Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What's The Point Of No Return?

The old joke, that I have related here before, has the cuckolded husband rushing into the bedroom where he finds his wife with her lover in flagrante delicto. He pulls a gun to his temple, at which point his wife and her paramour begin to snicker. "What are you laughing at?" he rages, "You're next!"
And that is pretty much how I feel about this whole murder-suicide thing. I am not a fan of either, but I heartily suggest to anyone who will take my advice: pick one. Both are terrible solutions to just about any problem I can imagine, but piling one on top of the other completely undercuts any chance for justice or resolution for the families and friends of the victims. I understand that bringing up this practical matter in the midst of a discussion about crimes of passion or despair is somewhat incongruous. Maybe even disingenuous. This doesn't trouble me much, since I have rarely been described as ingenuous, and it is with even less frequency that someone has called me congruent. That said, I would like to encourage those with mortal thoughts to consider their options carefully before committing. Anything.
Step one: Land the plane. Step two: admit you have a problem. I understand this little diversion from Bill W's rules may mess with the dominant paradigm, but saving innocent lives is what this is really all about. If you are not flying a commercial aircraft with hundreds of passengers on board, you might be driving a car. If you have any passengers, you should consider giving them the common courtesy of pulling over to the curb just before you accelerate into the solid object of your choice. If one of those passengers happens to be the bane of your existence, then by all means ask if they wouldn't mind putting themselves in harm's way just to expedite matters.
Which brings us to the matter of innocent bystanders. There really shouldn't be any. I'm looking at you, suicide bombers. If you're dumb enough to buy into that whole seventy-two virgins awarded to you in Paradise, then you probably deserve to have a dozen pounds of plastic explosive strapped to you, but that doesn't mean you should be wearing it into a crowded plaza or market or Starbucks. It's not going to end well for anyone. And while we're on the subject of virgins, if you're hoping to impress a girl by plummeting to your death or flying a plane into the side of a mountain, let me remind you that just barely worked for Romeo and Juliet, and by the time they did the remake, they let Natalie Wood live. Remember, it was Bill Shakespeare who wrote "All's Well That Ends Well." But I guess if you're not well in the first place, none of this will do much good.
And that's too bad.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Let Us Pray

What can you say in defense of Indiana? I confess that I haven't had a lot of awful things to say, mostly because one of my sentimental favorite movies of all time hails from the Hoosier State: "Breaking Away." My favorite author, and why isn't Kurt Vonnegut Jr. everyone's favorite author, hails from Indianapolis. Okay, maybe the specter of trouble illuminated by the supposedly fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana should have given me a clue, but that was a TV show. How could people be that narrow-minded and stupid in real life?
Welcome to the land of Religious Freedom, Restored. Governor Mike Pence signed the bill into Indiana state law last week, and assured us all that if he thought that it legalized discrimination he would have vetoed it. He didn't. He signed it. The new law prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person's ability to exercise their religion — unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least-restrictive means of achieving it. Some people have suggested, in spite of Governor Mike's assurances, that this new law will not just protect Hoosiers' right to practice the religion of their choice, but it is a way to legitimize denial of services to the LGBT community. If a bakery decides that they don't want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, they can't be sued. Sounds like protection, right? Depends on how slippery that slope is. Scientology, for example, is a religion. What would happen if the bakers wouldn't bake a cake for anyone who wasn't "clear?" Ultimately, it could be argued, that those bakers in Bloomington wouldn't stay in business very long if they served only the enlightened. Unless they happen to have a very large but unenlightened bank account. And Eighth Dynamic help you if you happen to run into a racist homophobic Scientologist. Not only are you not getting your cake, you're probably going to be ushered out the door. In the name of religious freedom. 
It should be pointed out that the oppressed in this circumstance are Christian Conservatives who don't want the government to force them to deal with all that non-Christian Conservative behavior found in the LGBT community. It should also be noted that there are nineteen states with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts on their books. And there is a Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by then President and presumptive First Husband Bill Clinton. Religious Freedom? That's in the Constitution. Legitimized prejudice? Well, how does a bill become a law? What do we do when we need protection from those laws? Pray. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Get :Your Kicks

Routine is boring. Ruts are efficient but dull. That's why we are always looking for ways to make things interesting. The National Football League has a plan: Spice up the extra point. For more years than I can remember, touchdowns have been seven points. Even though the rule book says that the actual crossing of the goal line with the football is worth six points, and the place kick through the uprights at the back of the end zone adds the additional one point, I spent my youth playing as if that little asterisk of a play didn't exist. Each score was seven points. It was part of the way I learned my sevens multiplication facts. They were touchdown facts. Five touchdowns equals thirty-five points. Even now, as an elementary school teacher, it's the quickest way into that recalcitrant sports-minded kid's head when it comes to getting those times tables into automatic. Now, the "No Fun League" wants to shake things up a little, and with it the very fabric of third grade mathematics.
Among the possibilities rumbling about in the rooms for of millionaires deciding how their teams will play the game in the coming season: moving the line of scrimmage back for Point After Touchdown kicks, placing the ball on the one and a half yard line for a two-point conversion; eliminating the PAT kicks entirely, requiring teams to run a play from scrimmage; and allowing the defense to score, as in college football, if the ball is turned over on a two-point try. Sounds exciting, right? I don't think they are thinking about all the ways this will disrupt my life. Like the way I tend to start easing out of the living room as the teams line up for that extra point, pretty confident that it is as high a percentage a play as exists in professional sports. I want to maximize my stop at the bathroom, then into the kitchen to check on the chip and dip inventory, maybe even refilling that big tumbler of iced tea on the way back to the comfort and safety of my couch. A sportscaster I once heard describing highlights of a football game said, "The only reason we show you an extra point is if something like this," insert embarrassing slo-mo footage of a kicker missing wildly or a holder bobbling the snap three feet over their head, "happens." That's why it's an extra point. It's the pause for sanity after the ninety-eight yard march to greatness. It's the free-throw of football. And just like lunch, there is no such thing as a free one. 
Go ahead, make the goalposts narrower. Move the ball back ten yards. Twenty. Don't allow kickers on the field at all. Make them kick from the instant replay booth. Or maybe even the press box.  I'll be back at school, trying to figure out how to score curling

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Finland, Finland, Finland

"The country where I quite want to be
pony trekking or camping, 
or just watching TV." - Monty Python
Oh yes, there are so many things that I could pine for about Finland: Helsinki Square, its beautiful archipelagos, the overabundance of vowels, their majestic moose. And now, I can be a fan of their excruciatingly progressive education system.
Aside from having to teach their children how to use all those phonemes, teachers are now being asked to teach their classes "topics" rather than "subjects." The Finns already have an education system that is not driven by standardized tests,  That doesn't mean they don't get assessed. To the contrary. They are tested regularly by their teachers. In their classrooms. On the topics which they are covering. Topics. What does this mean?
It means that Finland is going to try and prepare their kids for "real life." This should help them become more prepared to enter the workforce, as well as enable them to be more available for the tasks they will encounter in their future. It also help them decipher the meaning of those phrases found between quotation marks. What is "real life?"
Well, in real life, experiences don't come in bite-size subject-specific chunks. Instead, they come tumbling at us all in a flurry of interrelated disciplines and skills. Working in a bank does not require just math, but language and communication as well. Vocations of all kinds will require more an more technology, so even a cafeteria services course would have computers in it, as well as a heavy dose of interpersonal relationship and management training. 
This makes some teachers, even those in Finland, uncomfortable. What good is being the world's foremost authority on eighth grade social studies when it will only be a tiny slice of what we want our kids to know? Well, that Master's Degree could come in handy, since most Finnish teachers have them, and they get paid like they do. According to a report in New RepublicFinnish teachers earn one hundred two percent of what their fellow university graduates make in salary, contrasted with the sixty-five percent pay American teachers receive compared to college graduates in other professions. Totally worth learning all those extra vowel sounds. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

I've Got A Bad Feeling About This

In the summer of 1978, as I eagerly awaited the sequel to George Lucas' "Star Wars," I read Alan Dean Foster's "Splinter In The Mind's Eye." This was before the Empire struck back, and before we learned that "Star Wars" was really "Episode IV: A New Hope." It was about the time that it became clear that there would be sequels to Star Wars, and the word "trilogy' started to get bandied about. Three movies? That sounded like a great deal, and by the summer of 1978, there was plenty of speculation about what direction the story of Luke and his galaxy pals might be headed. A cottage industry sprang up: telling the stories that may or not be part of the official canon of Mister Lucas' intent. Mister Foster just happened to be at the right place at the right time, setting up his tent at the center of what would become, well, an Empire unto itself.
Now, nearly forty years down the track, we are bracing for a third iteration of the saga. Where once we were going forward from the middle, now we are back from the past and heading into the future. For those of you who didn't spend their adolescence in line waiting for the next episode in the story of the Skywalker clan, this refers to the way the trilogies have been mounted. The first three movies told the story of how Luke became the savior of the rebellion. The second three movies backed up and told us how Luke's father, spoiler alert, got to be the biggest, baddest, hardest breathing man in show biz. Now we are faced with the proposition of finding out what happened to Luke and his pals after he gave his father a Viking funeral of sorts. Do I really want to know what happened to Mark Hammill after "Corvette Summer?"
Well, the word on the street is that once again, Emperor Lucas has pushed the reset button. Just as he and his buddy Steve Spielberg are always mucking about with their finished works, adding digital this and taking out analog that, now there will be a new endorsed and enforced version of events as they all went down a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Splinter in the mind's eye is just figment of someone else's imagination now as the star-wars-making machinery gears up for its final assault on your wallet. This new Expanded Universe is built to thrive on as many platforms as possible and will essentially squash any of those old fan-generated notions about what Palpatine was really like as a child or why Ewoks don't grow up to be Wookies, they just get old and fat. Don't bother making up anything new. J.J. Abrams will do that for you. For now, just relax and enjoy the ride. Question nothing. It will all be just fine. If it's not, just wait for the digitally altered remix.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ted Talk

“So this afternoon President Obama has invited the Senate Republicans to the White House. So after leaving here, I’m going to be going to the White House. I will make a request. if I’m never seen again, please send a search and rescue team. I very much hope by tomorrow morning I don’t wake up amidst the Syrian rebels.”
 “The media wants America to give up and allow this country to keep sliding off the edge of the cliff.”
 “This is an administration that seems bound and determined to violate every single one of our bill of rights. I don’t know that they have yet violated the Third Amendment, but I expect them to start quartering soldiers in peoples’ homes soon.”
 “Is anybody left at OFA headquarters? I’m actually glad that the president’s whole political staff is here instead of actually doing mischief in the country."
“It would seem that President Obama’s paid political operatives are out in force. The men and women in this room scare the living daylights out of them.”
 “How scared is the President? What a statement of fear, what a statement of fear. Oh, they don’t want the truth to be heard. They definitely don’t want the truth to be heard.”
“Our foreign policy is detente, which I’m pretty sure is French for surrender.”
"'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government."
"The last fifteen years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last fifteen years. It hasn't happened."

"I was disappointed that Bruce Willis was not available to be a fifth witness on the panel. There probably is no doubt that actually Hollywood has done more to focus attention on this issue than perhaps a thousand congressional hearings could do."

And those, ladies and gentlemen, are the words of our first declared candidate for President of the United States: Ted Cruz. He probably won't be the last. Enjoy the sunshine while you can, Ted. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fan Mail

I'm a big fan of White Arrows. The music group, not the roadway markers. I saw them at San Francisco's Warfield last week. It was a Saturday night show and my family went out together. This alone would make this band important in my life, since the opportunities to go do something as a family sometimes eludes us. And we met friends, who went to the show with us. It was a night out. With the White Arrows!
Okay, so it wasn't the White Stripes, which for my son would have put us into contention for Parents of the Year. Still, we were out on the town, having a little dinner and taking in a rock show at one of the Bay Area's legendary music venues. We were there to see White Arrows! Okay. We weren't there to precisely to see them. We were there to see OK Go. White Arrows was the opening act. When the lights went down and the stage was dark, and then the spotlight came on the lead singer and guitar player whose name I can't recall right now, there was polite applause. This Los Angeles-based quartet powered through a set of psychedelic power pop that kept the crowd distracted, at least those down front. The rest of us were milling about, looking at the T-shirt stands, checking out the ridiculous prices at the bar. Five dollars for a bottle of water? I'll watch the opening band instead, thanks. And participate in that ritual in which I have been involved for the past forty years: making fun of the opening band. These were the young men who may someday be the next big thing, much in the same way that OK Go was the next big thing some fifteen years ago. Back before they were the darlings of the Internet set with their clever YouTubes.
Now, OK Go is a headliner. They show up with trucks full of equipment and dozens of roadies whose job it is to prepare the stage for the artists while the members of White Arrows hastily grabbed up their equipment to make way for the featured attraction. The featured attraction which was already in evidence via the racks of guitars and the six pillars of robotic lights and projection screen in front of which White Arrows played their quick set of introductory rock and roll. They didn't have a lot of fancy lights or special effects. They didn't have the use of the confetti cannons located on either side of the stage which OK Go had loaded and ready to go. These confetti cannons which turned out to be a source of wry stage banter by the headliners who joked about their potential over-reliance on confetti cannons.
OK Go put on a heck of a show. Fun, funny, and loud with costume and scenery changes that went on for hours. And more confetti. And the reason I like White Arrows? They did it all first. Without confetti. I may never buy a White Arrows CD or T-Shirt, but they won my respect. Without confetti.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Taste For It

Just about every morning that I drag myself out of bed and my feet hit the cold linoleum of the bathroom floor I have this waking thought: "Gee, it's great to be an American." This probably has a lot to do with the fact that it isn't every country in the world that provides cold linoleum upon which its citizens can place their feet to have such morning epiphanies, but also because each new day brings with it a slew of new awakenings and revelations as to exactly why we live in this best of all possible countries in this best of all possible worlds. Today's eye opener? Taco Bell.
First and foremost, it should be noted that their slogan, "Make a run for the border," is perhaps the most amusingly ironic catchphrase in American advertising. Whoever decided to make a point of how we should all make a run toward the very boundary which so many people would have us run from or wall off completely shows us all that Don Draper may not be a made up person at all. His spirit lives on. And on.
Taco Bell can be congratulated for the invention, or at least the pat off registering of the Fourth Meal. No longer should we feel constrained, as Americans, to the simple rules of three square meals. If we, as Americans, need to have any permutation of cheese, ground beef, and tortillas smothered in more melted cheese, we don't have to wait until the following morning to stand in line to peer hazily up at that value menu. We are encouraged, at most hours of the night and day, to find a path that takes us to the counter which will serve as the metaphorical between what tastes good and good taste. Sorry, Charlie, no tuna tacos here. But they do have breakfast, and their innovative one handed taste sensation allows the hipsters in all of us to eat with one hand and post selfies of ourselves eating that same meaty-cheesy treat with the other. Genius.
And just when you thought the well was empty, the lifestyle contourists at Taco Bell are going to start adding Fritos to your "Mexican food." This will be the thing that keeps us all from ever fully equating the cuisine offered up at that metaphorical border to be anything but Gringo food. Food for Americans. And fiercely proud of it. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Body Count

I knew what a body count was when I was twelve. I grew up with the Vietnam war in my living room. Not actually in my living room, but rather the reportage of that conflict. Keeping track of the dead and wounded was an everyday chore. The tally was kept, and whether points were being shaved in our favor was ultimately the question: Did we get more of theirs than they got of ours? Were the good guys winning? More importantly, were the bad guys losing? As it turns out, this is more like golf, where the lower score wins.
Final score: Us 282,000, Them 440,000. This is not including the 1,313,000 people in the stands, the civilians who made the mistake of getting in the way of all that periodically misdirected aggression and napalm. In other words, if you added together the body counts of both combatants, they would add up to about half as many civilian deaths. It may not be clear from those numbers exactly who won the war in Vietnam, but it's pretty obvious who lost.
Which brings me back to the future, where most of us will live the rest of our lives. Reading the news today? Oh boy. Seventy-seven dead in Yemen, the victims of a triple suicide bombing. It makes me hearken back to a time when suicide was a singular sport, and using plastic explosive would have seemed like, pardon the pun, overkill. Here in the United States, where the right to bear plastic explosive shall not be infringed, a crazed gunman went on a shooting rampage in Mesa, Arizona killing four. It should be noted that the phrases "crazed gunman" and "shooting rampage" can be found most any day on your U.S. News. I'm pretty sure that's in the Constitution too. Back across the pond, we've got that up and coming crazed militants who went on their own rampage, the Islamic State who shot twenty foreign tourists who made the mistake of going to a museum. The difference I have noted between crazed gunmen here in the United States and crazed militants in other parts of the world is that foreign crazies are generally pretty good about claiming responsibility for their heinous acts. Here in America? Not so much.
The trouble with trying to keep track of the body count presently is the lack of defined conflicts. Sure, it would be easy enough to make an accounting of the victims of the war on terror, or the war on drugs, or the war on Christmas. If there were more organized accounting, or if we could ask our crazed gunmen to announce their victims with more precision and wear color-coded uniforms, then it might start to make some sense.
Yeah. Right.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Must Do's And May Do's

In my classroom, I divide each class period up into "must-do's" and "may-do's." When kids come in and look at the board, they can see what assignment or challenge awaits, and what sort of experience can be theirs if they complete the task in front of them. Inevitably, this leads to a certain amount of whining and crying about skipping to the fun, avoiding the work completely. There are some standard replies I have generated over the years, many of which center on the "dessert before dinner" model. Yes, I know what that sounds like. It is also part of living in a world in which I routinely find kids walking onto our playground before the day begins, eating a bag of hot chips with no real intent of going into our cafeteria for the free breakfast program we have for half an hour before the school day begins. Breakfast is the must do. Hot chips are the may do. If that sounds a little like surrender, keep in mind that I do insist that kids take their flamin' hot Cheetos to the cafeteria and eat them instead of sprinkling toxic dust across the playground for seagulls, pigeons and other less flight-inclined vermin to come by later to clean up after them. You have to draw the line somewhere, right?

This is what came to mind when I heard that our President was in Cleveland this past week, floating the idea of mandatory voting for Americans. There are currently eleven countries in the world that require that their citizens vote. There are nearly twenty more that only "require" it by having a law on the books, like Egypt and Mexico, but they don't come drag you out of your house and force you into the voting booth if you forget. Or choose not to. Mandatory sounds like some sort of inoculation program, and I guess we all know how successful that is turning out to be. One of the amusing ironies of giving folks all this freedom is that it gives them the freedom not to participate. In the 2014 midterm elections, less than thirty-seven percent of the eligible voters found their way to their polling place to cast a ballot. This minority elected a Republican majority to the Senate. Isn't that interesting? Or inevitable? That could be why Mister Obama, wandering around the nation's midsection found time in his busy schedule to suggest, "If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country." But if you force people to vote, aren't you taking away their constitutionally guaranteed right to complain bitterly about something they know nothing about? What a fascist.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Time To Kill

It really is a timing thing, isn't it? A lot of the people who are proudly "Pro-Life" will stand up and shout just as loudly to advocate for the death penalty. I guess you could say that you'd have to have a hole in your head to think like that, but that's not really the case, since people like that are the ones being killed. Cecil Clayton was put to death at just after midnight via lethal injection in Missouri this past week, and yes, he had a hole in his head. More to the point, he had a brain injury at a sawmill back in the 1970's that took out twenty percent of his frontal lobe. It was in 1996 that Mister Clayton shot and killed Sheriff's Deputy Chris Castetter. Clayton's attorneys, using far more of their brains than their client could, argued that he was not capable of understanding the crime he committed and was unfit for execution.
Unfit to live? I've heard that one. But unfit to die? Maybe it all has something to do with eugenics, but I still don't think I understand the whole argument. This guy, who was described as having difficulty using a telephone and making purchases at the prison commissary, needed to be put down. I suppose it could be that the combination of his being a murderer and brain damaged made him a prime candidate for being put down. Get him out of the way so we have more room for Kardashians and their ilk. Brain damaged but not murderers.
Did you notice the math, by the way? Cecil Clayton was sentenced to death nearly twenty years ago, and the grim reaper just caught up to him this week. This week when he held the distinction of being the oldest man on Missouri's death row. Well, not anymore. Which makes me wonder why Missouri taxpayers aren't a little put off at the idea of spending all that money on the execution of a seventy-four year old man. It seems to me that a couple more years of appeals would have allowed nature to run its course and all that pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. About eighty bucks and change, not to mention the time of all those doctors, lawyers, witnesses and corrections officers.
Please understand, I have no particular love for cop killers. Or killers of any type, for that matter. I just can't help but wonder why it was really necessary to kill this one. If the answer is "revenge," I guess I understand that just a little more than "justice." And maybe that has less to do with timing than it does with semantics.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would tell you that acceptance is the last rung on the ladder: the final stage. This may be true for grief, but when it comes to college, it's really only the beginning. That is because getting that letter in the mail, or in our case the message in our in-box, is just the beginning. After months of what intermittently felt like agonized waiting and feigned ambivalence, my son was accepted into the college of his choice. This came as such a relief for all of us that we spent a week or two celebrating what had, at one time, been a foregone conclusion: our son would go to college. What this email did, over the next few weeks, was set a whole new stage of this process in motion. We were suddenly confronted with this question: What if he gets accepted by another school? Or two? The choice seemed so crystal clear for that time when there was only the one alternative. Okay, two if you consider not going to school and working at the auto parts store while he continues to work on his music career.
Meanwhile, other letters and notices have come trickling in: A couple straight-out rejections and a school in Illinois that was pleased and happy to inform our son that he had been accepted to their wait list. The college which had initially accepted him had all kinds of things going for it: California, friends from high school, a campus he had visited previously. Why would he want to double down on a maybe? As it turns out, there is no obligation in taking this wait list spot. We can continue to scurry about in our way, imagining life a year from now when our son is "away at school," and wait to see if this Illinois offer becomes any more real.
The California offer is very real. So real in fact that we are now in the midst of preparing a financial package. This new challenge has me thinking that a piano playing auto parts store employee would be a fine addition to the family. But what we really want is a college graduate. Since that first day of preschool, when he stood on the front porch with his horsey backpack, getting ready to go out and face the world in front of him, his mother and I have wanted him to go as far as he could on the path he chose.
Which makes me think of the path I am on. The one where I spent five and a half years earning a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing. Sure, you the reader benefit mightily from this choice, but I wonder how my parents felt about financing all those "Film as Fiction" classes, and the opportunity to write yet another paper about "Bartleby the Scrivener." And now, nearly thirty years from the date of my commencement, I'm getting ready to return that favor to my progeny. Paying it forward. After acceptance? Payment, I guess.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Film Form

In a previous millennium, my family was an early adopter of the half-inch video cassette recorder. Our first machine came from Penny's, which was a place to shop back in hose days. The machine itself was a beast of a thing, and had we owned it just a few years prior, we might have used it to record my older brother's appearance in the Orange Bowl Parade. Instead, my father rigged up a Super-8 movie camera alongside an audio cassette recorder to capture the moment. I don't know if the movie and the tape were ever presented at the same time, but I do recall my mother's squeal of delight upon seeing her eldest son on the television. The film, due to the difference in frame and refresh rates was hard to watch, but it was a record of the event.
Interestingly, it took us several years to become accustomed to using our VCR to collect broadcast television. Instead, we were pleased and happy to be in that first generation of home movie watchers. Not that we were watching home movies, there was plenty of that in the seventies. Owning our own VHS machine allowed us to watch movies in the comfort and safety of our own home. Not that I was particularly concerned about the Mean Streets of Boulder, Colorado, but rather more concerned about seeing if "Mean Streets" was available for rental. In those early days, the list of films available for home viewing skewed severely to the Adult section. This kept our family's selection from a rather small set of shelves toward the front of the store. The first movie I remember bringing home for us all to watch was "The Stunt Man." It was also somewhat of a rarity for me then, as it is now: a film that I had never seen before that I brought home to see for the first time on tape. It could have been the romance of this new technology, or it could have been that it was just that good, but I fell in love with that movie. I watched it once with my family and twice more before it had to be returned.
From there on, our interests and tastes began to expand mightily from that first two or three movies. Suddenly we were aficionados. Since my family was already very fond of the moving picture shows, this allowed that romance to grow and blossom. Over and over again. Eventually, I found my way behind the counter of a video store and became even more immersed. The bookshelf in my living room that is stacked with DVDs, having replaced my Laserdisc and VHS collections, still sags beneath the weight of my eclectic tastes.
The film that is missing? Richard Rush's "The Stunt Man." That is why when, after picking up Patton Oswalt's memoir and reading a quote from that film on the inside cover, I was taken aback when my wife told me that she had never seen it. "This is something we shall have to remedy as soon as possible." Now, there was a time when that would have meant rushing to our local video store and checking to see if that lone copy of that particular title was in or hadn't yet been sold off as a "slow-renter." This was the new millennium. We went home and through a twist of some dials and some clicks with a remote control, we were able to have Amazon zap us a streaming version. Just by pushing a few buttons, my wife and I were able to bring ourselves one step closer to a singular consciousness. I suppose I could have opted for Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and described each frame from memory. Instead, I opted for my allegory of the remote control.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do You Know Irony When You See It?

The headline read, "Irony Alert: Firing Squad May Be Today's Most Humane Way To Carry Out the Death Penalty." First, I double checked the meaning of irony: the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. I'm guessing this was the emphatic effect the author, Patrik Jonsson, was looking for. I leave it up to you to decide if the fact that Mister Jonsson writes for the Christian Science Monitor has any effect, ironic or otherwise. I failed to see the humor in this particular assertion, so maybe it turns out that I'm no better a judge of irony than Alanis Morrisette.
Where do all these good ideas, ironic or not, come from? Utah. That state's legislature has decided to bring back the firing squad as a means to avoid the "cruel and unusual punishment" that so many feel death by lethal injection has become. The crux of the argument is found in the discussion of "botched" executions over the past few years where condemned prisoners were not given enough or given too much of whatever lethal cocktail they were supposed to be injected with, and this caused undue suffering on the part of the eventually deceased. The argument, it seems, is that getting together a crew of crack shots to take aim at a convicted prisoner's heart is a lot more decisive and direct way to put a bad guy down. In the recent failed attempts, it was pointed out that it took almost two hours for a man to die, there is something wrong.
It was at this point that I began to realize that Patrik may have been jerking my chain. By merely bringing up the topic of how long it takes for a person to die from electric shock, lethal injection, or hanging, we are asking people to think about something unimaginable for most of us. Perhaps the cruelest and most unusual part of the punishment of death row is the time spent waiting there. But just like those of us who would rather not watch how the sausage gets made, there are those who would rather not have to consider how we do away with those whom our justice system has decided are not fit to live. If you're not the type to click on links and haven't read the whole article, I can tell you that near the end of his article, Mister Jonsson refers to an article in The Atlantic, which suggests that if we really want to show off just how tough we are on crime, we should be using a guillotine. Barbaric? Sure. Ironic? Probably.

It's so hard to tell sometimes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Misspent Youth

As I have mentioned here before, I wasn't much of a juvenile delinquent. I got some speeding tickets. I used to hang around late at night on playgrounds. Mostly on the swingsets. I didn't smoke. I didn't start drinking until the end of my senior year in high school. The cars I wrecked were due primarily to stupidity rather than recklessness. I was in the marching band. How much trouble could I get into?
As it turns out, not very much. I'm certain that this didn't keep my parents from worrying about me. I didn't stay out late. I didn't come home drunk. I wasn't dealing drugs. I didn't even smoke pot until I was in college. Maybe what they were worried about was the ever-expanding stash of street signs, road cones, and other city property that showing up in my bedroom. It all started with bus numbers. Long before there were these fancy electronic reader board in the back window or along the sides of our town's public transportation explaining what routes those buses would run. The first one I brought home was a number four, the line that ran up the street a block from my house. It was just sitting on the sidewalk about a block from the bus stop, probably having fallen from its slot after hitting a bump. It was a memento. The second and third came about the same way. I just found them laying on or near the curb, a testament to the low technology involved in identifying our buses. Now that I had a four, a two and a five, I started to wonder what it might take to get all seven Boulder city routes. As I began to consider my options, riding my bike home from school, I spotted a STOP sign laying in the weeds. I stopped, since the sign had suggested it, and stared. I began to rationalize how this was not any different than a bus number. Except it was too large to stick in my backpack. Instead, I draped my windbreaker over it and rode the two miles back to my house as casually as I possibly could. Back to my room in the basement that was now starting to look more like storage for public works.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had achieved my dream of having all the bus numbers, including the elusive number seven, which ran on the northeast corner of the city limits. This came to me as a gift, from the same friends, the same friends who brought me a Rocky Mountain News mailbox still attached to its pole and the same friends who helped me liberate a flashing barricade to stand as a centerpiece at one of our parties. It took us an hour to figure out how we could turn it off at the end of the night so it could be rolled back into the corner of my room, light off, until we needed it again.
All this time, my parents said nothing. Or next to nothing. I guess it was the affectation I was allowed. I was getting good grades. I wasn't coming home drunk, I was in marching band. I played tuba in marching band. I mowed the lawn. I didn't cause any trouble. Except for that bedroom full of government property. After I moved out, my father scooped it all up and loaded it into the family station wagon, bus numbers and all, and dropped it on the steps of the Municipal Building. In the middle of the night. Pretty sketchy behavior, wouldn't you say?

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Me Worry

The first twinkle of Spring Break has appeared on the horizon of my son's senior year in high school, and suddenly he has a definite and decided urge to hit the road. This doesn't come as a huge surprise, since he is a creature of the road. His desire to head on up the highway with his buddies is as much a part of his car culture cranium as it is that nearly eighteen year old brain that is itching to get out and see the world. And I couldn't be more terrified.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating my concern. To the present, my son has avoided many of the teenage pitfalls I myself encountered by the time I was a senior in high school. His screaming and yelling has been limited to the screen on which his friends are playing Mario Kart, with the spoken understanding that it is all in good fun. His frustrations with his parents have stuck on simmer, never boiling into adolescent fury. All of that wild talk about fast cars has been limited primarily to the aforementioned Mario Kart races and other cyber speedways. His real world driving skills are much more relaxed and defensive. Drinking and drugs? As he reminds his parents on occasion: He goes to high school in Oakland, California. If he hadn't run into any kind of temptation by now, it would have been some sort of sociological miracle. Presently, none of those temptations has led to any sort of angry confrontations or interventions. Maybe I'm paranoid. From that Latin, Parentis. Maybe I'm realistic, from the Latin loco.
Whatever the case, I find myself reflecting back on my own mildly misspent youth and wondering how I can allow the fun I had be my son's without the bumps and bruises that came with my near-misses. I remembered the story I wrote recounting a road trip I took in college. Two of my buddies and I trekked across the plains to Muskogee, Oklahoma with the intent of seeing a high school football game at one of our friends' alma maters. We didn't make it to the game. We did nearly blow up a Volkswagen bug. We did drive around Muskogee in a land yacht lovingly christened "The DynoBuick." We did go see "Pink Floyd's The Wall The Movie" in a tiny concrete bunker of a theater. We prepped for the experience by pounding through a case of Busch beer with some of the locals at a park next to the Veteran's Hospital. I was aware that there was some other substances about, but what would you expect? These guys went to high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma. That's where I learned about curb parties. The ingredients were pretty simple: a curb and more of the aforementioned Busch beer. The idea was that if you were headed for the gutter anyway, you were already pretty close. The title of the chronicle of this misadventure was "Festival of the Wretched," and its style and substance was heavily influenced by the work of Hunter S. Thompson.
And that's where I finally landed: I wonder what Dr. Thompson told his son before sending his son off on Spring Break?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sounds Like

Marvin Gaye's family has it coming to them. The seven and a half million dollars a court awarded them from the profits made via the sales of his song, "Blurred Lines." Not that I am in any way qualified to make this judgement myself, but that is what the jury in Los Angeles decided last week. Those twelve men and women decided that the biggest hit of 2013 could not have been created without the foundation of Marvin Gaye's hit, "Got To Give It Up." And if you held a gun to my head, I couldn't sing a note of either one of them.
First of all, I will encourage you not to take on this practice: holding a gun to my or anyone else's head and forcing them to sing pop hits. Even though this does sound like a TV show on NBC's Fall schedule. Secondly, I would imagine that this will have the effect of bringing about a series of new lawsuits in which hits of the past are found to bear an eerie if not note-for-note similarity to what is currently streaming on your kids' music devices. The biggest challenge, for me, would be finding the time or inclination to listen to any of "Now That's What I Call Music" volumes one through googolplex. I suspect that if I were to find this kind of time,with or without the loaded gun to my head, I might hear a few tunes that remind me of the ones I might find in my own music collection. If you gave me seven million dollars, I might devote a little more attention to the sounds of now. Even if they sound a little like the sounds of then.
Besides, it's not the first time something like this happened. I remember how Ray Parker Jr. swore up and down that he had never heard of Huey Lewis and the New Drugs when he "wrote" the theme to Ghostbusters. I ain't afraid of no lawsuit. Even music royalty like Beatles aren't above borrowing just a little here and there. George Harrison found himself on the wrong end of a legal entanglement when people heard "He's So Fine" when he played "My Sweet Lord." Money can't buy me love, but it can buy you out of a copyright infringement case. Of course, you could just give songwriting credit to the person you're paying homage to from the start, like Sam Smith did for Tom Petty. There was no backing down with Tom, and the checks will stay with him. Thank you very much.
I know I'm old. You don't need to tell me that. I have an elementary school full of kids who remind me most every day. But being this old informs my life to this degree: I know that Beethoven stole from Mozart. And Procol Harum borrowed liberally from Bach without ever sending a check to his estate. And that, as they say, is showbiz.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

First Draft

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. It’s really complicated. We even have a TV show that helps us understand it.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress. It’s a lot like buying a car. A really big American car. Just a word of advice: Don’t pay for the undercoating.
First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. We spend a large part of every day hollering and gesturing at one another in annoyance.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. That’s fractions.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). More fractions.  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement. Executive agreements are like dust in the wind. Which is a pretty cool song by Kansas. Which is a state in our country. It’s pretty flat.
 Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.  For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  That works out to be like seven hundred dog years. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades. Some of us never leave our offices. We are afraid to. Many of us know little of the outside world as a result.  A subset of these know little of personal hygiene.
 What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. So there.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. And if you’ve ever seen how vicious a pen stroke can be, you just wait.
 We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress. Oh, and my dad could beat up your dad any day of the week. And in this particular metaphor I don’t mean our president because we don’t like him. Get it? We've been blowing up countries like yours for nearly a hundred years, so just watch yourselves, see? 


A whole bunch of guys with the letter R after their name (R)

Friday, March 13, 2015


Forward, into the past. This was the title of the greatest hits from Firesign Theatre. It describes the double album precisely, as it was a "new release" but because all of those relics were packaged along with two tracks that had only been available a singles, it was considered "new." It's nothing new. These kind of compilations really attract the completionist. I am one of those who used to feel the draw of those two or three "bonus cuts" that were somehow not deemed good enough to make it to any album previously, but suddenly in a fit of contractual obligation, they become available for a limited time on this batch of otherwise warmed-over chart smashes. These are the type of recordings that iTunes tends to make available "album only," meaning if you want those obscure bits then you have to buy the stuff you bought before they were repackaged in one great big lump.
This is kind of how I feel about the new Apple Watch. This is not to be confused with the Google Watch, which preceded it's Mac chronometer by a few months. Now you can have all that data and all those apps in a compact size that can be strapped to your wrist. This whole trend confounds me on a number of levels. First of all, didn't Apple just decide to make their iPhones bigger so they would become more tablet-like? Aren't these the same geniuses, and I know they are because this is how the refer to themselves, who made their Nanos bigger too? After being sold on the idea that bigger must be better, at least when it comes to peering at YouTube videos and driving directions, they have turned around and made something for us to squint at. I had just come to the point in my life where I was considering letting my watch go, along with the pale stripe on my wrist that was left underneath after months of standing outside, watching the minutes tick by until recess is over. If I wanted to know what time it was, I could just look at my phone.
Well, now I guess I can wear my phone. And my Internet browser. And my music machine. And whatever else they can think of to cram into that little object dangling from my arm. The good new for me is that I still haven't checked out of the wristwatch camp. I'm not ready to be Dick Tracy. And if I added up the cost of all the watches I have owned in my life up until now, I just might come close to the low end model of the newest gadget on the block, I think I'll save up for the eventual iMplant - the one where Apple will just jack directly into your cerebral cortex.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Back In Time

I spend a portion of every day looking in to the past. It is my nature. It is one of the reasons I have that tag "nostalgia" appearing at the bottom of a great many of these posts. Since I tend to write these blogs a few days in advance, I am actually writing them from the future. Feel free to comment, Dr. Hawking. Or you, Dr. Hasslein.
Meanwhile, I continue to try and conserve time. It is kind of my special job in the family. My wife and son tend to spread out and luxuriate in all the space the time continuum affords them, while I am much more anxious about getting from point A to point B in the most direct fashion possible. The trouble with this is the way that time seems to collapse in on itself. No matter how much time we give ourselves, the space through which we travel to the Alameda Theater consumes the amount of time we have set aside. How can this be?
The easiest explanation would be dawdling. That extra trip back inside the house because someone forgot their sunglasses, or the keys to the car that we were planning to drive to the theater. Once inside the house, the random forces of physics generate a giddy array of distractions that keep us from making our appointed rounds. The most dangerous of these threats is the ringing phone. How many times have we fallen for this trap? Just because we hear a ringing bell, we feel compelled to search for the wandering phone and, more often than not, we ignore the caller ID conveniently located just above the "on" button. "Hello? No. We were just on our way out." And so begins the great time suck that causes us to roar out of the driveway some minutes later in hopes of saving some of the time we spent answering the phone call that we never would have known about if we hadn't gone back inside for the sunglasses in the first place.
If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do would probably give Jim Croce a few more moments on earth. Then I would try and figure out how to sprinkle a few more drops into the days that feel like they need them. The ones where I am rushing here or there. The ones where it feels like I just sat down before I had to leap back up into action. I know it's not very scientific, but I just want enough time to get parked, buy my large cola product and Junior Mints, and find a seat before the lights go down.
I blame Daylight Savings Time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Appetite For Destruction

Two years after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut's governor doubts that his state's legislature has the "appetite" to take on any more of the recommendations set forth in a report issued last Friday. That doesn't mean he thinks his state hasn't made any effort to keep that kind of tragedy from occurring again. Connecticut has expanded its assault weapons ban, and forty-three million dollars have been spent on upgrading security in a thousand schools. So, what sort of items are on the list for which these lawmakers have no appetite?
How about requiring every firearm to be registered and that those registered firearms be required to have a trigger lock? The commission suggested serial numbers be etched on every shell casing. Maybe judges could have guns removed from those who had a restraining or civil protection order. Or perhaps aspiring gun owners would have to take a suitability screening test. These are the bites too big for the Connecticut legislature to swallow. Not in 2015. How are we going to pay for all that? Why do they want to take our guns away? Why don't the people of Connecticut love their country?
Maybe because they are still reeling, more than two years after the murders of twenty-first graders and six educators, from the effects of gun violence. Connecticut Crybabies. What about the Second Amendment? You would guess that people living in the so-called "Constitution State" would be more sensitive to the words written nearly five hundred years ago. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut have all kinds of junk about how to run things, but nothing about the right to bear arms or how to load maximum capacity magazines in to assault weapons. You call that a Constitution?
Are kids any safer at school now compared to 2012? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask the guy in Michigan who strapped his sidearm and attended an Ann Arbor high school music recital. He wasn't acting erratically or threatening anyone. He was just exercising his right to open carry. At a high school choir concert. This didn't sit well with one of the choir directors, who called the police. And a music professor from the university got up and made a big scene. What's all the fuss about? Well, even in The Great Lakes State, it's enough to make you lose your appetite.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lead Poisoning

My wife noticed that my mood has been affected by the most recent homicide in our town. Or neighborhood. Riding past those candles and balloons and persistent reminders of the loss of one more young life. At this same time, the Oakland Police Department has begun a crackdown on local gangs in hopes of eliminating the meaningless deaths of innocent bystanders. Innocent like three-year-old Carlos Nava, who was caught in a crossfire in the middle of the day on a busy thoroughfare. His crime? Standing outside his father's taco truck. The old saw about "wrong place, wrong time" just doesn't cut here. It is the opinion of city officials that the proliferation of illegal guns on Oakland's streets. Legal or illegal, it seems like the bullets are an even more pressing problem.
There are so many bullets in Oakland that bad guys feel no particular compunction about where they spray them. It is the gift of automatic weapons, legal or illegal, that they can send projectiles at such a furious pace that picking a specific target is not an issue. The bad guys don't have to be skilled marksmen. The number of innocents killed by their random acts of sloppy gunplay is staggering. The number of poorly placed bullets is tragic.
I have a suggestion to limit the tragedy: Set up a district for rival gangs to go and settle their differences. Think of it as Hunger Games for the thug set. Only this setup won't be for the preservation of some larger national order, it would be for the preservation of innocent life. Think of it as Laser Tag with hollow points. If these idjits want to shoot at one another, let's let them have at it. "Kill them all and let God sort them out," right? Except that phrase is nearly eight hundred years old. Young men have been killing one another over scraps of land for even longer than that. Some of those scraps of land not much larger than the corner of the East Bay that the Oakland Police Department is trying to defend. Clear the place out for a week, and invite gangs to come on down and have at it. Bang, bang, shoot, shoot. Happiness is a warm gun. I don't know if we will ever convince young men that killing one another is a bad idea, but if they are committed to doing that, let's give them a safe place to do it. And the rest of us can have a safe place to do everything else.

Monday, March 09, 2015


Sometimes it feels like forever when I am waiting on that corner of High Street. I tend to cross the intersection then turn around to make the big leap across four lanes of traffic. Left turns on a bicycle during rush hour is a scary thing, and by the end of the day I'm usually drained of my courage for taking those kind of chances. It might have something to do with the fact that there is a funeral home on that corner. The irony of being run down as I am rushing home from a hectic day on the job just feet from the doors of a place that specializes in stiffs would be wasted on me at that point.
The light seems to take longer on days when it is pouring down rain, but the longest wait for a green light I ever had was the day I witnessed a shooting. It's been more than five years since that incident, but there aren't many days that I don't think about it as I pull up to the curb, looking up at the clock that sits at the top of the sign in front of the Colonial Chapel. Invariably it is this glance that gives me pause. The clock is quite accurate, keeping good time, and reminding those of us who are still above ground just how much time we have left. Waiting for that light to change.
Last week as I was standing at that corner, straddling my bike and trying not to notice that I was just outside the place where the dead bodies were being prepared for the last big trip, I thought about how you get to run red lights when you're dead. Years of sitting patiently, waiting for the light to change pays off on that last ride to the cemetery. The one time you don't need to rush, and you get a free pass. Such a deal.
Then the words my father wrote in our summer cabin's guest book came flooding back to me: "Scatter me here." He made that suggestion in a flurry of good feelings, letting us all know that when he did decide to go, he wanted to be spread about the rocks and trees and meadow that he found so soothing. That was where he wanted to be laid to rest. It made complete sense, which is why, twenty-some years later when he left this mortal life, it was a no-brainer for us to find a spot for his earthly remains. I began to wonder, then worry, about what I might have written or said about how I wanted to be handled when I am no longer able to actively make those choices. For example, now that Reliable Cremations has closed their office near my house, I have to come up with another great idea for what to do after I finish sitting at that stop light.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Mile High And Rising

This week brought news that Peyton Manning will be returning for his eighteenth season in the NFL. It will be his fourth with the Denver Broncos. It will also be the fourth season since his return from multiple neck surgeries. Peyton Manning will be thirty-nine in just a few days. This wily veteran, for his efforts, is about to take a pay cut in the neighborhood of four million dollars. And now the questions can begin: Will he hold up through a sixteen game season? Is he paving the way for the quarterback of the Broncos' future? And most importantly: Was he high?
From all accounts, probably not. All of these decisions were made at the highest level, with agents and executives consulting on the highest level. Peyton Manning is a team player, and he sees the value in giving a little back in order to help out the organization as a whole. He doesn't exactly need the money, and what's more, he doesn't need to be stoned to act goofy. It should be noted that Mister Manning is also a pretty savvy businessman. When asked about his chain of Papa John's pizza shops, He had this to say: I've gotten to know some of the folks here in Colorado. There’s some different laws out here in Colorado. Pizza business is pretty good out here, believe it or not, due to some recent law changes. So when you come to a different place, you've kind of got to learn everything that comes with it.” Stoned people want pizzas. Get it? Maybe that's why he didn't need that extra five million dollars. He'll make up for it in anchovies. 
Meanwhile, in stoned Bronco news, former Bronco tight end Nate Jackson spoke up at a marijuana business conference saying that he believes that the NFL should remove pot from its list of banned substances. Nate asserts that medical marijuana could be a means to help players deal with the physical and psychological pain and head injuries inherent to their profession. This is news not only because a retired professional athlete is advocating for the league he once played for to allow today's players the use of cannabis as a medicinal cure to the suffering they incur in the pursuit of their teams' glory, but also because there is such a thing as a "marijuana business conference."  I wonder if Peyton Manning can get the catering gig on some of those. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Hope Is The Thing With Red Stitches

For that brief moment, all was right with the world again. After a long winter full of discontent and football, Spring arrived and saved the day. Part of it, anyway. The Oakland Athletics took the field as a team for the first time in this exhibition season last Tuesday, and they put a great big hurt on World Series Most Valuable Player Madison Bumgarner. The A's won nine to four, and the most valuable pitcher what chased from the game after giving up four runs over one and two-thirds innings. The trouble started with a two run home run in the first inning, where Oakland scored three. By contrast, Madison Bumgarner gave up just one run in twenty-one innings of post-season work at the end of last season, the one that saw the San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Mister Bumgarner won a truck with "technology and stuff" for that effort.
I saw it on TV. So did the Oakland A's. They were able to catch the whole thing, including that MVP award ceremony, because they weren't playing in the World Series. They got bounced from the big show by the eventual second place Kansas City Royals. It seems like so long ago, but it hasn't even been five months yet. In that time, the Oakland Athletics roster has changed in ways that can only be described as "huh?" This includes sending most of the All-Stars who pushed the team to its best first half record in years to other teams, leaving them with an infield that includes none of the starters from 2014. That was last year. Five months ago. Time gets so crooked when you start talking sports, but for that one day, this new bunch of A's beat the World Champion Giants. It gave me hope.
It also gave me pause: time to reflect on the months between now and October. Including those exhibition games, nearly two hundred of these contests will have to be played out between various teams in various stadiums across the country. And Canada. Who will be left standing? It's entirely possible that Madison Bumgarner will be driving off in another new truck, having found his rhythm and his speed, returning to the dominating presence that he was last year. It's entirely possible that all that reworking of the Athletics lineup will produce nothing more than a near-miss at the playoffs. Or worse. All of that is fine. I relax into the unfolding mystery that is one hundred sixty-two games of possibility.
Thank you, baseball, for renewing my hope.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Not Another One

"That's one more kid that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love
Never get to be cool." - Neil Young
I hate that I keep coming back to that line. I hate that it comes to me far too frequently. It's back again because a fourteen year old boy was shot and killed on the streets of Oakland. I hate that I can't find a way to rationalize how this young man deserved, in any way, to have his life taken away. I hate that his parents will have to bury their child.
Hate, I tell kids, is a very strong word. It means that you can't find anything good about something. You can have great disdain for someone or something. You can dislike them mightily, but hate? Hate, as Denis Leary once pointed out, is learned. I have learned to hate this circumstance. No matter how many times it is repeated, the death of one child for no reason generates hate. Hate for a world that can take away life so casually. No witnesses? Not even for a twenty-thousand dollar reward? Why wouldn't someone want there to be justice? Why isn't there more outrage? I hate that I have to think like that.
But I do. And I wonder what it will take to make all lives matter. I wonder what it will take to make those sidewalk shrines a thing of the past. I wonder what a fourteen year old boy could do that would be worth killing him. If it was an accident, or he was an innocent bystander, or it was a case of mistaken identity, that doesn't make it any better. Davon Ellis did not deserve to die. His is the same story with that same sad, ironic twist, where his parents were planning on moving him out of Oakland next year. To give him a chance. Now that chance is gone. So is Davon. For what? In time, we may learn the full story, but walking down the street with your friends at eight o'clock on a Saturday night hardly seems like a crime punishable by death. It sounds a lot like what fourteen year old boys should be doing. Not dodging bullets.
Yes, I learned to hate this thing, but it started as sorrow. When that sorrow became too much to bear, it turned even darker. I rage against this thing that I cannot understand. Will not understand. Davon deserved to have a chance to play football on the JV team. He deserved a chance to fall in love. He deserved a chance to be cool. He deserved a chance to be a sophomore in high school.
I will be riding my bike past the candles and the teddy bear and the messages written in chalk. Until they are cleaned up and moved to the next location. I hate that too. Aloha, Davon. I wish you were here to stomp on the Terra. Keep on rockin' in the free world.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Knock, Knock (Who's There?) Ya -

What do you get for the guy who has everything? Well, almost everything. Yahoo just turned twenty. How do I know this? I found it on the Yahoo page. The front page from whence a great portion of my daily news emanates. Well, to be totally transparent, the news itself does not emanate from Yahoo. They don't tend to generate news, they retrieve and then disperse it. It's like what mommy birds do for baby birds. They chew up all the news and then spit it back up for us all to read in our own sweet time.
Yahoo is also where my e-mail resides. I go poking around that mailbox at least a couple of times a day, so I'm grateful for every time that I stop in and it's working. There have been numerous times in the past year when that wasn't the case, probably because of some large-scale industrial espionage or hacking. It certainly wouldn't be because the engineering or program was somehow inferior. How else could you explain the fact that they continue to thrive after twenty years? One billion users stop by daily to see what Yahoo has to tell us.
I also work in a school district that once upon a time handed out these great big unwieldy e-mail addresses. Now I look at my Yahoo address and begin to covet one of them new-fangled g-mail accounts. Lots of folks have them. Technically, the blog you are currently reading comes from one of those, but it's really just a pipeline that the friendly folks at Google allow me to pass through on my way from Yahoo to Blogspot. Pretty neighborly, wouldn't you say?
I guess you can be when you own most of Al Gore's Internet. People look at the Yahoo after my name and sniff, "What, you couldn't get on AOL?" Yet, in spite of it all, I maintain a weird but satisfying loyalty to the folks at Yahoo. Good times, bad times, try back again later times. It's where I landed thirteen years ago, when the Earthlink got to be too much to bear and after eWorld wouldn't let me attach using a PC. I went to Yahoo because I heard that they were giving away free e-mail addresses. And I've been there ever since. Except for those times when I really need to find something fast, and I don't want to have to sift through all that busy-ness. I sometimes wish that Yahoo would come up with their robot car or designer eyewear, but that's not who I am. I'm a Yahoo guy, and mildly proud of it. Happy birthday - Yahoo!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Words Worth

Sometimes when I write a blog, I find myself wishing that I would have said something after it posts. Most of those times the missing words are adjectives. They are the kind of things that can make a good idea better, and a better idea great. I have a few of those better ideas, and every so often a great one comes out. Even without that missing part of speech. It is what happens when you use words as a vocation, or avocation in my situation. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.
This is why I notice when other people with my situation, vocation or avocation come up empty. Recently, it was that was Brian Williams. Words failed him. Telling that story with just a few more words, or leaving a few out, and he's still sitting behind the NBC anchor desk. Imagine with me, if you will, a world in which Richard Nixon had never said, "I am not a crook." The problem is that he did. In front of television cameras. Newspapers. People with memories. They remembered those words, and when it came time to decide if, in fact, Richard Nixon was a crook, he already was. In his own words. Give or take.
What are words for? That's the musical question. The answer, more often than not, is simple: communication. Communicating what? That's not so simple. When Rudy Guliani starts a sentence with "I know this is a horrible thing to say," we don't all cover our ears. We lean in. We want to know more. We want to hear horrible. We want to read horrible. Horrible? It's an adjective. The former mayor of New York and hero of September 11, 2001 wants to tell me something horrible? I'm not covering my ears. I want to hear more. "I don't believe that the President loves America." That's enough words to dig a big hole with some people, right? But he added more: "He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." He was right. It was horrible. Those were some pretty horrible words. 
By the end of the week, Rudy Guliani, Mayor of 9/11, had a whole bunch more words, not the least of which were, "it was a joke." He wanted to explain. He used a whole bunch more words to explain how the words he used. He only needed one: horrible. An adjective. And he should have left it out.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Highly Illogical

"Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most....human." I heard these words in my head twenty years ago. It was at the funeral of my father, and the inside joke was that we were returning Spock's brain to Genesis. We were returning my father to the land that gave him strength. We weren't crying. We were laughing. Sitting in the front pew of the church on the day of my father's funeral, we were laughing. It was highly illogical. It was highly emotional. Somehow, that memory of Spock's funeral gave me the strength to process my own grief. Our grief. And somewhere in the background, bagpipes played "Amazing Grace." 
I want to believe that somewhere in this galaxy, or one nearby, bagpipes will be playing "Amazing Grace" again. For Spock. For the man who was Spock, Leonard Nimoy. Mister Nimoy passed away last week at the age of eighty-three. Getting all emotional about the passing of a man who had lived a full and, by his own account, happy life would be illogical. Just like us humans to go for the less than logical response. It is logical that the outcome of many years of smoking led to obstructive pulmonary disease. As Bones might say, "Damn that Vulcan anatomy!"
None of us are meant to be immortal. The gift of being a TV or movie star is that your work can linger on past the flesh and blood. Back in the eighties, fifteen years after the original "Star Trek" series aired, my friends would gather in a dorm room, staring at the black and white set, listening to the dialogue more than squinting at the little screen, and through that haze of beers and weed, after twenty minutes someone would say, "Hey. I think I've seen this one." Of course you have. We all have. That show was a big enough deal to give the first space shuttle its name. 
It's also the name of our car. We put little stickers on our white Prius, spelling out the call letters of the Enterprise: NCC-1701. There's a homeless lady who stands at the corner a couple blocks from our house, and when we pull up to the stop light where she's standing, she doesn't wave. She raises her hand in a salute. The one that means, "Live long and prosper." It makes us smile. Spock's brain has returned to Genesis. 
Aloha, Leonard. You stomped on the Terra. And galaxies beyond.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Where The Elite Meet

As for myself, I can't reckon on whether I am part of the fourth or fifth estate, but since I'm hunched over my keyboard once a day commenting on affairs of the day I can feel comfortable describing myself as part of the media. Well, not completely comfortable, because that puts me in the position of hanging out with the folks at TMZ. It also affords me the opportunity to align myself with the minds behind The New York Times. Well, maybe not the Times so much, since they need a few more funnies in their daily edition. That distinction aside, I find myself flinching just about every time I hear the phrase "media elite," or "elite media." I checked into this now barbed adjective and found its definition: "a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities." I am pretty sure that when that epithet gets tossed around they aren't discussing fonts

Nope. The folks who are using that sobriquet are trying to make a distinction between "us" and "them." In this version of reality, I find myself lumped into "them," and I confess that if the company I keep is generated by the way I tend to spew my political invective, then I am resigned to that. It probably has a lot to do with using words like "invective" and "sobriquet" as well. The peculiar thing to me about this is that there is an awful lot of criticism of "the media" coming from one side of the discussion: The Right Side. Chris Christie was telling a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference about his struggles with the Elite. The governor of New Jersey told them that he has reporters from The New York Times covering him every day and accused journalists of taking sides on issues he has stood up against. "When you do things like I've done in New Jersey, take on a lot of these special interests that they support they just want to kill you and that's what they tried to do to me every day and here's the bad news for them, here I am and I'm still standing," He added that he would "continue to do what matters more," which is "knowing how to fight for the people for my state and I don't care what they write about me in the New York Times. I don't subscribe, by the way."
The sobbing sound you hear is from the circulation department of the New York Times. But what about this "elite" thing? Aren't our Special Forces an elite fighting unit? Isn't that a good thing? And even if you were going to use "elite" as some sort of slanderous tag, wouldn't you use it to describe folks who fly across the country to root for teams that are not from their home state, and sit in the owner's box? Can you guess where I found that out? The elite media. Figures, don't it?