold, it never really amounted to much. Not compared to the man. At the time of his death, my father was still working as a printing salesman, with no active plans for retirement. If he had played the game differently, who knows what might have happened. Maybe I wouldn't have to work that second job at the mill.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Number Two

Congratulations, America! We're number Two!
Okay, once you pick your collective selves up off the floor and stop snickering about "number Two," I'll tell you why we have cause for celebration.
Seriously. Stop the giggling or I won't go on.
According to the United Nations, the Untied States is no longer the world's fattest developed country. This distinction now belongs to Mexico, with a whopping thirty-two point eight percent of its adult population considered obese. We are now in second place, reporting in at one full percent less than our friends to the south. Syria comes in third with thirty-one point six percent of their adults whose body mass index (BMI) is thirty and above. That's a lot of numbers, but the one to focus on is the part where we are no longer the fattest country.
We can all feel free to dance and sing and carry on, until we get winded and have to sit down for a while, but since we're still clinging to second place by an eyelash, what made Mexico catch up to us?
Mexico's urban lifestyle and rising income levels coupled with malnourishment among the country's poor have helped it claim this unhealthy title. “The same people who are malnourished are the ones who are becoming obese,” Abelardo Avila, a physician with Mexico's National Nutrition Institute, told the Global Post. “In the poor classes we have obese parents and malnourished children. The worst thing is the children are becoming programmed for obesity. It's a very serious epidemic.”
A few other statistics, from the report: About twelve percent of the world's total population is obese. The world's most weight-advantaged nation overall is Nauru, a South Pacific island where a staggering seventy-one point one percent of its ten thousand inhabitants are obese. It should also be noted that the U.N. report does not include data for American Samoa, which has been tabbed in the past as the world's fattest country. According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, ninety five percent of that Pacific island's inhabitants are considered overweight. We don't have to count them in our tally because they're not a state. They're a territory. A really big territory.
So, for now we can all enjoy a little extra sour cream on our baked potatoes, and take a day off from the gym because of all that hard work we have been doing as a country. Or we could remember that it was just a year ago that we were number One - with supersized fries. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Time And Space

A hundred years ago, when I first came out to visit the Bay Area with little thought of settling down, I was asked by my girlfriend what I would like to do when I got there. My first notion: Disneyland. This came primarily as a geographical issue that had escaped me. California is a great big state. Colorado, from whence I was coming, could be traversed, north to south pretty easily in a day, even in the non-hybrid horseless carriages that were available at that time.
For real: In the late 1990's, the best idea I could come up with for a romantic getaway with the woman who would become my wife was to travel three hundred and seventy-one miles to an amusement park. At this point, feel free to point out that geography may not have been the only issue for me at the time. It was in the same state, and wouldn't it be fun to spend a few hours in the car together, getting reacquainted and talking about all those things that we never got a chance to when we had to pay long distance charges. Remember long distance charges?
To make the long journey's story short, six-plus hours in a car is plenty of time to get reacquainted, and just about enough time to start wondering why I didn't pick a destination that was a tad more local to her base of operations. No matter. It's history now, part of a tale that still brings me a smile when I think about what a good sport I had for a girlfriend and how much I still had to learn about relative distances on the West Coast.
Now I find out that, if I'm patient, we could make that same trip in thirty minutes. Not half a day. Half an hour. Once the Hyperloop is in place, we could be in Los Angeles n a matter of minutes. Elon Musk, the man who brought us the Tesla electric sports car and SpaceX the space cargo company, wants to bring his enthusiasms for high speed and electricity and magnets together to shoot travelers around the country in underground vacuum tubes.
Will it really happen? There are plenty of doubters, including myself. I'm still waiting on that personal jetpack. But if you could get me to the front of the line before the House of Mouse opens, even if I wake up in Oakland, then I probably won't need the ride on Space Mountain. I could use that time standing in line to get caught up with my wife.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Busted Block

I see a lot of movies. On television. On cable. Streaming through Al Gore's Internet. And in the movie theater. I, along with my family, are usually good for a box of Junior Mints, a large drink, and a popcorn just this side of infinity. Along with all those yummy concessions to our health, we're also purchasing tickets to the tune of seven to twelve dollars. Apiece. Ever since my son was taller than the clown, we've been paying for him like he was old enough to be buying his own ticket to the moving pictures. It is the way we have decided to experience this summer. What's opening this weekend, and how can we get in line before anyone else to see it?
We were doing just great right up until the Fourth of July weekend, when we were given the option of Despicable Me 2 or The Lone Ranger. Now that my son has turned sixteen, the need to see any and all animated features has passed. As a parent who fell asleep during Madagascar, I decided that napping would be much less expensive at home than in one of those twelve dollar seats once the sequels started appearing. As for the Lone Ranger, I never felt drawn to it except as an event. The presence of Johnny Depp seemed like a calculated Disney marketing ploy to bring in all those Pirate fans. Only this time, the Sparrow will be on top of his head. When word came down from on high that critics and moviegoers across this great land of ours were staying away in droves, I confess that I felt a little sympathy. Maybe we should go just so all those Disney executives won't have to take second jobs to support their families.
Or maybe we could simply wait for the damaged remains to show up on our Netflix queue. Then we can see it "for free." We could make our own popcorn, and Junior Mints are cheaper at Safeway than they are at the theater. If we could just be more patient, we would save all kinds of money and still see all those blockbusters. We just wouldn't see them first.
Well, the guys who pretty much invented the summer blockbuster don't think there's a future in these events. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have seen what's down the path, and they are not enthused. "They're going for the gold," said Lucas about the major Hollywood studios. "But that isn't going to work forever. And as a result they're getting narrower and narrower in their focus. People are going to get tired of it. They're not going to know how to do anything else."
"There's eventually going to be a big meltdown," Spielberg said. "There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground and that's going to change the paradigm again."
So Mister Pot and Mister Kettle have just announced that they are both black and so is anybody else who hops on board their cookware franchise.
What does that mean to the rest of us? I'm not guessing that anyone who read or heard what these two guys said is going to suddenly have a change of heart and call off the fourth installment of Hasbro's Transformer series. If only they could talk Robert Downey Jr. into joining up with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, my son would be set: The Fast and the Ferrous. This stuff writes itself.
Maybe that's the problem.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I'm Walkin' Here!

I have this latent impulse, when I come to a curb and prepare to step into a crosswalk, to stick my hand down below my waist and wait for a little hand to reach up to mine before I proceed. It has been a very long time since this was a matter of survival. My son has become quite accustomed, at sixteen years of age, to look both ways before crossing the street. He has become very adept at all manner of things since he was wobbling around on those fresh legs of his, getting used to gravity as well as oncoming traffic. Still, I'm somebody's dad and it's part of the programming.
How long has it been since I needed to take my son's hand as we crossed the street together? I can't pinpoint an exact moment, but I do know that we both found ourselves doing it primarily out of instinct even after he was fully cognizant of the challenges facing him outside those little white lines. I do know that ever since we started running together, plugged into our personal streams of music, that we haven't felt the need to cling to one another as we made our way around the block and back.
Now here's the thing: Last week as we went out together, earbuds in place and dog on the leash, I told him that I was going to lead him on a little longer route than usual. I wanted him to throw off some of that summer vacation lethargy. This worked just fine, and soon we were well into our first mile when I found myself across the intersection with the dog but no son. When I looked back, I saw him pointing at the signal. It was still green. I waited until the light cycled through again and he crossed to meet me.
"Why didn't you come over? The light was green," then I had a thought, "Was it the red arrow that kept you? That's just for cars turning left. You can still cross the street when that's red."
My son let out a sigh that told me I clearly misunderstood, "Dad, I stopped because there was a 'Don't Walk' signal."
Busted. I had chugged blithely along paying the minimum attention to the details of pedestrian etiquette. I started to blather something about how you could still get away with it as long as you were in the crosswalk and -
"Ever since I started taking Driver's Ed I've been much more aware of traffic regulations, Dad."
Busted. "You're right," I told him. "I should have waited."
I let him lead the way home.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tour de Farce

Did you know that they were still having a bike race in France this summer? It's called The Tour de France, which roughly translated means "The Tour of France." That's what those crazy French folks call a race: a Tour. It's already been up hills and down in valleys. It doesn't happen all at once either. It's not like the Indianapolis 500, where you go 'round and 'round a whole bunch of times in an afternoon to decide who is the fastest at going around in a circle without running into one another or the walls. This French Bike Race is done in "stages." That means they make their way around the country in little bite-size chunks that make it possible for the Tour to go on for weeks.
You may not have heard about this thing because it takes place in a foreign land and it doesn't require ethanol. The riders in bike races eat a lot of bananas and drink a lot of water. It's what keeps them going. That and performance enhancing drugs. That is, if you believe seven-time France Tour winner Lance Armstrong. He told Oprah that he didn't feel that taking these drugs was cheating. “I viewed it as a level playing field,” Lance told Oprah. We know he was telling the truth, because no one lies to Oprah, not with that golden lasso of truth she's got. Did he make his teammates take drugs? “Look, I was the leader of the team, and the leader of any team leads by example,” he said. “There was never a direct order or a directive to that said you have to do this if you want to do the Tour or you want to be on the team.” By "Tour," he means this fancy French race I've been talking about, not some relaxing ride in the Pyrenees.
This was back in the days when bicycling really mattered, around the turn of the century. It mattered because there was this American who had survived cancer and came back and took on the whole world in some two-wheeled, sweatier version of Speed Racer.That was back when there was an entire TV network devoted to all things Lance and Tour. People in the United States wanted their children to grow up and ride bikes for a living. Some of those parents were even willing for their children to get cancer just so they could overcome it by riding bikes for a living.
That was a long time ago. Now there are guys with names like Blel Kadri and Andre Greipel out there, riding around the streets and cobblestone paths of the European Republic Formerly Known As France. Somebody's going to win, but you can be pretty certain that it won't be an American. And you can be pretty sure that they've just got to be hopped up on goofballs. You can trust Lance on that one, right?

Monday, July 08, 2013

On The Whole, I'd Rather Be In Philadelphia

Okay kids, raise your hands if you're proud to be an American. Alright. Maybe that was the wrong question. How about this one: Raise your hands if you're relieved to be an American. That's better. I'll count myself in that second group. While we chase Eric Snowden across the globe and ask our neighbors if they wouldn't please mind so very much handing him back over, and we bicker about who can marry whom and if they happen to come across our borders illegally could they get married as long as they promise not to listen to our phone calls, I'm still relieved to be an American.
I can turn on the faucet in my kitchen and drinkable water comes out. There are places in the world where that's not true. Some of our homes have even become efficient enough to pass their water and natural gas through the same pipes, but we seem to be in the midst of arguing about that as well. The very fact that we are able to fuss about so much about our own culture without having to resort to armed insurrection is a testament to the strength of our union.
On the Fourth of July, our neighborhood once again blew up in all manner of color and sparkling reports. I recalled the time a friend of mine visited on an Independence Day a few years back. He had just returned from a trip that took him through Beirut, and he said that our little corner of Oakland was reminiscent of the night skies of Lebanon. The difference was that ours were the happy, celebratory shells. They weren't aimed at anything but the dark. Even though it would be impossible to convince my dog of this, the artillery outside our house on July Fourth was celebratory in nature. The danger was primarily for those who forgot to light, and run away.
That's not the case in Egypt. There's a lot of lighting and running away, but most of the running away is being done by the folks who aren't doing the lighting. They're aiming. The Egyptian Army is using tanks and helicopters and guns to affect the change that we here in America tend to wait around until November for. This whole democracy thing is still kind of new in the Middle East, and my guess is that they will eventually get used to it, but for now it's a little scary out there. So, for those of our readers who happen to be in one of those more frightening regions, I'd like to pass along some advice from my dog: crawl under the desk and wait it out.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Tilting At Windmills

My mother hates hummingbirds. Actually, that's not true. She loves hummingbirds. Would it be fair to say that she's tired of them? Perhaps. After years of receiving porcelain, wooden, painted, plastic, ceramic, confectionery, realistic, impressionistic, miniature, life-size, giant, spinning, stationary, and any other representation of the tiny creatures that she once shared a porch with in the mountains of Colorado, she's done. Not that she doesn't appreciate those salt shakers, thank you very much.
It's just that everyone she knows has seen fit, over the years, to find her just the right knickknack or remembrance of those days gone by that her house is filled to the rafters with remembrances of those days. Those little birds became her albatross. My father, contrastingly, had a fascination with windmills. It began simply enough with a childhood in Kansas. He grew up around farms, but not on one. He was the son of a mailman, not a farmer. But as he grew older, and brought up children of his own, he pitched a metaphorical tent at the base of a mountain that he liked to imagine was his bucolic upbringing. We, as his children, were never more impressed with this metaphorical past than when he was busying himself around the rocks and woods of our mountain cabin. We had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity. We hauled our drinking water up in ten gallon jugs from the faucets at our home down in town. Or should I say that was part of my father's job. When he made his daily commute to work, he would bring us mail, newspapers and water. Those ten gallon jugs were the chore.
That's why eventually he had a well dug on our property in the hills. It had to be very deep, and we were told that a hand pump would never be sufficient to bring all that fresh water to the surface. An electric or gas pump could have done the job, but suddenly, in the midst of the nineteen-seventies ecological movement, my father had the bright idea to put up a windmill. It would serve the purpose of bringing us water, and reminding him of those bygone days in Kansas. Never mind that with a little more time and thought, it could have been the means to power our lights and appliances. It was a solution.
It was also a project. It was one of my father's projects that became something of a curse. As such, his family and friends began to present him with cards and gifts that had windmills on them. Years passed, and the cap to the well became rusted and the toy windmills continued to appear on birthdays and Christmases. And every summer, he continued to haul those ten gallon jugs up the hill. When my father died, there was no windmill on the well. There was a metal replica that he put together, and that was taken apart and eventually reassembled in my back yard here in California. I was also presented with a smaller, wooden model that had been stuffed to the back of my father's closet and left unopened for years.
A couple of weeks ago, I found that wooden model at the back of my own closet. I took it out and, over the course of a few hours, glued and fit it together. Now I've got two windmills at my house in urban Oakland. Neither one of them pumps water or generates electricity. They both tend to remind me how much my father must have hated windmills.

Saturday, July 06, 2013


Please understand that I am a huge fan of The Daily Show. But I have a beef: It's a lie. While Jon Stewart and his colleagues dish up delicious mounds of political satire and thought-provoking satire on a regular basis, it is hardly on a daily basis. The show is on four days out of seven, as if the most important news would take a nice three-day rest while the writers and staff catch their collective breath to pursue whatever zeitgeist catches their sometimes bawdy sense of humor Monday through Thursday. This doesn't take into account the number of times each of these "live on tape" shows are repeated throughout the rest of the viewing day on Comedy Central. In this regard, it becomes more of a "Multiple Times During The Day Show." It's not a news show. It's a comedy show, and therefore shouldn't be held to the structures CNN or Faux News. That's probably why, in the midst of a three-month sabbatical for its host, the Daily Show is taking a two-week break for the summer.
Now I turn my attention to the magazine that sits on my coffee table each week: Entertainment Weekly. It arrives in my mailbox with frightening regularity, sometimes Thursday, sometimes Friday. That lets me know that I need to wrap up the last few articles in the previous week's issue, and then prepare to take on whatever fresh showbiz news that shows up between the covers of the next. I will sit down on the following Monday with that new issue and try to make it last: features, reviews, and finally just before the back cover, the Bullseye. That works pretty well until they do me the huge and uninvited favor of sending me that Special Double Issue. The one that covers two weeks, usually around a major holiday or vacation. It would be fine if those special issues could be parsed out over the two weeks that appear on the cover, but inevitably they are filled with pictures and lists that translate into much quicker perusal than the standard issue issue. I know if I'm trouble if I find myself wanting to buy another periodical. That itch to purchase a Rolling Stone or TV Guide usually passes, but I can only blame the editors of Entertainment "Weekly."
Instead, I prefer to keep the pace here in my corner of the Internet. One a day. Sometimes they're a little thin on wisdom, but mostly they're consistently my thoughts. Daily.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Teaching Us A Lesson

There's been a lot of talk over the past few years about the indoctrination of our students. There was the dust-up about New Jersey kids singing the praises of Barack Obama. That state's Department of Education ordered a review of the circumstances that lead up to these eight year olds singing such inflammatory rhetoric as replacing Jesus' name in the old song, "Jesus Loves The Little Children," with the president's. "He said red, yellow, black or white/All are equal in his sight. Barack Hussein Obama." It's hard to say if it was the switch to Obama or the inclusion of Hussein that bothered the folks in the neighborhood of B. Bernice Young Elementary School. The Department of Education just wanted to ensure that students can celebrate Black History Month without "inappropriate partisan politics in the classroom." I wonder if it would be appropriate to mention that Barack Hussein Obama just happened to be the first Black president of the United States. That sounds like history to me. Just don't let me catch kids singing about it.
That was way back in 2009. Things must have lightened up considerably since then, right? Just a few months ago, a fourteen year old student in West Virginia was suspended and then arrested for wearing a pro-NRA T-shirt to Logan Middle School. Noting that the school district's dress code had no specific prohibition on images of guns, the boy's father insisted, "I will go to the ends of the earth, I will call people, I will write letters, I will do everything in the legal realm to make sure this does not happen again." We assume he means the suspension, and not the wearing of the T-shirt.
And now we turn to San Diego, where this past Monday a judge ruled that kids could be taught yoga at their schools. This decision came as a surprise to those parents who had insisted that since yoga has its roots in Indian philosophy and religion that this would be a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Judge John S. Meyer pointed out that kids were taught the lotus position was "sitting criss-cross applesauce." Thirty families chose to opt out of the program, but the ones who kicked up all the fuss just wanted it to stop. Their attorney suggested, "It was the judge's job to call balls and strikes and determine the facts. I think he got some of the facts wrong." Their likely appeal will probably put the district's kama sutra program on hold for the time being.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Interdependence Day

And here I thought I was so very clever, coming up with this spin on "Independence Day." As it turns out, it seems as though there are people who have been after this notion for more than a decade now. This idea of worldwide peace and sustainability didn't originate here in the land of the free and home of the brave. Nope. Instead, it began in the very enlightened corner of the planet known as Johannesburg, South Africa. They even have their own declaration,  with Doctor Jane Goodall as their John Hancock. I suppose it makes sense that the smartest monkeys get to got first.
Of course, if I'm serious about this I'm going to have to start taking on "we" as a pronoun, eschewing "us" and"them," even if it means making Roger Waters sad. Though I don't imagine that anyone could pin the cause of Roger's misery on me, I might still feel bad, since he seems to be one of the early adopters of the interdependence ideal. Not in a particularly hopeful way, but we all do what we can.
Because that's what it's coming down to: We. The People. In order to protect a less than perfect planet, we are scrambling to hold together a world that has given so much for so long, but now it's tired. We stopped using DDT in 1972. We stopped using spray cans with CFCs way back in 1978. And yet, somehow in enlightened year of 2013, some people's drinking water can still be set on fire. Keep this in mind, citizens of Earth, that flaming water trick is happening in the rather developed and clever nation called the United States. Does it make you wonder what other less responsible countries might be doing? How about what we might be doing to the lakes, rivers, and oceans just downstream from where we see fit to dump this or that? Sure, we know it's bad, but we're done with it. What should we do with our plastic bottles after we're done with them? What should we do with that refrigerator after it stops keeping our collective beer cold?
Oh, and we've got to start getting along better with each other, too. Just the other day I was watching this movie about how there's a zombie virus and it's going to take one very scruffy but good looking young UN employee to figure it out before we all get eaten. But there may be some ironic justice in that yet: The idea that mankind would finally just eat themselves. It's good to have options, anyway. In the meantime, can I suggest that doing what we can to keep ourselves alive is probably a much better alternative.
There's some precedent for this, even in our hardened, win-at-all-costs American society. Ben Franklin said, some two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." I wonder if he was friends with Roger Waters.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Can You Actually Watch Your Head?

Here's an interesting thing to me: New York City has just begun a Bike Share program, sponsored by Citibank. Okay, that might not be too interesting, since major metropolitan areas across the country are starting to get with the whole idea of communal transport. In a city famous for its traffic jams, this is a way around the gridlock. So far, Citi Bike claims to have ridership that has pedaled more than a million miles since the program started a month ago. And guess what? They're doing it all without requiring helmets. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt saw fit to protect his noggin while racing around the streets of the city that never sleeps. I thought that was interesting.
First of all, as a bicycle commuter from way back, I can remember how profoundly shamed I was when a colleague of mine at school called me out for not wearing a helmet as I rode up to the elementary school in front of all those impressionable youngsters. "What will they think if they see you, their teacher, riding around without the proper protective gear?" Upon reflection, I could have said, "I would be significant to me if they were to pay that kind of attention to detail." But I didn't. I started wearing a helmet, conscientiously, the very next day. So wouldn't you expect that Mayor Bloomberg, he of the anti-Big Gulp anti-smoking anti-transfat anti-gun measures, would want his citizens to strap something on their craniums to increase their chances of arriving at their destinations alive?
Nope. Helmets are "encouraged but not required." Visions of how horribly wrong this could have gone were initially rampant. Sorry to disappoint the doomsayers, but there have only been a few cuts and scrapes, but no decapitations. In New York City, that would be big news. The no-decapitation days, that is.
Still, since the bulk of bike sharers are tourists, and it would be bad for tourism if there were too many crushed skulls as a result of bicycling about the Big Apple. To that end, you can get ten dollars off the purchase of a helmet if you become an annual subscriber to the Citi Bike program. Down the road in Boston, they require you to get a helmet before you hop on one of their rental bikes. And just maybe they'll have a cup holder on the handle bars that will accommodate that fifty-ounce soda you're going to need to get you all the way from the Bronx to the Battery.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Looking Forward

I've got to face facts: Nine years is an eternity in elementary education. Yes, I still harbor deep-seated fantasies about being that "Mister Holland" teacher who comes to a school with a chip on his shoulder and dreams of doing anything else with his life, but then ends up retiring from that same school decades later. I am currently working hard on my second decade at the place I was first hired. I've worked hard, stayed late, and followed directions.
I've also lost track of the names and faces of many of the people with whom I have worked over the years. The average teaching career lasts just five years. I suppose I should take heart in the fact that there are still two teachers at my school who have been in the business longer than I have been. Not at the same site, but they've been grading papers and lining kids up since before I came to California. Still, that's the challenge: sticking with it.
My mentor teacher, the one who brought me into this mess in the first place, has long since gone away. She left for a career in educational software. The woman who hired me, my first principal, has long since retired. I remember better the names and faces of the principals for whom I have worked, and this past week I found out that I'm going to have to add to that list. After nine years, the woman who helped our school find its way out of program improvement and herded us all through reconstitution is heading for what we all hope are greener pastures. She was the one who decided that I was one of the few teachers worth keeping when the big shakeup came back in 2004. Maybe I just happened to be holding on to the tree harder than anyone else when it was being shaken, but I must have made some sort of impression because I'm still there. So many of the teachers I sat in meetings with, cleaned up after Back To School Night with, managed rainy day recess with, fought the good fight with, have moved on.
I've got plenty of people telling me that this tenacity thing isn't my best career move. Even on the way out, I got a sincere nudge in the direction of the door by this lady who kept me around for all those years. I heard my own refrain to those who leave our little corner of elementary education: "As your colleague, I wish you would stay. As your friend, I wonder what's keeping you."
And so, after a particularly difficult year, she's giving up the captain's chair for one without quite so many daily parental tirades, kid fits and staff disruptions. Did I mention that she used to bake for us? I'm sure that our new principal will step right in and get to the work of keeping our heads above the procedural waters. I know that we'll all line up outside and start a new year with excitement and hope for what will be. But I'll be looking over my shoulder, just for a moment, for those who have gone before me.

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Pretty Good Week

Last week was a pretty good one. If you happen to be a bleeding heart liberal. Which I do. It was nice to see the Supreme Court do their best "don't ask, don't tell" decision by ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act was, in part, unconstitutional. "DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The history of DOMA's enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence." Then they went on to pull the plug on the argument for Proposition Eight, which effectively banned same-sex marriages in California. "We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan.
While I'm sure there were those who waited for the earth to split wide open and the coming of the Rapture, outside of dancing in the streets, things were pretty calm.  Meanwhile, up the road in Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown signed a California state budget that paves the way for billions of dollars to start finding its way back into K-12 education, all the while paying down the ballooning deficits that had become standard operating procedure over the past decade. At last, the kids in California's schools won't place forty-third in terms of per-student spending. That same budget expands Medicaid to nearly ten million Californians over the next few years. Yes, even in the seismically active region in which we live, no one was swallowed up by the cracks in the earth, and even the dancing in the streets was kept to a minimum.
Last week saw the United States Senate pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill. The words that should stick out for you in that sentence would be: Senate, immigration, reform and bipartisan. The bipartisan part would be the the piece that could be read "highly compromised." But no matter. A win is a win, and even if the House of Representatives tears it to pieces with their pointy little teeth and heads, at least it's part of the national discourse.
And speaking of discourse, down in Texas, Wendy Davis talked for nearly thirteen hours in a filibuster to keep a state bill to outlaw abortion under virtually any circumstance. "Women realize that these bills will not protect their heath," she said, along with another twelve hours and fifty-some minutes of other things. "They will only reduce their access to abortion providers and limit their ability to make their own family-planning decisions."
And like all moments in history, this one will shine for a while, until the inevitable pendulum swing back the other way, but for now I'm happy for my bleeding heart to get some rest.