Saturday, February 28, 2015

Your Permanent Record

It's that time of year again, when I start telling kids as young as eight years old that the test they are about to take will be following them around for the rest of their lives. Okay, maybe I don't shovel it on that heavy, but state testing is a pressure-filled time for kids and adults alike. If only "state testing" meant that students had to come up with all fifty states and their capitals, or they would have to exercise their knowledge of their own state's history. That might fit in some nice, convenient box. How about a test that encompasses everything you've learned in third grade? What about the stuff your teacher didn't quite get to? What about the stuff you missed while you were absent? Do your best, and know that it will follow you in an ever-expanding folder to the college of your choice. At least that's what we would like the children to imagine.
What does that do to kids? What does that do to teachers? Administrators? Parents? Advertisers? As it turns out, data collection in our schools has become big business. That's a big deal to a lot concerned parents and students as well as the aforementioned teachers and administrators. Like Traci Burnett, from Colorado. Ms. Burnett wonders what we are doing with all this data. The quick answer is that we are making an ever-expanding folder of information that follows your child from preschool to the grave. Why would that folder need to include household income and marital status of parents? For those studies that we periodically read about. The ones that tell us that kids who come from stable, well-funded families do well in school. Oops. Spoiler Alert. Kids that are absent from school a lot don't do as well. Especially on standardized tests. Sorry. Another Spoiler Alert.
Once a kid gets to middle or high school, the data collected starts having to do with personal habits like drinking and drugs and, Spoiler Alert, sex. Suddenly I am very interested to know what sort of achievement we are getting from our stoned, liquored up canoodling youth. That could be because I'm an educator, and we're the ones who hold on to such information. As if it mattered. Forever.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

It's a sad thing, really. When the phone rings and the voice on the other end tells me that they are calling from Microsoft, I don't flinch before I go into my act. My whole aim is to try and keep this person on the line as long as their patience will allow. Not because I want to aggravate them. I do this so that they won't aggravate someone else. I know that Microsoft is not in the habit or practice of cold-calling customers who are sending errors to their servers. That is why I take those opportunities to take their "concerns" and milk them until they give up on me.
"My computer is sending error messages? Is that dangerous?" I like to start out sounding frightened. The voice on the other end is generally reassuring.
"Which computer is it? We have a number of them in the house." I am reminded that they are interested in the Windows computer.
"The one that's sending the bad messages, right?" At this point, I am still very nervous because I can only imagine what trouble I may have caused a great big company like Microsoft. "Maybe it's the one by the window. Do you think sunlight might be causing the trouble?"
This is generally where the voice at the other end starts to become less patient with stupid old me. But I am anxious to have them fix whatever the problem is, as long as it doesn't mean actually turning on a computer at my house. Instead, I wander about from room to room, doing odds and ends that can be accomplished as I string this Microsoft employee along. I know it's over when I get passed along to a supervisor, and then ultimately I use up their patience and the line goes dead.
Wouldn't it be great if Microsoft was actually calling their customers and checking in on the service they are providing? Wouldn't it be nice if these people calling from purloined cell phone numbers were not trying to hijack personal computers and information for their own illicit purposes? For that matter, wouldn't it be nice if the credit card I was just asked to approve via e-mail was truly offering me a line of credit at little to no interest? And don't get me started about all those reminders for messages I missed on my Facebook account. The Facebook account I don't have. It would be so nice if we could all trust everyone and these amazing offers were real.
Then maybe I would spend less time on the phone.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This Just In:

Our government officials feel shame. What had once been thought to be a dormant center in their otherwise profoundly reptilian brains turns out to have some activity after all. “I’m ashamed of my country, I’m ashamed of my president and I’m ashamed of myself." These were the words senator and Maverick used to describe his reaction to the ongoing standoff between Russia and the Ukraine. A couple of key points should be made here: John McCain is not a senator in Russia or the Ukraine. He is a senator for the great state of Arizona. Furthermore, when he says, "my president," he is referencing neither Vladamir "Bear-Wrassler" Putin nor Petro Poroshenko. 
The other point to be made here is that United States Senator John McCain made these comments on CBS's Face The Nation. He was facing the nation, on a Sunday morning, to tell us all how embarrassed he is that his country, the United States, was failing to halt Russia's advance on the Ukraine. He would very much like to see his country, himself and his president included, doing whatever we could to stop this aggression. The Ukranians “are not asking for American boots on the ground, but merely weapons to defend themselves against the Russian onslaught,” McCain said. “Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine not to be part of Europe, and he is succeeding in doing so,” McCain continued, adding “this is really a dark chapter in the history of our alliance.” 

John McCain knows a few things about dark chapters. He fought in the Vietnam war. He was a naval aviator who was shot down and taken prisoner for more than five and a half years. This experience has most certainly given a charge and direction to the public service career of John McCain. The bad guys are pretty obvious to him, That may be why he felt the need, back in 2011, to tweet at President Putin,  "Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you." The bear-wrassler's response? "Mister McCain fought in Vietnam. I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore. Mister McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years," he said. "Anyone [in his place] would go nuts." Ouch. Let's just say that before and since then, these two gentlemen haven't exactly seen eye to eye. Unless they happened to be narrow slits through which they can sneer at one another. 
In the meantime, trying to figure out how to get things to go "our way" without putting "boots on the ground" or using "needless quotation marks" has proved to be most challenging. While many here in the U.S. media scoff and scold our president for not moving fast or decisively enough, Vlad has a pretty sweet deal because his state run media as well as our fair and balanced fourth estate has gone so far as to laud his assertiveness, even as his tanks go rumbling into the Ukraine. Ashamed? I think I know who ought to be ashamed, but I'm not guessing that bear-wrasslers get that either. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pretty Vacant

My wife was sad about our back yard. Her suggestion was that it had taken on the look of a vacant lot. The lawn, which has always been a work in progress, shows no current signs of being trained back form its wild ways. The same could be said for most of the planned vegetation. Trees, bushes and shrubs have taken on lives of their own. One particular volunteer that sprouted up beside the Boogle House, the clubhouse we built over the years from the scraps we kept from home repair projects, now towers above the structure we now use to catch rain water. The plum tree that used to provide us with big, red delicious fruit is now a twisted snag, a victim of the neighbor's acacia that fell over into our yard and snuffed out the last of the life it had in it. A similar fate came to our apple tree, which no longer fills the center of the yard with its shade and inviting lower branches. Suckers have sprouted up on the sides, but hopes for any kind of apple harvest in the coming year are solidly dashed. Currently, the healthiest of the main trees in our back yard is the apricot. We try not to notice the sap that collects at the end of some of the branches, and we ignore the holes where limbs have become less full. This was also the place where our son had a tree house, placed there by his father in a fit of whimsy rather than fully planned carpentry. The scars of that experience are still visible if you look carefully. The rose bushes have survived a few years of drought, but as the most scrupulously maintained aspect of the yard, they continue to produce blooms at a pleasantly regular pace. I understand how she feels when she looks out from the back porch and sees what she can see.
I don't see a vacant lot. I see a lot full of growing things. The vine that we planted and trained to crawl up the plum tree trunk is becoming its own symbiotic being. The resiliency of the plants we have alternately cared for and ignored as our attention has been drawn elsewhere is amazing to me. What we, as cartoonists, have been able to achieve horticulturally is still pretty stunning. And even if all we were left with was dried twigs and scorched earth, I would look back there and see a lot of memories. Water fights. Kids climbing trees. Birthday parties. Bouquets of flowers taken from the plants that we watered and nurtured. The improvements we made that are now nestled into the firmament. Grass and moss now creep onto the bricks and boards we placed there years ago. It is far from empty, and a long way from vacant.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Mother Jones magazine, described by some as "the bottom rung of journalism," has suggested that Bill O'Reilly may have "His Own Brian Williams Problem." First of all, it should be duly pointed out that the description of Mother Jones comes from Bill O'Reilly himself.  To clarify, The Brian Williams problem is one of veracity, not necessarily being from New Jersey. It is the opinion of writers Daniel Schulman and David Corn, writing from that bottom rung. These gentlemen suggest that Bill may have conflated his own resume as a war correspondent. Bloviation was what he was accused of, which of course was the ironic point Corn and Schulman were trying to make, in contrast to the field day O'Reilly had with Brian William's credentials.
Well, I'm here to tell you that I have never been in a war zone. I have had my own brushes with life and death, and each time I tell the stories, I understand that they become a little more colorful. I know that the day I witnessed a gang shooting on the streets of Oakland is one that has only become spicier over time. The first time I told it, right after I got home, it was a two paragraph, run-on sentence kind of thing. Just the facts. Upon reflection, I was able to make a few edits and add some appropriate lyrics, and suddenly it became a blog entry. Five years later, my memory of those events have become more emphatic but I don't know if they are as specific as they used to be. That's one of my war stories. Over time, they change. I've used that story to illustrate a number of points, not the least of which is how lucky I am to have been standing just to one side of the gun that went off very near my head. Handgun. Not a machine gun. Was it six shots, or was it only five? To tell you the truth in all this excitement, I've kind of lost track myself.
Like the 1960's: If you remember them, you weren't there. Unless you really were, in case you probably do and your memory of those hazy crazy days are bent by fifty years and whatever you did to twist your mind between now and then. Given what we all know about Vietnam and Woodstock, why would we believe any first-hand account? Why would I believe any first-hand account of any incident involving drugs, gunfire or both? I'm looking at you, Doctor Hunter S. Thompson. Most of my war stories are confined to the silly and deranged things that stoned, drunk and otherwise altered college boys get themselves into. I'm glad that no one is busy fact-checking those. With age, they have only become more grandiose and embroidered. That is the privilege of a misspent youth. At least that's the way I like to tell it.
But I'm not a News Anchor. I am not the most trusted man in America. Who is?

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Second Favorite Organ

That's how Woody Allen once referred to his brain. That turns out to be a little apocryphal, given the trouble he's had using his brain to manage some of his other organs, but even if you had your heart or lungs in the number one spot, your brain has to have a spot somewhere in the top five. It's the command center. It's the one that minds the store. At least that's what we hope.
A friend of ours recently had brain surgery. It started one day when she noticed that she wasn't seeing in color on one side. In the olden days, we might simply had asked for an adjustment of her antennae. After that, old school television repair suggests a good whack on the side of the set to get all those tubes to line up just so. Of course, brain surgery is not television repair. Nor is it rocket science. It is a job that I would rather not have, since "good enough" tends to be my standard for repairs. With something like a brain, you probably want it put back in showroom condition. Even better, how about an upgrade?
I am regularly upgrading programs and operating systems on my external brain. I add memory to help it keep up with the brighter, faster future that is in front of me. With all this poking around in our friend's head over the past couple weeks, it occurred to me that maybe we're missing out on an amazing opportunity here: elective brain surgery. As it turns out, this is a real thing. Doctors are cutting people's heads open and rewiring things to make them run right. Admittedly it's not as simple as changing the spark plugs on my '74 Super Beetle, but practice makes perfect, right? And isn't that what doctors do: practice?
I know. "Practice brain surgery" sounds a little like "military intelligence." I'm sure that it is just my own semantic squeamishness that causes me to flinch. Or maybe that's a systemic reaction that could be sanded off my thalamus. Perhaps I could get a trim on my anxieties or my insatiable appetite for peanut M&Ms. Now it begins to occur to me just how dangerous this trend could be. Like the addictions some people get to plastic surgery, having someone poking around in your brain on a regular basis may not have the effect you had hoped. I'm thinking Randle Patrick McMurphy, for example. In the meantime, I'm happy to announce that Nurse Ratched has not been seen on our friend's ward.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Learnin'

The old wisdom I learned growing up in Colorado was this: The best thing to come out of Oklahoma? I-40. I have been to Oklahoma, and I can say that it is not without its charms. It was there, in Muskogee, that I learned the joy of a Friday night curb party. It was also the place where my Volkswagen threw a rod and had to be towed to a garage in Tulsa. There, the mechanic on duty inspected the vehicle and gave me the following summation: "Veedubyah. That's a foreign car." Thus my journey into the heart of semi-darkness continued.
Eventually I made it home, in large part because of the love, attention, and some of the strongest sweetest iced tea I have ever enjoyed. Somewhere in the gulf between the mechanic and the tea and the curb party falls this little item: Oklahoma Legislators Move To Push AP U.S. History Courses Out Of Schools. "AyPee, that's advanced placement, right?" Yes sir, and the folks in Oklahoma, for the time being, don't want any of that anti-American junk being perpetrated in the name of history. Some of us think of history as objective facts. Others are clever enough to notice that the word "story" appears nestled at the end there. Those are the people who are probably familiar with the phrase, "History is written by the victors." That comes from no less an historical figure than Winston Churchill. He probably gets credit for it because he was a winner. He will also probably be included in the vision of history accepted by the Oklahoma state legislature. And the Republican National Committee. All this talk about slavery and dropping the atomic bomb and nothing about Daniel Boone?
Apparently, the biggest concern for the political types is that there is a fair degree of discussion encouraged by this Advanced Placement course. With fewer dates and people's names to memorize, students might get caught up in questioning the dominant paradigm: America! It would be nice to say that this kind of thinking was limited to states with panhandles, Nice rectangular states like Colorado are feeling the strain to keep thinking as part of the U.S. History curriculum. We know that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. After that, the rhyme scheme for "got lost and couldn't really find India like he planned," gets a little skewed. But I'm sure the folks in Oklahoma can fix that pretty quick. Even if they can't repair a VW Bug.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The High Cost Of Living

The image that caught my eye was a shiny gold Sports Utility Vehicle. It wasn't a sports car or some snappy little piece built for speed. It was a Mercedes, which is no surprise, but it could have been used for carrying the kids and their assorted equipment to soccer practice. Platinum shin guards and silk jerseys. To the absurdly maintained practice facility. It's the way things are done in Dubai.
You've heard of Dubai? The most populous city in the United Arab Emirates? Sure, there's a lot of money flowing in and out of this port city that comes from the production and sale of oil, but mostly there's just a whole lot of money flowing in and out of this port city. So much money, in fact, that sights such as a gold-plated SUV is not an uncommon sight. Nor is seeing someone's pet cheetah in the front seat.
The breakdown looks a little like this: Dubai's gross national product in 2011 was eighty-three billion dollars. In that same year, the United States' gross national product was almost sixteen trillion dollars. Why don't we see more cheetahs in the front seat of gold SUVs in Detroit, then? Part of it is because the GNP for the United States works out to just a shade below fifty thousand dollars per person. The population of Dubai is just a little above two million. When you split up Dubai's billions, you end up with about forty-one thousand dollars for each person living there. How are they all affording these expensive custom and bejeweled land yachts? How do they afford the meat it takes to feed their menagerie of jungle cats?
Simple answer: They don't. Just like the United States, there are them with and them without. The difference being that the UAE has put their money in things like schools and health care, providing such anomalies as a twelve to one teacher to student ratio in their classrooms lower infant mortality rates and longer life expectancy than most of the rest of the world. Sixteen percent of their annual budget goes into education. Sure, there are some people spending three hundred thousand dollars for a night out, but that's not the rule. That is the exception that people find to sneer at. Before you start poking around in Dubai's business, remember when you heard about Katy Perry buying a trip to outer space? She's probably looking for a cat as big as the one she rode at the Super Bowl, only for real. It's that thing about disposable income. It's disposable. That's how we get things like solid gold Cadillacs and fur sinks. Start saving those dirham.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Big Chill

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Well, technically this is true, but if we were to pursue this notion more fully, I think we might decided differently. Did you drive to work today? Did you hang out in a rice paddy? How about your air conditioner? Has it been turned on this week? There are lots of ways that we change the weather every day. We just don't think about greenhouse gases and how things change with the tiniest bit of extra carbon or methane or nitrous oxide. Every little bit adds up to a lot. There are a lot of cars and a lot of cows and a lot of us out there making interesting new combinations out of our atmosphere.
This confounds some, since they have heard the term "global warming," and they immediately point to the drifts of snow in New England to say, "That doesn't look very warm to me!" And they'd be right, after a fashion. The torrential rains and the blizzards that have become much more prevalent recently hardly seem to suggest that we might all one day just burn up. That is unless you start to take a gander at the drought in California.
Last week the local weather guy wanted us all to take notice that the three feet of snow in Boston was eleven inches more than could be found on the ground at Boreal Ski Resort in the mountains just a few miles from the Nevada/California border. That's just a little more than two feet of snow where schussing should be taking place through February and hopefully into March. Boston, a rather metropolitan area I'm lead to understand, has half again that much and is bracing for more. Something is wrong.
That's why I'm asking for all of you to take a moment and put your thinking caps on. All that snow in Massachusetts and elsewhere back east is not going to do them, ultimately, much good. We need that moisture out here in California to grow the rest of the country's avocados. What sort of transmogrifier or matter transmitter would it take to beam some of that wet stuff back across the country where we could really use it? If you can't figure out a way to move all those molecules across the continent, maybe you could figure out some sort of freeze-ray. Preferably something that did not burn fossil fuel.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dream Deferred

Teaching is a hard profession. I say this because I do it. If I were the manager of a video store, or a fast food employee, I would say the same thing. I have, since I have done all three of these jobs. That's part of the reason they call it "work." I also put together steel furniture. That was hard. So was mowing lawns. Washing dishes at a Mexican restaurant was too. The easy job I had may have been when I had the Sunday shift at a smoke shop near Boulder's pedestrian mall. Most of those afternoons consisted of selling the occasional pack of Gitanes to budding hipsters and a few copies of the New York Times to crossword aficionados. Most of those days were spent reading magazines and waiting until it was time to lock up for the day.
Now that I think about it, it occurs to me that what makes teaching such a challenge is that I took it on as a profession, not just a job. My friend Darren, God Rest His Soul, used to talk about how his idea of a great job was to become a substitute teacher for the Muskogee, Oklahoma school district. This idea was generated from his knowledge that, at that time, all you needed to become a substitute teacher in Muskogee was a high school diploma. This was back in the 1980's, when it was okay to teach that Pluto was a planet. Darren figured that he could probably get away with doing the absolute minimum when it came to actual teaching and still come out on the long end of the stick when it came to knowing more than his young charges. What he didn't know, he surmised, he could make up.
That, and the lunch. This was the centerpiece of Darren's plan. He was going to carry a great big briefcase into the classroom, and rather than having it filled with important books and papers, tests or worksheets, he would fill it with the best possible lunch. The kind of lunch that any seven to twelve year old would find themselves drooling over at the sight: Great big sandwich with plenty of cheese and meat, Cheetos baked to a delicate crunch, and a compendium of cookies and Hostess treats that could become legal tender in the event of a nuclear war. This was the 1980's, after all.
Darren never did get to live his dream. It could be that part of the reason I found my way into a classroom had its beginnings in that dream. And that lunch. Now I just wish I had time to eat it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


I am neither yellow nor am I George. And while I don't profess to have any particular love for cats,  do think that it's a shame that we have curiosity to blame for their untimely demise. I am a fan of pre-twenty-first century David Letterman, and his alter ego, "Mister Curious." I am not a fan of "Fifty Shades of Grey." That's okay, since the powers that are behind the making this motion picture are probably not concerned about my lack of enthusiasm. It has already made the boatload of money that the makers expected. It's the bandwagon on which I'm not ready to hop.
Not because I'm such a prude. Or maybe that's part of it. A lot has been made of the adaptation of E.L. James' book beyond the film. James started as a writer of "Twilight" fan fiction, and once it became apparent that there was a lot of money to be made from stripping off somebody else's character names and self-publishing her book as this generation's "Lady Chatterly's Lover." or "Portnoy's Complaint," or "Myra Breckenridge." These books raised their own fuss back in the day. So did the movies they made out of them. Fuss-raising seems to have some kind of historical precedent. Racy books and the movies they generate have been around for a long, long time. Why should this particular naughty book be any better or worse than "Tropic of Cancer?"
Well, I could start with the chop about how E.L. James is no Henry Miller. But that would be too harsh. Or maybe not. Henry Miller didn't get his start writing Bonanza fan fiction, but it should be noted that Michael Landon, who played Little Joe on that show also starred in "I Was A Teenage Werewolf." Coincidence? Conspiracy? Or maybe it's just a matter of pushing a jaded public's buttons every so often.
Or maybe it has something to do with the spelling. "Grey?" Who do they think they're fooling? It's an obvious ploy for the Downton Abbey set. Or it could be a veiled reference to Broadway legend Joel Grey who has just recently chosen to open up about his sexuality. That makes sense, doesn't it? And he did play "Billy the Kid" in an episode of Maverick, which was on about the same time as Bonanza. Confused? Maybe, but definitely not curious.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Score Funny

Happy Birthday, Saturday Night Live. I've still got you by twelve years, but my life expectancy at the time of my birth was more than a couple seasons. The life span of a late-night comedy show, performed by a group of unknowns and scheduled to run after the late news in a Saturday night, was considerably less. I remember watching that first show. I remember, back in 1975, thinking that America had found its Monty Python. This was good news for me, as a junior high kid who had just taken to memorizing entire skits and eventually entire film scripts from those wacky Brits. "The Wolverine Sketch" didn't just change my life, it changed the lives of countless others onscreen, behind the scenes, and sitting in front of their televisions.
A generation of us grew up without VCRs or DVRs to help us catch those shows that we couldn't watch ourselves. This was appointment television. If you wanted to be able to talk with your friends about the hysterical bit you say last Saturday night, you had to earn it. You had to stay up and watch it. The Coneheads. Two Wild and Crazy Guys. The Samurai Delicatessen. These were moments in time that weren't meant to be repeated. They were live. And then repeated endlessly by punks like me who chose to use their relatively fresh temporal lobes for the storage of all the zany goings-on. When the heat became white hot, a comedy record was rushed into print, which met with the almost immediate apathy of the viewing and listening public. You didn't listen to Saturday Night Live, you watched it. Live. From New York.
A few years back, NBC and its ginormous parent company, Engulf and Devour, started to distribute their video history on DVDs. Great big multi-disc sets with ninety minute shows on each disc, along with a few extras, like audition footage of the original cast. This was just prior to the moment in time when most everything that had been on film or video could be found by asking Google to find it. I picked up the first three seasons as soon as they came out. I made a point of watching them in order, with all the fixin's. What became apparent was that by 1979 I was doing something other than watching TV on Saturday Nights. I remember Tim Kazurinsky. I was one of the few who actually enjoyed Charles Rocket, God Rest His Soul. And the rest of the ladies and gentlemen who may or may not have been ready for prime time. So many of them left too soon.
Sure, it's not the anarchist cauldron that it once was. Plenty of us early adopters stopped watching before Kristen Wiig showed up, and most of what I have enjoyed watching Will Ferrell do came after his years in Studio 8H. I saw a lot of Saturday Night on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed the Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers. I laughed at the antics of Chris Farley and was proud to say that I knew Phil Hartman as Captain Carl before he was ever part of Lorne Michaels' crew, before he was the voice of Troy McClure. I remember a lot of Saturday Night Live that I never saw. I saw clips, or perhaps most ironically, heard the best bits redone by co-workers who were still staying up late. Kudos to them, and kudos to those who continue to make this beast run. The show outlived John Belushi.
Too soon?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bye Bye Johnny

At the opening of his show last Wednesday night, Jon Stewart wondered aloud: "Did I die?" He may have been experiencing an out of body sensation, since the night before he had announced that he was leaving that very show. Not anytime soon, he assured his studio audience and the rest of us watching at home. Still, when the news hit Al Gore's Internet, the relaxed and casual spin Jon may have hoped to put on the announcement began to speed up. It became huge news. Alas, Brian Williams was not around to comment on it from his NBC anchor perch, but there were plenty of outlets who wanted to weigh in. 
Did he die? Well, that depends on your definition. Will this be a career-death? Does that matter? Jon Stewart has been hosting "The Daily Show" for a lifetime, depending on your species. Walking away now seems not only honorable, but his assertion that the show deserved anything less than an attentive host showed that his heart and mind were on the quality of the show. The fake news show, as he has described it so often. 
Why would it matter that after sixteen years and a boatload of Emmy, Peabody and other awards, this comedian was hanging up his newscaster jacket and tie? Could it be that in the scheme of things, Jon Stewart matters? His voice, whether you agree with it or not is a part of our national and even international dialogue? The metaphor of court jester has been overworked over the run of The Daily Show, but over the past decade and a half, it's been nice to have a place where the serious is meted out with a dash of whimsy. Sarcasm with the acrimony. The Daily Show has been a place where "the news" was broken down into digestible bits. Even if at times they were hard to swallow.
Like the news that Jon Stewart won't be there on my DVR each morning. Like all the comedians he helped launch, Jon will find something else to do. It will probably be funny. Or at least I will probably think it is. That's why I will miss Jon Stewart. Whenever he does decide to leave. It's not like he died or anything. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

When You Comin' Home, Dad?

I would love to tell you that I am completely aware of all aspects of my family's lives at any given point in the day. Or week. Or calendar year. The truth is, I tend to view the world closest to me in broad strokes. I have a son. I have a wife. I live in a house. The kind of house is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, since a good chunk of that time I'm asleep inside of that house. It is shelter first and foremost, after all. This kind of utilitarian thinking sometimes, unfortunately, gets tossed on to the people in my life.
Sure, my son is a teenager. I am quite aware of that. I get some mileage out of this mathematical fact when it comes time to sigh or roll my eyes. I don't always remember just how amazing this is. I have, at least in part, raised a human being from a seedling to the strapping young man I see before me most every evening when I go home. To that place where I am not fully paying attention to in the first place. Becoming suddenly aware to the fur that sprouts from this boy's legs and chin gives me pause. Did I miss something? Did I have a Harry Chapin moment and forget to write a song about it? It's odd, because I tend to think of my son as a continuum. What he was when he was four is what he was when he was twelve. How he was when he was three is how he was when he was nine. The frame changes slightly, but most of the innards are still as they were when he came from the factory.
But that's selling him short. By a lot. The other night when I was late coming home from work and wanted help getting the frozen lasagna started, I called and asked him if he could help me out. "Sure dad," came the reply. I asked him if he knew how to -
and suddenly I stopped myself. I heard his response in my head before he could even begin: "Yes, dad. I can read. I can operate an oven. I put the clothes in the dryer for you just a couple days ago. It's not rocket science." Or words to that effect. Shame kept me from hearing the actual and appropriately sarcastic answer from his own fuzzy lips. My wife and I have been trying to generate one of these for the past seventeen years, and lo and behold, it seems to have worked. Sure, he forgets things around the edges, but I wonder now if that isn't just to keep me interested. If he was fully self-sufficient, I wouldn't have anything to fret about.
Unless I start fretting about how I now need my teenage son to help me make dinner and do the laundry. Oh, the humanity!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heart Strings

TV dinner manufacturers
would like you to believe
that they are the best thing
next to your home cookin'
back when long distance
was a luxury of sorts
the phone company told us
it was the next best thing
to being there
Didn't believe it then
Don't believe it now
Absence, contrary to those
highly stated commercials
does not make the heart
grow fonder
Long distance relationships
make great drama
but not happy hearts
It's nice to wake up
and see you there
It's nice to hear
you beside me
It's nice
Holding you close
Having you near
These are the things
that love is about
That other stuff?
The best thing about
going away
is the coming back
You can come and go
in my life
But I prefer it
when you stay

Friday, February 13, 2015

Just The Staples

There are plenty of weeks that go by when I wish someone would tell me that I shouldn't work more than twenty-five hours during it. That would be a relief. Of course, those twenty-five hours would be what I get paid for, and therefore I would probably not be happy for long. This is essentially the case for thousands of Staples employees, the ones who are in danger of crossing that thirty hour a week limit. That limit is the one that sets the Affordable Care Act into motion. "Obamacare" says that employees who work thirty hours or more are to be given benefits beyond free desk pads. They should be offered health insurance.
Health insurance? For working part time at an office supply store? That's ridiculous, right? Not necessarily. I've got two words for you: paper cuts. Left untreated they could become infected and eventually cause paralysis and death. Perhaps that's a little extreme, but I'm guessing that part of the problem is that a behemoth like Staples, who have enough capital to affix their name to a sports arena in Los Angeles, is probably not hurting for business. As a matter of fact, their business just acquired another big business when Staples purchased Office Depot. So maybe the powers-that-be in the front office are feeling a little nervous, having just shelled out thirty-six billion dollars for this big slice of the paper clip and post-it pie. How on earth would you expect them to pay for all those part time employees' health care?
Simple: don't. By keeping their staff at a certain level of hours per week, they can avoid having to pay into a system that they probably didn't vote for in the first place. Check that. Certainly didn't pay for. The Chief Executroids at Staples didn't make their billions just to go handing it off to the people who work for them. That would be un-American, or at least un-certain-parts-of-American. To ensure that these "workers" don't gum up the works any further by asking for things like insurance or breaks, the corporate office has threatened to fire any of these slackers who insist on working more than twenty-five hours a week. Next thing you know, they'll be asking for a living wage.
And the beat goes on.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Players To Be Named Later

With less than a week before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, Pining for the football season that has now begun to fade into memory seems more ponderous with each passing day. Looking back, it's hard to remember how full of promise the Fall was: The Denver Broncos were looking like favorites to return to the Super Bowl. This time they might even win the thing, making up for the dismal performance the previous year. Meanwhile, a little closer to my home, the Oakland Athletics were putting up big numbers and sending half their roster to the All-Star Game. By October, the wheels started to come off. Suddenly, the division-leading A's had become the wild card A's, and they were shown the door by eventual World Series contenders the Kansas City Royals. It took a little longer, but when another Missouri team caught up with the Denver Broncos and brought them low, the St. Louis Rams? Well, it sent a message about the way things might be in the off-season.
That's where we all spend a great deal of our time. Wishing for how things could have been while wondering how things might still be is the work of every hard-working sports fan. The past few weeks have stretched that speculation muscle to its breaking point. Will Peyton Manning come back for a fourth season with the Broncos? What will Gary Kubiak do with the happy mess that he has inherited in Denver? And what becomes even more immediately troubling, who are all those guys in green and gold, hanging around O.Co Coliseum?
By Billy Beane's estimate, seventy percent of what is the Oakland Athletics' roster for this upcoming spring is made up of trades he made over the past four months. When the team got together this past weekend for the annual Fan Fest, one of the only holdouts from the 2014 campaign, old-timer Coco Crisp wondered if it wouldn't be better to have the players' names on the front of their jerseys as well as the back. If you're about to embark on that championship season, you don't want to spend a lot of time yelling "hey, you!" at the back of some outfielder's head.
Or maybe that's what free agency has created: a whole new level of difficulty. One in which the first challenge is getting the team to know one another before they ever play an inning or a down together. In the meantime, I still have a couple of months before I have to pick a player whose jersey I will eventually have to retire, not because they became old and infirm, but because they got a bigger check from some other franchise. You've got to have a program if you want to know the players. A computer program.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Oh I Just Don't Know Where To Begin

Accidents will happen, that's what Elvis Costello will tell you. I can tell you, as a parent and an elementary school teacher, that there are precious few "accidents." When that fourth grade boy comes up to me on the playground and tells me that he "accidentally kicked the ball over the fence," I feel compelled to wait him out. Was it really an accident? If so, what part of standing next to the fence and kicking a ball as hard as he could into the air was an accident? The unexpected consequence of the ball actually clearing the fence and landing in the street? Having to walk over to me and ask if I could please go and fetch the ball that he accidentally launched over the fence into the street? There wasn't a lot in that experience that was truly unpredictable.
That is the kind of accident that occurred on the Pacific Coast highway last Saturday. A woman was killed when an SUV hit a car that then swerved into oncoming traffic, which then collided with another car, killing the driver. Accidents will happen, Elvis reminds us, we only hit and run. In this case, there wasn't a lot of running because there were plenty of witnesses. Some of them may or may not have been paparazzi, so there were plenty of cameras. Witnesses too. The driver of the SUV was Bruce Jenner. You remember Bruce Jenner? The Olympic Decathlon Champion of the 1976 games. The World's Greatest Athlete. Or maybe you know him better as Mister Kardashian. That might explain the paparazzi. Olympic athletes get their share of press, but reality TV stars are another matter completely.
Paparazzi take their name from the whirring sound of their cameras, not unlike the buzzing of mosquitoes. As insect comparisons go however, it might be more appropriate to compare them to moths hovering around a flickering flame. Perhaps not anecdotally, moth's wings are flammable. If a paparazzo gets punched in the face or run over, it's not an accident. It's an occupational hazard. When an innocent bystander gets killed because they are trying to stay out of the way of a group of photographers chasing the latest story about the newest candle in the wind. That candle isn't blameless in this metaphor. If Bruce Jenner had chosen to take his private struggle and keep it private, then that trip up the PCH could have been a leisurely Saturday drive. It wasn't because there was added drama. The kind of drama that comes with being part of a machine that makes chasing around and being famous simply because you're willing to put your personal lives in front of many of the same cameras from which you flee seem normal. And that's no accident.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's News?

I like Brian Williams. Not necessarily because of all the times his calm presence has brought me closer to the events of the day, even when I didn't necessarily want to hear about them. Brian is a newsman, after all, and he is one of the good ones. How do I come by this opinion? Especially since I am not habitually viewing the Nightly News on the National Broadcasting Corporation's channel. I am not exactly a connoisseur of news broadcasts on any network. I am a fan of Brian Williams because he grew up in New Jersey.
I am a fan of guys from New Jersey. Not Chris Christie, but a whole lot of others. Charles Addams, New Yorker cartoonist and inventor of the Addams Family, was from New Jersey. Lou Costello, who couldn't remember who was on first, came from the Garden State. Before he started hanging around in Westeros and Essos, Peter Dinklage hung out in Morristown. One half of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen hails from South Brunswick. You could hear Alan Ginsberg howling from New Jersey long before he became a citizen of the world. It sort of makes sense that Paul Le Mat grew up just down the street from Rahway Prison. Speaking of prison, you might expect that Joe Pesci was from those mean streets, but he hails from the relatively calm suburban avenues of Newark. Philip Roth came from this same place, years before. Which pretty much brings us to the letter "S."
Of course there is Bruce Springsteen. He of Freehold. He of the shores and the boardwalks and the backstreets. He of song and story. He is my favorite son of New Jersey. Not far behind the Boss comes the Court Jester: Jon Stewart. Jon and Brian Williams are pals. They are the at the top of their respective professions: news and fake news. And they both love themselves a little Springsteen. Which may be why Bruce returned the favor when it was time to induct Brian Williams into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Jersey boys got to stick together.
Which is why I expect that Brian will weather the storm currently surrounding him. Do I think Brian Williams lied about his experiences in Iraq? Doesn't matter. He's from Jersey.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Light Up My Room

I have a lamp that was made by my college roommate when he was in junior high. If you followed that line, then you can begin to imagine how long it is possible for me to hold on to things. This is especially notable because so much of what I owned back in Colorado was jettisoned when I made the jump to hyperspace: California. Most of the furniture that I owned, acquired as a college student and bachelor with precious little taste. The lamp was a relic from those bygone days of yore.
Why did I keep it? That's a little harder to explain. I didn't take wood shop, and therefore had no specific attachment to its beginnings. Maybe there was some sort of envy connected to it, since it was a great beast of a thing, turned on a lathe and then polished and stained to a deep red finish. It is most definitely a link to all those apartments in which I lived, eating TV dinners, watching movies and reading Stephen King. Why I would romanticize that portion of my life? Because it was so tranquil and happy? Because it was a time of great personal growth? Because it was so very different from my current existence?
I believe I held on to that lamp because I wanted a piece of something from that era. Something substantial that wasn't a story of beer-soaked debauchery that ended in embarrassment and a blinding headache the next day. I wanted to capture a little of that time when eating over the sink was an option. No. I wanted to have a keepsake from a bygone era, when lamps came from wood shop and not from IKEA. Something like that. I have only used a lathe once in my life, and the product of my labors was a cone that I tore out of a good sized piece of pine. It didn't have any electricals in it. It was just a hunk of wood that became part of a very lame sculpture project. Did I mention that I never took a wood shop course? Out of respect to all those who work with their hands and don't tend to break their friends' power tools, I hold on to that lamp as a lasting memento of a time when you had to make that choice: shop class or studio art. I took the art classes. I never made ashtrays or end tables. I was in my twenties before I ever spent any quality time with drills and belt sanders and the like. That lamp reminds me of this void in my life.
Currently, it is part of the decor of our basement: the lounge where my son and his friends set up their video game contests on Friday nights. On Friday nights when his buddies are finished with their chores on the backstage crew and all their drills and nail guns and table saws, they come piling in and sit down next to that lamp and all its history. When the light is on, it looks like home.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

I'll Give You Something To Cry About

This past week, the judge in the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez gave a very specific order from the bench. "I understand this is very emotional for you," the judge told Ursula Ward, the mother of Odin Lloyd who was set to testify for the first time. With the jury out of the room, Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh instructed her to "retain control of your emotions." This could have been because for the two days leading up to that, Ms. Ward had left the room in tears. After seeing pictures of her son's dead body. Come on, woman. Suck it up. The wheels of justice are in motion here!
For the sake of jurisprudence, she held her composure, even after she was reintroduced to autopsy photos of her son, Odin Lloyd. Message received: Murder trials are serious business and cannot be interrupted by the overwrought emotions of mothers or relatives of any sort for that matter. There were a few more tears when a surveillance video was shown in the court that showed Lloyd's girlfriend and her sister meeting for the first time after they had learned that Odin was dead. The video was taken inside Hernandez's home. It could be that one of the sisters is lying about just how close Odin was to Aaron Hernandez at the time of the murder. There are some pretty raw emotions flowing through that courtroom, but that's no excuse for holding up the legal process.
By the way, if the name Aaron Hernandez sounds familiar, that could be his association with a professional football team called the New England Patriots. They might sound familiar to you because they just won the world championship of football. It was very exciting. There was a lot of drama, and when it was all over, the Patriots came out on top. As one might expect, emotions ran high, but what would you expect when you win the game you've been waiting to play for nearly six months?
One does wonder how a mother might feel when the son she had raised for twenty-seven years was found dead. Sure, it's tragic, but it's not like she lost the Super Bowl.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Terrorists Win

When someone says, "We don't negotiate with terrorists," they are lying. Why? Because this statement is at its core a negotiation. Carrying on any kind of conversation, even if it is simply to dismiss the person or group that is knocking at your door, is giving that noise reason to go on. By covering our collective ears and shouting "Na na na na, I can't hear you, na na na," doesn't make them magically disappear. It only makes that knocking noise all the louder. Until something explodes.
Or catches on fire. The most recent horrific event, the immolation of a Jordanian fighter pilot by the Islamic State, has raised the bar in barbarism. Like the beheadings that preceded it, these acts are pointed directly at our rawest nerves. So much so, in fact, that al Qaeda leaders have spoken out against the practice. You read that right: The IS is so extreme that even al Qaeda finds them objectionable. Coming from a group that pioneered the use of passenger jets as weapons of terror, that's saying something.
What is it saying? Well, for one it is saying that we as a planet have become so accustomed to the casualness of the casualties of war that it really does take something pretty terrible to turn our heads. Or our stomachs. It also suggests that we have finally reached a point where show business and terrorism have become one. Spectacle is produced and it takes producers to generate spectacle. The first few discussions I heard and read about the Jordanian pilot were simply about the horror of it all. By the following day, there was a line of thought that had news anchors and pundits talking about the production values of the video of the event. "Obviously edited," and "lots of different camera angles," these were the kind of comments being made about footage of a man being set on fire while trapped in a cage. "I watched the whole thing," asserted one local anchor, "and I was amazed by the time it must have taken to put something like that together."
Really? Not sickened by the act itself? Really. Maybe it's because we're in awards season, and everyone becomes a critic. "I'd give that last video four stars. It really showed the graphic detail I've come to expect, but at the same time it had that grainy video texture that gives it immediacy." Or maybe this is the way we deal with fanatics who burn fellow human beings alive and then put the results, painstakingly, on video. We have become blase. It only took a few months. Congratulations, terrorists. You win.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Love On The Rocks

I know it well. It is the season for hearts and heartaches. You love her, but she loves him, and she loves somebody else, you just can't win. The J. Geils Band had it right: Love stinks. Especially at this time of year. I have spent a good portion now of my life without fear of Valentines and their day, but I continue to dread its coming. Its a nervous twitch I can't shake.
Charlie Brown waiting at the mailbox? That was me. I believed that somehow, by force of will, I could command cupid and his shiny bow to pick out a few choice targets for me each and every year. Why wouldn't girls be crawling over one another to send me a little note or box of chocolates to remember the day?
No such luck. I could not, for the longest time, imagine why I was such a pariah. Was I doomed to live a life alone? It was on the eve of Valentine's Day that I set myself up with a date, after years of going stag and slumming the single life. I had no sense of just how much pressure I was putting on this young woman as I made plans for a first date. On Valentine's Day. What was I thinking? It was at this precise moment, as I struggled to manage the time-space continuum that was my dating strategy, I got a call that told me my mother and father were splitting up. I will always be mindful that any antagonism I might feel connected to this holiday can only be the sputtering fuse to the keg of TNT that will always be my mother's reaction. When I got the phone call from that girl cancelling our date, it came as a relief for all concerned.
It took years for the pain to subside, and even now when I try and drum up romantic thoughts for my wife even decades after that night, I wince just a little. Why wouldn't I expect anything but the requited love that exists every other day on the calendar? Nervous, cautious, cynical. I don't want to get caught caring too much or pouring my heart out at a moment that might turn out to be embarrassing later.
Like the what's happening to Charlie Manson. He won't be getting married after all. It seems Chuck let the ninety day period for which his marriage license was issued lapse. Now he and his bride to be will have to re-submit their application and hope that they can find a visiting day that works for them both. Oh, to be young and in love. Or really old and locked up and in love. Okay, just the love part. Good luck to those lovebirds, and good luck to you all on this pending Valentine season.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Super Intense

I cannot say that I had a specific rooting interest in this year's Super Bowl. The reason my Denver Broncos weren't the champions last year, the Seattle Seahawks, were pitted against the team that seems to have taken up near permanent residence at the game, the New England Patriots. Still, I found myself caught up in the contest, since it was quite a different experience this year. This game came down to the last few seconds. Last year, it was pretty much over in the first few seconds. I spent the next few hours reckoning with how to approach this idea of being second place. No shame in losing, if you tried your best. That was the question, last year: was it the best?
This year, we saw two heavyweights slugging it out for four quarters. Each time one team would take the advantage, the other would swoop in and make a play to level things out again. It is a testament to the players and coaches of both teams that this year's Super Bowl was more interesting than the commercials that surrounded it.
When it was all over, the debate raged around the room: Would it be better to know that the world championship was just not going to happen that day because a superior foe bested you in every phase of the game, or to come within three feet of winning the Lombardi Trophy, just to have some silly mistake be your undoing in the last twenty seconds of the game? Slide down a fifty foot razor blade in to a bucket of rubbing alcohol or eat a bucket of boogers? So many choices, so little time.
As I mentioned at the outset, I have no particular love for either one of these teams, and if there was a way for them to wail away at one another for sixty minutes and call the whole bloody mess a draw, that wouldn't have been a bad deal for me. Except I wanted to see someone win.
I found myself pulling for whichever team fell behind. I wanted to see the last play of the game decide the outcome. That's just about what I got. Unfortunately, the last few seconds devolved into the brawl that I was loosely describing earlier, as tempers and energies began to fail. The distance between first and second place in the National Football League this year was a yard. Thirty-six inches. Had another decision been made on the Seattle sideline, all those Patriots World Champs shirts would have to be boxed up and sent to the Third World. That's a lot farther away than three feet. Maybe that's the true distance between first and second place: Where your T-shirts land.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Literally The Best Post I Have Ever Written

New campaign for 2015: Rid the world of the scourge we call "literally." You might not be aware of this particular issue, but if you knew the problem that it presents, I expect your semantic nerves will be as ruffled as my own. The good folks at were helpful enough to give me a concise description of this linguistic conundrum: Google now gives two definitions for this adverb: 1) in a literal manner or sense; exactly. 2) used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true. 

Maybe it would help if we slowed this down just a bit. The two definitions given in an entry by one of the most trusted forums for information dispersal are contradictory. From the Greek root "lit," meaning prayer or ultimately: word. You know, like "litany," or "literature." The literal meaning of something should be the one that is found in the dictionary, unless you happen to be looking for the exact opposite. There's a word for that: obfuscation. 
Yes, I know that language is an evolving thing and the rules we were all given as children were meant to be broken, that's how I get away with using words like "snarky" and "hijinks." with impunity. I should point out that I use these words to convey a specific meaning, and I don't intend to bounce around from one side of the fence to the other. In this way, I am like Horton the Elephant. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. That, and I occasionally hear voices coming from dust specks. 
But enough about me. Let's talk about you. How can I get you to get behind me and push on this effort to reclaim a perfectly good word? I would like to suggest that the first thing we should do is stop using it. Not forever. Maybe just a year or so. I stopped one of my son's friends after he had used "literally" in three of four sentences as he attempted to describe his hatred of Trivia Crack. I told him that I understood he had strong feelings, but I wondered if he could tell me what "literally" was doing in those sentences. If you're stuck, use a synonym. Do you mean "emphatically?" Then say that. Do you mean "as it was written?" Say that. You will still get your point across and better than that, you will be understood. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


I know how long eternity is: five minutes. I know this because I work at an elementary school. When things get tough and a kid forgets how to play nice, I'll give him or her a warning. If that doesn't stick, then he or she will get to sit on the bench. For five minutes. The good news is that most of our kids know that sitting on the bench for five minutes is purgatory. The next step toward damnation: an entire fifteen minute recess on those awful green benches next to the bathrooms. Everyone else is playing four square, or soccer, or wall ball, or racing about in circles, screaming at the top of their lungs. Has it been five minutes yet?
If there was anything longer than the five minutes that those nine-year-olds have to sit on the bench, it's the time it takes me to explain and remind and explain again how long five minutes is. It's three hundred seconds. How hard could that be? Just count to three hundred. Okay, you can't just count to three hundred. You have to include the Mississippis. Or Bananas. That's the only way you can be sure that it really has been five minutes. Of course, as a skill, there aren't that many elementary school students who can count to three hundred. Not that the concept is foreign. They understand cardinality. They're students, after all. Mathematics are not the problem. It's patience.
The kids who have a limited supply of patience are probably the ones who used it up already with their classmates. The ones who wouldn't get out of the way when it was time for less-than-patient-child to climb up the playstructure ladder. The ones who don't understand that being "out" is part of the game of four square. The ones who might possibly burst into flame if they had to stand in line for anything. What is the consequence for losing what little patience they might have is to test it even further by having to sit still for five minutes. Forever.
Here's another piece of elementary school wisdom I only recently acquired. When I am dismissing a class, I tend to wait for students to be settled in their seats before asking them to line up. This means that the calm and settled group is the one that lines up first. The squirmy, fidgety kids are the the ones who line up last. That means the front of the line is loaded up front with the kids who can stand still for whatever time it takes to get the rest of their classmates to queue up behind them. Interestingly enough, this process takes about five minutes. Forever.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Names Will Never Hurt Me

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. I am guessing that this is the sentiment that went through the minds of the protesters who interrupted the appearance of Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Forces Committee last Thursday. Senator from Arizona and the man who introduced us all to Sarah Palin was incensed when members of Code Pink showed up carrying  handcuffs and anti-Kissinger signs and called for his arrest for "war crimes." Channeling his inner Clint Eastwood, the former Republican presidential candidate snarled, "Get out of here, you low-life scum."
It should be pointed out, for clarity's sake, that Senator McCain was addressing the Code Pink contingent at that point, and not Doctor Kissinger. In a somewhat more reflective moment, he expanded on his grumpy old man act: “No American citizen testifying before the U.S. Congress should be subjected to such treatment, particularly not a ninety-one-year-old former secretary of State who has served our nation with great honor and distinction." Interestingly, this is the former secretary of State who served during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and specifically during the latter years of America's involvement in Vietnam. That part of history we tend to refer to as "The Vietnam War." This may begin to explain why members of Code Pink were there to make a citizens' arrest of Doctor Kissinger for war crimes. Code Pink is calling Kissinger a war criminal? That's gotta sting. 
Unless there was some truth to it. Christopher Hitchens would like us to believe that. Crimes against humanity is a pretty steep charge, but there are those in addition to Mister Hitchens who would make these claims. 
Maybe Henry Kissinger is seen by John McCain as a kind of savior, since the senator spent time in a prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam War. Without the Paris Peace Accords, there might never have been a McCain/Palin ticket. It is possible that the "low-life scum" that showed up in his presence rubbed him in a particular way that set him off. Not unlike the way that Henry Kissinger showing up to speak to the Senate Armed Forces Committee rubbed Code Pink raw. Since the members of our Armed Forces "solemnly swear (or affirm) that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that they will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that they will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over us, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice," maybe that should include the parts of the Constitution that mention freedom of assembly and speech. 
Or maybe he just wants those kids off of his lawn. Really.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


One of the hardest jobs on the planet? Equipment manager for the New England Patriots. Not the coach or quarterback. Not the owner. The ballboy. Feel free at this moment to make the necessary snickers that accompany that particular epithet. I will continue by pointing our just how despicable it is that things like this tend to gain momentum and roll downhill. But not always.
The Chief Executive Officer of McDonald's is resigning. The Capo de Burger, Don Thompson, is vacating the big chair at the end of the table. Why would anyone want to leave what must be one of the cushiest positions in the world? Well, how about employee protests? No longer simply content to have the name tag and the recipe to Special Sauce, workers want a little bit of gold for their efforts under the arches. Apparently working the closing shift for less than ten dollars an hour is no longer as appealing as it might once have been. Civil rights issues? Sexism? Lawsuits?
It would be a relief for Mayor McCheese if these were the only issues. How about declining profits on top of that? Declining to the tune of half a billion dollars. With billions and billions served, one wonders how the market share of this monolith of American business couldn't withstand a little cut into the bottom line. Apparently, half a billion dollars is not considered "a little" anything. That's thirty percent of their gross profit. And if you've ever seen a McRib sandwich, I think you understand "gross profit." Circumstances such as a potato shortage that caused french fry rationing in Japan or the recall of a million Chicken McNuggets aren't necessarily Mister Thompson's fault. It could be that the planet may finally be evolving past McFood.
My own love affair with Ray Kroc's empire has waned over the past decade or two. I am no longer drawn to the land of Happy Meals and Big Macs. Some of my formative moments as a fast food consumer took place bathed in the warm glow of those fluorescent lights. These days, I find myself drawn to a list of ingredients that I can list on one hand, and a burger that will fill me without having to go back for seconds. If you need someone to blame, point your greasy spatula at me. Or Smashburger.