Friday, July 31, 2015

Sounding And Furiousness

It's about what passes for polite discourse these days. Mike Huckabee suggested that, "This president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven." At another time, this might seem pretty tawdry, but since Rand Paul is taking a chainsaw to the tax code and Lindsey Graham is destroying cell phones, this all seems pretty normal. Rick Perry, looking a lot more like Clark Kent these days, says that before you stop by the concession stand to pick up your Junior Mints and large buttered popcorn that you should make sure that you should bring a gun into the theater with you. Just in case. You know. Trying, at this point, to keep up with the Donald. 
Mexicans are rapists and murderers. John McCain is not a hero. Trump has called Lindsey Graham an "idiot," labeled Jeb Bush an "unhappy person" who is "out of touch." After a fundraiser for Scott Walker criticized Trump, Trump called the event "very dumb" and "not smart." 

Nanny-nanny-boo-boos. To be fair, and I don't know how that word sails here, it was after Lindsey Graham called Trump a "jackass" that the Donald decided to let all his fans know Graham's cell phone number, causing the senator from South Carolina to go all Tom Brady on his mobile device. Lindsey Graham won't be serving any four game suspension. As a matter of fact, he will most likely see a bump in the polls for getting all Black and Decker with his flip phone. How else to explain the double-digit lead by the loudest mouth of all? It was the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre who suggested we get the government we deserve, and it was Walt Kelly the American cartoonist who let us know that we had met the enemy and he is us. Are we going to get anything as thought-provoking or quotable out of this clown car full of candidates? Don't hold your breath. Unless of course that rushing sound you hear just before you pass out keeps you from having to listen to all this ridiculousness. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now And Then

The response we got to the text we sent our son, asking if he wanted to have dinner with us, was this: "Not really." My wife and I thought briefly about having hurt feelings. We could see him, across the lawn from us, walking in our general direction, following a group of kids that were all milling in the general direction of downtown. For him, the tour had not quite finished. There were still people to meet. There were still things to see. That is why we had made this journey. We had come for orientation, and that is precisely what our son was doing. He was getting his bearings.
That didn't mean that his mother and father didn't feel as if a great big trap door had opened beneath our feet. Bye, bye, son. We'll miss you.
Of course, I should have expected something like this. On the drive down, my wife and I were in the back seat while he drove and his buddy and future roommate rode shotgun. We listened to their music. We stopped at Burger King to find out just how many orders of chicken nuggets they could buy for ten dollars. They bought enough that it will be some time before our car does not smell of breaded poultry nodules. With barbecue sauce. And somewhere, about ten miles from our destination, our son cried out, "We're going to college!" To which his partner in nuggets enjoined, "I know, man!" High fives were exchanged.
It shouldn't have been any kind of surprise. This summer has been a flurry of anticipation and mild preparation for the big event: our son is going to college. For real. That's why we drove all that way and paid all that money just to have the dress rehearsal. That and the opportunity to sit in a number of different auditoriums to be indoctrinated into the world of collegiate parenthood. What to expect when you're expecting: The College Years. Sexual assault, binge drinking, academic probation. These were just some of the topics we were asked, as "supporters," to help generate understanding in our incoming freshmen. Providing, of course, that we ever spoke to them again.
In real time, it was only a few more minutes before we got another text, inviting us to come and find him at the old-time barbecue spot. Apparently, his group dissipated abruptly after his first flippant response, and he was looking for companionship. My wife and I were happy to oblige. We had some brisket and some salad and some lemonade, and enjoyed our time together. Until it was time for him to go again. More people to see and things to do. That's why we are sending him to college, after all. He knows us well enough. Time to see the rest of the world. I expect we'll still get together for dinner now and then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I donated to the first Farm Aid. It was 1985, and while the world celebarated an end to hunger via the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia. I watched all sixteen hours, and while I didn't pay strict attention to every one of the acts that held the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, I was swept up in the courageous and valitant efforts of the music industry to bring about the kind of change that world governments had been unable to achieve. For this, they made Bob Geldof a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. For my part, I received no honor from her majesty, though I did get a souvenir T-ShirtI also got a warm, fuzzy glow that I was able to pass off as humanitarian for weeks after the fact. 
And somewhere in the midst of all that feel-good music and warmth came Bob Dylan's comment during his set: "I hope that some of the money...maybe they can just take a little bit of it, or two million, maybe...and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks..." It wasn't exactly a feel-good moment. It was Bob being Bob, like playing an electric guitar at a folk festival. It made me think of my cousins, who were toiling away on their beet farm in eastern Colorado, raising pigs, trying to find a way to make ends meet. This was my family's farm, and it was being lost to the banks. I listened to what Bob had to say and I started thinking about saving lives by saving farms. 
The good news is that someone besides me was listening: Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp were listening too, and they organized an all-star concert of their own to aid the farmers of America who were feeling their lives slip away from underneath them just like the land they had worked all those years. They called it Farm Aid, in a stroke of wild inspiration, and those guys keep getting together year after year to raise money and awareness for the American Family Farm. Somewhere in those early days, my cousins' farm went the way of the auction block, and another chunk of the great plains fell into the hands of the machine. Forty-eight million dollars have been raised over the past three decades by the organization, but it wasn't enough to keep the bankers away. Much in the same way I couldn't pick and choose which life I saved with my Live Aid T-shirt, I couldn't convert my contribution to that first Farm Aid, with my souvenir bandanna and pin, into relief from the crushing debt that turned those beets and pigs over to the bad guys. 
In the midst of this equation, food kept being grown. Some of it was shipped to countries where famine continues in spite of all the concerts and t-shirts and bandannas. Somehow, it's just not enough. And so we keep on singing. And praying for that day when we can save everyone. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


The day that the guilty verdict came down for James Holmes, the man who shot up a movie theater in Colorado, I breathed a sigh of relief. For the victims. For the community. For the families of the victims. For the families of victims of senseless violence. Three years after the fact, there was justice. Or what could be administered by our system with its due process and checks and balances. That was the moment I felt relief. 
Then came the shooting in Chattanooga. We now have another accused killer. This is how we refer to Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez. There were plenty of witnesses who watched him spray two different recruiting centers with automatic weapons fire, seven miles apart. Allegedly. That would be Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat or in the more easily digested English: the burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies, And we should probably point out that Mister Abdulazeez is not around to deny his innocence or guilt. He was shot by police who arrived on the scene. Four Marines are dead. That is not an allegation. That is a reality. Still, we will keep referring to this gentleman as a suspect until the investigation is through. The hairs that can be split between criminal and terrorist acts will be split and any possible accomplices will be rounded up and that will give us all a chance for some catharsis, since surviving accomplices can be given that due process and eventually justice will be served. Cold and late, but served nonetheless.
Just in time to try and figure out how to step up theater security, at least in Lafayette, Louisiana. Three more dead, and nine injured. One of the casualties was the suspect, John Russell "Rusty" Houser. The self-inflicted gunshot that took his life was the last of the "methodical" killing that took place during a showing of "Trainwreck." Now, aside from questioning the necessity of metal detectors outside movie theaters, we can wonder what "Rusty" might have had against Amy Schumer. Allegedly. There investigation here will probably not run as deep, since the potential political and ideological questions can be swept aside. Except for that whole mental health thing. A history of mental health concerns didn't keep Mister Houser from passing a background check and legally purchasing the .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun that he fired twenty times. Allegedly. 
And lest we forget that old news of Dylan Roof, suspect in the murder of nine church members in Charleston. He will be charged with hate, not with terror. Perhaps his defense might find a way to swing that: innocent by reason of hate. 

It's been a rough summer. Allegedly. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Home Again

Looking out the window, I can see how flat everything is. It makes sense, since we had driven an hour away from the mountains, toward Kansas. We had spent the week nestled up against the Rocky Mountains, and now we had retreated to the plains. The Great Plains. This was necessary because getting a jet aircraft up in the air would not be possible if we had stayed pushed up against the foothills. Sitting next to my son, we waited for our turn to take off, and after an hour's drive to the airport, another two hours waiting to board our plane, and then yet another indeterminate amount of time sitting at the gate. Waiting. Waiting to go home.
"Do you feel like you're going home?" That's what my clever son asked me. I had spent a week, reconnecting to the place I had spent the first thirty years of my life. Hadn't I just been home? Where was I going? I was leaving Colorado again. You might think I was used to this by now.
Taking off from the Denver airport is something I have done, off and on, for more than twenty years now. The anticipation of that moment when the wheels leave the ground and suddenly the world changed beneath me. Suddenly that hour's drive disappeared. The mountains were now below us. In that rush to get to the altitude where personal electronic devices could be turned back on, we flew over the summit of Longs Peak. Somewhere down there was the top of a mountain that took me an entire day to climb.
And then it was gone. So were all the other peaks that make up the Rocky Mountains. My son pointed out the snow. In July. I looked down with him. Through the clouds. The earth was slipping away beneath us. The jagged range that I grew up using as a compass were no longer to the west. They were becoming the east. And now the geographical features that seemed so prominent became softer: hills, desert. Utah.
I had left Colorado again, and even though I had my son's enthusiasm for the place, I felt a pang. Regret, sorrow, disappointment. Lonely. Sitting in the back of the plane next to my own flesh and blood, I felt the miles between my two homes come into sharp focus. That which was and that which is.
Then the hills appeared below. The ones that rise up out of the San Francisco Bay, then the Bay itself. The pilot found a nice flat place to put the plane down, and suddenly, if two and a half hours can be considered sudden, and we were on the edge of the continent: California. Home. Again.
My son and I got up out of our seats, and when we walked up the aisle and onto the jetway. We smelled the brine. Sea level. Some of the loneliness lifted. You can go home again. Twice in one day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Shoot The Moon

Last week we celebrated the forty-sixth anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon. If you missed your community's parade or the annual Moondance Festival held in most cities across this great land of ours, it turns out that you're not alone, since those events don't exist. Not since 1969, anyway. It has been a while since Tranquility Base was foremost in our minds. Maybe it has fallen into a bin of discoveries and accomplishments that we learn in school without any particular context. July 20, 1969 is a date that sits in infamy right next to December 7, 1941. Or maybe it's like September 6, 1522, when Ferdinand Magellan's expedition completed its circumnavigation of the globe. Ferdinand himself didn't make it, which is a tragedy on par with Neil Armstrong getting lost somewhere between the earth and the moon. Proving the earth was round was the same kind of discovery as the moon landing. The earth didn't suddenly become round. It always was. The moon didn't change because we set foot on it. We landed there to make sure that it really was there, and to make emphatic that human need to prove something by putting our hands on it.
We brought back rocks and soil samples. We took pictures and movies. This is the way we could prove that the earth's moon was part of our territory. You can visit the facility and examine these samples for yourself. You can watch the footage and listen to the communications between the astronauts and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. But since NASA is a government agency, there have been loads of people who would like to suggest that these events never occurred. They were faked. I would expect that there could have been a similar group of naysayers following the surviving crew of Magellan's voyage around with parchment and quills in hand, insisting to them that they were frauds. There were probably religious types who wanted the crew of the Victoria to swear on a bible that they had never been around the globe. That kind of enterprise probably took place in the sixty years between Magellan's trip and the next circumnavigation of the earth. Those records have been lost to the ages, but 1522 still marks the end of the voyage that proved that the earth was round. A fact that could be borne out by the pictures of the earth taken from the surface of the moon. Or maybe that was just photoshopped. But how could that be when Photoshop wasn't invented until 1987? Or maybe that's just what the folks at Adobe want us to believe. Conspiracy? I blame computer software. The stuff that was made possible, in part, by guys like Neil and Buzz walking on the moon. Or maybe they were the architects of a made up world fabricated by doctored and human-generated images.
Yeah. That makes sense.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Stop The Train

I want to get off. Okay, maybe I don't really want to get off for long, because I'm still really enjoying the ride. I would hate to think about what I might have missed if I didn't stay on. After all, there is still so very much left to see. The train of which I write here is not real of course, but the metaphorical juggernaut that is pop culture. The hurtling zeitgeist that only seems to pick up speed rather than slow down has begun to wear me out.
This is especially true when it comes to the Marvel Universe. I understand that I somehow fit precisely into some mad marketing genius's vision of the true fan: the guy who is not only invested in the legends and lore associated with the comics of his past, but the guy who has family and friends he is willing to encourage and indoctrinate into hopping on for the ride because it has this amazing momentum. The fun I had with my son watching "Ant-Man" is evidence of just how far down this track I have gone. And taken my next generation with me.
I will say with a straight face that I give my personal thumbs up to this latest addition to the Marvel movie lexicon. I will also say that there was a large portion of my brain that said, in the months leading up to the release of this current entry into the comic book movie sweepstakes, that the bottom of the barrel had been reached. Ant-Man? Isn't this the Marvel equivalent of the much-maligned DC character, Aquaman? A guy who can shrink down to the size of an ant, yet retains his full human strength?  As it turns out, the machine that has turned out a blockbuster or two a year over the past seven years did a fine job putting their collective tongue in their corporate cheek and made what turns out to be yet another chapter in the saga of the world that is inhabited by these super-types that supplies just enough action, special effects and humanity to make people like me sit through all those credits one more time to find out what is going to happen next. I was one of those guys, sitting next to my son, hoping there would be that clue about what the next installment might hold. It is the thing I know about soap operas: they don't resolve on Fridays. The sponsors want you back in front of your TV Monday, waiting to see how things turn out. There are four more years of Marvel movies in the pipeline, and these are the ones that have been announced. If they make money, there will almost certainly be another dozen behind that.
And I will be in my seat for those too. But sometimes I wish for the days that I could discover movies, like "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl." The kind of movie that gets by on "word of mouth," when that mouth is not multiplied and amplified to the point of ridiculousness via every possible media outlet. A movie that doesn't exist simply to push the special effects budgets and Disney profits through the roof.
But here's what I know: There is room for both. I will still count the days until "The Force Awakens." I will study up on my Doctor Strange database, but I will also keep my eyes open for that next stop: the movie theater that isn't rocking with explosions and filled with fellow nerds in 3D glasses. I will be looking for stories that don't involve planetary destruction or galactic disruption.
But please save a seat on that train for me. I'm weak.

Friday, July 24, 2015

More Human Than Human

A week ago when I visited Boulder, I was struck once again by how much a geographic location it is, wedged as it is up next to the Rocky Mountains. I can complain about how it isn't like I remember it. It is as I remember, even if there aren't the same stores or streets have been moved or new ones put into their place. When I go out into the thin air that feels and smells so very different from the briny breezes of Oakland I fill my lungs with the way it used to be. The way it is. And what I feel is they way I used to be.
I found myself feeling very self-conscious about the music pouring into my head through the earbuds I had shoved into my head. As the loud rock and roll roared, I heard the voice of my once upon a time therapist who encouraged me to run without headphones, without music. I should take that time to sense the world around me: get in touch with the sounds as well as the sights and smells. Sensing is what she wanted me to do. Back in the days when I ran the streets and trails of Boulder on a regular basis, that advice was something that I took to heart. I listened to the traffic and the children playing and the wind in the trees and the voices I heard all around me. It certainly kept me safe. I could hear the bicyclist coming up behind me or the lady with the stroller's thanks for going around her. I heard the world and I learned from it. But I missed the music. Not that there isn't music to be found in all that sound, but I missed the feeling of being in my own movie, complete with a soundtrack of my favorite songs.
Listening to those favorite songs as I looked out on my favorite sights filled me with the sense of belonging, that feeling of home. Once again I was caught up in the magic that some have called Niwot's Curse: "People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty." This is what one of the native inhabitants told the white folks who came to settle and mine and farm and undo their land. I have always been entranced by this corner of the planet, probably because I was born here, but also because it is unique. There is no place like it on the globe. I say this with complete hope and expectation of being contradicted. Everyone who has ever looked out on their little corner of the earth and breathed in the air and felt the love of the land will tell me that I may be wrong. 
I'm not, but you can feel free to discuss among yourself why I'm wrong. I won't hear it, because I've got my headphones on. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Like A Boss

I'm a teacher. I got that way by going to teacher school and studying very hard. I went to trainings for the past couple of decades to hone those particular skills that make me the shaper and developer of young minds. Before that, I had imagined all manner of jobs and careers for myself. Some of them I didn't have to imagine, like installing modular furniture or managing the picking operations at a wholesale book warehouse. I don't know if I shaped or molded any minds, young or old, while I was doing those jobs. Since I found myself in supervisory positions in many of the jobs I have had, I will have to imagine that I may have had some sort of effect on those with whom I worked. It does, however, give me chills when I think about myself as being "a good boss." I blame Micheal Scott for that.
Here's what I do know: I still get a Christmas card from one of the guys who worked with me on the crew that unloaded trailers at Target. I didn't have any sort of official title, but since I was the oldest guy in that tight little group, I was the defacto leader. I didn't get any extra money, but I did get to stay late sometimes got to stay late when the other guys messed up sorting the repack boxes at the end of the night. Kind of like the way I got to hang around into the wee small hours of the morning and finish up the books as manager of an Arby's franchise. For that one, at least I got a brown vest and a name tag that was made special for me instead of just a piece of Dymotape label stuck to somebody else's name tag who quit the week before. One of the guys who worked on that same closing crew and at Target with me is still one of my best friends.
And I find out that this legacy may have stretched back even  further than that. Last week, a guy who was in Pep Band with me in high school came through town and wanted to go out to dinner with me. That wasn't the only reason for him to be in Oakland, since his son was interested in seeing The Crucible as a possible place to study the Fire Arts. But he made a point of stopping by to see me. And when he introduced me to his wife ad son, he introduced me as a major influence in his life. Thirty-five year ago, and he felt the need to share this with his family. And me. It was flattering and more than a little bit embarrassing, but ultimately it gave me a profound sense of belonging. All those memories I have of those years that I hung out in the band room, cavorting as I did with my friends and associates as Pep Band president, it seems that I was leaving an impression. One that has lasted all these years and was brought back to me last week, gift-wrapped and full of smiles. He bought me dinner. With fries. It was a dinner full of laughter and memories. It made me proud, and helped me imagine that this may have been the plan all along.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Contractual Obligations

I got a raise this year. It was almost eight and a half percent over last year. That is what my union bargained for me, and there is still a possibility of a bump to take that all the way up to fourteen percent. Heading into my nineteenth year of teaching, it's nice to know that I will finally be paid a comfortable wage. I stopped just short from calling it a "living wage" or "paid what I am worth." This is because it has been a long time since I lived hand to mouth, in spite of my dining habits. It also puts a great big question mark on just what a public school teacher's effort is worth.
I say this because, after some very intense negotiations on the part of Demaryius Thomas, he will go into his sixth year playing professional football with a five year contract that will pay him seventy million dollars. He will be making substantially more than I or any other public school teacher will. He will be making more than twelve million dollars this year for catching footballs thrown to him by a guy who just recently took a pay cut, Peyton Manning. Keeping in mind, as wags do so often when they bat around teacher salaries, that this is a part-time gig. Demaryius has already missed his team's off-season conditioning program. The end of July is when training camp starts, and not long after that, preseason games and then the long march to the ever-elusive Lombardi Trophy.
It should be noted that the contract that Mister Thomas singed guarantees him forty-three million dollars. If he gets injured, or falls down on the way to the stadium and can't catch footballs anymore, the gets to keep forty-three million dollars. To make all of that seventy million, he's got to keep showing up on autumn Sundays and catching footballs, even if they aren't being thrown by Peyton Manning, for the next five years.
Wait a second. He doesn't even have to catch those footballs. He isn't being held to some standard, either objective or subjective. Yes, he will have to learn his playbook and abide by the NFL's rules on and off the field, but if he just forgets how to catch footballs, he will still make more money in the next five years than a whole elementary school full of teachers.
I understand that it's just a game, and if I had devoted my life to something other than educating urban youth, I might be sitting pretty right now, looking at my playing days in the rearview mirror. Counting those Benjamins. Does this mean that I'm swearing off professional football? Is the whole vague reality surrounding what we, as a society value going to spoil my school year or football season?
Probably not. Just file this one under "that's kind of interesting." With a sigh.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Spot Picked Out

A few weeks back, my wife's brother had his car stolen from out in front of our house. To be more precise, it was a van, and it was not his primary vehicle. It was a used Honda van that was on its way to becoming the second car, the one that could be loaded up with sports equipment and kids and driven to places where kids and sporting equipment collide in events that tend to generate fun and togetherness. The van itself needed a bit of work, but was still operating in that potential capacity when it was left in front of our house for a few days before it could be fully restored and placed in its proper rotation as The Fun Family Truckster. That didn't get to happen since, as I have already mentioned, it was stolen.
Were there safeguards and measures we all could have taken to ensure that such a crime would not be perpetrated on the collective us? Sure. Probably not the least of which was leaving it parked on the street outside our house for more than a day or two. As much as I like to believe that I live in a safe and respectful corner of the planet, I am sure that putting it someplace where it could have been locked up more securely without a big tree between us would have been a better choice.
I know this because I once lost a car in Oakland. Okay, I didn't so much lose a car as it was lost for me. The mistake I made way back then was leaving a car unattended in a parking lot while my family and I went to see a movie and have dinner together. The windows were closed and the doors were locked. We carried the keys with us so that when we came back from being entertained and fed, we could drive back home. At this point in history, we were a one-car family with a son whose dreams of owning a car were just that, right behind the dream of having a driver's license and four years of high school to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. After our car was stolen, his focus shifted slightly to give his parents as much information as possible about how to purchase a new car that would fit his sensibilities better than the gold Saturn wagon that had been disappeared. That was four years ago.
Since then, we have been driving the Prius that my son still holds in mild disdain, and we have become a two car family, adding the Supra to our driveway that is my son's point of affection and attention. That's why we didn't really have room for the Honda van in our corral. The good news is that my brother-in-law got a call from the police, telling him that his vehicle had been found, not far from where it had been borrowed. My son tagged along on the recovery effort, and helped bring the now slightly more used van back to its home. Not in front of our house.
A couple weeks ago, there was a black Toyota Avalon that sat in roughly the same spot as the van had occupied. After a week and a few tickets had passed under the windshield wipers, I posted a description and license plate number on the abandoned vehicle portion of the Oakland PD website. A day later, officers were able to connect the owners to come out and reunite them with their car. Without the radio. All a part of the Circle of Life here in the East Bay.
Which gives me some mild hope that one day the phone will ring. After my son has left us a spot in the driveway. After he has driven off to college and found a safe place to park his car. We might get that phone call, more than four years late: "We found your car." I have a spot in the garage for it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What A Burger, Indeed

Last summer, my wife brought me a souvenir from the trip she took with my son to Austin, Texas. It wasn't a Longhorns T-shirt or swag from the RTX booths that were the reasons for them to be in the Lone Star state. She didn't bring back any barbecue, which makes sense in a perishable kind of way. Instead she chose to bring me a relic from one of their favorite meals in Austin. Something that wasn't perishable, only recyclable. Upon their return, I was presented with a cardboard sleeve from an order of Whataburger french fries. As a fan of burgers of all kinds, I took what might have been compost at almost any other juncture like the memento it was intended. I did inspect the package for any peculiar or arcane markings, like the bible verse found on the In 'n' Out french fry boats, or a sweepstakes offer like McDonald's. Nope. This was truth in packaging. It was just what it looked like. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was a remembrance shared with my family from a meal I missed with them.
Until now.
This past week, the Chief Executive Officer of the Whataburger chain, Preston Atkinson, said "thank you, no" to the open carry laws enacted in Texas. Those who previously had permits to carry concealed weapons can now pack their shootin' irons in hip or shoulder holsters for everyone to see. But not at Whataburger. Their policy echoes that of a number of franchises that are interested in keeping their restaurants gun-free. "We have to think about how open carry impacts our 34,000+ employees and millions of customers," Atkinson wrote. "We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement … [and] we have a responsibility to make sure everyone who walks into our restaurants feels comfortable. For that reason, we don’t restrict licensed concealed carry but do ask customers not to open carry in our restaurants." Freedom to carry a gun versus free enterprise. Once again, the idea of a fight between the "anti-gun lobby" and them with guns seems a little unfair, at least when it comes to the shooting portion of the contest. Both sides will argue common sense, but those with guns have this Constitution thing on their side. They'll call for a boycott, which will make it easier to enforce the policy that will keep open carry folks from eating at Whataburger. See how this whole democracy thing works? I'm proud to be an American, and I like my burgers with cheese.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Will Survive

Ingenuity. Ingenious. Different from ingenuous. Those first two words might describe the efforts of a San Antonio man who was trapped in a FedEx store for more than two hours last weekend. Chris Galvan went to make some copies shortly before the nine o'clock closing time Saturday night. Perhaps because the staff was anxious to be on their way to their weekend festivities, or perhaps Chris was too tired from all the running about he had been doing earlier in the day as a fitness buff to notice the signs being turned and the lights being turned off or the locks being turned. He was locked in, and no amount of rattling the doors or squawking made the doors fly open.
What did Chris do? He used social media to alert the world to his plight. Besides Instagraming and Tweeting and Kiking his way out, he used his phone to call another FedEx store where an employee was able to get in touch with a management type who could come on down and open the door and let poor, tired Chris out. Two and a half hours later. That kind of thing can really mess with your training regimen, but judging by the videos he posted, this didn't make a difference to Chris. He has the pictures and video to prove it. And so does the rest of the world.
This is where my mind went in a straight line to 127 Hours. You remember the film, starring James Franco about the guy who gets his arm stuck between a rock and a hard place, and he spends six days figuring out the best way to get out of the canyon in which he is stuck is to leave the arm. I remember watching this film, the true story of Aron Ralston's survival, snacking away on my large popcorn and soaking up the majority of the tub of Coca Cola that I was nominally sharing with my wife. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I was struck by the ratio of salty popcorn to cool refreshing soda. I had ordered the largest size Coke before infinity, but I had run dry. And now I sat there, parched, wishing that I had something to drink. James/Aron was up there on the screen, contemplating all kinds of nasty solutions for this challenge, but I couldn't drag myself out of my seat to walk the hundred feet to the snack bar to get my free refill.
At least I didn't post my travail on the Internet for everyone to read. Until now.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bread And Circuses

I haven't ever been to Comic-Con, though it certainly seems as though it would be a place for me to hang out and soak up my brand of pop culture. I didn't go again this year, which seems like such a shame, what with all the superheros and Star Wars flitting about San Diego last week. Instead, I stuck around the house, watching the press releases and photos that came across the wire and waited for those "surprises" that nerds like myself wait for all year long. There was this moment, when a trailer for the new Batman versus Superman movie was "leaked." This was the kind of event for which I had been hoping.
Then I started to reflect on it. What was this movie really about, after all? I have become resigned the notion that every so often the super-authority of Superman has to be challenged. Not by bad guys, but by a good guy. How else could you explain Spider Man taking a pop at Supes? As it turns out, it was all just a misunderstanding and the two of them ended up palling around in Metropolis for a while after it was made clear who the boss really was.
That wasn't the case with Frank Miller's Batman. In The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce Wayne wants to knock Clark Kent's block off, secret identities aside. It made me think about all the different superhero fights that I had imagined in brackets throughout history. Superman always ends up with the top seed. The only way to beat the man from Krypton? Allegory.
In Miller's Dark Knight, and apparently in the new movie, Superman is suspect because of his power and authority. He is not of the people. He is above them. Superior. Bats is of the people, even if his alter ego who lives in stately Wayne Manor is not. Both men fight crime. That whole truth, justice and the American Way thing. Like political parties. Both of them working for the betterment of society, but their methods sometimes differ. Ideologically, they want what's best for Gotham and Metropolis and the tri-state area. They don't always agree on exactly what that looks like.
In the meantime, while these caped crusaders bash each other about the face and head, hoping to change their opponents' point of view, Lex Luthor watches and waits. He's the one who stands to make money off this deal. And if Superman and Batman are beating each other up, evil geniuses who don't care about global warming pause while counting their money for just a moment and wait for the spectacle outside to continue. Or maybe it's just a comic book.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Aloha, Bill

Dear Mister Cosby,
I don't know if you heard, but your pal Whoopi is shifting her View on you. It would seem that if it walks like a rapist, talks like a rapist, and buys quaaludes like a rapist, then it's probably a rapist. After giving you the benefit of the doubt in all kinds of public ways, Whoopi Goldberg had this to say after a segment in which she was educating herself on the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases: "It looks bad, Bill," she said. "Either speak up or shut up." She apparently is ready to turn in her "innocent until proven guilty" rhetoric in the face of what is becoming a mountain of evidence and accusation.
Okay, two little facts you should know about me before we go any further: I once applied and paid the dues for a membership in the American Civil Liberties Union. That way I could tell people that I was, in fact, a card-carrying member of the ACLU. You might be familiar with them. They tend to look after the rights of the individual, the ones guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution. This one would be mostly the sixth amendment, since "innocent until proven guilty" does not appear in that document. Again, in the interest of transparency, I let my membership lapse since it seems that being able to tell people that you are a card carrying member of the ACLU isn't as amusing as I thought it was going to be and I can still support the ideals of that organization without the card. That's why I will happily support a fair and speedy trial, during which you will be judged by a jury of your peers.
Which brings me to the the second fact: For me, it would be hard to find those peers, at least when it comes to standup comedy. I have been a fan since I was able to sit up and listen to your stories pouring out of my parent's hi-fi. Go-carts and Fat Albert and Shop Class and, of course, The Chicken Heart. These were formative experiences to me. At my house, we regularly sing dad's praises with the Chocolate Cake song. I am not letting go of those memories, but now it's time to box them up and put them away. It looks bad, Bill. Really bad.
Goodbye, Bill.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Give Me An All Star Break

Of course I was baited. The headline for the article was "20 Athletes Who Don't Belong In Their Sport's Hall of Fame." Above the link was a picture of John Elway. I know that I shouldn't have even bothered, partly because these kinds of links are the sort that clog up a day of pointing and clicking that generally proceeds at a reasonable clip. That means that when I see something that catches my interest, I click, read a line or two and then move on, unless the picture, post, video or article is so entrancing that I must stay for the entire show. I knew before I jumped down the rabbit hole to view this slow-loading slide show that I was going to have to wade through ten or more ridiculous opinions before I was asked to accept the author's premise that somehow the most important quarterback on the planet didn't belong in the Football Hall of Fame. Sure, Jacob Kornhauser's opinion is every bit as relevant as mine. Except his is wrong. 

Okay. It's not wrong, since I know as a teacher of elementary school children that facts can be wrong and Mister Kornhauser was expressing an opinion, and providing support for that opinion doesn't make it a fact. He was just exercising his American-made right to free speech and putting John Elway near the top of his countdown ensured that most everyone like me who wanted to see just how it could be argued that John Elway didn't belong in the Hall of Fame would click on through his series of wild swings at beloved sport legends from days gone by just to see why John Elway was not Hall of Fame-worthy. "Even though he played before the NFL got so pass happy, Elway's numbers really weren't elite. The most yards he ever threw for in a single season was 4,030, and the most touchdowns he ever threw for in a single season was 27. Most telling is that his adjusted quarterback rating of 105 is only slightly better than average." This is when I started to feel my blood boil. Not actually, since that wold be more of a medical condition, but I had that urge to send off a harshly worded email to Jacob, explaining how I didn't appreciate him knocking around my heroes like that. Just like I was going to politely accept Kid Rock's invitation to Confederate flag protesters. It's a moment that passes, and then the rest of the day continues in the real world, away from the screens and keyboards.
Because it occurred to me: It is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Statistics. This is why the seemingly eternal and burning questions about people like Pete Rose and Barry Bonds make me switch positions more often than someone who regularly changes their opinion that would make this a funny comparison. These guys are cheaters. They broke the rules. They are also famous, which it turns out is a derivation on the word "fame." Should there be an asterisk next to their name? Why not? A big bronze one, standing right next to their jerseys or attached to their bust, but then we can all flock to the Hall and argue over the size of the asterisk and the font they chose to write the story of how they found themselves enshrined. Statistics are objective, but how they are applied is not. Fame is subjective, and all the statistics in the world won't make it easier for punters to get into Canton. That's my opinion. I'm sure there is a Hall of Fame somewhere for Jacob Kornhauser, but I don't think I have the time to spend figuring that out. His fifteen minutes here are up. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You Want A Napkin With That?

Ariana Grande is an American singer/actress. She has her own web site. She is twenty-two years old. These facts may not seem terrifically significant, given the number of American twenty-somethings who have their own web sites. Many of them are successful artsy-types who have achieved some measure of fame and fortune such that they can pay to have someone else put together the kind of flashy batch of links and videos and product tie-ins that help generate more revenue, therefore allowing more web-types to devote more of their working hours on fashioning a lifestyle connection with a person who gained fame on a Nickelodeon show about a teenage singing sensation who played the sidekick of that singing sensation, not the singing sensation herself.  Still with me?
Okay, so what if that sidekick launched her own pop music career from those same roots as Hillary Duff and Miley Cyrus happened to have some of that same youthful sense of mischief that her predecessors had? She's not racing Lamborghinis while under the influence of alcohol. Or throwing eggs at a neighbor's house. While under the influence of alcohol. Or trying to make it through Australian customs with an assortment of illegal drugs and paraphernalia. While under the influence of alcohol. And perhaps some of those illegal drugs. In your underwear. That would be the Justin Bieber method. For the record, Justin never starred or even appeared as the sidekick in a Nickelodeon TV series.
Which brings us back to Ariana Grande. She played Cat Valentine on Victorious. Now she is starring in her own videos. Unfortunately, some of them are the less-produced, more security-camera version. Ms. Grande can be seen licking a doughnut left out on the counter, being rude to the help, macking on her backup singer boy toy, and then uttering the words "I hate America." All of this behavior would be despicable and rude from anyone of any age, but precisely the kind of behavior that twenty-something girls and boys might engage in Lake Elsinore, California after a fun-filled Fourth of July. Except your next gig was going to be a concert before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Not anymore. As the pundits put it so aptly, most baseball fans won't know the difference between Ariana and Demi Lovato, and now Ariana will have to go to Spin-Video Jail. And wait for Justin Bieber to show back up again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

There are unintended consequences for any and all actions. The removal of all these Confederate flags will cause a flap, if you'll pardon the pun, in the flag-making industry. Those who made their living off supplying the Stars and Bars for the South Carolina capitol will now be forced to go out and find themselves a new client. It won't be NASCAR, since they have politely asked their fans to limit the display of the recently less than reputable banner. Since their plan to substitute American flags for Confederate flags for free at the Daytona 500 went mostly unnoticed, something tells me that there will still be a market for General Lee's battle flag for a while to come. Especially since it has been more than one hundred and fifty years since the Confederate states surrendered and since then this symbol has become linked with "Southern Pride." This probably explains why sales of the losing side continues to grow.  See what I mean about unintended consequences?
Which brings me to the case of another enduring symbol: The Ten Commandments. At the end of last month, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution prevented governments from taking any action that benefits religion. The Ten Commandments monument in front of the Oklahoma capitol would seem to do just that. So that great big chunk of carved stone has to go. This was yet another victory for those who like their constitutionality, especially when it comes to those fans of the separation of church and state. Perhaps chief among these folks would be the Satanic Temple. Their website, by the way, includes what may be one of the most unintentionally amusing links "Friends of Satan." This is how Satanists stick together and stay in touch during such momentous times. And what will they be discussing currently? Well to start they will be celebrating the Oklahoma ruling and gloating over how all that God's Law stuff has to be hauled off. But they're also going to have to get together to figure out what they are going to do with their own statue, the nearly completed statue that cost their temple between twenty and a hundred thousand dollars, depending on who you talk to.
If that's the way you decide to exercise your freedom of speech.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A World Of Trouble

Global warming. That's something I worry about. Drought in the west. Tornadoes in the middle. Every kind of furious weather in the east. When I am not consumed by fear of climate change and the greenhouse gasses that will  most certainly our collective undoing, I fret about the coming storms of civil unrest. Baltimore and Ferguson are part of a list that seems to grow daily. For every victory one side gets from the Supreme Court seems to drive the divide still deeper between the left and the right. Blue and Red. Liberal and Conservative. American and National League. There are so many ways to exacerbate us versus them. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a spot where we could put our flags and banners aside long enough to agree to disagree.
I have, in the past, suggested that what we really need as Americans is a good old-fashioned zombie apocalypse. Maybe not just America either. Get all those Islamic State yahoos to band together to make a jihad against the walking dead. That would be a treat. Use all those guns to start killing the real enemy: people who are already dead. Wouldn't that be nice? Or an invasion from outer space, with its attendant green men and death rays. Humankind could band together to make their stand, even if their ax handles and pitchforks seem no match for the futuristic weaponry of this advanced race. At first. And then the tide would turn. Eventually we would rise up and destroy our robotic overlords, taking back the planet that was once ours. We could rebuild. United once again.
It makes a nice story, doesn't it? Well, I have news for you: Nature may still give us this chance. A grizzly bear in Minnesota smashed the glass in the zoo there. With a basketball sized rock. The bear threw this boulder at the glass barrier that stood between it and the viewing public. There was no attack beyond that, but if bears are starting to use tools, we could all be in trouble.
A world of trouble.
And wouldn't that be an awesome thing?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Large Diet Pepsi

Oreos are getting thin. No reason to panic. Nabisco is going to continue making "milk's favorite cookie" as God and all right thinking Americans intended them. This is not a "New Coke" moment, where a company got all excited and decided to risk everything they had invested in brand loyalty to sell us something we didn't want in the first place. This is the new vision of the sugary lard sandwich cookie that has been around for more than one hundred years. Interestingly, Kraft, which owns Nabisco, decided a few years back to celebrate a century of Oreo not by making them thinner, but by filling them with "birthday cake" flavored filling. I don't know about you, but I would be completely happy with a birthday cake that tasted like an Oreo, not necessarily the other way around.
This is most definitely not the first permutation of the original Oreo concept. There have been Oreos with chocolate, mint, peanut butter and Spring stuffed between the uniform chocolate cookies. What, precisely, does Spring taste like? For most of us, I'm not sure it matters, since we continue to buy them and try them no matter what the feeling is about the filling. There are those who swear by the Double Stuf, but inquiries made into the math have shown that the only way to truly get twice as much "Stuf" is to take the lid off one and slap it together with another once-stuft half.
But that's not the point, really. We are not coming to the foot of the temple to worship the goo in between. We are here to appreciate that perfect combination of cookies and creme. There are plenty of imitators, but only one Oreo. Sure, there are some in the world who will extol the virtues of Hydrox. Those people are wrong, but that is what makes America such a great town. Have your RC Cola and your Fruit Rings cereal, and remember a time when your parents bought you Intellivision instead of the Atari that you really wanted.
"Thin Oreos" weigh in at one hundred and forty calories apiece, compared the one hundred sixty found in the clunky old original version. This might be a victory for some. Like when I started doing the drunk-boy math on Lite beer: If it only has one third the calories, that means I can drink three times as much. Victory!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Into The Woods

I had this exultant moment, standing over the bare beast of a limb that stretched out on the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly I was back in the mountains of Colorado, armed with my ax and chainsaw, doing battle with the hillside of infested pine trees. I spent months of my life out there, as the sun was going down, making sure that we were drawing a line in the proverbial sand. We wouldn't lose another tree. Not a single one.
But every summer, the Forest Service had politely marked the ones that had to come down. And every summer, my brothers and I followed my father up the hill to where the single line of spray paint told us what part of the forest was ours to clear. For the first year or two, it was my father's responsibility to bring the offending members down, then my brothers and I would strip them clean of their limbs, and then my father would circle back to cut them into four foot long sections. After that, it fell to us boys to make stacks of these sections. No more than four feet high, and eight feet long so that the Forest Folks could come back to spray and cover them with thick sheets of plastic. That's where they stayed, as a monument to all our hard work, and the devastation wreaked on the woods where we lived. We weren't building forts or collecting firewood. We were trying to save the pines around us in hopes that someday they might grow up and become our firewood. Or coffee tables. Or the forest that kept us invisible to the passersby on the road down below.
We called our father "Beaver," for his skills with a Wright reciprocating blade saw. His sons were all Junior Beavers, and we all looked forward to the day when it would be our turn to fell our own tree. Only once, in all that time, did my father manage to get himself into trouble. He dropped a big Ponderosa on a power line. When the local authorities showed up, he told them he had chased off some kids who "obviously didn't know what they were doing." In the meantime, we stayed inside our cabin with that had no electricity or phone by design and snickered quietly as our father got away with one. After that, we were all much more careful about which way we tipped and tottered our trees.
All of these memories came roaring back as I stood over that stripped limb of a street tree gone bad. It would no longer block traffic on the sidewalk, or keep neighbors from parking on the street. I had learned my lessons well, and as the sun began to set, I began to imagine what the next afternoon might bring. If I looked up and down the street, or searched a few blocks, I might find some woods that needed tending. It's a hard habit to shake.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Putting The Work Back In Fireworks

I walked with my wife through the streets of Oakland on the Fourth of July. Around us, bombs were bursting in the air and we were bathed on the rockets' red glare. She grabbed my arm and enthused mightily at this moment. We were at ground zero for freedom. No one was swooping in to take all this fun and fire away. There were no prowling patrol cars looking for the odd firecracker or stray pop bottle rocket. This was a free-fire zone that started up well before sundown and reached its peak sometime after eleven o'clock, but kept up an ever-diminishing pop and bang until the very wee hours of the following morning. Happy Fifth of July, observed.
As we strolled through the exploding streets, I felt myself drawn time and again to the prohibition that was in full effect: "Safe and sane" were the only types of fireworks allowed by state and city ordinance. That wasn't what we were meandering through. This was pretty insane and not particularly safe. Everything I need to know about fireworks I learned from my older brother who read a series of warnings off several pieces of pyrotechnic. "Light and run away." Two separate actions, but both were intrinsic to the process. Lighting would necessitate the running away part, and if you forgot that part, you pretty much got what was coming to you. The running away part was what I focused on for my formative years. It wasn't until I was well into my teens before I realized that I really needed both hands to light a fuse and I couldn't really spare one finger to keep squished in my ear in anticipation of things blowing up. Sticking around long enough to make sure the fuse was lit caused its own flurry of misfires. As I grew older and more experienced in lighting and running away, I became more cavalier and daring. Read: stupid. Cones that spit sparks and fire should not be set off on apartment balconies. Pop bottle rockets should not be fired indoors and almost as certainly not at your roommate. Festival Balls should be launched from their cardboard mortar tubes, not left to skitter off down the street and explode underneath a parked car. These three examples are known violations of the marginally safe and barely sane ethos I learned to apply to my recreational pyrotechnics. I never did put one of these on top of my head and set one off.
A twenty-two-year-old guy from Maine did that and he died. Instantly. Then there was NFL star defender Jason Pierre-Paul who suffered severe burns on his hands, apparently unable to use those highly conditioned reflexes to do those two things that would have made his Fourth of July one he could remember without visible scarring. In both instances, there was a third element that brought back more hazy memories: heavy drinking. As indestructible as most twenty-somethings consider themselves, after they have consumed their weight in beer, they believe that they are made of Kevlar. Which gave me some ideas about how next year's stroll through the neighborhood might be more relaxing.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

He's Got A Way

"Don't go changin'
to try and please me"
"Even though I'm in love
Sometimes I get so afraid
I'll say something so wrong
Just to have something to say"

"She's got a smile that heals me
I don't know why it is.
But I have to laugh when she reveals me"
"You're my castle, you're my cabin and my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house 'cause you're my home"
"I said I love you and that's forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn't love you any better
I love you just the way you are."
"Once I thought my innocence was gone

Now I know that happiness goes on
That's where you found me
When you put your arms around me
I haven't been there for the longest time"
All of these words came from the pen of one man: Billy Joel. Relationships have been founded on less, but his lyrics have been heard at proms and weddings and romantic interludes, putting ideas in young hearts and minds that might not be realistic. But that's what romantic love is all about: not being realistic. I can say this with a straight face, since Billy got himself hitched to his fourth wife on the Fourth of July. To a woman just about half his age. If you give me a few minutes, I'll see if I can scrounge up some appropriate lyrics for that. Or maybe I should just leave a tender moment alone. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Don't Feel Like Satan, But I Am To Them

The biggest tragedy, as it turns out, isn't that we will have to watch the Miss Universe Pageant on our laptops this year. It isn't that the reigning Miss Universe, Paulina Vega from Colombia, isn't willing to give up her crown. She earned it, after all. Now she will have to continue defending herself from the money guy behind the throne, Donald J. Trump, who called her a "hypocrite." Her response: "The most comical is using the word: hypocrisy. But I think what I’m doing is the least hypocrite thing I can do by using my voice clearly. By not renouncing my crown has nothing to do with what I do or what I don’t do. I have a legally binding contract and legal relationship with the organization and it’s not so easy for me, like the artists have done, to renounce and say, 'No. I’m not working for you anymore.' I have a contract of 1 year. So it's a much more complicated situation, but we have to understand that Trump is a very polemic person. I’m going to keep going forward and refuse his comments to affect me. Miss Universe the organization and I are much more than what that man says on Twitter." Did you catch the use of "polemic" in there? I believe Ms. Vega's talent in the pageant last year was "Thesaurus." 
If all of this ruckus could have stayed in the arena of beauty pageants, it might have been just another one of the Donald's tirades that have that ring of "Macbeth," Act Five, Scene Five about them. Now he's looking to corral public opinion around the death of a woman in San Francisco. In case you missed it, thirty-two-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot to death while walking with her parents on Pier 14. The suspect? Illegal immigrant and convicted felon Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez. Suddenly the outrage over J. Trump's babble is mired in the real life concerns of immigration reform and sanctuary cities and how did this guy get hold of a federal officer's gun? It's almost like a series of coincidences too bizarre to be imagined. 
Unless there were millions of dollars changing hands. What does Ockham's Razor suggest? Take the fewest assumptions possible. Does it make any sense that this guy would just randomly be shooting white women, or seals as he has suggested, at a crowded Bay Area tourist attraction? Does it make any sense at all that the gun he used belonged to a federal agent? How far down the rabbit hole would you have to go to find some connection between the Trump campaign and this five time loser who just happened to be in the worst possible place at the most awful time? The money you don't have to spend on Celebrity Apprentice and Univison promos can now be slid to the Sanchez family. The Donald could be paying all those rapists, drug dealers and murderers to stay in Mexico. Where I hope they have decent wi-fi so they can watch Miss Universe. 
It would be funny if it weren't so horrible. "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World?" Canadian immigrants Like Neil Young are troublemakers, but at least they're not murderers. Maybe it really can't be funny anymore. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Way It Is

Three weeks. That's how much time is on the clock for Jon Stewart and his version of "The Daily Show." I confess that I got a little caught up in the hype of David Letterman's retirement a couple of months back. It struck a chord with my nostalgia nerve. My nerve chord. That was more about a body of work that stretched back into my youth. Jon Stewart's departure is creeping up and making me nervous about how my life will change without four days a week of yuks and incisive commentary. Where will I get my news?
I know. I'm a clever guy. I know that I can click on the links that will give me the perspective that I can use, or the items that will help me connect the dots. But I don't want to. I like the way Jon has given form to my meandering thoughts. He has crystallized my thinking during a time that has been confounding for many Americans, not just me.
I thought about when Walter Cronkite retired. The most trusted man in America, once upon a time. The man who told us that Kennedy had died and Neil Armstrong had set foot on the moon. In a time that seemed like forever, Walter brought us through Watergate and the Vietnam War. If you wanted to know the way it is, you tuned into CBS. That time that felt like forever was nineteen years, from 1962 to 1981. That was my lifetime, once upon a long time ago. Walter Cronkite was the only voice I knew, when it came to news. That was the voice that that helped make sense of Richard Nixon. Would it have been nice for Walter to stick around and keep Ronald Reagan honest, but that wasn't in the cards.
Jon Stewart got me through the Bush years. He consoled me after September 11. The outrage that I felt as the lies piled up after the turn of the century was eased by the dismantling of the ridiculous done by Mister Stewart and his crew. In these sixteen years, he has brought in a great many fresh faces that have turned out to be discoveries that have generated their own cottage industry of comedy. And even though it must be incredibly tempting to stick around and shoot the fish that are currently swimming in the presidential barrel, it's time for this circus to fold up its tent. That point of view will be stilled, for now, and the laughs will be found in places that might sound familiar. And the outrage? That might seem reminiscent too. That will be a little comforting, but the next few weeks will bring some reflection and some reminiscing. Because that's the way it is.

Monday, July 06, 2015

To Do

It's summertime. I know this because I changed the calendar page to July the other day. It's also after my birthday, the traditional and somewhat scientific start to the season: the solstice. It's also about time for me to start feeling this vacation thing. It's been a couple of weeks already, and I'm still waking up with a start at six in the morning, certain that I am missing out on something. A responsibility of mine has somehow gone unchecked or forgotten. I spend the next hour or two soothing my jangled nerves and assuring my wife that I have not gone nuts. Further nuts.
It is about the architecture of my day. I tend to build from the solid base that is my job, and spread out from there. Having a job is all kinds of security for me since I have such limited imagination when it comes to things that I can do. Should do. Need to do. I like that sense of purpose. The kind of purpose that generates its own "to-do list." When I get into those vacation blurs, I try and create my own must-dos. That's why I have sanded and painted the front and back porch and steps. I have cleaned the oven. I have cleaned the grout in the bathroom tile. The plum tree out front is calling with its absurd extra branches and weed-like growth.
Every morning I get up and go for a run. I come home and write a blog. I have lunch. Then the rest of the day stretches out before me. And I think of wife and how she is able to create islands of activity in the midst of what appears to me as chaos. Events just spring up. A few quick phone calls and she is off to this or that. Sometimes work. Sometimes social. Sometimes both. Morning, noon and night, it's going on. How does she do that?
She is an evolved being. That's all I can take away from this. She doesn't need someone to set an agenda for her. She can make stuff up to do that doesn't even have to be done. Meanwhile, I look with suspicion at that front gate, and the way it's hanging just a little low. And those blackberries aren't going to clear themselves. That's when I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank heavens for something else to do.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Heroic Measures

Superman never made any money
from saving the world from Solomon Grundy
- Superman's Song - Crash Test Dummies
Have you priced a Fortress of Solitude lately? Even in less-than-hospitable locales like the the arctic, it's still real estate and they cost a pretty penny. A good deal more than you average beat reporter's salary for the Daily Planet. And how much do you suppose laying in a good year's supply of web fluid would run you? I'm guessing that freelance photographers from the Daily Bugle would have to sell a lot of pix of some awfully interesting characters to buy all the raw materials to whip that stuff up. And keep it a secret from your Aunt May? Doesn't seem likely.
Batman, on the other hand, seems all set up for the superhero lifestyle: great big house with just a loyal and paid manservant to keep things on the down low. A family fortune that provides seemingly endless capital for the production of gadgets and potions and vehicles for fighting crime. The kind of crime you find in dark alleys and mean streets, not in skyscrapers and boardrooms. We would all like to believe that Bruce Wayne made all his money in the most honorable and non-demeaning ways. Making money off the backs of the oppressed workers might end up with Wayne Enterprises having to lay off some of their less vital employees, leaving them to have to scrape by in the only way they can. Turning to a life of crime, perhaps? Full employment would obviously be the goal of Stark Industries in order to keep any potential bad guys from popping up as a result of the gripes of some disgruntled ex-employee. Heaven forbid that that disgruntled ex-employee turned out to be working on some disintegrator ray or indestructible robot army. As long as economics didn't play a part in it. Superhero-ing is a rich man's game. 
Unless you're Luke Cage. Mister Cage hails from Harlem, and was a gang member in his youth, committing petty crimes and getting into scrapes with the law. His best friend framed him for drug possession, and he was sent to prison, where he ended up being used for experiments that gave him his super powers. He escaped from prison with his newly created strength, and he sets himself up as Hero For Hire, working for whomever can meet his price. Doctor Doom solicited his services, and when he failed to pay up, Luke ended up palling around with the Fantastic Four. And before you know it, he's flying around in their jet and hanging around with all those other silver-spoon/surfer types. Luke, like Supes, could have broken into any bank in the United States. But he didn't. He just started looking for his own fortress of solitude. Probably on the Upper East Side. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Let Freedom Ring

Freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Freedom from reality. Former governor of Arkansas Mike "Slappin' Da Bass" Huckabee would like right thinking Americans to exercise some of those rights. Governor Mike suggests civil disobedience as a response to the Supreme Court's ruling on Gay Marriage. "I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision."
Interesting that Governor Mike would invoke the name of Martin Luther King Jr., since Doctor King organized his marches and boycotts and protests to encourage freedom from oppression. Kind of like the way marches and boycotts and protests have been organized over the past forty-five years by gay men and women to bring attention to their struggle. These kind of movements are generally founded in the midst of a group that  is striving to have their voice heard. The Supreme Court's ruling is the culmination of this struggle. Well, at least it's a very nice start. 
What isn't clear is exactly what Governor Mike's group of oppressed clergy and right thinking Americans are being denied. As many wits more clever than I have pointed out, legalizing gay marriage does not mean that we all need to start pairing off with members of our own sex. Hetero marriage is still legal, at least as of this writing. Freedom from that kind of oppression is just a touch on the imaginative side. Sure, we live in very interesting,  turbulent times. Republican presidential candidates are soliciting donations from newly legalized pot growers. Okay. One of them is. Socialized medicine has been approved by a group of "unelected, black robed lawyers." Well, not exactly. What is apparent is just how slippery a slope we seem to be on currently. There is a boatload of fear out there, and  if this were 1776, it would make a whole lot of sense to throw some or all of it overboard. The trouble with that is this: fear floats. It is also great TV. Especially during an election. Or the run up to an election. 
Another point in our country's history that Governor Mike would like us  to consider is the Dred Scott decision. The one from 1857 that African Americans could not be citizens, whether they were free or slaves. What if, Governor Mike wonders, no one had stood up to that Supreme Court decision? Well, it seems as though the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, along with the Civil War, pretty much settled that can of bigoted hash. But I'm no Constitutional Scholar. Not like the guy who currently holds the office Governor Mike wants to have. It's a free country, after all, and if you'd like to start up a protest against the restriction of selfie-sticks at Disneyland or get an early start on this year's War on Christmas, it's your right. We are all Americans.