Sunday, July 31, 2016


Roger Ailes, bye-bye. Aloha. Auf Wiedersehen. Sayonara. Adios. Arrivederci. Au Revoir. Bon Voyage. The Chief Executive Officer of Fox News has gone to that fair and balanced retirement in the sky. Okay, not necessarily in the sky, though one could imagine that his severance package would allow him a nice penthouse someplace or other. Up the elevator and to the right. Always to the right.
Which brings me to the subject of right and left, fair and balanced, liberal and conservative. I remember when I was in fifth grade and we studied journalism. This was back in the seventies, and things were probably very different than they are now. We've got smart phones now. And cable TV. I am sure those things make a huge difference, but what I remember being taught by Mister Conklin was that a journalist should be objective. We were to consider ourselves to be the silent, passive observers of what happened around us. We were asked to report on incidents without giving our opinion on those matters. There was a place for opinions: on the editorial page. Otherwise, we were restricted to those five w's: who, what, when, where, and why. For those of us who were more advanced, we were allowed an h: how. Once those questions had been answered, our job was done. Our thoughts and feelings about how and why things went down was not part of our reportage. We were asked to focus on the facts. Just the facts. This was back in the seventies, as I mentioned. The early seventies. Richard Nixon was president. The only president to resign from office. That's a fact. How  I felt about President Nixon was of no consequence, at least not when it came to reporting on the politics of the day.
Which is why I found myself a job on the editorial page as quickly as I could. Which is why I have this blog. How I feel about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is what keeps me prattling on here. I expect that may have been  what got Mister Ailes started, founding his own news channel, where he could decide what the editorial slant might be. If there was such a thing. It should be noted that Roger got his start as a medial consultant for Richard Nixon. People used to call him "Tricky Dicky." That's a fact.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. These are the things we might be discussing during this presidential election. Donald Trumpence started the ball rolling early on, calling his chief rival "Lyin' Ted." This was not for Senator Cruz's propensity to fall into a prone position on the floor whenever he didn't get his way, but rather because he felt that Ted would obfuscate or mislead those within earshot of his fiery rhetoric. Manipulation of the facts, however, is what makes this season so special. Truth, it seems, will be a rather tough commodity to come by over the next few months. That and a civility.
Nowhere is this reality gulf felt more widely than the question of law and order. One party would like us to cling to the fear that has been laid out, partly by the media, but mostly by the terror-infused speeches of the Grand Old Party. On the other side we have the folks who will insist that, in spite of the high profile death and destruction we tune into nightly and click on each morning, all is well. There are plenty of media types who will point at graphs that show that violent crime has been on the decline for more than twenty five years. This is usually just before a cut to commercial and then a report on the latest mass shooting or suicide bombing.
What is the truth? Hard to say, especially with so many emotions mixed into the math. But here is where I start to get confused: If the country is becoming more violent, doesn't it make sense to put all our guns away? Or if the opposite is true, and we have never been so safe, why make such a fuss about all those assault rifles?
Maybe the real truth, as so often is the case, lies somewhere in the middle. Like so many slippery, stubborn things facts require management or at least heavy gloves when handling them. Like the economy, which has all those numbers and quantifiers, there will be a lot of arguments about if we are better off now or if we need to change course before we fall down the rabbit hole. You remember the rabbit hole. The one Alice fell into so many years ago. The rabbit hole of political satire.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Float On, FLOTUS

I have stayed away from the spectacle of both the Republican and Democratic conventions. The idea that I might find something in either one of these gatherings of the party faithful that would significantly alter my perception of the way the world works or that suddenly the scales would fall from my eyes and I would finally see the Emperor's fancy new suit for what it actually is seems faulty from the get-go. There have been times, in the past, when I have peeked in at the hubbub just to check it out, reaffirming my longstanding beliefs about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. But like those late-night talk shows that have ceased to be important to me, if something really important or amusing happens, it will be on YouTube the next day.
That's how I missed Michelle Obama's address to the Democratic National Convention. The next day, I heard about how inspiring and soaring her words were. I decided to check it out, and by golly, even after the fact it was stirring. An African-American woman was addressing the assemblage of one of our nation's major political parties not as a token or a stunt. She was there as the First Lady of the United States. She was there as a representative of women and, more to her point, mothers across this great land of ours. It would have been easy enough to toss around the invective that has been standard orating procedure over the past two years. It would have been easy enough for her to simply stand there, as the object of all those things that Herr Trumppenstein holds with such little regard. She spoke of what it means to see the change that is possible in our country. She talked about waking up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
Wait a minute, says Bill O'Reilly. Let's check the facts on that one. Because we don't want to give this already bleeding heart party any more grist for their mill. "Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well." Overseers, perhaps? Bill went on: "Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz." Hey, Bill? You just used your bully pulpit (a pulpit used by bullies) to acknowledge that Michelle Obama was correct in her assertion. All that other fluff and nonsense about well-fed and decent lodgings in no way deflects the point she was making. Got it? There will be a quiz.
As for me, I'm just glad that after a minor crisis in confidence by yours truly, order has been restored in the cosmos. Bill O'Reilly is a nutjob. And Michelle Obama is pretty awesome. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Such Small Portions

We took our son to see his first Woody Allen film. Like so many first-time experiences he has shared with his parents, I found myself spending equal amounts of time reflecting on what was going on next to me and what was going on in front of me. Cafe Society was an easy sell for my wife, who would happily watch a group of marginally talented actors reciting the Manhattan phone book dressed in vintage clothes. My son was eager to go because he is a fan of Jesse Eisenberg, in spite of his involvement in the debacle at the beginning of the summer called Batman V Superman: Murderverse.  Or maybe because of it. 1930's Hollywood wasn't the appeal for him. Nor Was Woody Allen, auteur. My son, as I mentioned, had never seen a Woody Allen film.
I had. Lots of them. Not every single movie he ever made, but a vast majority. Mister Allen made many of my favorite movies when I was a teenager. Annie Hall came out when I was fifteen, and I figured that this was the future of cinema. This was mildly ironic, since I had seen the future four years earlier in Sleeper. As amusing as that one was, and since it was filmed in and around Boulder, I was still a little young to grasp all the innuendo and witty banter. But the slapstick worked. That got me looking back at what came before: Take The Money And Run, Bananas. My mother, always with an eye  toward broadening my cultural horizons, pointed me in the direction of Woody's short stories in The New Yorker. I was already reading the cartoons each week, and cultivating my own urbane sense of humor, so this along with large doses of Monty Python fueled my head with references to books I had not yet read and physical acts at which I could only guess. It wasn't until Annie Hall that all of these pieces began to coalesce.
And that's about the time he stopped making funny movies. It was also just before the time when Woody's personal life began to fray at the edges. And then turn into its own tawdry Bergmanesque mess. When he left Mia Farrow for his new muse, Soon-Yi, I had to turn away. It wasn't funny anymore.
Cafe Society was amusing, and highly reminiscent of some of those short stories I read way back when. It reminded me of all those movies I watched way back when. It made me remember that I was sitting next to my own teenager, who was making up his own mind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wagon Train To The Stars

Genre expectations met?
Specifically, the part where there is this group of humanoid, uniformed types who are boldly going where no man/person has gone before. Led by a reckless and daring throwback of a captain who seems to embrace danger at every point, coupled with a hyper-rational first officer who leads with his mind but follows with his alien heart, this crew is on a five year mission that seems much longer. A lot longer. And that whole "where no one has gone before" jazz? That may be for the folks on this ship, but for those of us tagging along on this voyage, it all seems very familiar.
What a favor the United Federation of Planets has done for all of us who might have had to stick around and learn a lot of alien languages and other forms of communication. They have recruited almost exclusively from the English-speaking, bipedal, standard-size portion of the galaxy. Wandering around the decks of the starships and space stations are these emissaries of this earth-based group that shouldn't be confused with any of that colonial stuff that Klingons and Romulans seem to favor. If it happens that there is some sort of conflict or disruption of the way things are supposed to go down on the outer reaches of those places we may boldly go, the captain and crew will try and reason with the troublemakers. And if that doesn't work, there are always phasers.
Did  I mention that there are almost always time constraints? The core of this planet seems unstable and there will only be a moment or two left when the survivors can be lifted to safety via special effects. If their ship is in danger, the countdown will commence at some point that will only allow the slimmest of margins for the captain and its crew to make it out of whatever catastrophe threatens them. Stress must be the reason for a lot of starship personnel to wash out. There are probably a lot of red-shirted crew members on the lower decks wondering what that guy in the captain's chair has gotten them into this time. But it all works out in the end. Who would have doubted that things would work out? All those English-speaking bipeds are safe once again. And those routine missions that result in nothing more than  a supply run to some remote outpost or visits to planets that really are just cold, dusty wastelands that can be ignored, they won't be making movies out of those. And those boring, lazy inhabitants of that distant system that no one can understand? Let's not invite them  to join the Federation, okay?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


The doorbell rang. The phone rang. The shower was running and I was about to hop in, since I was a hot mess after my morning exercise. It occurred to me that I could let any one of these matters slide. I could let the phone ring. I could let the water run. I could leave the door closed. My son was asleep. My wife was out. I could easily disappear into the fabric of a Saturday morning. "Sorry. Nobody home." I could be standing in the tub, washing off the cares of the day that had only just begun.
But I didn't.
I turned off the water. I answered the door. The phone kept ringing. On the front porch were two snappily dressed gentlemen. It was Saturday morning. They were wearing ties and carrying briefcases. I knew who they were. Rather, I knew what they were. I knew who they were representing. They were Jehovah Witnesses, here on my front porch on this bright summer day to spread the Word of the Lord. Or at least the word of the folks who may have had some notion about what the Lord had on his mind. They were there to spread that word to those who would listen.
I wasn't exactly in that category. I needed a shower. The phone was still ringing. I told them as much when I answered the door. These two gentlemen remained pleasant and encouraged me to take their literature, to read when I got a chance. I took the tract, bid them good day, and closed the door. The phone was still ringing. I was able to catch it on the last ring before it went to voice mail.
It was my wife, the lady who once upon a time answered our door on a Saturday morning and gave a nice group of Jehovah Witnesses the gift of her time and interest. This is what led them back to our door. I let her know that she would have something to read when she got home.
With the outside distractions taken care of, I returned to my shower. The water was still warm, and as I stood under the stream, I had to give up a certain begrudging appreciation to the Jehovah Witnesses. In an age of robo-calls and email spam, they were still out there pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and meeting people face to face. And as much as I admired their tenacity, I reminded myself to go ahead and take care of myself first on Saturday mornings. Cleanliness, after all, is next to godliness.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Out Of The Ashes

There is this legendary bird. It's a big red and orange thing with colors that remind you of the flames from whence it came. It is called a Phoenix, and it is that beautiful, hopeful reminder of the possibilities of something wonderful appearing after a cataclysm. Like those first green sprouts that poke their heads out of the scorched soil left after a fire, there is renewal. There is a time for picking up the pieces. There is a time for rebuilding. Something good will come of all this.
Before any of you believe that in this orange bird reference I am referencing anything connected to the campaign, words, or existence of Donald J. Tramp, let me assure you that I mean nothing remotely like that. Red, and specifically its neighbor on the color wheel orange, are not the divine providence of those with bad hair and spray tans. They exist as part of a rainbow, a rainbow that has been largely forgotten or dismissed by those who would like to limit us to a box with only two crayons. Black, white, blue, orange, pomegranate. Roy G. Biv would like us all to believe that, for the purposes of memorization, that there are seven  colors in the spectrum. But any self-respecting physicist  will tell you that there are infinite gradations between those seven spots on the scale, and those are just the colors that we can see with our eyes. Any self-respecting metaphysicist will tell you that there are an  infinite numbers of colors that we can see with our hearts.
There are plenty of more intelligent folks than myself who have pointed out the stunning variety and barely conceivable permutations of color, shape and size of all manner of things. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. This is the  motto of a country that was formed out of wretched refuse, yearning to breathe free. There have been plenty of times when it was thought that the immigrants who were in charge were the ones who would stay in charge. White men have had their way for a very long time here in the melting pot. Civilization, in spite of the opinions to the contrary, owes a debt to all the colors and races and creeds and  religions and sexes and shapes and sizes who came before us. We are, like it or not, a rainbow.
A rainbow that is still visible through the smoke and the haze of the fires currently burning around us and across the globe. These are fires that have been burning for hundreds of years, but periodically, when things seem most bleak, a Phoenix will rise from the ashes. Watch closely, since you never know how long they will stick around or what form they may take, but they almost always bring a necessary change. Emily Dickinson suggested that hope is the thing with feathers, and I would suggest to Emily that she is right, but those feathers are as brightly colored as all those found in the sky after a storm.
Sleep tight, America. E pluribus unum.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You Gotta Have Heart

There are a lot of people who will miss Garry Marshall's work behind the camera. I grew up in the seventies. I watched Happy Days. I watched Laverne and Shirley. I watched Mork and Mindy. I watched Mork and Mindy carefully. I lived in Boulder. I used to give directions to Mork's house to tourists, anxious to soak up the zaniness that seemed to permeate that address and the streets and shops around it. To be precise, this was actually Mindy's house, and it seemed as though she was merely a tenant there, keeping primarily to the upper floor while her newly discovered Orkan friend hung out in the attic. On a trapeze. Zany. Zany enough to periodically run afoul of their downstairs neighbor, Mister Bickley. For the first season, anyway.
I watched Happy Days, because we all did, but I cared about Mork. I cared enough to have my own set of rainbow suspenders. I cared enough to make The New York Delicatessen a regular stop because, as the t-shirt reminded us, "Mork and Mindy Eat There." 
They didn't really. Every year or so, during the run of the series, a crew would pop into town and shoot some exteriors. Mork didn't really live there. Or eat there. A couple times Robin Williams came to Boulder for those shoots, and things went a little crazy for a day or two. It was zany. And then it was over. Mork went on to make movies. So did Garry Marshall. I really enjoyed The Flamingo Kid. I didn't get a job as a cabana boy because of it, but I did sharpen up my gin rummy game. I wasn't as enamored of Pretty Woman as everyone else seemed to be, but I was happy for Garry's success.
And I was amazed at the talent that he seemed to surround and be attracted by him. Not just Robin Williams, but Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks and Bette Midler. And Albert Brooks. One of the funniest things I ever saw Garry Marshall do wasn't written or directed by him. He was just there, acting. He was the casino manager in Lost in America, the guy who listens mostly patiently to Albert Brooks pitch his idea for an ad campaign that will bring back the nest egg that his wife lost in an overnight gambling binge. The Desert Inn has heart.
Garry Marshall had a lot of heart, and he wore it on his sleeve, especially if it got him a laugh. Garry yukked it up on the Terra. Aloha, Garry.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Security Blanket

"I was thinking today of the pine cone security didn't allow me to take into the Primus concert.
I wasn't meaning to throw it during the show, and all these years later I would agree with the decision security made that evening.
The thing that brought that pine cone to mind was the story of heightened security surrounding the convention this week. Even fruit was not allowed in the vicinity.
Bottles, no.
Back packs, no.
Guns, OK.

Funny stuff."
This was the email I received from my younger brother after the second day of the Republican National Convention. He was referring to a show we had attended back in our youth. It came at a time when we were both acclimating to our roles as responsible adults. On the way in, he was stopped and asked to relieve himself of the seed pod he was carrying. He does that. He's an artist. The things he picks up find their way into his art. The pine cone might have found its way into an installation if not for the confiscation of the woody fruit by the well-intentioned security detail who most certainly saw the projectile potential of such an object as being reasonably high.
It should be noted that this incident occurred in advance of the events of September 2001. All the danger that existed in that pine cone was in the imagination of the guy in the windbreaker who had jurisdiction of that doorway. As we were both more interested in seeing Primus than we were in causing a scene over a strobilus, we surrendered the pine cone. This concert was in Colorado. Before Columbine. Before Aurora. Before what we carried and how became a more visceral concern. 
Now we pass through metal detectors to go to concerts. My backpack is searched on the way into Disneyland. You weren't allowed to take a backpack into the Convention Zone in Cleveland. I don't know what the rules were about pine cones. Probably the same as those covering buckeyes. And fruitcakes
Funny stuff. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

I Give A Shirt

I have a lot of t shirts. So many, in fact, that  I have a hard time finding the particular shirt for which I am looking and then tend to veer off and pick one that matches my mood or the occasion as closely as time and my patience allows. Tomorrow,  after all,  is another day. I expect that I will get a chance to wear that certain shirt at some other possibly even more appropriate moment.
Or so I hope.
Considering the certainty of at least one hundred eighty days a year that I am encouraged/required to wear the "business casual" uniform of an elementary school teacher, it surprises me how easy it is to access that muscle that twitches every time I see that "free t shirt" offer. Why would I need any more t shirts than I already have stuffed in my burdened IKEA dresser. I expect the main reason my Malm has yet to endanger any of us by tipping over with all that ballast I have stuffed into those drawers. There are years of personal history stored on the front and back of shirts, some of which I have forgotten. Sporting events, movies, and lots and lots of concerts. Some of these are thirty or more years old.
Why am I holding on to these relics? The simple answer is within that question. For me, these are touchstones. They are the memories of days gone by. When I look at the back of one of those tour shirts and pick out the city where I saw this show or that, it brings that evening: find your seat, find the t shirt stand, enjoy the concert.
A whole bunch of times.
If I cared to, I could probably paint a pretty accurate picture of the last three decades of my life by laying out all those shirts on a floor somewhere. It would have to be a pretty big floor. That's just the ones I have tucked away in drawers. Years ago, I went through my collection and culled the ones that I stopped wearing because they were too worn or too small. My wife offered to make a quilt of these treasures, and I offered up a few of the less-tired shirts to my son in hopes that his shoulders could carry on the legacy. Of course, he has his own collection, documenting his journey through his life.
So many shirts. So little time.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I received a gift certificate for my birthday. It was for Barnes and Noble, a "bookstore." Some of you may not be familiar with such things, as they are becoming as scarce as "video stores," which would require a whole separate discussion about things like "physical media" and "DVDs" and so on. I was in Barnes and Noble to buy books, since that was probably the intent of my brother-in-law when he put that little plastic card in an envelope and wrote my name on it. A very considerate act, and not just because he spelled my name correctly, but because it meant I could go forward with the process of selecting just the right reading material for myself, rather than having that awkward moment of deciding how to accept a gift that might be resting on my dresser for several months without cracking the spine. I could pick the book or books that I wanted to read.
I did not pick the books that I should be reading. I walked past hefty tomes of classical literature and manuals on how to fix this or that real or imagined problem and went straight to the Stephen King shelf. Shelves. Maine's Master Of the Macabre holds down two and a half shelves, with just a copy or two each of his dozens of titles, most of which I have already purchased and consumed in the style of fast food, a comparison the author himself has made. In the summertime, I eat more cheeseburgers. I read Stephen King.
Somewhere on those vertical feet of possibilities, I found what I was looking for: the sequel to the book that began my summer vacation. In paperback, which meant that I still had credit left over to buy another volume or two, depending on where I looked next. I considered turning just a degree or two and finding the third book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, but since it was recently released, it would have meant going over my allowance. It occurred to me then that if I went home and navigated the B&N website that I could probably have downloaded both stories in some cyber-version that I could negotiate on to one of the electronic devices we have hanging around our home, but being the son of a printing salesmen who spent a summer or two working in a bindery amid the roar of printing presses, I remain attached to the physical ink and paper.
I walked over to the Humor shelves, and stared at the titles, many of them written by comedians I recognized and I wondered if I would enjoy reading a couple hundred pages of their comedy bits after enjoying their standups or sitcoms. I picked up a few of these and opened them to scan a random page or two. Amused, but not captivated, on I moved. There had to be another book out there that could capture my attention, one that friends and family had been telling me that I should read.
But that was what I was trying to avoid: Should.
I found myself standing in front of the clearance table. All items marked with a red dot were fifty percent off. There were plenty of authors that I did not recognize, with glossy covers that had once been big sellers and were now part of the inventory purge. Mixed in with these disparate books were a number of impulse items: toys, for lack of a better term. Book lights and pop culture artifacts, including a twelve-inch action poseable Walter White action figure, complete with Heisenberg hat and shades.
I did the math in my head. If I bought the Stephen King and the Breaking Bad toy, the total would come within pennies of the amount of my gift card. The cashier reminded me that since the action figure was a clearance item, there would be no exchanges or refunds.
That's okay. It was a gift.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Common Words"

Just released text of Melania Trumpence's speech to the Republican masses:
My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.  I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”  'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I have a dream today. Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I remember, some twenty years ago, coming home from my job schlepping books around a warehouse, cresting the hill next to the street where I lived with my new wife. On my way home, coming over that rise, I saw it: A B2 bomber. This great big, bat-wing beast of an aircraft was making a low level pass over my neighborhood. And several dozen other neighborhoods around the Bay Area. It was Fleet Week, and the Navy's best and brightest were on display. On the sea. On the land. And in the air. It was an awesome sight, this great hunk of metal roaring past, just above our heads. It was also terrifying. There was this war machine hanging over my home. It occurred to me then: what would it be like to see two or three of these things, knowing their purpose was all business?
This moment comes back to me over and over again, whenever there are shots fired in anger. Or bombs. Here in America, we are profoundly fortunate in that when B2 bombers fly over our heads, it's a show. Helicopters are seen in ones or twos, with the occasional swarm of news choppers. Drones are in the air to spy on the new Apple campus. More often than not, when troops take to the streets here in the United States, it is in response to some sort of natural disaster.
That's not the way things work elsewhere in the world. Like in Turkey, for example. Friday night, as a great portion of the world was tuning into the news to get updates on the massacre du jour in France, breaking news told us that factions of the Turkish military was staging a coup while their president was on holiday. The eighty-four victims of the Nice truck killing were suddenly upstaged by the one hundred sixty-one dead as tanks blocked bridges and the sky was filled with combat aircraft, jets, helicopters and bullets. Shots fired in anger, and in attempt to claim the government by force, as opposed to the democratic elections that brought President Erdogan into power fourteen years ago. When the smoke cleared, and the sun came up, the putsch was over. The coup had failed. Order, or what resembles order after a night of chaos, returned.
Which is to say: If you are having trouble deciding whether or not to vote in this year's election, because the choices are so bleak, consider the alternatives.

Monday, July 18, 2016


I can remember when hijacking a plane to Cuba was a meme. This is before there were such things as memes. This was a time when hijacking a plane was even played for laugh on TV shows. We didn't call the desperate bad guys who committed this crime terrorists. At that time, we were still somewhat amused by the idea that one bad guy could reroute air traffic at gunpoint.
Thirty years ago, the idea of victims of hijacking being anything but inconvenienced was hard to frame. Pan Am Flight 73 may have changed that. Suddenly, we started talking about "survivors." No more free trips to Havana. It wasn't a question about "when" you would reach your destination, but "if."
Then there was September 11, 2001. Terrorist demands were no longer the currency. No money. No hostage exchange. No calls for the release of political prisoners. Just carnage. Political statements were being made via body count. In one day, box cutters and jet aircraft became weapons. Not long after that, shoes and underwear became potential threats. Air travel was changed forever. Life in the United States changed in the form of concrete barriers and metal detectors and the Patriot Act. The price of freedom was long lines and more questions.
Before that, however, there was Timothy McVeigh. He took a rental truck full of fertilizer and parked it in front of the federal building on April 19, 1995. He lit a fuse and blew it up, taking the lives of one hundred sixty non-combatants, including nineteen children in a daycare center located inside that building. Ryder trucks were now on the anti-terror watch list. Maybe they could have taken a hint from the rental van that was used to try and blow up the World Trade Center back in 1993, but no one wants to have to go through a security check to rent a U-Haul.
The tragedy in Nice this past Thursday will most certainly cement any and all concerns and fears people have about trucks and terrorism. Eighty-four dead. Yes, the driver carried a pistol, but he didn't need it. It didn't save him. The truck did all its terrible damage. It didn't need to explode. Twenty-five tons moving at thirty miles an hour can do a horrible amount of damage. There are a lot of trucks out there.
Be careful.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pass The Cookies

My son made cookies. Which is nice. He made them with the recipe that my mother gave me. It is the same recipe, she insists, that is on the back of a package of Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chips. It is the recipe that came with this suggestion: "If you like them so much, you should learn how to make them."
I understand that this may sound a little harsh, considering baking cookies for her boys was such a wonderful treat. Back in the days when we spent summers in our mountain cabin, she made those cookies for us as a way to take the edge off the tension brought on by Colorado's afternoon thunder showers. The boys were pretty much okay with the electricity and noise booming up in the heavens, but it helped calm the nerves of the lady who was in charge of the cookies. Which was important.
It was also a very important life lesson for those boys who were often amused by how nervous their mother got during thunder storms. Being able to make the things that you love for yourself meant that the baton, or in this case the wooden spoon, could be passed on. To this day, when I make a trip back to visit family in Colorado, there is always a cookie jar chock full of home made cookies. Just like mom made. Since she did. Sometimes, she gets a little help from my niece. She got the same mild lecture about making cookies for herself way back when she need a stool to stand at the kitchen counter to help out  Now she's the one stirring the batter.
And so is my son. I offered up the recipe and the suggestion that he take a batch of his own cookies for his trip with the guys up to the lake. Secure enough in his manliness, he took the challenge. Along with the ingredients and equipment I set out on the counter for him. Then I went and sat in the living room, watching TV and listening for trouble in the kitchen.
The call never came. He brought my wife and I beaters to lick, even though this was clearly messing with the traditional mixing with wooden spoon. That was my fault, since even though my mother taught me that electric mixers are the Devil's work, I added this to the process. My mother has yet to forgive me for this indiscretion, but that is what happens when you let a kid take over.
Cleaning up the kitchen in the aftermath of my son's first batch of chocolate chip cookies, I came across an untouched bottle of vanilla extract. The vanilla extract that did not make it into this batch of chocolate chip cookies. Oops. That's what happens when you let a kid take over.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What Can You Say?

Let's take a look at that First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This one hasn't had the same kind of play that the one about guns for bears gets, but since it is the first in a series, maybe it was significant to the authors. Or maybe it was just put there as a place holder until the editors found a better idea, but in the rush to get it out, they went to press with this freedom of religion and speech and press thing. They probably figured since it was an amendment kind of thing, and it could be fixed in rewrites.
But there it is: Freedom of speech. And that's why we have all these people opening up their mouths and saying things to test the limits of "free." Shouting "movie" in a crowded firehou"se: okay. Shouting "fire" in a crowded moviehouse: not okay. Go ahead and talk your fool head off, just try and keep other people's safety in mind, and maybe you should also consider people's feelings. You might not cause somebody to catch fire or get trampled, but you could find yourself on the wrong end of a defamation or libel suit just because you can't just say anything. If you do, you might have to pay for it. Maybe not cash money, but you could get in really big trouble. Court-type trouble. You might eventually find yourself in Supreme Court-type trouble.
The Supreme Court is where you could, eventually, have to argue your assertion that shouting "haddock" in a crowded fish house is not a danger to the public at large. You really have to push the bounds of taste and decorum to find yourself stand in front of a judge, let alone those judges. For the past few months, for example, a certain marmalade-infused gentleman has been testing the bounds of the First Amendment, but since he's running for president, and might eventually be the boss of those eight current and potentially nine judges, he feels pretty good about saying whatever it is that comes in to his "mind."
Imagine the surreality of the moment when the someone who chooses to spout off in his yam-hued wake happens to be one of those Supreme Court justices. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg told CNN“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.” 
And how did Mister Squash respond? In a tweet, of course. "Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot - resign!" In a constitutional cage match, my money's on Ginsburg. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Screening My Calls

She won't stop calling. I have tried to let her know that our relationship is important, but I have to keep my options open. There are so many fish in the sea, if you catch my meaning. There are fish who don't show up as nearly so needy or aggressive. Okay, maybe I should give her the benefit of the doubt: She's being assertive, and I guess living here in the twenty-first century that seems like it should be okay for a woman to express her wants and needs, but sometimes desperate is just desperate.
Did I mention that she emails me too? I know I can just click on the delete button, and it will be gone, but I also know that when I start up my machine tomorrow morning, my inbox will be full once again. And it's not just her. Sometimes she gets her friends to email me too. They beg and plead just the same, as if I had taken leave of my senses. "What is wrong with you?" they tend to screech at me. Can't I see what a mistake I would be making by simply cutting all ties to her and moving on with my life?
Now, when the phone rings, I look at the caller ID and wince when I recognize the number. I know she's out there, waiting. It's more than a little sad, to be stalked like this. It's not like she's some awful person. I am sure she will make someone happy. She's intelligent. She's worldly. She's got so much to give.
The trouble is, she won't stop talking long enough to get a word in edgewise. She's so full of ideas about our future and how things could be that she doesn't bother to take a breath. Not long enough to hear what's on my mind, anyway. That's the irony, really. She wants my attention so badly, but when it comes time for her to listen to what I have to say, she's not there. It's like she lives in her own private bubble, and everything would be perfect if I would just give her the chance to show me how wonderful things would be if I let her back in my life.
The truth is, I know her family. I know her history. I know that just because of the way things went down in the past, it doesn't mean that they are destined to repeat, but it's so hard to trust again. I know that my options are limited, since I am who I am, but sometimes I wish that I could just have a few days to clear my head and figure things out without her being there on the other end of the line. Who knows? Maybe if I had a chance to reflect and consider all my options, she really could be the one for me. But for right now, Hillary, would you please stop calling?

Thursday, July 14, 2016


For the past few years, I have encountered slats from the fence that separates our yard from the parking lot of the apartment building next door in the mornings when I was on my way to work. Or in the afternoon when I came home from work. Or in the middle of the day when I was home for the weekend. This was initially interpreted by me as vandalism of the most shoddy kind: the annoyance fix. This was expressly true when we still had a dog roaming our property. The width of the slats were just the right size for our canine-American to squeeze through and go out in search of discarded diapers to eat in our neighborhood. It was important for someone to jump into that particular breech and keep our pet on our side of the fence.
When our dog was gone, the alarm I felt when slats were displaced dissipated. But there was still that hole in the fence. A fence that had stood the test of time, or at least to a certain point in time. The vandals that I had imagined wantonly and recklessly destroying our property. It turns out that it was more a function of the disintegration of the edifice that had been placed there before we ever took up residence. Things fall apart. Car doors opened too close to the fence knocked out a few. Kids bouncing balls against it could have the same effect. Small insects coughing in the general direction of the redwood structure that may have been first erected by ancient Mayans could have taken the thing down. I learned this emphatically when it came time to tear the whole thing down and start again.
My son and I built a new fence over the course of a few days, and now the clock starts ticking for the time when some future generation will have to fuss about missing slats and wobbly posts. In the meantime, we were stuck with a lawn full of rotted lumber that was in need of disposal. I made a preemptive call to Waste Management to get help managing our waste. I scheduled the earliest possible pickup for the debris: July 8. I spent days longer than the actual construction of the new fence pulling nails and screws and staples from the wood that used to be our fence, preparing it for the compost heap. I bundled it, and stacked it in one corner of our yard, waiting for the day when it would no longer be our problem.
On the day before our bulky waste pickup, I moved all those bundles to the curb and waited for the next morning when the old fence would become just a memory. By four o'clock in the afternoon on July 8, the bulky waste had not been picked up. I made a call to Waste Management, asking them if there was still a truck coming to relieve us of our woody burden. I was informed that a truck had indeed come by, earlier that day, but since the nicely bundled stacks were blocked by parked cars, they went on their way.
"Did you leave it in the gutter?" asked the customer service helpdroid.
"You mean in the street?" I asked in incredulous response.
Suddenly I felt cursed by the burden of disintegration. I was told that I needed to wait until the following Monday before a truck could be sent back out "as a courtesy." My son and I dragged all the fence that once was back inside our new fence and waited until Sunday night, when a spot opened up in the gutter in front of our house where once again all that mess was stacked carefully once more, this time in the gutter. I awoke Monday morning to the sound of all that lumber being loaded onto a truck and driven away. Out of sight, but it will be some time still before it is out of mind.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sports Talk

There is no "I" in team. This is a lesson that could be learned in an elementary school, after a spelling test. Or maybe while your friend is looking over your shoulder as you are painting an oversized poster for the upcoming rally, and he leans in to say, "Hey. There is no 'I' in team." Well, thank you very much, I'll fix that right away. The thing is, that doesn't happen very often. It is a cliche that is spoken in harsh tones to a group of individuals who are supposed to be working together by a coach, usually. Sometimes it is a member of the group who is hoping to instill a sense of cooperation and shared purpose. It doesn't have to be an athletic endeavor. That phrase gets as much play in meeting rooms as it does in locker rooms. Those of us with an inclination toward smart aleckness will point out that there is "me" in team. And "meat." 
So it goes with this sports cliche nonsense. When I hear, "he really came to play," it makes me wonder if there are some guys out there on the field, court, ice or prescribed athletic surface that showed up with other things in mind. Perhaps he came to see if there were any jerseys in his size. Maybe he is hoping to get in some reading or catch up on his email. Or it could be that he is there simply to pick up a paycheck and therefore he probably needs to be reminded that there is no "I" in team. 
Those who have showed up to work on their taxes would probably not be accused of "giving one hundred and ten percent." If they did, it would probably be a good idea to keep him away from anything that might require anything beyond the most rudimentary math skills. One hundred percent describes a whole, or the entirety of something, even when it is someone's effort. Each individual may have a different capacity or range of abilities, but what they can deliver at any given moment is part of that whole, right up to one hundred percent. Unless, of course there is a "we" in "I" which does not exist in "team." 
All of this is to suggest that the way we talk about sports, they don't always make sense. The use of hyperbole is rampant on the sidelines and in the announcer's booth. It helps keep our sports contests just this side of reality. Spelling and math are hard in the real world, but in the Wide World of Sports, they are completely up for grabs. For those of us who came to play. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

School Zone

When the World Trade Centers came down in 2001, my son was on his way to preschool. At that  time, there was a sign taped up on the door of Peter Pan Co-op. It requested that we leave the world outside so  that the children could spend their day away from the gathering storm. There would be days and weeks and months and years for them to come to reckon, along with their parents, on this new age in which we awoke. Since then, I have wondered many times what purpose that sign served. Did we really hope to keep the screams and smoke and fire from seeping into the hearts and minds of our children?
Maybe we did that morning. Before the twenty-four hour news cycle and YouTube and smart phones. Closing the door on all that noise and making an island of safety, sanity and giving kids a chance to be kids. Then they went home and the pictures and video and sounds from Ground Zero became part of the tapestry of their lives. We are still simultaneously weaving and unraveling that tapestry, decades later. Those kids are in college now. There is no sign on the university's door that asks for that same safety zone.
That morning, a lifetime ago, came before a deranged gunman shot up an elementary school in Connecticut. There was no sign that could take that pain away. Children were the victims. Cell phone video and security footage and access to Al Gore's Internet for anyone old enough to point and click brought the world into minds far too young to fully comprehend it. At the school where I teach, there are far too many young eyes that have seen far too much before they get promoted to middle school. There is no un-seeing. There is no way to wind back that clock.
That is why I want to try and bring more joy to the news, the net, and the neighborhood. Those shrines that I keep writing about spring up after someone is shot. How about some balloons and candles to mark the spot where a Little League team won its first game? How about a tweet for helping someone across the street? How about a blog post about something other than death and dying?
It's about time I started drawing that line.
Here and now.

Monday, July 11, 2016

I Can't Explain

I can't explain. I have tried. When my son looks to me for answers in the wake of yet another bloody flurry of violence, I feel his anger and his confusion, and I feel the same. Except I am the father. I am supposed to make sense out of the world for him. I try to find words and I try to find reason. I try to find words.

There are no words.

And yet, I keep searching. I thought there were rounding a corner. I thought we were headed for the finish line. I thought wrong. There are still people killing people. There are still people dying. Dying for a cause is one thing, but when the cause springs from the death of one or more, something is still wrong. What is the lesson that we are supposed to learn and why haven't we learned it? Why haven't I learned it and passed it along to my son to clear up any mystery that still remains?

There are no words.

And I keep writing, because I saw the pain on his face. Because I saw the pain on the face of the families who will now miss birthdays. Holidays. Christmas. That empty chair is going to be there forever. Empty. Missing. Gone. The wounds we hear about, the wounds we see, they are not the ones that linger. Families will feel the loss for decades to come. I want to say that there is a solution, a way to fill that hole. Those holes. Bullet holes.

There are no words.

And I keep wishing that I could make it all stop. Find those words of magic that make the prayer services and the rallies and the marches so powerful and so moving. But not powerful enough to stop a bullet. Why isn't anyone listening to "Thou shalt not kill?" There are too many other words, all of which do nothing to stop the killing. Which is all we claim to want. I look at my son and listen to his frustration and I wish I had a way to make it alright.

There are no words.

In the end, there is only love. The love I feel for my son. The love he feels for his friends. The love his friends feel for their city. The love we all share. I wish I could tell him that when I was his age, I was angry. I am angry now for all the lives lost and all the empty chairs and all the pain and all the anger and death. I feel as though my generation had a chance to make a change. Maybe we still do, but now I need to prepare my son to go out into a world that is still suffering, still searching.

Searching for the right words.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What A Flake

It wasn't too awfully long ago that I briefly lost my heart, and some might say my mind, to a Republican. He was a senator from Arizona, and his straight talk and his experience made him seem like a common-sense alternative to the man who would go on to win his party's nomination and secure the presidency for eight very long years. By 2008, however, whatever back room soul-stealing deals had been made for John McCain and his usefulness in my world had made him all but recognizable. Perhaps it is a little unfair, but I still hold Senator McCain personally responsible for unleashing Sarah Palin on the wider world. How much safer we all would have been and continue to be if she would have just quit her job up in Alaska and gone straight to reality TV? Come to think of it, that seems to be the current path to the Republican nomination, so she may have been a pioneer in that respect. Did I just put the word "respect" in a sentence referring to Sarah Palin? So sorry.
Then what to my wondering eyes should appear, but another straight-shootin' young man from the Grand Canyon State: Senator Jeff Flake. His current claim to fame is that he is one of his party's congressional holdouts when it comes to endorsing the presumptive Trumptive. In interviews, Senator Flake has suggested that John McCain might be re-elected come November, but that Trumpest could lose that mostly red state. "If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over thirty percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life. If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I've never seen in thirty years." 
And what do you suppose his Trumpishness did when he went to Capitol Hill this week? He had a closed-door meeting with GOP members who weren't exactly seeing eye-to-squinty-eye with him. The former reality TV personality called Senator Flake out, suggesting that he expected that Flake would lose in November. Except his seat isn't up for grabs until 2018. Who can keep all these facts and numbers in their head? Flake also took the time to defend his fellow Arizonan from the tacky flack that Trumpde has lobbed in McCain's direction over the past few months: “Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that,” was his reply to The Orange One's assertion that he had been critical of his tone deaf politics. The kind of guy who suggests that you can't be a war hero if you get captured, and praises Saddam Hussein
Again, dear reader, I must apologize. As things continue to get curiouser and curiouser, I find my attentions and affections pulled in some strange directions. For now, I tip my metaphorical fedora to Senator Flake, and hope that he never runs for president. And stays away from Alaska. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Anyone For President

As the summer meanders on, I can't help but wonder what happened to that old saw about "anybody can be president." When I was a lad, I never had designs on the office myself, but I was pleased and happy to think that Pat Paulsen had a real chance. For that matter, I was pretty sure that Alfred E. Neuman, Mad Magazine's gap-toothed mascot, was ineligible since he was merely a figment in the imaginations of "the usual gang of idiots" but I still looked forward to use his name as my write-in choice once I became of legal age.
Since then, I have harbored a deep and abiding affection for those people who would, for a laugh, toss their hat in the ring. At this point, I think I should confess that I still don't know if Roseanne Barr's campaign in 2012 was a carefully managed performance piece in the style of Andy Kaufman, or if her Green Party candidacy was real and true. And just like whether or not Andy is still alive, I don't know if checking the box next to Ms. Barr's name would have been a goof or my way of sticking it to the man. The joke, it seems, is on me even if I don't exactly get it.
I bought my Stewart/Colbert T-shirt and wore it proudly back in 2008 without any real hope of getting the Comedy Central Ticket to take back the White House. For a couple months this spring, a Curry For President sign held up during the NBA playoffs had me thinking alternatives to the major parties once again. Then I figured I would rather watch Steph Curry on the court than behind a podium. Which is pretty much how I feel about the notion of Bruce Springsteen holding any sort of elected office. He's the Boss when he's got a guitar in his hand, but if he was stuck behind a desk, would he be just another politician from Jersey?
If we must take our candidates from pop culture, I believe we are looking in the wrong places. Leave television behind and start looking at comic books. Four years ago, Marvel decided to spice things up by putting Captain America in the Oval Office. Why not elect a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and the flag on his chest? Sure, if you kept reading for after that, it turns out that Steve Rogers was an agent for worse-than-Nazis-Hydra, which kind of makes that look like a bad idea, but for me hope springs eternal when it comes to Cap. He's as American as, well, Captains, and has charisma to spare.
And if that doesn't get your brains stirring for alternatives, consider this: The new Iron Man is a woman. An African-American woman. This is how things get done in the Marvel Universe. Don't like the future that spreads out ahead of you? Create a new one. Hillary of Donald? Who cares? I'm hoping for a return to an era where it wasn't the size of the candidate's Super PAC that mattered, but the size of the hair ball he was capable of expelling. Vote Bill The Cat in 2016.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Messy Situation

Donald R. Trumpole would like us to know that the system is rigged. Which system is the King of Oompa Loompaland referring? The Public Address system at my elementary school? The system of weights and measures that doesn't allow for the United States to convert to metric? The System of a Down? The email system? Getting closer there, but I think what was blowing through that tweet-infested brain of his was the system that allowed "Crooked Hillary" to escape prosecution for her questionable handling of secure information through email.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose work you may be most familiar from their TV show starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr., announced this week that while Secretary Clinton may have been "extremely careless" in her handling of classified information through her various email accounts and servers, they couldn't find a reason to recommend prosecution. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then sloppiness is probably closer to that other place and that's still not a good thing, but not very many people get sent to jail for leaving dishes in the sink. Or using a personal email server to conduct government business.
Here's something to keep in mind: Our president finally gave up his Blackberry, which my son would consider an antique. My mother uses her email all the time, and she's still on America Online. The way Senator Ted Stevens explained it back in 2006 might help clear up just exactly what the problem is. The way my mom deals with her online presence versus the way my son experiences Al Gore's Internet provides me with some welcome perspective. Users who don't fully understand or appreciate what they are doing when they sit down in front of their keyboard or tap on their phone are legion. That's who we built the thing. This is how we get Anthony Wiener. Speed and convenience will almost always trump security. 
Let's take a look at some other recommendations from the FBI: They would like us to be on alert for scams  in which "the subject claims to be an employee (or an affiliate) of a major computer software or security company offering technical support to the victim. Recent complaints indicate some subjects are claiming to be support for cable and Internet companies to offer assistance with digital cable boxes and connections, modems, and routers. The subject claims the company has received notifications of errors, viruses, or security issues from the victim's internet connection. Subjects are also claiming to work on behalf of government agencies to resolve computer viruses and threats from possible foreign countries or terrorist organizations." Thanks for that update, FBI. Apparently, the Senator Steven's series of tubes is infected by the worst sort of people imaginable: those who would seek to profit from the careless or sloppy handling of our personal information through those tubes. Raise your hands if you have changed your password in the past six months. Keep them up. I'm counting. Okay. Six of you, right. Good for you six. Now for the rest of you, why not spend the next five to fifteen hours going through all your online accounts making sure your data is safe from the creeping hands of terrorists, or Microsoft Security. 
Or you could do what Secretary Clinton and so many of us do, which is to keep tapping away while the system is being rigged for another sloppy mess of identity theft or stolen government secrets. In the meantime, let's all go and clean up our rooms before somebody goes to jail, or gets sent to bed without supper. 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Art Is Subjective (No Duh)

Everyone has a favorite movie. Okay. Maybe that's a bit hyperbolic. Everyone who has ever seen more than one movie probably has a favorite movie. If you happen to be someone who has seen more than one movie, then your job can become a little more difficult. Over the course of my life, there have been a number of films that have occupied that top spot. There was a great deal of sentiment that went along with the artistic integrity of the original King Kong, and that was my go-to for a very long time. When I went to college and studied film, I sat in front of screens upon which there were dozens of what I was led to understand were the best of the best. These were exemplary pieces of cinema that were worthy of my attention and eventual worship. Many of them were in black and white. Some of them were silent. Most of them were at least as old as Kong, or older. Some of them were in foreign languages. While this barrage of culture continued, I kept going to see movies outside of class. I saw your major studio releases in the 1980's. I also worked in a video store. I re-watched a whole bunch of movies so that I could decide if any one of them had the stuff to take on Kong.
Some of them did. I added to the list. From the past I brought Bride of Frankenstein. From the future, I brought Brazil. And I watched Hitchcock and Fellini and Murnau and Bunuel. I learned an awful lot about the art of film and the people who made them. I watched a lot of other people's favorite films. I learned to appreciate how that could be. I fell in and out of love with movies of all size, shape and stripe. I kept Kong on a shelf, in the back of my mind, with the idea that I might someday return.
And I remembered when I loved The Deer Hunter.It was a masterpiece. It came from the same director as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a movie my older brother introduced me to, and I was pleased and happy when it kept that ball rolling. I lined up to see Heaven's Gate, because I believed that good things would keep coming from this Michael Cimino fellow. Well, that's where the love affair ended, and when my roommate and video store colleague convinced me to go see Cimino's return from movie jail, Year of the Dragon, I wanted it to be something more. It worked for my friend. It became a favorite of his.
I went back to Skull Island. I left Michael Cimino to his own devices, not knowing that his career was just about done. And now it is for sure. Mister Cimino went to that big screening room in the sky. For a few minutes there, I was back in high school and I was in love with Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep and Russian Roulette all over again. The big ape can wait. Aloha, Michael Cimino. You may not have stomped on the Terra, but you made it look like others did. Nice job.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Outdoor World

I have been asked a great many times what my plans are for the summer. I told most of those people, "build a fence." This task took up a week of my family's life, and then the rest of the summer stretched out in front of us like an open highway. In the past, this has been our cue to hit that open road and make good with the trip thing. We have driven all over California. We have made a grand circle out of the desert southwest. We have flown to Colorado and made a race out of returning home via competing modes of transportation. Spoiler alert: the guys in the airplane won. We have flown across the country to drive up and down the east coast. Somehow, in the flurry that is summer vacation, we carelessly glossed over Yosemite National Park.
This oversight has been noticed by family and friends much in the same way the dearth of Grateful Dead CDs is treated when those same family and friends view my music collection. Shock and disbelief. With just a twist of disbelief. How have we managed to live in the Golden State for this long without ever taking in the breathtaking majesty of nature's splendor found just a few hours away?
The answer can be found most readily in the number of times my family has made the trek to the Happiest Place on Earth. The argument could be made that anywhere I go with my family is the happiest place on earth, but while that remains generally true, there have been plenty of summers in which our saving grace came at the House of Mouse. All of this leaves me with the sad confession that I am integrally connected to the mountains of Space, Big Thunder and Splash, while I have never witnessed the looming presence of El Capitan or Half Dome. It is my understanding that neither of these have roller coasters hidden inside them.
And that's fine. I don't mind a little nature. I have been known, on occasion, to take long walks in the woods for purposes other than searching for lost keys. Way back when, I spent most of my summers in a log cabin in woods not dissimilar from those where keys get lost. I hauled water and brought home bags of pine cones and kindling to fuel our wood-burning stove and read comic books in the evenings by the light of a kerosene lamp. What I am suggesting here is that I have done rustic before.
Yet somehow I missed Yosemite. I built a fence out of redwood, but I have yet to take a hike in those pre-lumbered forests. I suppose I can always pretend that I am making my way to the nearest churro stand. They do have churros in Yosemite, don't  they?

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Take A Stab At This

The pen, we are told, is mightier than the sword. That is one of those life lessons that seem counter-intuitive at first. Would you really rather go into a fight with a Bic round stic or a machete? Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that if you were to anticipate the fight by writing to a letter to someone, or sign a requisition for a grenade launcher. Or maybe you could use that pen to write legislation outlawing the use of machetes in civil disputes. The guys with the pens make the rules, after all. Sometimes that's because they used their machetes to liberate all the pens in the first place, but that's where the whole mess gets into chicken and egg territory, so we'll let that be for a moment.
What about extrapolating that test to include video cameras and handguns? To be more precise, would you rather go into a fight armed with your cell phone camera or a service revolver? Rohnert Park resident Don McComas did just that in a confrontation involving a police officer with his choice of a weapon. The standoff occurred on the mean streets of Rohnert Park, fifty miles north of San Francisco. McComas was in his front yard, putting a trailer on his vehicle. Officer David Rodriguez was on regular patrol, searching for parking violations. There was concern registered by the officer not for the camera, but for the hand in McComas' pocket. What happened in that neighborhood in the middle of the day in Rohnert Park is the kind of thing that happens at all times of night and day all over the country. The pen is left far behind. The sword is out of reach. They all turned into a lawsuit. That's the good news.
The bad news is that all of this tension isn't mediated by cell phone video or lawsuits or guns. If everyone was working with the same set of tools. Machete, revolver, Bic round stic, cell phone camera. We have lost our collective agreements about acing like a society. When you go looking for a confrontation, that's what you find. The good news here is that there were no shots fired. The lawsuit was filed by a survivor of a very tense situation. The officer was suspended pending an investigation, and eventually returned to duty. Mister McComas put his video up on YouTube for the world to decide.
Which is mightier? Who knows? There is another expression: Might does not make right. Let's use that pen to write a love letter.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Rational Review

Okay, I know I've said this a lot lately, but on our nation's two hundred fortieth birthday, I will return to a favorite chorus: "We the people, in order to establish a more perfect union" do establish and ordain a more perfect union. A Rationalia. Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson has suggested a country with a one line constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence. If you want something to be a law, you have to prove it. Rationally.
What good are stop signs? Speed limits? If they are really going to work, they should work in all cases and should be proven to do so. Scientifically. I would love to hear the scientific rationale behind parking meters, but I suspect there is one and it may look very different from the "because I said so" model we have in place currently.
The good doctor is operating from a position that is informed primarily as global warming truther. He would rather that people not use anything but facts like temperatures and rising sea levels when discussing this event. Or its existence. Making choices or legislation that does not take the reality of how we are slowly turning our planet into that pot of water that will eventually boil a frog is not something up for debate. Find scientific proof that there is nothing to worry about, and a discussion can be had.
Parking meters? Still working on that.
Meanwhile, there has been plenty of pushback from more conservative minds, like those at the National Review. Coming up with a contrary position to Doctor deGrasse Tyson's isn't terrifically difficult. Kevin D. Williamson refers to Rationalia as a "pipe dream," and devotes a good deal of space and time discussing just what a bad idea it is, comparing it to "The Terror," historically connecting it to the French Revolution. This comes from a group whose semi-major-demigod once said that "Facts are stupid things."
Ronnie may have been edging toward quoting John Adams when he malapropped himself into history's quotebank, but no matter how stubborn facts are, they continue to vex those of us who would like to ignore them. Doctor Neil is a burr under the saddle of those who might choose to parse them or ignore them completely. The facts, that is. And the fact is that we are all subject to our own realities that come with buckets full of rationalization. Ask a room full of physicists if light is a particle or a wave, and you will see just how rational science can be. Newton was on to something, but Einstein improved on his model in ways that we are still trying to comprehend. Just like we are anxious to try and rewrite Thomas Jefferson for the twenty-first century. A world full of cars and planes and automatic weapons and Al Gore's Internet.
So I will let Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson enjoy his pipe dream, because it is that kind of dream upon which republics have been built, and if we all spent a little more time thinking about what sort of nation we would like to live in we might all like to live in it.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Body Count

Okay. I understand that there is a reason why I should be shocked and saddened by the news of forty-nine people dying in a hail of gunfire. I don't completely understand why it makes a difference if they were killed by a homophobe or a jihadist. I don't know if it will matter in a month or a year, but understanding the motivations behind anyone's killing makes it easier to take. Or something like that. Which is why we are regularly treated to profiles of gunmen, or suspected gunmen. Or terrorists. Or dangerous characters of any stripe. I confess that all the books and articles I have read over the past sixteen years have led me only the tiniest measure closer to comprehending what brought Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to shoot up Columbine High School. The initial suggestions of video games and Marilyn Manson have fallen by the wayside, but these factors sit on a shelf with all the nature and nurture that will fit. There is a science connected to this. We call those who are proficient in the art "profilers." They do the good kind of profiling: the kind that saves lives. The problem being that there is always the one that slithers through the net. This is the refrain we hear so often: "We never would have expected Randy McRandom to be the kind of guy who would shoot up a school/bar/movie theater/church."
That is because they are outliers. They are the ones who sit on the edge of the graph and can't quite be tracked until it is too late. Then there are the ones who don't show up on any database because there are just too many people out there who might have a reason to blow up an airport terminal. The three suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Turkey this past week were from Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan. What they were doing at the Istanbul airport is now a matter of record. They were not on holiday. They were on a mission. They were there to bring death and destruction to their target. We wait and expect that there will be a clean, clear line linking these three to a known terrorist organization that will claim responsibility for the lives they took and the innocents they wounded. Now we understand. It was terror they were after, and they delivered.
Just down the map a country or two we find Iraq, where US warplanes killed two hundred fifty ISIS fighters in an airstrike last Wednesday. In simple human terms, we managed to more than double the casualties in one strategic blast than the airport bombers and nightclub shooter managed in their most recent flurries.
I know. Our airstrikes were different. We only kill the bad guys. Enemy combatants. We are blowing up soldiers in the desert, not in crowded airports or discotheques. That is because we are the good guys. See what I mean? Crystal clear.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Off Season

This fall I will begin my twentieth year of teaching. It has been, to quote the poet, "a long, strange trip." In many ways, it has been a cyclical struggle with regular reminders of why I went into education in the first place. Those moments when I truly connect with a kid, when I see that synapse fire and I know a connection has been made, the struggle is forgotten. Nonetheless, there is still that sense of Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill with the certainty of having to start all over again once summer ends. 
But for now, hope springs from the possibilities of what a new school year will bring. New faces on the playground. New faces in the staff room. All that potential for hope and change. This is the time for teachers to collect themselves and prepare for what lies ahead. We rest. We go to trainings. We look forward to finding ways to do our jobs that will make it easier on everyone. On  the playground. In the staff room. In the class room.
For many of us, the climb we are making up the ladder of tenure and salary offers the hope that there will be rewards for sticking with it. If you lived in Wisconsin, you might be having a less-than-tranquil summer, since they have this fellow named Scott Walker for a governor. He was recently asked by reporters whether he thought incentive-driven salary programs would make it harder for K-12 schools to retain teachers in his state."If the Green Bay Packers pay people to perform and if they perform well on their team, (the Packers) pay them to do that," Walker said. "They don't pay them for how many years they've been on the football team. They pay them whether or not they help (the Packers) win football games."

Well, it turns out that they do, and the National Football League players have a union that ensures that its players get paid well over the average yearly salary of fifty thousand dollars that teachers make. And every year there are whole teams who fail miserably in an attempt to win the Super Bowl, and every year they get asked to come back and try again. Sometimes they move the teams. Sometimes they fire coaches or cut players, but they get paid. More and more each year. 
I try not to think about football much during the summer. Maybe Governor Walker should do the same. 

Friday, July 01, 2016

Child Proof

IKEA is recalling twenty-nine million dressers. Not just because they have silly names with unnecessary umlauts, but because they have crushed six children. The news item I read felt moved to include the phrase "to death" at the end of that crushing part, as if there should be some distinction between crushing that is fun and healthy and that which is not. I will not at this point discuss the adults who may have succumbed to an aneurysm while trying to construct these pieces of furniture via the "easy-to-follow" instructions with bags full of indiscriminate fistfuls of pegs and screws, but that will wait for another day.
Here's what I have to say about the Malm dresser:  We have two of them in our house, and knock particle board, no one has been crushed. Part of the reason we have gone this many days without a furniture-related incident is that we followed the manufacturer's directive to attach the potentially top-heavy hunk of wood to the wall. This was expressly important to us back in the days that we had a child who might have felt the need to use the furniture as some sort of playground apparatus. Perhaps because our son is prone to more sedentary pursuits, we passed through that period of time when the potential for crushing was at its highest. These days, the circumstances that would lead to a chest of drawers toppling over on him would be mediated by the fact that he is big enough to shove that not inconsequential weight back against the wall where it belongs if such a physics event became a reality.
The same could be said for all the cabinet doors and latched doors that we installed once upon a time when every loose object was a potential choking hazard and the morning couldn't come quickly enough so we had the light to see what we might have missed in our endeavor to make every step and breath our little boy took free from possible danger.
Now he drives his own car, and though I confess that I still have horrible flashes when I imagine the lug nuts on all four wheels failing while he is driving down the road, I have mostly surrendered to the inevitable when it comes to his  safety. Meanwhile, his mother and I continue to open the drawers to our Malms with only a hint of caution. If we were to be confronted by our own build-it-yourself furniture, we would only have ourselves to blame. And those sketchy directions.