Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summertime, And The Livin' Is Easy

I went outside to manage the tall grass that had grown up around the side of our house. I had not been keeping up with the whacking of weeds like I should, as a conscientious homeowner. That meant that I would be stringing along our longest extension cord with the intent of using a whip of fishing line to knock down the weeds that had been ignored up until now. It was a special project. It was deferred maintenance. I was going to take it on while I asked my son to take our lawnmower to all the foxtails that were about to drop their seed on our back yard.
I had not gone very far with my buzzing machine when I looked up and saw my son standing in front of me with a dangling string in his hand. It was the pull cord for our mower, and since he was standing there I knew that he hadn't finished his task. Instead, we were faced with our own new task: repairing the broken grass eating machine.
I have never been what would be described as particularly mechanically minded. I changed a few spark thplugs, and I know how to read a dipstick, but when it comes to taking things apart and putting them back together again, I have had a tendency to get stuck on that first step. But my son is a more evolved being than I am, and I trusted him to guide me as we took apart the top of the engine and used various sized attachments from our socket set to find our way to the heart of the matter. Finally, after taking twice as long to replace the pull cord than it would have to mow the front and back lawn, we had puzzled it out and put it back into one operational piece. I returned to the business with which I had begun.
At last, the grass level across our property had been maintained. My son and I put our tools away and headed inside to start the rest of our day. With a nice warm shower. Except the hot water never came. I worried and fussed over the faucet, then the hot water heater downstairs. It wasn't until several minutes had passed that it occurred to me that it could be the gas. I went upstairs and tried to get the front burner on the stove to light. No luck. I went on line to see if there was an outage in our area. With no outages reported, I picked up the phone to report one.
That call let me know that someone would be out to check on our lack of gas within the next seven hours. I sat there, dirty and sweaty, and resigned myself  to the wait. Happily, it was only a two and a half hour wait, and the tech was happy to show me how a simple thump of on the earthquake valve, with something like a weed whacker, could set it off. Something like that was what was keeping the gas from coming into our house to warm the water that would heat the shower that would wash off the grime from fixing the mower that leveled the grass that my son was cutting while I was carelessly dropping the weed eater against the pipe that -
Well, I was glad that I had the day to spend on it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"No Tears For BHS"

That is what Lance wrote in my yearbook. Right below the rubber stamped blue ink that read, "_____, have a great summer - Lance." The fact that he had actually taken the time to write something beyond his oh-so-clever rubber stamp was a tribute to me. Lance was a senior, after all, and was off to the Colorado School of Mines in the Fall. He wasn't looking back. I thought that was so cool.
Not that Lance fit the standard issue definition of "cool" back in 1979.He was a lanky, bespectacled goof  of a snare drummer who had risen to the ranks of our high school band's drum line through sheer tenacity and patience. As a junior, I was already taking notes about how to find this path, but I would do it from my position as next year's section leader of the sousaphones. Cool in high school band was calibrated differently than the rest of the world. Section leader or snare line carried a certain weight that could not be comprehended outside the band room.
But Lance was cool in my book before that. He was the guy who went to see Halloween in its first week of release and then proceeded to do a shot-by-shot retelling of that seminal slasher film for anyone who would sit still for it. I sat down with a friend of mine and listened, rapt. This is the guy who turned would be my locker partner as a senior, and much more.We went to see that movie for ourselves on Lance's recommendation, and it was the beginning of what became a lifelong connection. His girlfriend became mine, through a series of high school drama and intrigue that never managed to destroy my friendship. Years later, when I was a groomsman at my locker partner's wedding, it became obvious that a great many of us had paired off, with the notable exception of the girl that he had dated after I had taken up with that first girlfriend. We had all been friends, having shared the experience of marching band, and kept in touch but it seemed that there might be something missing. Like the fact that we had all been friends for lo those many years and never dated. This is how I hooked up with another one of my very good friend's ex-girlfriends. This one became my wife. For me, this was all in keeping with the much discussed stricture stating that band geeks were not allowed to date outside their species. My wife was a cymbal player. On the drum line.
Lance would have been so proud.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Do Not Reply

It's a lecture that most people get at some point. Somewhere along the line, it takes a knowing, caring soul to point out to those uninitiated to the magic behind "reply all." It's that button right next to "reply" when you are sending an email. There are times when this is a very convenient tool. When you are having a cyber discussion with a group of friends and relatives about what sort of gift to give the new nephew, and you want everyone to pitch in with their best ideas, "reply all" is a great way to get everyone's opinion. Even though Cousin Carol always says that a sailor suit makes a great gift. For anyone. Anytime. Cousin Carol needs to have everyone reply to her and remind her that trains are always appropriate. This is a case when you definitely want to bang on that "reply all" button.
But if you want to have a more intimate discussion about how to get Cousin Carol help with that sailor suit problem, you might want to lay off the "reply all." Sure, she might benefit from your thoughts about ritual humiliation, or plans to show up at the next family gathering wearing matching sailor suits, but that would spoil the evil. By contrast, you might want to keep this sliver of information from Cousin Carol, just in case she is actually working on a plan for world domination that involves sailor suits.
It could happen. Better keep an eye on Cousin Carol and quit deleting those random emails she keeps sending you with links to cat videos.
But you would guess that somebody's lawyer, a high-powered type with access to other people's non-sailor-suit-related-secrets. Johnny Manziel's lawyer needs to lock down his "reply all" habits to avoid spreading his client's dirty laundry all down the street and across Al Gore's Internet. He accidentally texted his concerns about his dangerous party-boy to the Associated Press. Oops. Drinking, drugging, battery, you name the rule or statute, and Johnny's probably broken it. And now his lawyer is letting the whole world know. Not in the whole "I can't stand by and watch this happen" way that might make this a happier story, but more in the "Wait, did I say that? I don't think you can draw that conclusion based on the facts" kind of way. Johnny Football seems to be headed toward a wall, and accelerating. The good news? So far there has been no mention of sailor suits.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Last One Out, Turn Off The Lights

So, Great Britain chose to leave the European Union. I confess I am a little surprised. The idea of European Unity seemed like a good one to me, having been a big fan of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for such a long time. Setting up that little group of countries in anticipation of the potential westward toppling of Soviet dominoes was a stroke of mild genius. Here in America, we could always count on the sound of trouble coming form NATO long before it ever reached out shores. When the European Economic Community switched to the European Union back in 1993, I figured it would be part of the homogenization of that continent that had been happening for so long. Once the wall came down in Berlin, and the Soviet Union became just plain old Russia again, it seemed like a great way to bring things together under one roof, so to speak. Kind of like a great big EPCOT Center.
Aside from my obvious and very simple-minded vision of the Disneyfication of Europe, I felt the example of a melting pot for all the cultures of all those countries would serve as a beacon to the rest of us living out here in Frontierland. One currency. One government. One voice. United. Out of many: one, to coin a phrase. Of course that meant that all those colorful foreign currencies were lost to the clunky Euro, and everyone had to learn to speak Esperanto. Okay, languages weren't affected that much, and there were still all those flags and chancellors and prime ministers and so forth.
And all that xenophobia.
The fact that the European Union was formed before and survived for some time after the events of September 11, 2001 is impressive. The terror Americans anticipated after the World Trade Centers fell never fully materialized. Not in Frontierland. In Europe, where everyone was within driving distance of some kind of terror cell, there have been multiple bombings, shootings and other such events made easier because of those "porous borders."
Through it all, the European Union stood strong. Now, Great Britain wants out. Never mind the economic and political chaos this will start, Never mind that Ireland and Scotland will probably take this opportunity to decide whether they want to remain part of Great Britain. Germany and France will continue to hold the line while countries like Albania and Montenegro wonder if they should give up their place in line to get into the club in the first place.
Meanwhile, back in Frontierland, Donald T-Rump lauds the people of Great Britain for "taking back their country." Do we need a bigger, brighter sign to tell us that this may not be a good idea after all? I dont pensi do.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Behaving Badly

It was a trip to the past when Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. Way back when sitting still sent a message: We shall not be moved. It was more than just a folk song. It was a consciousness raising tool. Gandhi and his followers used it to unhinge the British colonization of India. In the 1960's, this tactic was used in Greensboro, North Carolina to wake people up to the racial injustices that existed throughout our own country. Anti-war protesters picked it up and sat with it during Vietnam. John and Yoko took it a step further by staging a bed-in for peace. Part of Congress was sending a message in those twenty-five hours: We will not be moved, until it's time to head off on vacation.
Georgia Representative John Lewis said, in the wee hours of the morning, "By sitting in, we are really standing up." And now comes the Fourth of July Recess. Two weeks for members of congress to head home to their constituents and face the music. As our nation celebrates its two hundred fortieth birthday, we remain at odds about what to do about the rights and responsibilities set forth by our founding fathers. It should be noted that the Bill of Rights was not ratified until 1791, so the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence have a fifteen year head start on all those constitutional amendments. Words like, "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another," and "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." 
I have recently been stuck on that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," since it seems to be severely limited by the use of assault weapons. But take a look at that next phrase, the one about deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Universal background checks for gun purchases have a higher approval rating than Mother Theresa. When was the last time ninety-two percent of our country agreed on anything? 
And yet, here we are, filibustering and sitting down in the halls of congress, trying to get anything that looks like meaningful legislation done there. It's not hippies or students or militant minorities clogging things up. It's our elected officials. Thanks for the flashback, but once everyone comes back from the fireworks, we will most likely have experienced another ten mass shootings, given our current pace. Then, I suppose, we can get back to the arduous task of sitting around and waiting for something to change. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016


When I was told, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't," I wasn't really listening. I heard the "too good to be true" part, then I kind of spaced out. That's what happens when I hear "free." My eyes glaze over and I start to salivate. Mostly metaphorically, but the common sense part of my brain begins to shut down and I start to lurch toward whatever special offer hangs in front of me. Before I revert completely to that slobbering lizard brain that seeks out only those things too good to be true, the left side of what is left of my gray matter tries to focus in on the fine print. There has to be a catch.
There always is one. A catch, that is. Most of the time, I catch myself before I put on my shoes and leave the house. Sometimes the fresh air is enough to bring me back to my right mind. They aren't really giving away new cars. Or big screen TVs. They're dragging you to their store/lot/showroom to try and convince you to buy something to ease the disappointment you feel when you don't win. But what happens when you don't get that breeze in your face?
Sitting in front of my computer a few nights ago, I spotted a story on Al Gore's Internet that said Ticketmaster was giving away tickets. It seems that after years of charging all those "convenience fees," a lawsuit was made and eventually settled to the tune of many millions of dollars. As it turns out, a small chunk of this court-directed largesse was pointed in my direction, verified by a quick check of my Ticketmaster account. At the time, I went immediately to the link that promised to show me the available events for which I could exchange my vouchers for free tickets. Free.
I should have seen it coming. I wanted to go see Flight of the Conchords, and lo and behold their show was included on the list of available events. I spent the next hour or two trying to get their web site to fork over the free tickets. "Sorry, we are unable to process your request at this time. Please try again later." That's what I did. Later. Then again early the next morning. When business hours for the customer service folks began, I was poised and ready. I dialed.
I really don't know what I should have expected. It's a great big tentacled corporation that has been taking my money for decades now, and I really expected it to reverse that trend? All those free tickets were gone. The limited number of tickets released to each of the selected shows were gobbled up almost immediately. Not that their web site could give me that message, nor the first two customer service representatives who insisted that I should be able to simply apply my voucher codes to the blah, blah, blah, blah. No, it won't work. I was put on hold again to have my concern escalated. Escalated to a guy who told me the same thing, but when I walked through the steps with him on the line and asked him to do the same, he came up empty as well. There were no free tickets. Gone, they were. Absent. Snapped up. Not sold out, but given out. Handed to those who were not me. They were someone else. Without a clear explanation of the process or an expectation of how I might expect to use my vouchers, even though I have years to use them.
Thanks for the adventure, Ticketmaster. The thrill of the chase and so on. Things went back to normal after I hung up the phone. I still have all those vouchers, and sometime in the future I hope to turn them into something besides the hollow offer of free. Hope is the thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson once wrote. I won't be flying anywhere soon.

Friday, June 24, 2016

So Close

I was thinking, for a little while, about how I can relax and let some of my ennui go in the wake of the somewhat surprising collapse of the Golden State Warriors in their quest for a second consecutive NBA Championship. I was thinking that I have lost a few Super Bowls in my day. That thought stuck around for a few days, and it even came out as part of our community discussions about how we were all going to cope with getting so close to the top of that mountain and then having to it the reset button and start all over again next Fall.
Then I was thinking, "Wait a minute, I never lost any Super Bowls. I never played in a Super Bowl." That's the bottom line. I watched a lot of Super Bowls, some of which involved teams for whom I have invested a lot of time and money in purchase of jerseys, bath towels, hats and note pads. I grew up watching the Denver Broncos, and for a brief period of time I considered playing for them. That was when I was in second grade. Dreams die hard, but my fascination with spectator sports only ramped up from there. I discovered over the years that I wasn't the athletic type. I was the watcher type.
I watched a lot of football, some basketball, and a little bit of baseball. I became fascinated with the notion that I could influence the outcome of certain contests simply by how much I cared. This gave me plenty of heartache as seasons came and went without any Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Championship trophies to show for it. When I was a junior in high school, our basketball team took state. The next year, when I was a senior, they made it all the way to the finals and lost. Major disappointment. Second best team in the whole state and that wasn't worth a day off school like we got the year before.
Then I thought, "Maybe I've been thinking about this the wrong way all these years." I didn't play in any of those games, why should I feel bad? Shouldn't I be getting some sort of personal apology from the teams that let me down? I bought the T-shirt, I sat and stared at the TV for all those hours, wading through all those truck and beer commercials, where's my appreciation for having stuck with it all those weeks just to get the news: Wait til next year.
Or maybe I should look into getting a roster spot.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Location, Location, Location

When we moved into this house some nineteen years ago, I was happy to see that there was a front and a back yard. It didn't seem like a big problem that if you set a marble down at the front door it would quickly pick up speed and roll with increasing velocity across the floor to the back door. I assumed that the work that the sellers promised to get done on the foundation of our mortgage would be repaired to the degree that this would only occur when there was a sudden shift in the earth's crust, as we were prone to such seismic events this made only a little solace for me, or if there were poltergeists inhabiting the corners and cupboards of our new home. The physical structure of our house became my ongoing avocation. All a part of being a land baron at the end of the last century.
While I was periodically overwhelmed by the way tasks seemed to pop up and regenerate, I was happy that we had a neighborhood. As our realtor had pointed out at the time, there are plenty of nice streets and blocks in Oakland that seem to defy the labels that get thrust upon it. Families raising kids could  do a whole lot worse than setting up camp where we did. There was a drug store and a grocery store within easy walking distance. An elementary school just up the hill, and a couple of parks that were just a stroll away for when those front and back yards got too cramped.
Over the years, like a lot of the east bay, there was a certain amount of gentrification. Property values went up as the scary stores turned into bakeries and copy stores. Whitewashed windows came down and "open" signs went up. We had landed in a spot that was on the rise. And there was a McDonald's. This may not seem like a big deal, but back when we were growing a kid in America who needed a certain amount of exposure to fast food and the toys that come along with that fast food, this was a treat. Especially for the part of me that was still that kid myself who needed those Golden Arches, even though the franchise up the street only sported those on the logo outside. I confess that it made it all feel just a little more like home to me. My move to California was eased just a little bit by the blessed sameness of the menu and interior McDonald's had to offer.
Last week, the doors closed at our local Mickey D's. The neighborhood had tired of that little piece of the fast food nation. Or it wasn't making money. Or the owners had given up trying to make it work. Whatever the precise reason, no one seemed to fully agree except to say that it was another failing business in our town.
There are those who would see this as a victory, with the potential for a locally grown and sourced business to pop up in its place. A healthy alternative to the McFood that has been on the wane for decades now. My own family has switched burger allegiance pretty solidly to those found at In 'n' Out. Fresh ingredients, and if you can avoid those bible verses on the bottom of your drink cups, it all feels pretty clean and happy. Which doesn't keep me from mourning the loss of what once was. My son's first Bionicle came from that McDonald's, and while that may seem like a trifle, it was in fact a door that opened for him in a fascination with Lego and action figures that continues to this day. We shared many a pile of "family fries" at that spot, and while our digestive tracts will still be dealing with the challenges presented by the meals we had there for years to come, it is the memories of that place that will last just a little longer.
McDonald's, you see, was my kind of place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For Ever

A couple days after a profoundly confused security guard shot up a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, there was another shooting. This one took place a few blocks from my house. It happened a little after noon in an intersection that I run past on a regular basis. The requisite shrine with candles, balloons and taped-up poems sprang up overnight. It was a microcosm of the tributes that have been set up for the victims in Orlando. There aren't enough balloons. There aren't enough candles. Or flowers or sidewalk chalk or poems. These memorials are set up to last as long as the memories can, but they never do, even when they use those mylar balloons.
Or spray paint.
Another couple blocks down the street from the intersection where a young man breathed his last, there was a fresh tag, in black. This one wasn't for the guy who was killed in the most recent drive-by. It wasn't in memory of any or all of those murdered in Florida. It was for a kid who was shot on a different corner, near my house: Edgar. Edgar died when he was just eighteen. He wasn't the youngest victim of gun  violence here in Oakland. There are plenty of kids younger than him vying for that honor. Edgar does have the distinction of being a face that I can put to the names and the places where people have been shot and killed. I would love to tell you that it is a face that I will always remember, but it has been eight years since he was cut down, and while I remember him vaguely from seeing him on the street way back then, and the pictures that were posted next to those burning candles and mylar balloons, when I see "RIP Edgar" scrawled across a sidewalk or fence or some other flat surface. Instead, I think of all the other names that have come before and since. A list that keeps growing. A list that is exponentially larger when you consider those who knew and loved those killed by stray or direct fire. The degree of separation keeps getting smaller. Soon, everyone will know someone who was shot.
Sure, it helps the curve to live in Oakland. Or Orlando. Or Detroit. Or Newtown. A list of names that keeps growing too. Sales of candles and balloons continue to grow. As more hearts break.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

"I'm so upset about Orlando and what went down, but I can't believe these people would come out afterward and their answer to Orlando is to take away guns from the public. It's [expletive] mind blowing to me." First of all, sir, no one is suggesting that we take guns away from the public. That's exactly what makes all the gun control arguments turn into foaming-at-the-mouth-I've-got-my-pocket-sized-copy-of-the-Constitution-right-here exchanges. And I could understand how this kind of thing might get an ex-Navy Seal all agitated. He's going to want that AR-15 to recreate those battlefield experiences when the bad guys show up on his front lawn. Or maybe that curmudgeonly senator who has an ax to grind with our president, seeing as how he lost big and he's a veteran too, but maybe he misspoke. It's amazing how many people are lining up to shoot off their mouths at this moment when that should be the least of our worries. It's not about taking guns away, fellow patriots, it's about keeping guns out of the hands of the bad guys.
In case you were wondering, it wasn't John McCain or Dom Raso or some other regularly appearing face of the National Rifle Association who muttered those words. It was radio personality Howard Stern, who never met an end of a chain that he would not pull. He continued his rant with a metaphor: "Now, let's say I walked up literally to a sheep herd, and they know that every night the wolves pick off a couple of them," Stern said. "What if I went up to the sheep and I said, 'You wanna have a shot at the wolves? I'm gonna give you a pistol. You can actually even the playing field with these wolves whose fangs are out. You could shoot them and save your family.'" See, those of us without guns are sheep, and the only way to deal with wolves in his world is to act like them. We must all become killers. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, since he's the only one with a chance to read the Second Amendment.
Meanwhile, down the hall from Howard is another media type who surprised people with his somewhat clear thoughts in the wake of yet another mass shooting: Bill O'Reilly. After taking a few big wide swings at us bleeding heart types, he went ahead and said that it is time for some substantive discussion about gun control. After years of business as usual, it seems that there are some among us who are starting to smell the coffee, or the gunpowder or spilled blood. No one is suggesting that we repeal the Second Amendment. Okay, there are some, but mostly the question of gun control is just that: control. As Mister O'Reilly suggested, the idea of a "well regulated militia" included the word "regulated." 
Oh no. I am agreeing with Bill O'Reilly. These are indeed strange times. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

No Do Overs

Preserving Delegates’ Ability to Vote Their Individual Conscience

The secretary of the national convention shall receive and faithfully announce and record each delegate’s vote in accordance with these rules. If any such delegate notifies the secretary of his or her intent to cast a vote of conscience, whether personal or religious, each such delegate shall be unbound and unconstrained by these rules on any given vote, including the first ballot for the selection of the Republican nominee for President of the United States, without the risk of challenge, sanction, or retribution by the Republican National Committee. Allowable personal reasons shall include the public disclosure of one or more grievous acts of personal conduct by a nominee candidate, including but not limited to, criminally actionable acts, acts of moral turpitude or extreme prejudice, and/or notorious public statements of support for positions that clearly oppose or contradict the policies embodied in the Republican Party’s platform as established at the national convention.
These are the words in the proposed rule that the Republican Party is considering to allow delegates to "vote their conscience." Maybe when they were at this caucus or that primary, the delegate in question was caught up in the maelstrom of feelings that might have given them the idea that voting for a certain orange-skinned candidate was a way to set things right. To make America Great Again, They may have been under the impression that their vote would send a message. That message? Something along the lines of, "Can you believe that I actually voted for Trump?" And the giggling commenced. When everyone sobered up, and they looked at that sea of red baseball caps and thought about what they had done, there must have been some shame and regret. "You mean you did it too?" How are we going to get out of this one
I know: Let's make a rule that takes all those drunken sots and gives them one more chance to set things right. Really? You want that guy to represent the party of Lincoln and Reagan? He's a nutjob, you know that, right? He's not presidential.  He's a reality TV show. Wouldn't you like to take another crack at this? It's not too late. Like when they killed Bobby Ewing, and the ratings for Dallas fell off the chart. What could we do? Bring him back the next year and say that it was all just a dream. The idea of any one of those gentlemen stepping out of the shower to greet a shocked Pam gives me a little knot in my stomach, but that's how it works in the TV world. But probably not in presidential politics. 
Sorry guys. You might get some of the ketchup back in that bottle, but not all of it. Not enough. In the big book of saving face, this is the face they are stuck with. The orange one, with the great big mouth. There will be no wishing this one away. No take backsies. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Your Dad Did

And you're a chip off the old block
Why does it come as such a shock
That every road up which you rock
Your daddy already did
- John Hiatt "Your Dad Did"
My son came back from his freshman year in college and I listened to him talk about life in the dorm with his roommates. I told him that he now has his own college stories, so he no longer has to ask for me to repeat mine. Which was sort of disingenuous, since I still regularly repeat the stories my father told me. Some of them were about college, but since he didn't spend a lot of time in college there weren't as many stories to retell. Instead, I remember the stories he told about growing up in Kansas. Or his high school days in Boulder. Or the time he spent in the Army, driving a radio truck around Germany, keeping Europe safe from the potential Communist insurgence. Actually, to hear him tell it, there wasn't a lot of concern about communism, more worries about the fried chicken his sergeant brought along and the beer they acquired by pulling up to the beer hall in a tank and having the beermaids pass cans down the barrel. 
I probably spent way too long, as a kid, believing everything my father told me. Like when he told me that it was his time in the army, wearing a helmet for two years, that caused him to lose his hair. Or the time he and my older brother took my younger brother and I into the pitchblack passages they discovered in the ruins of Chichen Itza. "Be careful here, since there's a fifty foot drop straight down," he told us as we clung to him unnecessarily. There was no drop. There was no hole. He was lying. I wouldn't have plummeted to my death, but I did end up losing my hair. Even though I never wore an Army helmet. 
And then there were all those jokes. Hundreds of them. The ones I remember, anyway. Most of them were just straight up silly, and though the off color ones have been largely forgotten, I always loved the way he told them. They were better than the true-life stories, and they tended to flavor the ones from real life. Which made it ever more difficult to discern the verisimilitude of anything that came out of his mouth. Which wasn't really a problem, since I was sticking around for the humor. 
I tell my son the truth. I may embroider the edges from time to time, but mostly I keep things interesting by picking the stories I choose to tell. The funny ones, mostly. Every so often, I toss in one of those heartfelt man to man deals, just to keep me honest. I tell him my dad's stories, and he's heard a lot of that vast storehouse of jokes. They now get stirred into the mix with his own. Generations of funny bits handed down from father to son, with the expressed intent of getting a laugh. 
Like your dad did. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thanks For Nothin', Ben Franklin

Sometimes I forget what it sounds like when everything is turned off. That is what happened the other day when I came home from my morning run. When I opened the basement door to check on the laundry, I heard the phone ringing. This was odd, since the timing of phone calls coming into our landline usually precludes me having to answer the basement phone, but I picked it up anyway. The voice on the other end of the line was recorded. It was Hillary Clinton, asking me to join her in her quest to make America as good as it possibly can be. Or something like that. I hung up without making much more of it, since there was laundry to fold.
The music that had been pouring into one ear from my iPod stopped when I got upstairs and silenced it, anticipating that I would be standing in front of the cooling pile of clothes, watching the cable television shows that I might otherwise have missed. But there was no little red light in the lower right hand corner of my TV urging me to turn it on. I walked into the bathroom and noticed that there was no little green light on the handle of my Sonicare toothbrush, reassuring me that it was charged up and ready to go. In the kitchen there was no hum from the coils of the refrigerator and the clock on the microwave had gone to black.
My immediate reaction was to blame my son, the user of so much of our electricity, and as he had just recently returned home, I was quick to assign blame to him for this lack of power. I grabbed the keys to the basement where this whole enterprise had begun and muttered to myself mildly unkind things while my son slept. When I reached the breakers below, I noticed that none of them had been tripped. I made a note to apologize to my son for thinking those power thoughts about him.
Back upstairs, I busied myself with the laundry, noting that the good news was that everything was dry before we couldn't make it so. It was a breezy day and the sun was out, so I reckoned that we might have been able to dry things out on the line, but it would have taken more time. When I finished, I sat very still and noticed the quiet. Without all those circuits blaring away in their boxes and in the walls, I could hear the clocks ticking. I could hear the birds chirping and the kids playing outside. I went out on my front porch and a young father from next door asked if our power was out too. I told him it was, and he sighed. He held his little boy in his arms and I watched him wonder what to do with his son who was accustomed to being entertained by various electronic means. Go for a walk, sing a song, I suggested. "Like in the pioneer days." We laughed and waited for the next thing to happen. We waited for electricity to be discovered again.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Big Enough

Like our president, I get tired of reaching this podium for the expressed purpose of addressing another senseless tragedy. I am also confounded by those who look to make sense of such nihilism. Even worse, to me, is the political hay that is being made even as I sit in front of my keyboard about guns and Islam and gay rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness my fellow Americans. Get behind those words writ large by Mister Jefferson. Stop trying to ban this weapon or that religion and start supporting the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Why not get a little jump-start on our Fourth of July Sale-A-Bration this year?
Possibly because the death of fifty men and women doesn't get anybody in the mood to buy a mattress or wave a flag, unless it is out of defiance. Defiance of all those things that make events like the murder of those fifty and the wounding of another fifty-three more part of our nation's continuing attempt to resolve conflicts at the end of a gun. Remember that the same president who comes to that podium with furrowed brow and patience waning is the same guy ordering the drone strikes in the Middle East. I know: Apples and Oranges. But the stories we are reading about the young couple who hoped to be married will now be buried together, or the letter from a mom to the survivors in Orlando that included an apology: "Sorry that our tragedy here in Sandy Hook wasn't enough to save your loved ones.:
All this talk about the killer's job being "the worst in American History" doesn't take into account moments like the collapse of the World Trade Centers. Or the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Omar Mateen will have to stand in line behind Timothy McVeigh on the line to get into hell. What is less clear is what the waiting period will be for those FBI agents who may have kicked the hornet's nest in Timothy's head when they killed seventy-six members of the Branch Davidian sect.
So what amounts to polite discourse in our society is now being meted out at a frightening rate with semi-automatic weapons, and I can't help but think of the old George Carlin bit where he plays a disc jockey telling his audience that the holiday weekend's highway death toll is down from last year, "You're not trying!" he admonishes his audience. Because that is where we live: the land of the free and the home of the brave, and the super-sized. Go big or go home. Everything in moderation is for countries that can't afford the payments. Can you imagine how long it would take to strangle fifty people?
On second hand, don't. Hug someone you love. Kiss them on the head. Agree with them. Go out and pursue happiness. In a big way.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Line

Things fall apart. That is part of the reason the title of this blog is Entropical Paradise. Over the weekend, while wrestling with the ivy that had become entwined in the fence separating our property from that of the apartment house next door, I uncovered the truth about that fence. It is rotting. Having the ivy draped over it for years had not proved to make it stronger, though it certainly made it thicker, especially over the course of this past year of increased precipitation. Once the vegetation had been stripped away, it was apparent that rot had set in. A great stinking swath of moldy rot. The ivy was slowly working at breaking the fence down to its component molecules. Given another decade, I'm sure that there would only have been a lump of of decomposed vegetable matter where once stood a rampart, strong and tall.
It is this fence, the one around our yard, that has been the bane of my home-owning experience. I have built, repaired, rebuilt, and repaired again this barrier between us and them. It kept the dog in and the neighborhood kids out. It provided a safe haven for front lawn football and back yard water fights. It drew a line around our little plot near heaven. It gave me a place to go and close the gate behind me. When the latch worked, that is.
Now, nineteen years later, I find myself on the verge of tearing down a great section of that edifice, with the intent of replacing it, of course, but with an eye toward the future. That fence was here when we moved in. We have replaced the south section, which had once been chain link and permeated with bamboo. The slats in the front were once replaced on a regular basis when the plum-gathering kids scrambled over them and in their rush to get in and out with their tasty treats or projectiles snapped them off. A few of the posts were dug up and restored to their less-rotted and upright condition. It's part of the plan.
The plan is to tear it down and put something else back up in its place. There is plenty of imagination going on out there in the world of fencing. I would like to tell you that there will be some grand construction set in its place that will stand as a tribute to its builders. It will be another one of those summertime projects, and once it is complete, I can start the clock on how long before I have to repair it. Or chop down the ivy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pride In The Name Of Love

"This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub.  And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well." And that's how our president chose to describe the situation in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. Easy enough for someone who was already on the anti-terrorist watch list to get a job as a security guard. An armed security guard who could legally purchase weapons used to kill dozens of his fellow human beings. Legally, especially since he was employed by a firm that  had contracts with the federal government. 
So the right to bear arms continues to win out over the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Going to the movies. Going to a nightclub. Going to church. Going to school. Elementary school. Drawing cartoons. The fact that the refrain, "and all these weapons were purchased legally" keeps coming up in conjunction with tragedies like the one that took place in Orlando suggests that there might be something wrong with the laws. 
That's why we have legislators, judges, and litigators: to fix the laws that don't work. Guns themselves have changed incredibly since the days that the Second Amendment was originally written. It took an average of twenty seconds to load and fire a musket back in the eighteenth century. On full automatic setting, an assault rifle can fire thirteen rounds in a second. Guns have changed. The Second Amendment has not. If anything, the support for that piece of the Constitution has received more reinforcement and support than any other. The "attacks" on the Second Amendment generally come as a response to the attacks that have taken place with the arms in question.
Is this the kind of country we want to be? Is this that "Shining City On A Hill?" Hate or terror? It doesn't really matter because it was both, profoundly for those who were there and for those who died there. I think this country isn't about hate or terror. It's about love.
In the name of love
What more in the name of love

- U2

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oh Good

One of the major party's candidate for president would like to see teachers armed, locked and loaded for any situation that might call for suppressing fire. It's all a part of the "good guys with guns" program espoused by Wayne LaPierre and his followers in the National Rifle Association. I suppose at some level I should be pleased and thankful that, as a teacher, I am counted among the few, the proud, the good. I'm not sure exactly how virtue is ascribed in their eyes, maybe it's just being a "good shot" that puts one head and shoulders above the rest, but I suspect that there may be some additional subjective criteria that makes it important for us good guys to stick together. With guns.
The thing about the Second Amendment is that it allows all Americans the right to keep and bear arms. One of the questions that might be asked on one of those illusory background check forms could be "are you good?" That would help keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys. Problem solved. Except for that whole question of just exactly what makes one truly good. It's starting to sound a little more like an essay question, and that might run us into a little trouble. What if you're a swell person in so many ways, but not a good writer? You might not get your gun on account of how you ain't so good with your words.
And that would be a shame, since there are so many good people without a degree in philosophy.  Or urban pacification. Or writing. Like I have. You could be a really good mechanic but a lousy person. Just like I could be a really good writer but a flawed human being. Which may mean that  background checks won't solve a thing after all. Of course, if you lied on a government form that would probably kick you right out of that good person category.
Or if you thought professional wrestling was real. Patricia Anne Crowe jumped into the ring at an AWF show in Georgia last week to rescue fan favorite "Iron Mann" from bad guy Paul Lee. With a loaded gun. A police officer suggested that Ms. Crowe pulled the gun "because of the way he'd (Lee) talked to her." That pistol was a way to put some order into chaos. Or is that the other way 'round?
That can't be good.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Coke And Roses

I'm in mourning. Not in any particular tragic way, but I am currently grieving the loss of something that was once a huge part of my life: Coca-Cola. Don't worry, by the way. Coke is still alive and well for most everyone else, but for me it has been five months of Cold Cola Turkey. Once the very clear and undeniable line that could be drawn between my bouts with kidney stones and the consumption of America's favorite soft drink, I decided to give it up before I turned inside out. Initially I worried that not having me as a customer might do irreparable harm to their bottom line, but as it turns out I needn't have been concerned. The Coca-Cola Corporation is getting along fine without me.
As for me, I confess that I am struggling a bit. It used to be so easy. Friday night we would go out for a cheeseburger and a Coke. At the movie theater, there was always the anticipation of powering through that tub of Coke as the feature presentation unspooled. Even though I had somewhat recently stopped stocking the basement cola cellar for weekend entertaining, I still marked most special occasions or events with a Coke. And a smile.
I used to have a lot of vices. Most of these could be found at the bottom of a beer bottle, including the bad choices that come with that kind of habit. I reasoned that after retiring from the ranks of the semi-professional beer drinkers that temperance would be my friend. I was saving myself from the gutter by choosing a soft drink instead of booze for my libation. Little did I know that I would happily trade most if not all the hangovers I ever had for the pain experienced when passing a kidney stone.
I should point out that my wife, clever lady that she is, has suggested that simply moderating my intake of cola would be an easy enough solution to this dilemma. Moderation has never been one of my strong suits, however, and I have found that flipping the "off" switch is generally the best way to keep me off that slippery slope.
There is also the matter of the upkeep of a fifty-four year old body and the wear and tear that I have already put on this chassis. Many of those were highway miles, and while we are still operating with primarily original equipment, there is some concern around these parts that suggests that nothing lasts forever. With a big red arrow hanging over my head labeled "Exhibit A." So it turns out that when I am asked what I would like to drink at dinner and I can say that I am happy with water, I am saving myself. I will try not to evangelize and point out to others the evil that Coke does both internally and externally.  We had a pretty good run, Coca-Cola and I. I'll wear my red and white logo shirt from time to time and remember how things used to be. I'll be happy when I see young folks sipping on their Big Gulps and sharing those secret caffeinated smiles. I recall some of my own. Back in the days of Coke and Roses.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Muddy Waters

The nine-foot alligator seen with a human body in its jaws on Tuesday has been captured and found to have human remains in its stomach. Below is the statement issued through the alligator's representative
"It debilitates me to think that my actions have caused emotional and physical stress that is completely unwarranted and unfair. The thought of this is in my head every second of every day since this event has occurred. These ideas never leave my mind. During the day, I shake uncontrollably from the amount I torment myself by thinking about what has happened. I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted. I can barely hold a conversation with someone without having my mind drift into thinking these thoughts. They torture me. I go to sleep every night having been crippled by these thoughts to the point of exhaustion. I wake up having dreamt of these horrific events that I have caused. I am completely consumed by my poor judgment and ill thought actions. There isn't a second that has gone by where I haven't regretted the course of events I took on June seventh. My shell and core of who I am as a person is forever broken from this. I am a changed reptile. At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed. I never want to experience being in a position where it will have a negative impact on my life or someone else's ever again. I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to live in the Everglades, so maybe the newspapers wouldn't want to write stories about me. I know I can show gators who were like me the dangers of assuming what swamp life can be like without thinking about the consequences one would potentially have to make if one were to make the same decisions that I made. I want to show that alligators’ lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so. One needs to recognize the influence that peer pressure and the attitude of having to fit in can have on someone. One decision has the potential to change your entire life. I know I can impact and change other creatures’ attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a predator. I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle. I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]. My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back. Before this happened, I never had any trouble with game wardens and I plan on maintaining that. I've been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school. I've lost my chance to swim in the zoo. I've lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life. I want to be a voice of reason in a time where people's attitudes and preconceived notions about partying and drinking have already been established. I want to let young gators know, as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one night."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

We The People

June of 1919, women were not allowed to vote in the United States. With the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, half the country could finally exercise their rights as part of the democratic process. In 1920, women could vote. It took nearly one hundred fifty years to make it happen, but suddenly the principles upon which this nation was founded started to become a reality. It took almost another century before there was a woman nominated by a major party for whom we could all vote for president. This is not necessarily a campaign ad for Hillary Clinton, but it bears some notice.
Let's take a look back at our previous chief executives: Old white guy, old white guy,  old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old white guy, old not white guy.
Number forty-four bucked a trend after more than two hundred years of white male dominance. Now we have an opportunity to spread the love a step further by hopping the gender line. Jewish Latino woman would have been the real package, but for now we'll take the Southern White woman with a resume that says, "Why not me?"
Don't answer that one yet, by the way. We've still got five months of discussion and conventions and hoopla to live through before the balloons drop. For whomever the country chooses.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Moving Forward

"Everybody's so different, I haven't changed."
-Joe Walsh, "Life's Been Good"
Another year all packed away neatly in boxes and cabinets. What happened this year wasn't radically different from last year. Or the year before. The faces change. Some of them grow older. Some of them grow more tired. Mostly they all stand up and move down one slot, opening a spot for the next group.
I have seen nineteen promotions, and the celebrations are always very similar. There are big, boisterous groups of friends and family on one end of the spectrum, and then there are the kids who show up alone on that last day because that's the way they have come to school for the past one hundred eighty days. They will go home that way too. There may be a party waiting at home. That would be nice. Mostly there will be a few months' respite from the day to day grind of elementary school.
And there are those who loudly announce, "I don't care. I'm not coming back to this school." While this may be true for our fifth graders, it is almost always those kids who are crowing about how we no longer have any hold over them because when they go on to the third or fourth grade their parents have assured them that they will be relocating to some kinder, gentler spot where there are happy teachers and students working together in positive ways. Funny. I thought that was where I worked. I thought those kids were the fly in our educational ointment.
Anyway, sure as the sun comes up way too early in the morning, most of those petulant voices will be part of our choir when school starts up again in August. It's the ones that move on without saying goodbye that tug at my dusty heartstrings. Each year I connect with a certain number of young people in a way that transcends the day to day grind. When they move on, either by promotion or attrition, I miss them.
Then I go back to that box and unpack. It's time to start work on the new year.

Thursday, June 09, 2016


So, there I was, sniping away about how those Hollywood types don't care about you and I. This group of narcissistic greedheads will spout off about just how amazing their intents are, all while banking their kerjillion dollars and keeping the one percent squarely at the top of the economic food chain. It is precisely the reason why fingers can be pointed at those champions of the working man like Bruce Springsteen when he has an estimated net worth somewhere north of two hundred million dollars. I would love to give the Boss the benefit of the doubt and imagine that he gives away one hundred ninety-nine of those millions away every year to charitable causes and does nothing but good deeds for those who really need it. 
But that's not how this game works. It is not set up to turn money away. It is set up to generate more and more money until you end up with one percent of the population holding twenty percent of the wealth. If the American Dream was once all about owning your own home and take care of your family through hard work and perseverance, it is now about striving to stay away from that swirling vortex of debt that exists as a result of those who have reached too high for that illusory brass ring. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise to a nation that is living with a tab of nineteen trillion dollars, at last count. If you can't afford that better life, borrow it.

Which is why what John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," brought a little light to this dark tunnel on his show last week. In his report, he pointed out that American households collectively own over twelve trillion dollars in debt, four hundred thirty-six billion dollars of which is ninety or more days past overdue. These debts have spawned a billion-dollar industry in debt buying or organizations that purchase the right to collect debts from the original creditors. The largest debt buying corporation is a group called Encore Capital who claim that one in five consumers either owes them money now or has in the past. One in five. Mister Oliver and his production company took it on themselves to buy up $14,922,261.76 of the medical debt owed by some nine thousand people, and paid it off. John Oliver, TV funnyman, just put a little bit back in to the ninety-nine percent. Mister Oliver did this from his lofty perch of a two million dollar a year salary, from a division of Time Warner whose profits were nearly five hundred million dollars last year. Profits. That's the money they made after their employees, like John Oliver, were paid. This little flurry of redistribution won't ultimately impact the Forbes 500 in the slightest, but it will undoubtedly increase viewership for his show, which will drive up the salaries for the folks around him and maybe then they can afford to have Bruce Springsteen come on and sing songs about the working man. 
Does this sound bitter? Maybe that's the sound of the rest of us waiting for our turn on the game show. Hillary and Donald will be duking it out from the top of the heap. Bernie Sanders is hanging somewhere just below the millionaire's club. That gives me something to think about. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Fight The Power

My wife and I go to a lot of movies. Maybe not as many as we used to, but enough that we legitimize our subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The reason we have chosen this particular outlet for our disposable income is simple enough: escape. It's pretty much the same reason that people have been heading out to the moving picture show for the past century. I am sometimes challenged for this somewhat hedonistic attitude, since I am generally buying tickets to the most recent popcorn movie or box office blockbuster, I end up feeling a little defensive. I'm just a guy going out with his wife looking for a little diversion, a distraction from the day to day humdrum existence.
That distraction often takes the form of super hero movies. You know, men and women in tights with all manner of special powers that make us feel safe from the evils that they will face. I am looking for truth, justice and the American Way. Whatever that is. Lately, it has occurred to me that the American Way isn't really battling super-villains or even sorting out disagreements of policy between rival groups of super-humans. It's about getting up in the morning and making sense of that day to day humdrum existence. It's about getting to that next place you are allowed to set down your butrden and maybe take a break: go see a movie. 
That's what I was thinking about as I watched Money Monster. There weren't any super heroes in this one, but there were superstars: George Clooney and Julia Roberts. It told the story of a common man who busted onto the set of an investment guru's TV show in order to right the wrong he feels was done with him via the bad advice the investment guru gave him. That wrong was the loss of his nest egg. He is desperate and carrying a gun, insisting that the investment guru wears a vest covered in plastic explosive. He's not looking to get his nest egg back as much as he is looking for justice.
And I'm not going to tell you how it ends. Because there was another movie made last year about a bunch of people who lost their nest eggs. It had an all-star cast too. And it didn't end well. Not for the nest-egg losers. It worked out really well for the guys who bet against The Big Short. It worked out really well for the people who made the movie, making the folks at Paramount Pictures a whole bunch  of money. Not Star Wars or Avengers kind of money, but enough cash to go out and make a few more movies with big stars.
Stars like George Clooney, who recently raised an "obscene amount of money" for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. His words, not mine. This seems to be his super power. Meanwhile, my wife and I are buying tickets to see this movie that ends - well - I promised not to tell. Not because I need you to go and buy a ticket to find out. That's up to you. I do wish that it had ended differently. Just like I wish that Captain America could have taken all the Wall Street evil and taken care of it just as easily as he did that horde of Hydra soldiers and their leader, The Red Skull.
But that's not real life, is it?

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Name Recognition

A long time ago, in a state far away, my  father approached a young man walking the streets of Denver who was absently twirling a pearl-handled revolver. My father asked him for an autograph. The young man took the menu my father offered him and wrote, "Cassius Clay." This young man was on his way to becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Back then, it wasn't that hard to get that autograph.
Once Cassius Clay became the Greatest of All Time, it was a little harder get. Climbing forward in time, when my older brother was part of a multi-national group of law enforcement types who gathered to protect and serve at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He had a chance to serve and protect a man named Muhammad Ali, a much older and battle-scarred version of that young man from the streets of Denver. He was no longer twirling a pearl-handled revolver, damage of years in the ring and the ravages of Parkinson's disease had left him shaky and slow, but not so slow that he wouldn't stop in the Olympic Village to pose with other young boxers, posing them to make it appear as though they were taking their best shot at The Champ. And on the night that The Champ was scheduled to light the torch, my brother walked Ali and his family to the position where he would take the flame and carry it to those last few yards. My brother understood that he was in the presence of greatness, which is why he turned to Muhammad Ali's son and asked if he ever got asked for his autograph. That's how my older brother got Muhammad Ali's son's autograph.
In the hours after his death, a local news anchor made this assertion: "If you asked one hundred people who is currently the Heavyweight Champion of the World, ninety-five of them wouldn't have an answer. Back in the seventies, if you asked one hundred people who the Heavyweight Champion of the World was, they would all have answered 'Muhammad Ali.'" That's what being the Greatest will do for you.
He didn't stomp on the Terra, he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That was the magic of Muhammad Ali. Aloha, Champ.

Monday, June 06, 2016

You Better Watch Out

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said that if a Democrat wins the presidential election in November and appoints an anti-gun Supreme Court Justice then right-wing gun advocates will no longer resort to the ballot box, but will instead turn to "bullet box." It's a pretty catchy turn of phrase, but more than just a little troublesome since the GOA make the NRA look like weekend collectors. They refer to themselves as the "no compromise gun lobby." Like the old Robin Williams bit: (sound of gunshot) "Halt, or I'll shoot!"
Mister Pratt, who has been the executive director for forty of the forty-one years that GOA has been in existence, would like us to know that if things don't go their way, there could be trouble. “I didn’t say that would happen," that whole bullets versus ballots thing, "but I would say that’s why we have a Second Amendment. If elections are compromised, that could happen. I don’t think we’re at that point. We haven’t lost that much control, I don’t think, of the electoral process. We have actually been making some progress in recent months with voter ID and that hopefully is going to cut down on some of the voter fraud that could potentially occur.”
Thirty four states have voter ID laws in place, of various types. This is in spite of the lack of any kind of widespread voter fraud, in spite of the regular and seemingly pervasive email claims of such conspiracies. What then can Larry Pratt and his heavily armed followers be so worried about? African American and Latino voters are generally those impacted most regularly by such legislation, so maybe it's not the hanging chads as much as the black and brown faces showing up to the polls to vote. Votes that have historically been cast for Democrats. With the orange vote all but sealed up for the Republicans, Gun Owners of America have nothing to fear but fear itself. And a large turnout by those not-so-orange voters. “If people become convinced that elections don’t matter and that their vote doesn’t count and that there’s fraud that’s rampant, then I think we enter a potentially very dangerous time,” Pratt said. And just who will do that convincing? At the end of a loaded gun? Larry says that we have the Second Amendment to protect us from our government. Who will protect us from Larry? 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Turn Off

Hey you constitutional scholars, time to wake up and smell your briefs. Okay, that didn't come out exactly right, but you might be interested to know that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia recently ruled that police can use your phone as a tracking device. While it is illegal for police to track you without a warrant, they can go and ask your cell phone provider for records that detail your movements. Your cell phone provider is a third party, and they can answer questions as to your whereabouts even when you don't feel like it.
That's because you turn on that little tracking deal on your phone that watches where you go so that you can find the nearest Starbucks (Hint: if you just passed one, look up the street to your left). But if you're one of those people whose phone is smarter than you are on any given day, that little nod to convenience may just be your undoing.
If you're up to a little light reading, the Fourth Amendment Third Party Doctrine will make this whole issue crystal clear. If you don't have the time to digest all twenty-six pages, let me sum it up for you: The Fourth Amendment of our Constitution  is what protects us from illegal and unwanted searches and seizures. The thing about that Third Party is that when you give away information freely to a bank or a cell phone provider, those little tidbits are just hanging out there for anyone to scoop up and use against you. Even if you turn off that GPS app, your phone company still knows where you are, and they will rat you out in a heartbeat. It's their job to tell everyone, including the police, where you are at all times.
This might not bother you in the context of Uber or Santa Claus, but the idea that someone knows where you are just because you were silly enough to check that box and turn your phone on is more than just a little Orwellian. So just how important is if for you to know how far it is to the next In 'n' Out? That's a matter for you to decide. Along with your phone company and anyone they decide to let in on the details.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Standing In Line

Mississippi's governor, Phil Bryant, blames the "secular, progressive world" for all the fuss kicked up by the bill he signed that would allow clerks to cite their religious beliefs in order to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Phil made this assertion in a speech to the Family Research Council, a "pro-life, pro-marriage" group whose president is Anthony Perkins. Ooops! Sorry. That's "Tony" Perkins, not to be confused with Anthony "Psycho" Perkins who was pretty "pro-family" himself, come to think of it.

But let's get back to Governor Phil. You might remember his from such blockbuster legislation as House Bill 1523, and its predecessor the year before in 2014. These laws, and similar bills passed in other states, insist that it's okay to discriminate if God tells you to. Here's what he told the FRC: "About sixty days ago, it seemed as if all of the secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration — their friends in the media willingly joining with them to bring all that they could upon the governor of the state. Hoping, first, that surely he wouldn't sign that bill if we could just draw enough editorial cartoons. If we could condemn him enough, if we could get enough cameras in his office, if we could get people to go out and protest in front of the governor's mansion at night. We could get people to call him bad names — 'Oh, you know, he's from Mississippi so we can use that racist idea.' How dare them," Bryant said. "How dare them."
Those secular progressives who bought into that whole "separation of church and state" ideal put forth in the First Amendment of the Constitution. For Bryant and his ilk, that seems to suggest that they need to make laws to protect the rights put forth in the Constitution, even at the expense of other's rights. Family Research Council president Perkins presented Governor Bryant with the organization's first Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award during a conference for pastors. Perkins (Tony, not Anthony), attended a private ceremony where Bryant signed the 2014 bill, said the award is named for the American founding father known as the "last of the Puritans."
The last? Probably not. "They don't know that Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages," said Bryant, who is United Methodist. "They don't know that if it takes crucifixion, we will stand in line before abandoning our faith and our belief in our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ." Poor, persecuted Christians. It's about time they got their due.

Friday, June 03, 2016


For those of us who grew up in the seventies, we know that the true beginning of the Planet of the Apes came when Aldo said, "No." Aldo was a gorilla, according to the scrolls handed down through the generations, who had grown tired of his role as a servant in the homes of humans and who was finally moved to utter the word that had been shouted at him for years as a slave and years before that as he was conditioned to that place. With electric shock and fire hoses and all manner of torment. Aldo said, "No."
This was the story handed down from ape to ape over the ages, but it may not have taken into account just how the gorillas, chimps and orangutans had gained the power of speech. The story from the scrolls suggest that it occurred as if it were predestined, but further examination leads us to understand that it was the appearance of Caesar, son of the time-travelling chimpanzee scientists Zira and Cornelius who was the true instigator of the revolt that eventually became known as the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
The scrolls also tell of a plague that wiped out all the cats and dogs on the planet, and eventually humans brought apes into their homes as substitutes for their beloved pets. The size and cognitive abilities of these primates made them ideal servants, once the initial romance of the idea of sharing ones house with their distant cousins wore off. When Aldo said no, it set off a chain of events that eventually led to a race of super-intelligent apes ruling what was left of our planet after the humans had made a mess of it.
Whether you subscribe to the doctrine of the scrolls or the more precise timeline of the Ape-o-nauts, reading the story of Harambe, the seventeen year old gorilla who was shot and killed in Cincinnati last Saturday. The director of the zoo insisted that Harambe was shot in order to save the life of the four year old human child who had fallen into the enclosure. Director Thane Maynard insisted that a tranquilizer would not have acted quickly enough to bring down four hundred-plus pounds of gorilla in time to save the little boy. Who is to blame? In two thousand years when the Lawgiver's scrolls are unfurled and Aldo's story is told right after that of Harmabe's, hopefully it will be a planet of apes and men listening.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Sorry, Bugs

A couple of summers ago, my wife and son gave me a present for my birthday. It was one they felt would last and last: a season pass to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, just up the road apiece in Vallejo. It would be worth the forty-five minute drive to the top of the Bay for some roller coaster action. In the parlance of our family, "Why not?"
Well, as it turns out, the amusement park section of my brain was not fully satisfied by the lines and rides found beneath those Six Flags. Sadly, I have become impossibly spoiled by all those trips to Disney properties over the years, and the absurd standards that I hold for my amusement are now ridiculously high. It would be foolish of me not to reconcile the relative costs of these adventures. It would be foolish of me still not to recognize the value of a year's worth of high-speed turbulent roller coaster type rides compared to a day's worth. Why not take the family out for a Northern California day full of deep-fried food and a series of apparatus that would make it hard to keep that deep-fried food down? It made fine fiscal sense to do that, as long as I was going to need to scratch that itch every so often.
We went once.
Again, I blame myself. The Six Flags experience wasn't special enough. Not for me and my Disney sensibilities. This makes me a snob, and it pains me to confess it. Coming from a guy who spent his drinking years throwing down case after case of "the best beer you ever kept down," Miller Lite, how could I have managed to let my theme park aesthetic get so out of hand? What is the theme of Disneyland? What Disney owns which, at this point, is most everything. Six Flags has Bugs Bunny. Which does not diminish my love for Bugs.  Not in the least. But he's not Mickey and Donald  and Luke and Han and Spidey and Cap. And Snow White and Cinderella and Ariel and well, you get the idea. The cast members from the turnstiles on the way in to the hand stamp on the way out are so unrelentingly pleasant that the time you spend in what used to be an orange grove is like a visit to the happiest place on earth. Vallejo is still working on becoming a destination place, and one might expect that the addition of live seals and sharks and butterflies should make the trip completely worthwhile.
It was a good time. But we haven't been back. I feel bad about missing out on all that fun. And value. Now that I don't drink anymore, however, I can tell you that Miller Lite isn't good beer.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Parental Support

I discipline other people's kids. It's my job. I'm an elementary school teacher so when it comes to telling kids what to do, I'm your guy. Get in line. Don't talk in the halls. Use your words. Sit down while you eat. There aren't many situations for which I don't have a suggestion or admonition. I spend a good six to eight hours  a day telling kids what to do. That may be why I was surprised to see all the fuss surrounding a blog post by a mom who wanted to thank a stranger who took the time to correct her son on a playground. She starts by asking if this person has a right to discipline her boy when he tries to push past his daughter on the monkey bars. Yes, mom insists, he does. She gives this father clearance to tell her son to knock it off and to act as if his mother were there watching because, in that it-takes-a-village way of thinking, she is.
Mom is everywhere. It is the question I ask some of the tough cases at my school: "What would your mother do if she were here?" Depending on the infraction, some of them will tell me "nothin'." More of them will look off into the distance and tell me that they would get a whuppin'. They know that I won't give them a whuppin', but thanks to the simple prop of a smart phone, I can imply the connection between myself and those who might administer said whuppin'. The degree of separation between that kid and a whuppin' is one: me. I tell them that I have no interest in anyone getting a whuppin'. I want kids to take turns on the monkey bars. My job doesn't require that I ask permission from a kid's parents before I tell them to knock it off and wait their turn, but if I were to try that same tactic on a public playground, things might go a little differently. I hang around kids all day and I am here to tell you that unless we all step up and tell those kids to get in line it will be anarchy. Or at least there will be a whole lot of tears.
And it's not just kids on a playground. Who among us speaks up when they see someone cut in line at the supermarket? Or when that Mercedes jumps out in front of the Volvo to race down that residential street? Grownups with lizard brains shouldn't push anyone aside to get on the monkey bars either. Get in line. All of you. Now.
You're welcome.