Monday, November 30, 2015

What A Deal

The post I saw on my friend's Twitter feed read, #blackfridaysdon'tmatter. It struck a chord with me because I still can't make myself jump out of bed the day after Thanksgiving and participate in the capitalist circus that has become endemic in our American way of life. There are so many more people and things that take precedence for me over shopping. I understand that saving money is the point, and that having a choice is what makes this so quintessentially Estados Unidos. I understand that not buying anything on Black Friday will not make any sort of dent in the projected bottom line of Target, or any other retailer. It's my personal decision not to play along.
And there are a lot of things that matter. Black lives, for example. Lives, for another in a more inclusive sort of way. That is why I paused when I wandered into my son's room, occupied for the moment by our son who was back for a few days. He looked at me with a pained expression: "Active shooter," were the words that he spoke. Suddenly, lives were in danger. On Black Friday. Not because of a riot that commenced over doors opening late or a fight over that last fifty-nine dollar HDTV. Because of Planned Parenthood.
In Colorado Springs, just before noon, a gunman entered the clinic firing a high-powered rifle as he went. Law enforcement responded, and four officers were wounded in an exchange of gunfire along with bystanders who can only be described as innocent. Innocent from the standpoint of rational folks who choose to voice their opinions in ways that don't involve high powered rifles. The irony of shooting at people to show your aversion to killing those who may or may not be born is one of the things that seems to have been missed by this gunman. Add to that the savings he ignored by picking this particular day for his rampage.
Coincidence? Sure, it could have been that this guy was planning on carrying out his ugly little plan last week, on a Wednesday. He forgot that he had a dentist appointment. Had to reschedule. He had to reschedule in order to make his own horribly misguided point on a day only slightly more galling than Thanksgiving. Had to kill a cop and some innocent bystanders to illustrate my feelings on the sanctity of all life. Radical Muslims are terrorists. What do we call Radical Christians? Black Friday, indeed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Gays

Back when I was in sixth grade, I didn't know how you caught the gays. My mother, who was a great mother and very handy with a sewing machine, made me a new backpack for my entry into junior high school. It was made of sturdy green canvas, which I thought was especially thoughtful because the colors of my new school were green and white. She put two felt appliques, one a happy face and the other a snarky frown. It said that there would be good days and  there would be bad days. Little did I know it also gave me the gays.
It did not happen immediately. It took a week or two, but they caught up to me. Mostly eighth and ninth graders at first, but soon after the rest of the seventh grade were anxious to get in on the message: That backpack is gay. I didn't know at that time that sexual preference was determined by the backpack I wore. I didn't know what sexual preference was, which may have had something to do with it. Which is also why I had to surrender to the insistence that most everything I did or said was just bringing on the gays. I was made to understand just how awful the gays were by just how much every other boy and most of the girls would do anything they could to avoid them. Whatever it was that they were, I knew that they could get me tormented in gym class or beat up in the hallway. How I dressed, how I sat and even the way I looked at my nails were outward signs of contracting the gays.
There were some who had it worse than me, and I was assured by my friends that if I just got rid of the backpack, I might be able to find my way back to the straight and narrow. That, and I had to stop listening to Elton John. The thing is, I didn't want to. I loved that backpack. Maybe that was what "sexual preference" was all about. Love and respect for my mother and the backpack she made with her own hands gave me a case of the gays that I could not shake. Would not shake. I really liked "Rock of the Westies" too. I wasn't giving them up without a fight.
It wasn't ever really a fight, per se. It was primarily abuse. Most of it was mental. Some of it was physical. It all hurt. Not bad enough to stop carrying the backpack. Or the lunch box inside of it. I wore it out. Eventually it was replaced by a more traditional nylon rucksack from a sporting goods store. My mom and I never talked about making a replacement. We didn't need to. And it turned out that I wasn't gay after all. Just a little odd. And stubborn.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The List Keeps Getting Longer

I have lived long enough to see them come and go: quarterbacks. Norris Weese and Craig Penrose stand out as names from a past that might be forgotten by bandwagon types. The same might be said for Brian Griese or even Frank Tripucka. More will remember Craig Morton, since he was the field general for both the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos when he was the starter, years apart, for those two teams. In my memories, Craig isn't wearing the silver helmet with star on it. He's the old guy rolling out in one of the world's worst attempts at a bootleg. When he showed up in Denver in 1977, he was thirty-four years old. Five years later, he hung up his cleats and retired without wining the Lombardi trophy.
It was his successor, John Elway, who brought that prize back to Denver. It took him several tries, but he managed it. Twice. Along the way, he engineered a barrel full of last minute comeback wins and became part of the argument that people have about who is the best quarterback of all time.  That shadow lingered over the Mile High City for years. Plenty of other men, old and young, took their shot at being the one to make everyone forget about Elway. For ten games, some people thought that guy was Tim Tebow. It wasn't.
Then came the big deal. The real deal. Peyton Manning picked the Broncos to be the team that he would use to ride off into the sunset. It was a great story, as "The Sheriff" blazed through that first year with his new team, breaking records and Colts fans' hearts, and then Denver fans' hearts again. His second year in Denver, he took his new team to the Super Bowl. And still the record books fill up with Peyton Manning's name. He broke those records with a picture of a horse on the side of his helmet.  And all the while, the clock was ticking. The clock that said, "There aren't a lot of thirty-nine year old Super Bowl quarterbacks."
This past week, Brock Osweiler added his name to that list of names. Peyton Manning got a cast for his foot. The last person I would bet against in this world when it comes to winning a football game is Peyton Manning. He has won more games than just about any other quarterback in professional football history. He might never win another. He might be done. He might become a part of the legacy of Denver Bronco quarterbacks who have not won a Super Bowl during their time in orange and blue. And while it seems like a tragedy, it is really a triumph. When I think about my own ever-expanding list of old-guy-ailments, I imagine just how much longer it would be if I had a three hundred pound man throwing me on the ground on a regular basis. I've got fourteen years on Mister Manning, that's the same difference between the ages of Brock and Peyton. I can't imagine playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos. I'm glad that Peyton did.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Opinions: Everyone has them and they all stink, or so goes part of the old saw about opinions. Now that we find ourselves within  the calendar year of our next presidential election, the opinions will be flying around like opinions do in election years. After eight years of Obama and his administration, we will now be treated with contrasting views from both sides. Hilary and Bernie need to make themselves distinct from the policies and accomplishments of the current crew in the White House. Nobody wants to be part of the same old song and dance. That's why Democrats have chosen to align themselves with the words of George W. Bush, who reminded us that "Islam is Peace."
Of course, this leaves the Republicans' door wide open to start pushing back against all this talk of understanding and forgiveness. Forrest Trump and Doctor Ben Carson have recently taken  to the airwaves to remind us that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were cheering after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Doctor Ben Carson has since backed off these claims, but that hasn't kept him from insisting that mosques, schools, supermarkets, car repair shops and "any place where radicalization is going on" should be monitored in light of terrorist threats. "I would say we use our intelligence and we monitor anything: our mosques, a church, a museum, a supermarket," he said, later adding that monitoring would come after multiple reports or indications of radical activity. "We live in a very different time right now."
It's a different time, alright. But it's one we've seen before. The times they are a'changin', but not necessarily in the clean, linear way we like to think that they do. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, and those who repeat it are most often politicians. Doctor Ben Carson, who used to be a brain surgeon before he became a politician, seems to be enamored of a time in our past when personal liberties lost out to concerns about national securities. Or is that national insecurities? Once upon a time, the United States government locked up a bunch of Japanese Americans because they shared ancestry with a country with whom we were at war. Decades later, our government felt bad about locking men, women and children up without any sort of due process, and paid each of the survivors twenty thousand dollars. That little proposition cost us more than one and a half billion dollars in reparations. That's not an opinion, by the way. That's a fact.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Full Of It

I am thankful that Glenn is alive. Like a portion of America, millions of us, but still a portion were caught up in the weeks-long uncertainty of the fate of a television character. Over these past few weeks, bombs have exploded and people have been shot. Elections have been held. All of this in real life. And yet somehow, I remained fixated on the outcome of a TV show. I am thankful for that.
How could this be? Shouldn't I be embarrassed by the way my attention was diverted from current events by popular culture. A basic cable television show somehow managed to become my focus for November. My son is finishing up his first quarter in college. He bought and installed his own brake rotors. It is an exciting time to be a parent, and yet I got sidetracked by TV. I'm thankful for that.
Why? Because my life is good. I can allow Glenn to become my focus for days at a time because I am not currently consumed by any other grief or anxiety. Not that I don't have them. I worry about plenty of things, but I don't let it get in the way of my weekly show. For example, I am not currently afraid of going out on the street and being chased by zombies. Nor am I waiting anxiously at home for my loved ones to return home from wherever they have been chased by zombies. My life, in actuality, is pretty solidly zombie free. I am thankful  for that.
The world may be zombie-less, but there are still plenty of reasons to be filled with terror. Chief among them would be terrorists. I am not immune from the fear of all things affecting our planet, but my neighborhood is currently as free from terrorists as it is from the walking dead. I am thankful for that. My wife and son are nearby in this zone of safety, as is my extended family in the far off land of Colorado. Also currently a zombie free zone. I am very thankful for that.
Up the road from me here in Oakland are signs that remind me that Berkeley is a Nuclear Free Zone. I am thankful for that, even if they didn't bother to put up a sign about zombies. Most of the bay area is pretty solidly against harboring terrorists and the like, so my thanks-cup  is running over. And Glenn is still  alive. For  now. I am thankful that I will get to hang around another few weeks to see if this trend continues. I will be eating turkey and pie today. Not brains. Thankful, thankful, thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Texas Means Friendship - Really

Ah, Texas. There is so much about you to love: your fierce independence, your colorful characters, your chainsaws. You've got barbecue to spare, and don't forget the Alamo. You're so very big and loud, it's hard to ignore you. How could we? Why would we? With two Bushes and a Johnson, you guys have pretty much ruled the White House over the past fifty years. We've all learned our lesson: Don't mess with Texas.
Unless the Texans in question turn out to be real dullards. Take for example the Texas education officials who declined the help of university academics to fact check their students' textbooks. You might remember a recent dust-up with a Houston area mother who found the discussion of African "workers" in the nineteenth century south worthy of correction. That didn't keep the school board from turning down help from outside getting things right. "I know people are concerned about pointy-headed liberals in the ivory tower making our process different or worse," said board member Thomas Ratliff, who sponsored the bill, before the vote. "But I hold our institutions of higher education in fairly high regard." That didn't keep the measure from failing in an eight to seven vote. Don't mess with Textbooks, neither.
Which brings us to another thing that really matters in the Lone Star State: guns. Part of that whole independence thing, and probably some of that barbecue thing, has to do with that right to bear arms. They like to take their guns out to their local barbecue or taco stand to show that they can. Open carry doesn't mean they can walk around swigging from their longnecks, it means they want to show off their right to bear arms in the only way they know how: by wandering about their towns with all manner of firearms strapped to themselves, illustrating just how serious they are about bearing arms. It has made a number of different fast food chains have to put in writing their policies about weapons inside their franchises. Now it seems that the civic minded denizens or Irving, Texas are doing one better by taking their gun show to their local mosque. Aside from showing off their firepower, the assembled crowd let their Muslim neighbors know they would not stand for "The Islmization of America." Organizer David Wright, who cited the Paris attacks and rumors of Syrian refugees coming to Texas as reasons for the protest, said he had brought his twelve-gauge shotgun because "We do want to show force," according to the Dallas Morning News. "It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves," he said.
Ridiculous? Well, hey pardner, everything's bigger in Texas.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tyler Durden

I was listening to Alice Cooper's "Under My Wheels" the other day, and it got me thinking "What kind of guy is this?" At the very least, the song is alluding to a hookup somewhere just outside the bounds of monogamy. The narrator is trying to get away from his old lady to take this new paramour to "the show." Nothing truly awful there. It's the kind of thing that rock and roll, and its cousin country, has been about forever, but it's the positioning of the characters that makes it a little strange. Under my wheels? Is this suggesting that the solution to the dating dilemma proposed by Alice is that one or both of the women in his life be run over with the car that he is driving? Oh that Alice.
But those of us in the know understand that there really isn't an Alice at all. There was this guy, Vincent Furnier, who fronted one of the first shock-rock band. The name of the band was Alice Cooper. As the group gained in popularity, the focus fell, as it often does, on the lead singer. Months on the road and attempts to establish their brand with a frightened public eventually led to Vincent adopting the name of the band to avoid confusion. Or creating even more.
Vincent wasn't necessarily the kind of guy who would run down his nagging girlfriend. But Alice was. So much so that Vincent eventually disappeared, and Alice Cooper stopped being a band and became this scary persona haunting our nightmares and his own. Art and artifice became inexorably intertwined. Vincent Furnier didn't go to rehab. Alice did.
Many years later, comedian Stephen Colbert experienced a similar disjoint as the character he was portraying on his nightly report became confused with the guy doing the bit. So much so that the neo-con character got invited to speak at the annual Correspondent's Dinner during the second Bush regime. The shock and awe on the dais was palpable. Apparently, they thought they had one of their own up there, sharing the warmth. It was cold. Very cold.
Which left me thinking about myself. When I first started teaching, I thought of "Mister Caven" as a character I was playing. I wasn't the kind of guy who would take away a kid's Legos. But Mister Caven would. I couldn't imagine speaking harshly to a child. But Mister Caven does. There are plenty of things that I would never do that Mister Caven does all the time. The other day when I came home, I noticed I had Legos in my pocket. When did that happen?

Monday, November 23, 2015


Everything I know is wrong. Or at least everything that I thought I knew turns out to be held in question. Certain facts, the NFL season and its wiggly reality included, turn out to be less true than I thought they were. An example of this would be the absolute certainty I felt about Doctor Ben Carson and Donald "Forrest" Trump and their campaigns fading by the time autumn rolled around. If I were a betting man, I would have assumed that by now we would be picking at the metaphorical bones of these two GOP pretenders. How could we as a country, or at least part of a country, continue to support such a scary pair of potential leaders of the free world? How can the Carolina Panthers get through more than half a season without losing a game?
Like I said, I'm not a betting man. Which is why I would view the "fact" that there are more Mexicans leaving the United States than entering. This is not historically true, but rather a somewhat recent development. The Pew Research Center found that slightly more than one million Mexicans and their families, including American-born children, left the U.S. for Mexico from 2009 to 2014. During the same five years, eight hundred seventy thousand Mexicans came to the U.S., resulting in a net flow to Mexico of one hundred forty thousand non-citizens. This comes to us from a report by the Pew Research Center, a "non-partisan fact tank," that apparently spent some time collecting non-partisan facts about migration across our southern border. Facts that don't necessarily align with the idea of a porous sieve of a boundary between the United State and Mexico, and since 2012, rather than receiving a massive influx, our country seems to be having a bit of reflux when it comes to the old north-south thing. Three years ago, we sat about even, and it has been decreasing since then. The folks at Pew have given us plenty of reasons why all of this has come to pass, including changing job markets in both countries, but it still doesn't sound possible, does it? 
Especially when you listen to the guys driving the clown car. At this point, it seems like we need to build a wall to keep folks in rather than out. Or maybe Donald Gump has it all figured out. Changing employment patterns have opened up all kinds of opportunities for criminals and now it's just a simple matter of supply and demand. 
Or maybe he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. Either way, I don't think I want the former owner of the New Jersey Generals to run my fantasy football league. That would be wrong. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Garden Of Secrets

One of the great pop culture myths of all time has been busted. This one didn't take a build crew or Adam and Jamie. It took about three lines in a memoir to finally unveil to whom the song "You're So Vain" was ascribed. Carly Simon's tell-all "Boys In The Trees" at last blows the lid off this mystery and after forty-three years, aren't we all amazed to find out that the guy who probably thought the song was about him was (insert drum roll here) Warren Beatty.
What? That was worth waiting for since 1972? I expect that Dick Ebersol, who paid fifty thousand dollars back in 2003 for the private audience with Ms. Simon to have that big secret revealed to only him over a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches washed down with vodka on the rocks. Part of me wants to believe that Carly told Mister Ebersol something different than she just told the world. Kris Kristofferson is now just the guy who wrote "Me and Bobby McGee," a song that was based in part on a Fellini film, but that's for Kris to auction off later. Mick Jagger? He is the business manager for one of the most successful touring bands of all time, and he happened to sing back up on "You're So Vain." It's a tangled web they wove.
David Geffen and James Taylor did not, after all these years, make the cut either, but not from lack of trying. James Taylor did go one better by marrying Carly and even going so far as to buy her a mockingbird. David Geffen, while being a good little shopper himself, his vanity was never really in question. At least not from Ms. Simon.
Which brings us back to Warren. In 1972, there was probably no more likely suspect for any such romantic hookup song. I am pretty sure that Mister Beatty figures prominently in a great many of the "somebody done somebody wrong songs" from that period. It's a little known fact that Warren Beatty is one of the recurring figures in Don McClean's "American Pie." Something about McGovern and so forth. That's part of the reason it turns out to be such a disappointment: People had been guessing it was Warren Beatty for years, and now suddenly it becomes public knowledge? Surprise!
Not really. Like Charles Foster Kane's sled and Luke Skywalker's dad, this one is now consigned to the ages. "Did you know...?" Well, as a matter of fact, I did. As will the rest of Al Gore's Internet. Google, Twitter and reality TV have taken most of what was left of the mystery out of life. Sad, really, because I was kind of holding out hope that it was Jim Henson, if only to imagine Kermit the Frog taking in the total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mister Smith Goes On Vacation

I suppose it really starts with this: If you can afford a good lawyer, you can probably keep yourself safe from a lot of life's little bumps and bruises. Having representation is key. The old saw about those who represent themselves have fools for clients does not touch on the possibility that a really good lawyer still allows fools to be their clients. This is especially true when it comes to those same fools and their money, and how they are easily parted and all. Really foolish people often find themselves separated from that money by really good lawyers. Their own lawyers.
I am guessing that this is true in the story of Aldon Smith, professional football player. Aldon is not the poster child for the NFL, unless trouble is what is being promoted. Back in September, he pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence, hit and run and vandalism charges stemming from a DUI arrest in August. If you've been keeping track of your calendar, this would be right about the time that football season was kicking into gear. Autumn, when the leaves begin to turn and a man's heart turns to fancy cars and driving them into shrubbery. The Bay Area's western franchise, the San Francisco Forty-Niners had enough of Mister Smith's hijinks, having already experienced two previous notifications form the local gendarmes that their star linebacker had been operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of whatever it was that made him feel like he could still do just that, so they let him go. Maybe it was hubris.
And why not? In spite of his third arrest, the team across the bay, known colloquially as "The Raiduhs," snapped him up. This was after he had completed two hundred thirty-five hours of community service for the dustup he had the year before, that saw him pleading no contest to weapons charges in addition to a stab wound he received at a little get-together he had at his house. If you were keeping track of strikes and chances, this would put him somewhere past the three or so that we normally associate with sports. The rules, it would seem, are different for our stars than they are for most of our average citizens. Jail time notwithstanding, how does this guy still have a job? 
Well, the National Football League has ruled that the latest violation of their substance rule by Aldon Smith will be his last for a while. A year. The league has suspended him for a year. He can't play football for a year. Poor choices will cost him millions of dollars. He gets paid a lot of money to sack the quarterback of opposing teams, something he won't be able to do when he is not playing football for a year.This also means he won't get paid for playing football. But, he says "I had lost my love for the game, and it led me to some poor choices, but I am thankful to the Raider organization for believing in me this season and will continue to better myself and grow from my experiences," Smith said. "I look forward to rejoining the team next year."
Next year? Why would anybody who had made this many "poor choices" be allowed to come back to any team? Because of his particular ability to pull grown men to the ground, he seems to continue to be employable. I would guess that any teacher brought up on weapons charges would probably need to find another line of work, no contest plea or not. Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboys and the strange case of Greg Hardy. Actually, in hindsight, it's not that strange at all. Mister Hardy continues to have a job with the Cowboys performing roughly the same acts on grown men wearing pads that he did to his ex-girlfriend. Jerry Jones, owner and king of the Dallas franchise, has continued to insist that their star defensive lineman is not a problem. Of course that was before he missed team meetings. You've got to be careful about that one. No lawyer is going to get back the fine you have to pay for that. Unless you're Tom Brady
Has hockey season started yet?

Friday, November 20, 2015


Around the world, support for the victims and the city of Paris continues to pour in, while anger and cries for vengeance stack up against ISIS on the other side. Most notable in this line would be the mild revelation out of Russia that the passenger plane that crashed last month in Egypt was brought down by a "homemade explosive device." That means all those Russian citizens, more than two hundred of them, were most likely brought down by a terrorist. The Federal Security Service issued a statement offering a $50 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, appealing to the "Russian and international communities for cooperation in identifying the terrorists." The FSB, Russian for Federal Security Service, specified that the reward would be paid in dollars. If the friend of my enemy is my friend, what does this make the United States in this equation? It is pretty obvious that the bad guys are the ones with the homemade bombs, and while we may all sneer at the idea of worldwide cooperation on anything, it does conveniently fall in that category of zombie apocalypse. 
You remember the scenario, where zombies or aliens invade our otherwise tranquil planet and suddenly all those petty squabbles about currency and the Ukraine and human rights get pushed to the back as we focus on ridding ourselves of this otherworldly scourge. A common enemy is something we haven't had for, well, ever. What made the first couple of world wars so satisfying is that first of all, we won. Second, even though the bad guys were unrelentingly bad, we all seemed to be fighting in roughly the same fashion and century. ISIS doesn't seem to mind that their strategies and targets don't seem to fall under that "conventional warfare" heading. Their targets seem to fall outside the "conventional" as well. Women, children, concertgoers. Infidels. They chop people's heads off, which seems old school enough, but they post them on Youtube. I don't know how Muhammad would feel about that.
And in the end, that's what I hope does ISIS in. Not retribution from world powers and fire from the sky, but the fire from within Muslims everywhere who are tired of having these jokers be their spokes-terrorists. The prophet said, 
"You will not enter paradise until you believe,
and you will not believe until you love one another.
Let me guide you to something in the doing of which you will love one another.
Give a greeting to everyone among you."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

You Should Be Dancing

Dancing? Did someone mention dancing? Well, here's a tiny little twist of fate that came my way: Friday evening, as the world attempted to absorb the terror in Paris, I went with my wife to one of our friend's celebration of her fiftieth birthday. It was our friend's wish to ring in the second half century of her life with, of all things, a barn dance. It wasn't held in a barn. There were no bales of hay. There were a lot of cowboy boots and hats. There were a lot of faded dungarees. The band consisted of a bass fiddle, a guitar, a fiddle and a banjo. There was even a real-life square dance caller. He was there to tell us what to do. He told me when to bow to my partner. He told me when to allemande left, and allemande right. When to do si do. I listened intently, and did what I was told because first and foremost, I am a good sport. I was also doing my best to get some sort of aerobic catharsis for all of the news coming from across the sea.
We didn't talk about it but all of us gathered in that room, the community center instead of a barn, were there to celebrate life. That is the nature of dance. My wife teaches Zumba to high school kids and retirees. Not at the same time, but she wakes up in the morning with music in her head and a new step to go with it. In this way, she has her own internal square dance caller.
I don't. most of the dancing I have done over the course of my adult life has been under the tutelage of my very patient wife who has over the years created a reasonable facsimile of a dancing partner out of a husband who tends to hear the sound of his own drummer more often than not. This is probably due to the trauma of experiencing the Social Dancing unit as an elementary school student. We learned the Virginia Reel and the Mexican Hat Dance. Somehow these two sets of steps were enough to fill a couple weeks of indoor PE during the cold winters in Colorado. The scar I was left with did not come from my lack of coordination or sense of rhythm. I managed that part alright, but it was the dearth of female partners that had me dancing with the other round boy with glasses after all the girls had been paired off. This was my first experience of what I would come to know as "not popular."
I endured. When I moved on to junior high, where the potential of social dancing was limited to the dances held after school that my popularity kept me from attending. It wasn't until that last dance of ninth grade that I felted once again moved to move. Mostly I didn't, but if I had missed that chance to shake my groove thing I might never have found myself decades later out on the floor once again. I was social that night. I participated with the group. It made me part of a room full of grown ups looking for a way to divert their attention from the world outside the barn. We gathered there to swing our partners and bow to our corners. And somewhere in there, we all grew a little closer and the awful world outside faded away just a little bit. I understood just a little more of the terpsichorean muse and its importance to our culture. And I felt a little less not popular.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dancing In The Streets

Upon further review, I believe that John Lithgow is to blame. He is the reason why ISIS chose to attack Paris. In the big book of "too soon," this may be, but pardon me while I try to exorcise the demons of this past week in the way I tend to: with humor.
Have you ever read the lyrics to "La Marseillaise?" They sound a little like a revolutionary anthem. Which it was, at the time. Calling for the children of the fatherland to rise against the mercenary phalanxes exhorting those listening to "let impure blood water our furrows." Ouch. That's pretty fierce. Our national anthem, by mild contrast, is more about rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, which sort of makes sense for a country that likes its drones and bombs. Anthems. Songs that rally us all, bringing us together to rally around our flag.
That's the thing about ISIS. They don't allow music. It's against their law. This anti-music stance may explain why one of the targets of last week's terrorist attack was a music hall where an American rock band was playing. It wasn't a comment on the music of the infidels as much as it was a convenient way to double down on innocent victims. Hundreds of unarmed civilians packed into a night club and they were there to listen to music. No irony intended, the crowd was there to see Eagles of Death Metal and were gunned down for this sin.
Suddenly, my head is filled with visions of the Blue Meanies attacking Pepperland. While the quartet practiced in the park, the citizens were turned to stone. Silence replaced the once tuneful streets of this make believe city. A win for the bad guys, until the Beatles showed up, and as it turns out all you really need is love. In Pepperland, anyway. On the streets of Paris, the day after everything went Blue-y, someone found a piano in the wreckage, and sat down to play. He sat down and played "Imagine." That is the kind of magic that we come to expect from music. It brings people together like very little else will.
Which brings me back to John Lithgow, who isn't really to blame, but he once played a man of God who wanted to ban dancing in his town. And music. And fun. All in the hopes that it would keep the children of his town from sinning. Or destroying farm equipment. In the end, of course, Kevin Bacon wins, and music returns. As it always has.
The people of Paris will dance again. And there will be music. Just like always.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Love Bomb

If you came here looking for answers, I don't have any. Not good ones, anyway. What happened in Paris last Friday defies easy explanation. The fact that there was even a heartbeat's hesitation between the time these attacks occurred and the moment that it was described as a terrorist attack surprises me. Forty minutes of coordinated gunfire and explosions can only be described as terror, and those who perpetrated it can only be described as terrorists. Maybe I am somehow to blame for this. Throwing shade, as we call it here in the hood, on ISIS only serves to make them mad. Not in the "angry" sense so much as the "insane."
When the scope of the attacks became apparent, the Pollyana vision of the massacre had us all looking for any kind of relief. Only four people were killed at the soccer stadium. The number of fatalities overall could have been so much worse. But if only one new orphan or one new widow was generated out of this chaos, any number higher than zero is unacceptable.
When mass killings happen here in America, we don't tend to look for responsibility. We look for blame. We blame mental health care or bad parenting or gun laws. Video games. Rock and roll. The night club where most of the gunfire was unleashed had the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, on the bill. Paris was burning, and it was easy to figure out who was to blame.
Or was it? According to ISIS, the soccer match between Germany and France was targeted because it featured teams from two Christian nations. The sad irony being that both teams field a number of Muslim players who were every bit as mystified by the sudden disruption of their game. "Could have been worse," is how we continue to look at it. "Never should have happened," might be another. At this point, I am willing to surrender in the war on terror. You win. We're terrified. Of course, we're also angry. Angry enough to rattle our sabers and close our borders and send more soldiers off to foreign lands only to incite the fierce hatred of soldiers in foreign lands.
What's the answer? Air strikes? Drones? All this high tech weaponry doesn't seem to compete with a backpack full of plastic explosive. Maybe it's time to think outside of the box. Like the neutron or dirty bombs, we could find a way to send out radiation that would leave buildings standing and instead of destroying life, it would spread love. Aerosol-delivered MDMA. Ecstasy from the sky. Hugs all around. The love bomb.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Grown Up Response

Sometimes it's hard being the grown-up. When I see kids out on the playground screaming at each other, shoving or just being less than pleasant to one another, I wish that I could drop my adult visage for a moment and join in the catharsis. Sometimes. What a pleasure it would be to let go of all that pretense and pop off on those around me. Never mind the eventual consequence. It would be nice to blow out the cobwebs and really tear into someone. And in that wink of an eye when I find myself turning to the dark side, I remember that the consequences of my actions stretch out into infinity. What I do today on the playground lasts lifetimes. It says that, even for an instant, I don't believe in all that cause and effect stuff and we should all be careful not to cross me because any one of us could pop off at any moment.
When I breathe out, however, I remember that I am responsible to the role I have chosen. I do need to modulate my reactions to children and adults alike. I want to keep kids safe. All kids. Even the ones who are choosing to be unpleasant. Really unpleasant. Not beheading one another, but that brings me to the point of disembarkation. I watched Donald Stump stand up in front of a crowd the other day and tell them his response to ISIS: "I would bomb the (expletive) out of them." How presidential. How very, very presidential. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed the distinct lack of expletives in my writing. That is primarily a function of my position as a teacher in my community, and though I am surrounded by language as blue as the sky, I make it a point to rise above it. It's not in keeping with the moral high ground that I have taken on as part of my job. Secondly, it should be pointed out that all that swagger is easy enough to maintain from behind a podium without any real authority or responsibility to the rest of the planet. Go ahead and threaten the terrorists. Then, on your way back to your casino, remember that this is precisely the kind of thing upon which a jihad feeds. But just like the lectures that I periodically unleash on the playground, I don't expect a lot of this wisdom to land. Not when it is so much easier to spout rhetoric.
And finally, the worst part about this kind of bluster is that it is infectious. When the world is running at this level of rhetoric, even otherwise calm voices like Secretary of State John Kerry end up having to ratchet up the testosterone. "Your days are numbered and you will be defeated." If it sounds a little like the braggadocio of a professional wrestler, that's intentional. And unfortunate. True strength is not found in threats. It is found in standing up to those threats.
But that doesn't make much of a bumper sticker, does it?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Those Who Control The Past Control The Future

“This election is about the future, about what kind of country this nation is going to be in the 21st century. This next election is actually a generational choice. A choice about what kind of nation we will be in the 21st century.” Thus spake Marco Rubio, .” America is a “special country,” he he continued, one where “anyone from anywhere can achieve anything, a nation that's been a force for good on this planet.” The senator from Florida is the youngest candidate in the race, and so that whole "generation" thing probably makes the most sense coming from him.
Sounds a little like a young Barack Obama: First term senator with an ethnic background and a vast storehouse of youthful idealism. And what is that idealism all about? Well it sure isn't that fuddy-duddy old school Florida Republican thinking that we are getting from Jeb "!" Bush. Of course, it was Jeb (!) who was recently caught on the Youtubes saying, “What Marco has, I think, is something that the Republican party needs to have which is a hopeful optimistic message based on our principles.” This was the Rubio campaign's way of saying, "See, even Jeb Bush (!) agrees that Marco is the man for the job. The quandary becomes, however, if we aren't supposed to trust J!eb, then why would we care what Je!b thinks about Marco? If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then who is the guy who is polling just below me, if not my friend?
This is precisely the kind of question that would give a philosopher pause. Not that divining any sort of real truth at the central core of the matter would give them a bigger paycheck than, let's say, a welder. It is Senator Rubio's position that we don't need more philosophers, we need more welders. This is a peculiar bit of logic, since the glut of philosophy majors that he suggests exists will almost certainly find someone else to vote for, and the dearth of welders though swept up by Marco's bold statement of appreciation would not help him win the day. Unless it turns out that there are plenty of philosophy degrees and welding certificates as well, and it has nothing to do with logic but only the fresh-faced pandering to the working class. You remember them, don't you, guys?
This next election is about the future. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Words That Inspire

I try not to listen. When the Republican candidates for President of the United States get together to argue with one another about who is the reddest and most conservative elephant in the room, it just grates on me. The opinions espoused on those stages have only served to make my day less pleasant. Not because I am overtly sensitive to the rhetoric being spouted, but when it comes right down to it, it's not the rhetoric to which I need to tune my system. I am one of those bleeding heart "libtards" that whines and moans every time I hear the letters NRA spoken in a sentence. Just like my sensibilities won't bring me to a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, I am aware that these events take place, but they don't hold any particular allure for me.
Until the pointed opinions and sound bites start leaking out into the day's conversation. Did you hear what Marco Rubio said? Can you believe Chris Christie brought that up? A party that is currently pushing a hotelier and a brain surgeon as their front-runners no longer surprise me at all. It is almost as if it were a contest to find the most outrageous and ridiculous points to hammer home. Starbucks holiday cups? In his ever-more stereotypical delivery, the owner of most of the properties with Trump painted on them insisted, "Maybe we should boycott Starbucks. I don't know." Which of course is the way he gets his minions to his bidding. It's the tiniest bit of reverse psychology, but Forrest Trump went on to assert that if he becomes President we will all be saying Merry Christmas, "I can tell you that." 
Whether or not the planet's supreme dispenser of caffeine is spelling out which holiday they are promoting to their devoted following seems like a pleasant enough diversion compared to the way a few of the other GOP candidates decided to spend their pre-debate time. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee all showed up last Friday at a rally held by Pastor Kevin Swanson in Des Moines, Iowa. For those of you unfamiliar with Pastor Swanson's work, he's the man of God who insists that America needs to repent for everything from Harry Potter and Leroy Van Dyke. Oh, and he says the Bible requires the death penalty for homosexuals. Jindal, Cruz and Huckabee may have anything better to do on a Friday night in Des Moines. Or maybe the fear these men have of God or at least of voters who claim to be God-fearing kept them from seeking out alternative entertainments last week. But I'll give Ted "The Cruiser" Cruz the last word on this one. In his interview with Pastor Swanson, the Senator had this to say, "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country." Thank you for that mental image, Senator. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Looking In

Last weekend, I peeked in on my alma mater's football game against Pac-Ten machine Stanford. The University of Colorado was having its buffalo hat handed to them by the Cardinal. It wasn't pretty. The game, that is. The day itself looked to be another glorious one at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It's hard to imagine that, given the choice of all manner of things to do in the Centennial State with all its great outdoors beckoning on yet another day of glorious sunshine, anyone would be silly enough to be trapped inside what was once a horseshoe and not a full bowl of fans looking for a win. Just one. Big time college football kind of came and went in Boulder, Colorado some time ago. I know because I was there.
I was one of those fools who, along with my mother, would sit in the stands and watch every down, every play, every near miss. And once upon a long time ago, I was rewarded with a chance to see my team, or at least the one for whom I helped pay tuition, play for a national championship. This was back in the days before there were computers to decide such things, and even before some genius came up with the idea to seed teams in a playoff system. This was back when things were settled the old fashioned way: arguing.
This came the year after the somewhat miraculous and stirring season when CU's quarterback knocked up the coach's daughter and then got cancer and we all waited to see the storybook ending, but were turned away at the last minute by the luck of the Irish. Notre Dame finished off any hope of making a TV movie about that oddly serendipitous season by winning the Orange Bowl. Sitting there in that relic of a stadium, I thought about what it took to get there, and how I imagined it would be another hundred years or so before something like that would happen again.
As it turned out, I needn't have panicked. The Golden Buffs pounded their way through the next year's schedule, landing themselves once again at the foot of college football immortality. Against the Fighting Irish. Revenge. Or retribution? Hard to say, but this year I didn't have the option of flying down to south Florida to take it all in personally. I watched on TV. My mother's TV. After sitting through all those years of miserable football, we were delivered a last minute win and a chance to be the subject of a great many years of fuss and strife. So what if it took five downs to beat Missouri for the chance at an undefeated season? That's what it took. We didn't make the rules. We just benefited from their lackadaisical application.
So, now that I live just up the road from the Stanford stadium, and down the street from where the Cal Bears play, I find myself on autumn Saturday afternoons drifting back to those sunny days I spent parked on those bleachers, hoping for something that might never come.
It did. And then I moved on. But I still like to take a look every now and then, just to remember what kind of choices I am capable of making.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Doctor DoMuch

Doctor Ben Carson wants to be President of the United States. You might think that a retired neurosurgeon would need no additional credentials beyond the fact that, once upon a time, he was allowed to stick his hands into other people's heads and tinker with their gray matter. Doctor Ben Carson: Gray Matter Tinker. Of course, there are those for whom this amount of training and experience might seem slight or insufficient. That may be why Doctor Ben Carson has felt the need to pump up this resume with some additional bona fides:
He was offered admission to West Point. Or given a scholarship. Or at least he was considered to be a top candidate. Something like that. This shows just how effective he could be as Commander In Chief of our armed services.
In his youth, Doctor Ben Carson was a pretty rough character. He says he even stabbed a guy. He once shot a man just for snoring too loud. Or maybe that was John Wesley Hardin. Still, Doctor Ben Carson is not the one you want to meet up with in a dark alley. Are you listening, Mister China?
Like Navin Johnson, Doctor Ben Carson was born a poor black child. With no small amount of boot-strap pulling all on his own, Doctor Ben Carson became a brain surgeon, perhaps as a direct result of having stabbed a guy in the head.
While attending Yale, Doctor Ben Carson worked closely with Doctor Emmit Brown researching the Flux Capacitor. This shows Doctor Ben Carson's dedication to science and his wish to bring America back to the future.
As a part of his work study program in graduate school, Doctor Ben Carson drew up plans and began digging by hand the path for the Keystone XL pipeline. It was Doctor Ben Carson's idea to call it "XL" because everything he does is "Xtra Large."
It was the soulful side of Doctor Ben Carson that gave Marvin Gaye the original inspiration for "Got To Give It Up," which was eventually stolen by young upstarts Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams and turned into the mega-hit "Blurred Lines." Doctor Ben Carson chose to keep his name out of the subsequent litigation, reminding us all that he was once "too nervous to really get down."
The list goes on: Pop Tarts, the spread offense, a hitch in the Merchant Marines. There's not a lot that Doctor Ben Carson hasn't done. An example to us all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Please Stay Off Of My Lawn?

What's the matter with kids these days? Well, since we've been asking this question for at least fifty years, including right here in this blog, I'm guessing that this is a generational experience. I know that my parents certainly looked at me and my friends and shook their heads, and my grandparents were probably just as mystified at times in their position as elders. It is what grown ups do: shake their heads and wonder. What does it do? It sends a message that grown-ups, while having very sturdy neck muscles, don't have a real sense of history.
Before Bye-Bye Birdie gave us the musical question to sing along with, there was Blackboard Jungle and all that rock and roll rubbish. Disrespect for authority. Fighting in school. What is it that is going through their heads? Probably the same things that went through all of our heads for all of those years before: where are the edges? Where is our slice of the pie? W'hen do we get to be in charge? Why don't you old folks get it? The answer is simple enough: Because  we're old.
Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are saying that a new policy created to limit suspensions has only served to fill classrooms with unruly students. In the city of angels, teachers can no longer suspend students for defiance. Instead, schools are asked to rely on counseling and restorative justice to bring about the change they hope to experience in their young charges. Zero tolerance is no longer the practice. This leaves some teachers with zero patience, as limited staffing has kept the new policies from being fully implemented, leading to the aforementioned rooms full of unruly students. No justice, no peace.
And it's not just Los Angeles that is feeling the pain. In Allentown, Pennsylvania over the last couple of weeks a "spasm of violence" broke out first at a local high school, then seven days later at a nearby middle school. A female student at was asked in the wake of the middle school fracas why the fights broke out. "Because  that's what we do - fight."
So, this is you brain. This is your brain on adolescence.
Any questions?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I am still running. Way back when I was a snotty twenty-something, trying to dissect my newly divorced father's psyche, I once asked him, "What are you running from?" He looked at me as I would now if my son felt  he was clever enough to look into the deepest recesses of my soul. There was some mild disdain, and some curiosity. Was there something that only I could  see? Something he was blind to, that I was going to be the one to pry open his eyes and shine a light that had never reached them?
Probably not. It was my father who first suggested running to me as a regular form of exercise. At the time, it was also a form of exorcise, having recently broken up with my high school sweetheart. I was trying to rebuild my physical and emotional well-being. A mile at a time.
I ran because it was easy enough to do, and when I finished, I felt better. It made sense to me that there was an easy connection to be made between the endorphins that I was stirring up and the peace I was generating in my mind. I assumed that my father must be out on the road, working out his demons as well. Maybe he was, but he never talked about it to me. Probably because of my somewhat confrontational approach, but that is how I was running my life at the time. I was in a hurry to grow up, to out-think my father.
Last Friday, I came home for work and went out for a run. It has become an important part of my mental health regimen to get out and log a couple of miles at the end of a busy week just to put some literal  yaand physical distance between myself and the week that was. I was about a mile out when I was passed on the right by a wiry young fellow, followed by his girlfriend. Their stride was light and bouncy, and I suddenly felt all of my fifty-three years. The bouncy couple stopped at the intersection ahead of me, giving me a chance to catch up. I knew that I could take a little jog to my right and move myself a few yards closer to the other side of the street, and when the light changed, I took off.
I pushed myself and stayed ahead of the bouncy pair for the next half mile, where I felt relief when I peeled off their route and continued on my own. For a little while, experience outran youth. I had been racing against my own mortality. I could hear my father laugh. He would have been in his early eighties if he had lived to his birthday this week. I'm guessing if he could, he'd still be running.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Bench Press

Across the country this past week, the National Football League is cleaning house. Coaches are being fired. General Managers are being shown the door. Mostly in Detroit, where such behavior is a matter of course. People in Detroit, professional sports executives or not, don't expect to hold on to a job very long. It comes with the territory. And it comes with a losing record.
On the Left Coast, the power has shifted from the West Bay to the East. Where the overwhelming and all powerful franchise known colloquially as "The Niners" have fallen on tough times. Over in the Land of Oaks, there is newfound hope and resiliency coming from, of all places, "The Black Hole." The San Francisco Forty-Niners have gone to the somewhat extreme step of benching their franchise quarterback.
And now, before my younger brother stops reading along with the rest of my most loyal readers, I will let you all know that you need not despair, for this will not be a sports blog, but rather a sports analogy blog. All of this professional football tumult got me to thinking: What if we were able to bench members of other groups or professions?
You say you don't like the way your trash and recycling service is picking up your garbage, leaving more on the street than it lobs near the truck. My suggestion: Bench them. Bring in the second string. Let those rubbish wranglers watch from the sidelines while the new guys come in and clean up. Did your insurance agent really do the best he could with that settlement? Bench him! Bring in that young upstart, the one fresh out of college with something to prove.
Speaking of proving, we're coming up on an election year. What better way to send a message to the folks in Washington D.C. than to tell some of those less-than-wily veterans to clean out their lockers. Speaker of the House and noted Tight End John Boehner already seems to have received the memo. Now let's see if anyone picks him up on waivers. For now, I think I'll only vote for free agents.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Reading Is Fun-Dametal

The summer before I entered fourth grade, I spent a few weeks reading "The Andromeda Strain." It wasn't an easy read. I was only recently a third grader. A precocious third grader, but still not more than half way through my elementary school library, and yet the book I plucked from the shelf in our mountain cabin was authored by novelist and medical doctor Michael Crichton. I was encouraged to do this because I had already powered my way through "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," and my love of things science fiction-y was spurred on by my love of all things Planet of the Apes-y. I was not discouraged by my mother, who was my cultural coach and mentor when it came to literature. I spent a lot of late nights poring over each word with my flashlight, waking up early the next morning just to power through a few more pages before the day began. I understood that I was reading a grown-up book, but when I needed clarification or vocabulary help, I asked a grown-up. It was a stirring time, and when I was finished, I looked forward to the moment when I was asked by my fourth grade teacher, "What did you do last summer?"
It didn't work out quite the way I had imagined. There was no applause. I was not immediately passed along to the fifth grade. Instead, I was held up for inspection, with a good deal of suspicion by my teacher and classmates. "Did you really read that book?" I was taken aback by the criticism. There was a certain amount of this circumspection reflected onto my mother, who allowed this to happen. But there it was. I read the novel, and I liked it. What's more: I understood it. I understood it to the point that it put a little more of that fear of Armageddon in my little brain, informing my already burgeoning and dark view of the world.
Maybe that's what my teacher was concerned about. Or maybe it was just that that one book made me an outlier, somebody that would require special handling. She had a room full of books carefully selected for readers of the fourth grade persuasion. There was not a section for ridiculously advanced readers. How was she going to keep me down on the farm with the rest of the class when I was out there zipping around reading the latest best-seller? It wasn't going to happen. I was going to read the books from our library, and that was that.
Fast forward a million years into the future, where I am speaking to a colleague, much younger than myself, about his experiences as a young reader in the digital age. He told me how his school had a program called Accelerated Reader, which allowed kids to get points for each book on which they successfully completed a comprehension quiz. It was his genius moment that landed him believing that if he read "Moby Dick," the combination of the length of the book plus its difficulty would set hi up for an entire year of Accelerated Reader stars. One book and done. As it turns out, my colleague was unable in his fifth grade year, to fully appreciate Melville's whale tale. After a few attempts at the quiz, he packed it in and started looking for more grade level appropriate fare. Apparently, reading a whole lot of easy books and doing awesome on the quizzes will get you more points than trying to bring down that white whale of a book. This, he said, is how he learned about irony.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


We complain about how our involvement in the Middle East drags on and on. Fourteen years after we decided to go after a group of terrorists backed by Saudi Arabia by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, our geography is still in question. That along with our seeming unease with the thought of allowing any kind of discussion of the Monroe Doctrine. Don't mess with us, and we won't mess with you. But it doesn't work that way. We are the world's playground supervisor. We're not going to let anyone get into a fight that we can't have a hand in ourselves. That's why we are sending special forces to Syria. The likelihood of our special forces ending up shooting at Russian special forces has just increased to "a lot." That's because Vlad "Bear Hugger" Putin has never heard of the Monroe Doctrine, either. But what offends me most is the way these two old foes seem to believe that roaming around the globe looking for scores to settle is a way to keep the problems at home from becoming any worse than they already are.
Like the War on Drugs. This particular war has been raging, off and on, since 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared illegal drugs "public enemy number one." Illegal drugs being the culprit, since legal drugs like alcohol had already been tried, convicted, prohibited and then reinstated as being better than candy to become a hundred billion dollar industry here in these United States. And yet, the War on Drugs continues some forty-four years later. Sure there has been some movement here and there, in places like Colorado and Oregon where the tax advantages have been seen as far outweighing the cost of enforcing laws for some drugs. I'm looking at your bloodshot eyes, cannabis. Still, combined state and federal spending on the battle to keep us free of drugs, unless you're counting Budweiser and NyQuil, has moved past the thirty-four billion dollar mark for the year, and shows little or no signs of slowing down. How can we afford to pay for that and keeping "boots on the ground" in Syria?
Well, we can't. That's why we have this thing called a deficit. Over in the old country, Ireland to be precise, they are thinking of ways to save money. Like decriminalizing small amounts of pot, cocaine and heroin. Money will be spent on getting those with problems the help they need: hygenic places to inject and substance abuse counseling. This would be similar to the policy in Portugal, Possession of small amounts of drugs in Portugal is treated as a health issue, not a criminal one. This is probably an elevated state of thinking for a country that does not recognize "self-defense" as a reason to own a gun.
What I'm suggesting here is that all wars eventually end, and we might want to start thinking about our terms of surrender.

Friday, November 06, 2015


My son rolls his eyes. I can feel his mild disdain for my behavior even when he is not in the same room. My wife allows for such silliness, having spent time of her own on this type of thing. I feel a little shame myself, knowing that I could be applying myself to more useful pursuits. But I know that I can handle it. I am not a victim of my time sinks. I can quite Candy Crush anytime I want to.
Let me say from the start that I am absolutely no stranger to the mindless flipping or twisting of buttons, dials or cards. I learned to play solitaire way back when it was an analog game, played with an actual deck of cards. No pointing and clicking. An actual deck of cards. It was somewhere back around the turn of the century that my solitaire habit became more virtual, when I discovered that "Freecell" wedged into the rest of my important work applications. It sat there, taunting me as I worked feverishly toward a deadline, whispering, "Just one game." Sure. Just one game. Then right back to work. That one didn't play out. I really need that satisfaction. I'll just play until I play one all the way out. Oh, look. They keep track of your statistics. I've won nearly half my games. If I play just fourteen more and win them all, I can be over fifty percent.
It's a bit compulsive. A bit. That's when I had a co-worker suggest to me that I should try Minesweeper. That didn't last long. It took a lot of concentration, and a level of strategy that was beyond my level of commitment. Flipping cards was one thing, but getting blown up was quite another. I was not able to endure the carnage.
When it finally came to pass that I upgraded my PC to Windows 10, there was a new frontier allowed me: Candy Crush Saga. My son has confessed to me that it is the "Saga" portion of this title that sets him on edge the most. Sliding colorful little blobs about a grid to make groups of three and four or even five has become a very zen experience for me. Certainly there is the added benefit of having things pop or sizzle or fizz about the screen when I make these groups of imaginary confections, but mastering this little space with the five or ten minutes that I have to offer up to the gods of video time-wasting gives me undue satisfaction.
Which is probably why I flinched when I read that the Candy Crush creators had sold their slice of the time sink universe for a cool five point nine billion dollars. Real money. Not coins or jelly beans. Almost six billion dollars for the sweet version of solitaire. Maybe I should go back to the analog version, using Milky Ways and Hot Tamales.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

All Wet

It was a baptism, of sorts. It was my first ride of the school year in the rain. I had prepared for one a week ago, with all the gear and extra preparations, but the initial blast of El Nino never appeared. Monday morning, it was there, filling my morning commute with little drops of sunshine that felt oddly like rain. Because they were.
It was also the first time I had a chance to try out the new bike in less-than-ideal conditions. Somehow I had imagined that I might have a harder time going up or down hills, or that the chain might just fly off and get stuck in some wet bush, causing me to have to stand there on the curb, shivering in the cold and waiting anxiously for the assistance of my roadside crew. None of these things happened. It was the usual, dull side streets. It was the trip that I had been making for decades. The same one I have made in the wind and the rain and the sun and by the light of the moon. It made me hearken back to the words my wife spoke to me from her warm bed, "Don't you just love riding in the rain?"
Well, no. I don't hate it. But I don't love it.
Then she asked if I still liked riding my bike to school.
I don't hate it.
It's part of my day. It is as inevitable as the sun coming up and the sun going down, which often coincides directly with the times I find myself making this little trip. Sometimes it's in the rain. For the past year or two, that hasn't been the case. Thanks to an extended drought here in California, the number of times that I have arrived at work damp from an additional shower from Mother Nature has been limited in the extreme. I don't love that. If pressed, I would say that riding my bike to work in the rain would mean that there was rain and therefore I was happy. Or happier. Which seems somewhat contradictory, since I have already said that I am not in love with riding to work in the rain.
Sometimes it's confusing to be me. Mostly when I have to explain it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Blame Game

ISIS claimed responsibility for shooting down a Russian passenger jet last Saturday, killing all two hundred twenty-four on board. Russian officials insist that the plane crashed"The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders. They were all killed, thanks be to God," insisted a statement circulated on Twitter by ISIS supporters. The old adage about how if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all doesn't seem to apply here. If you're a jihadist, you really want to make sure the world knows that you've got a handle on all things infidel. What makes a tragedy more tragic? Terrorism.
For instance, did you know that ISIS was behind the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl?
How about the missing ballots in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election. That was them, too.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens? ISIS.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
All earthquakes.
JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King Jr.? One great big ISIS plot.
Anything NASA sent into space that blew up.
Anything that blew up.
The mortgage crisis.
Miley Cyrus.
The metric system.
The designated hitter.
The NRA.
Donald Trump.
This is just a partial list, mind you. There are plenty of other things that ISIS did on accident, but they turned out okay and therefore they chose not to take credit for them. Did you know that ISIS came up with stuffed crust pizza?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Righting A Song

Lou Reed was a genius. The elder statesman of punk, he was making beatnik poetry into rock and roll when Andy Warhol was painting soup cans. There are not a lot of sing-along songs in Lou's catalog, but we all know "Walk on the Wild Side." It tells the story of the superstars from Andy's Factory, and the wanton and wayward path these once upon a nobodies took to become somebodies. It is so cool, with its slippery bass line and sonorous sax, a tale of sex and grit that could even be played on the radio. Well, mostly. The radio edit, without the reference to oral sex could. And it is this line that sticks with me not because it was determined too filthy to be heard on the radio, but rather because it was lazy. Lou Reed may have been a genius and all, but the fact that he chose to rhyme the word "head" with "head" grates on me. With all that songwriting acumen, why couldn't he have taken one more pass at that verse? I suppose you could argue that it is the line that sticks out, the one that I remember more than all the rest, but really?
It's not unlike the way people piled on Alanis Morissette when she released a song titled, "Ironic." How is rain on your wedding day ironic? How about a black fly in your Chardonay? Sure, it's icky, but is it ironic? Some critics have suggested that, while not ironic by dictionary definition, maybe Alanis is describing "situational irony." So when she sings, "ironic, isn't it?" it's not a rhetorical question. Is it? Maybe she should have called the song "Rhetoric."
But the one that continues to bother me, especially every year around Halloween, is "Werewolves of London." I love just about every word Warren Zevon ever wrote, God bless his departed soul. It includes one of my wife's favorite lines from any song ever: "Little old lady got mutilated late last night." It presents just the right mix of menace and fun for a novelty song written originally for the Everly Brothers. With all that talent and wit, how can we explain the fact that Warren goes on to tell us that he saw "Lon Chaney Jr. walking with the Queen" when we all know that Lon Chaney Jr. was The Wolf Man, not The Werewolf of London? That was Henry Hull. I can appreciate that I may be the only person who makes this distinction, or that Werewolf of London came out five years before Lon Chaney's turn as a "hairy handed gent," but I have to imagine that a guy who wrote "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" would have a pretty solid grasp of the Universal horror film canon. I guess I can comfort myself with the idea that he didn't try to rhyme "headless" with "headless" in that one.
Yeah. That probably is just me.

Monday, November 02, 2015


The relief comes from this sentence: "This is not a random act." These are the words that bring comfort to all of us who are reading about the shooting in Indianapolis last Wednesday. It is what the Metropolitan Police spokesman chose to tell us about the incident that occurred there last Wednesday. Three people were shot in a corridor of a mall near the Target store. That is where the victims fled after the shooting. The gunman, apparently, went the other direction and got away. This was not good news.
Not having three new obituaries was also the sunny side of this story. "None of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening," continued the spokescop. Thank you, medical science. I don't think it had much to do with the gun-guy not wanting to threaten a life. Just the opposite. This sounds a little like one of those "reckless disregard" moments. People, or in this case felons, who open fire in a shopping mall don't tend to make the Conscientious Citizen List very often. They do tend to make other lists, however, depending on the level of mayhem they incite.
I live in Oakland, where this kind of thing happens with a regularity that might lead you to believe that this city by the bay gets more than its share of bran. Following this line of reasoning, that would make innocent victims the town expels in its wake. Like a shark, always moving forward, never sleeping, random or otherwise, the killing continues. Some would say this is simply a matter of thinning the herd. Acceptable losses. In cities across the United States, shootings both random and planned make going to the movies, the mall, to school a dangerous endeavor. No one goes to the grocery store with the idea that they might not make it home with their frozen pizza.
Are there people out there who go to the mall with the intent of gunning someone down? It would seem so. What are the chances that someone who ends up being shot may have been somehow involved in activities less than wholesome at some time prior to the not-so-random act. The walking wounded are only part of the casualties, counted along with the families and friends of bystanders who happened to show up at an unmarked OK Corral.
"Gun Control Is Using Both Hands" reads the bumper sticker I ride past twice a day on my way to and from work. At an elementary school. In Oakland. It rings in my head as I consider all the lives lost just this year to gunfire. It makes me sad. It makes me tired. It makes me wish for a random act of kindness. Or two.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Show's Over

“You do not need to be manhandling a child that way,” said “The View” co-host Raven Symone. “But at the same time, kids, put your phones away. “I used to be scared of my teachers, I was scared to go to the principal,” she continued. “And now, there’s so much ‘oomph’ or gusto in younger people, lack of respect, they feel like they can pop off at the mouth at an adult.” This is how the adopted child of Doctor Cliff Huxtable and his wife chose to comment on the viral video of South Carolina high school student being dumped out of her chair and onto the floor by a senior sheriff's deputy. That's So Raven
Or maybe it's so public opinion. I don't really know. I do know that I spend a good deal of time each week reminding and cajoling and exhorting elementary school kids to put their phones away. The school rule says that cell phones are not allowed in class. I have had a number of mildly heated exchanges with ten-year-olds about why it is so important that they be able to keep their parents' investment so close to their person. It makes sense, after a fashion, that kids would adopt this behavior so readily when all of adult America is busy staring at their latest texts and updates. But it is against the rules. Not, however, worth tossing someone to the floor over.
Do I agree with Ms. Symone? I don't think children should be manhandled, and I was afraid of a few of my teachers, but I'm not sure that fear is the prime motivator in education. I'm pretty sure that incidents such as these are only widening the gulf between students and teachers. When I was a kid, I was afraid of a few of my teachers, but I could not have comprehended having a sheriff's officer coming into my room for anything other than Career Day. And if I had chosen to pull my Instamatic camera out of my pocket to snap a photo of the moment, I wouldn't have expected to be hurled to the floor in a show of force. I don't expect that it would have occurred to me to "mouth off at an adult," but if I did, I would not have anticipated a beating.
Of course I am over-simplifying this. Because it should be. There should be enough mutual respect left in schools that violations of policy do not require excessive force. Kids get to have smart mouths and see what they can get away with. That's part of the game. Is it fair? According to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, "She started it." Even though he decided to fire his deputy, he still felt the need to draw a line. It rings just a little like, "She was asking for it." 
No she wasn't. That would sound a little more like, "Hey, toss me out of my desk and onto the floor." No "oomph." No "gusto." Just a little more respect, please.
Now back to class.