Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Prestige

For those of you who have never seen the film by Christopher Nolan, shame on you. I will wait right here while you go find a spare two hours and ten minutes to catch up. It's available on Amazon. Netflix. Your local video store. Ask your mom to tell you the story if she's seen it. It's great. 
There. Don't you feel better? Now you'll be able to fully appreciate what I am about to unload here. "Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige'." That's the way Michael Caine's character introduces the idea. I would like to suggest that Donald Trump's administration is a magic trick. A really poorly rehearsed and presented magic trick.
You remember the Pledge: Make America Great Again. Who wouldn't want that? It sounds so appealing that many didn't bother to ask, "Wait. Again? Weren't we great before?" No matter. All those signs and red hats made us believe that this was a real, unaltered, normal thing.
Then came the Turn. That's when we found out that Making America Great Again would involve taking gigantic steps back into our country's past: Racism, Nazis, the threat of nuclear war. As an audience, we are sitting in our seats waiting for that third act. All of this has to turn around soon, right? When do we get our country back? Over the past seven months, it has disappeared, and now we want the Prestige.
But it's not coming. Not from the Great Trumpini. There is no prestige there. Just more tricks. And absolutely no prestige. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Delicacy Of A Chainsaw

It was a kind of horrible juxtaposition: Watching flood waters from Hurricane Harvey swallow up Houston and then getting the news that Tobe Hooper had died. The director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre passed away while his home state was being pummeled by a tropical storm. When I was in college and they allowed me to study such things, I wrote a paper about how brilliant a conceit it was to make it chainsaws. What ends up being shown on the screen turns out to be so much less grotesque than anything your average moviegoer's imagination could conjure up. Just knowing that somewhere out there in Texas, or places like Texas, there were families of inbred mutants using the least subtle methods for vivisection possible caused an entire generation to reconsider the wisdom behind hitchhiking. 
Yes, Mister Hooper made more than one film, but was Leatherface and his cannibal crew that left its indelible mark on pop culture. He worked in the cinematic ghetto that is horror film. Home video allowed me to keep track of his films that I didn't catch at the drive-in. His remake of Invaders From Mars became a favorite of my older brother and mine. Years later, we were still quoting the line, "Don't worry, Son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!" We were excited to see that Tobe got his shot at the big time with Poltergeist, We were a little let down to find out that Steven Spielberg had more to do with it than we had been led to believe. 
Still, it was a high-speed turbulent roller coaster-type ride and it offered up creepy new ways to make us think twice about living in suburbia. Just like Lifeforce made me nervous about space vampires. I was already nervous about Billy Idol when I saw Tobe Hooper's video for Dancing With Myself, but these were times in which we found ourselves. 
Tobe Hooper taught us not to build subdivisions on old cemeteries. He let us know that the Marines had our back, especially when it came to space invaders. He let us know about the dangers of laundry folding machines and carnival funhouses
And when that family from south Texas invites you over for barbecue, you might want to RSVPing in the negative. Tobe Hooper stomped on the cinematic Terra, and once Texas dries out again, I hope they give him a hero's sendoff. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Shout It Out Loud

Stop me if you've hear this one: How do you get a Nazi out of the White House?
Offer him a job at Breitbart News.
Or her. I hear they don't discriminate.
Ba dump bump. 
If you're keeping score at home, and if you don't have a program it's tough to keep score, Sebastian Gorka is out. The count after Evil Count Gorka resigned brings the total number of high-profile resignations and firings to a dozen. In seven months. I understand that these are difficult jobs requiring a lot of patience and carry a ton of stress, but what happens when that void is created? Are we creating more calm? Is our "President" creating more calm? Is it improving his golf game?
The easy answer is "no."
Except for the golf game. I hear the "President" has a terrific handicap. But that's another matter.
The metaphor of rats leaving a sinking ship comes to mind, but one look at the captain and you can see that the guy behind the wheel has whiskers and a tail. A quick look at the manifest suggests that the current ship of state is full of rodents and the ones that aren't eating one another are hastily looking  for an exit.
Or a job at Breitbart News.
Meanwhile, the "President" continues to tweet his pronouncements and push his fear-fueled agenda through the mouths and twitter accounts of those who are left. The initial backlash against a ban on transgender service men and women was not enough to get him to reconsider his proclamation. Nor was the outrage stirred by his suggestion of a pardon for Sheriff Joe enough to sway him from his reckless course.
What are we to do?
I like the idea of sheet caking. I like the idea of trolling with tubas. But mostly I like the example set by Boston. Go ahead and give the Proud Boys have their moment at the gazebo. Let them shout into the wind. Meanwhile, lift up your own voice to speak out against the hate. It doesn't have to be in a crowd or out in the streets. Let others know that no matter what they call themselves, a Nazi is a Nazi, and they need to check the calendar and the history books for the timeline on their peculiar ideology.
No racism. No sexism. No homophobia. No hate. No fear.
No more jobs at Breitbart.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lessons Learned

Back around the time the earth was still cooling and my son was beginning to walk, he was left with his hapless father and new dog. Not for a week. Not for a day. Just a couple of hours. This was just long enough for the dad (me) to set up the Rube Goldberg machine designed for putting a great big bump on the son's head (big head) and the black hole of trust from which there was no escape. Begin with the wobbling toddler on the front porch. Dog inside. Dad in the doorway. Dad can see all and is in control. Then he needs to step back inside to get his keys. All is calm. All is well. On the way back to the front door, dad's movement causes dog to bolt for the opening. Wobbly toddler has moved to an even more precarious position on the top step. Dog upsets the delicate balance of head over toes and wobbly toddler tips forward. Dog continues down the stairs to run enthusiastic circles in the yard. Dog's portion of this exercise is now complete. Wobbly toddler begins to tumble head over little round heels, making contact with each step as he goes. Dad stands at the top of the stairs with all kinds of thoughts in his head. One of these is "I really wish I would have prepared myself and my son better for this situation." Another is "If I run fast enough I could actually turn back time and catch him before he ever leaves the porch." And inevitably "I am such a horrible father."
Now that the earth is getting hotter again, and my son survived that incident, albeit with a knot on his head that had to be explained to his very disappointed mother. He lives in a house hundreds of miles away. Pays his bills. Makes his own meals. Has a job. Goes to school. Wakes himself up. He lives a life of a proto-adult. There is still an implied safety net offered by his parents, supported by frequent and often amusing calls to his childhood home. Still, the moment to moment existence that used to be so carefully monitored has become more of a need-to-know system of accountability. We do get a running report about the salads that he has consumed between texts or calls. His parents don't always hear about the things we might wonder most about, but that's because we respect his privacy. Or something like that. Mostly, we know that he is safe. And generally pretty happy. It should be noted at this point that he is considering getting a dog. A Corgi, whose low center of gravity might not pose the same threat to his balance that his childhood pet posed. And the house where he is currently living has no front steps.
I guess I taught him something.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Master Race?

Chris Cantwell. Does the name ring a bell? No? How about if I said, "The Nazi who spouted off on HBO's Vice News?" 
Yes. I know. "Neo-Nazi." I have a hard time with that. Like somehow it's a new and improved Nazi. Now with twenty percent more White Power!
Nope. This is a guy who yearns for confrontation. He went to jail in Charlottesville on  two counts of illegal use of tear gas and one count of unlawful release of gas causing injury. Mister Cantwell admits that he had pepper sprayed a counter-protester on August 11, but he only did so in "self-defense."
A lot of what Chris Cantwell does seems to be in self-defense. Like the video he released days after the ugly mess in Virginia, when he tearfully recounts the struggles he's had to endure since hearing that he had a warrant out for his arrest.
He said he feared for his life.
I'm not a big fan of suffering on anyone's part, but I suppose I can make an exception here. This is a guy who spouts stuff like, “I’m here to spread my ideas, talk, in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that. Somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.”
Hello? Where do you think the safe place for this guy would be? It's not OKCupd, the dating site. They said they banned Mister Cantwell on principle, but it the straight/gay/other categorization allowed in their classification system probably wouldn't have covered whatever profile that might have been necessary to put Chris in the best possible light. "Ultra-Straight Nazi looking for Aryan Bride for taking long walks by torchlight. Must love the smell of pepper spray."
Do I hope they keep Chris Cantwell safe as he awaits his next encounter with the justice system? Very much so, yes. What this crowd does not need is any kind of a martyr.
Just a Nazi with intimacy issues. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Seen And Not Seen

I have always maintained that if you walk into a situation expecting a confrontation, you will probably get your wish.I put forth as evidence of this assertion, the "President" of the United States. 
Tuesday evening, Orange Julius appeared in Phoenix, Arizona. He was there for a rally. A rally that was intended to boost those good feelings about our Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Or maybe it was to soothe his wounded ego after a couple weeks of abuse by the real bad guys.
Justin Trudeau?
Nope. The focus of the "President's" ire was his favorite target. His punching bag. His white whale. The media. Fake news. “Really bad people” who “foment divisions” because they “don’t like our country.” He rambled on for an hour and fifteen minutes, and twenty of those were devoted to jabs at these bad people. He predicted that the dreaded MSM (mainstream media) would not cover his every utterance, but yet here they were, dutifully reporting back to the world the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) style oration. He also took wide swings at Arizona's senators, Flake and McCain, who have not been falling into line. And he danced on the edge of his rumored pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump explained. “But Sheriff Joe can feel good.” Meaning that Sheriff Joe won't have to worry about that conviction for criminal contempt of court stemming from a 2007 racial profiling case. 
And he kept hammering on how unfair the media is to him. All the time. He wanted us all to know that he was always saying the right thing about what happened in Charlottesville. “I hit ’em with neo-Nazi, I hit ’em with everything. KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all. The only people giving a platform to these hate groups,” the "President" insisted, “is the media itself.”
So here we are, in the middle of a grand experiment in the Heisenberg Principle. Every time we stare into the abyss that is Donald Trump, we are surprised to find that there is nothing there. And yet we keep going back to look. 
Because of the sound. That horrible, horrible sound. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Good News

The wheels of justice are supposed to turn more slowly than this. Last Monday, Joseph Bruzzese Jr was headed to work when he was ambushed by a gunman waiting outside his place of employment: The Jefferson County Courthouse. Mister Bruzzese is a judge. It is alarming to think about what sort of concealed weapons permit a guy who wears a big black robe might have. Rocket launcher. Anti-tank weapons. T-shirt cannon.
So, as it turns out, Judge Joseph pulled up to work on Monday morning and a gentleman who had been witnessed waiting in a car outside for some time opened fire. The judge was wounded, hit in the stomach and chest, but still managed to return fire with his own weapon. 
A nearby probation officer, seeing this attack, started firing too. The suspect was shot and killed. Another man who was also in the car with the assailant was not wounded. Or charged. He's the guy who will spend the next few years trying to figure out what went wrong.
So we have a real and true "good guy with a gun story." This should make our friends at the Second Amendment Headquarters very happy. The fact that a civil servant could be attacked in broad daylight in front of a courthouse makes everyone nervous. 
For some, it will make them want to have more guns. It will legitimize the well-armed militia of civilians we feel should have the right to protect themselves from all those bad guys who also seem to have guns. Which brings us back to the other guy in the car. "Hey Brad, I've got to stop by the courthouse to drop some things off. You mind stopping by there before I drive you to work?"
"Sure. No problem."
Except for that little annoyance we always forget in these situations: Crossfire. The good news would be that this took place at eight in the morning. Passersby are fewer and far between. A couple of hours later and this would be a different story. 
In this version, two people got shot. Two people were wounded. The good guy lived. No innocent bystanders were maimed or killed. Bad guy dead? Okay. People walking by lived? Better. 
Maybe this whole thing would be better if there had been no guns at all involved.
But I guess that's not a discussion we'll be having anytime soon. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Smug Versus Proud

I could say that I don't remember exactly whose idea it was to pick up a bag and start stuffing it with trash as my wife and I made our walk around the neighborhood. I could, but I know it was me. And I'm proud of that. Does that make me smug?
Opinions, as the philosopher once said, vary.
As we made our way along the streets and sidewalks around our house, we found more and more garbage. My wife picked up another bag and began to separate recycling from landfill. I could tell how clever she felt with this advancement. Maybe a little smug?
Opinions vary.
The mental shove I got to start picking up trash in the first place came from seeing Al Gore's Inconvenient Sequel over the weekend. Here I was, strolling through other people's rubbish, reflecting on all those high-minded ideals about global warming and carbon footprints and having opposable thumbs and the ability to bend at the waist. I was not helpless. I could make this one corner of the planet just a little more habitable by removing the fast food detritus that cluttered the gutters of my street.
Gutter clutter.
I'm proud of that one.
Or am I smug?
When we arrived back at our house, bags full and overflowing with the neighborhood's litter, my wife and I opened the gate to our driveway. The driveway that had a Prius parked on it. The driveway that ran in front of a house upon which had recently been mounted solar panels. This made us proud.
And a little smug. When we shoved all that trash into their respective bins, we had a moment to reflect on just how quickly the streets we had walked would be littered again, we became less smug. When we thought about all the ways that we could still be doing more to keep our planet from becoming uninhabitable, we realized that we still had so much left to do.
We stopped being smug, and got back to work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hey Lady!

Go ahead. Say it.
Then say it really loud.
I'll wait.
Now. Don't you feel better? That's your best, easiest path to a Jerry Lewis impression. The Jerry we loved. The Jerry we laughed at. Wacky. Nuts.
Jerry passed on over the weekend, and when I read the news, I was surprised just how hard it hit me. I had made a point of sneering at most of what Jerry Lewis had become over the past half century. For some, the breakup with Dean Martin was the point where they drew the line. For others it was The Day The Clown Cried. For me, it was all about the hair. Once the crew cut was gone and the Vitalis showed up, it was over for me. This was no longer some goofy kid making fun. He was the comic genius adored in France and the guy who made Hardly Working. He was the guy who said, "A woman doing comedy doesn't offend me, but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world."
Okay. So not very funny. But he is also the guy who showed up in Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy and went toe to toe with both Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard in a performance that announced that, in spite of the hair tonic, he was to be reckoned with. He invented video playback for directors. He taught film making at USC. 
And he ran that telethon. I was able, as I grew older, to understand that this man in the rumpled tuxedo was also responsible for a formidable amount of physical comedy the likes of which we will most likely never see again. Unfortunately, when I was young I encountered Jerry Lewis in fully introspective mode. He was always trying to prove what a serious artist he was. 
It's okay. I know Jerry Lewis was an artist. And a clown. 
He stomped on the Terra. I won't say "Aloha." I'll just say Riboflavin. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Vacuum

One of the advantages of starting a new school year is that I have been so immersed in the moving and stapling and carrying and copying and assorted miscellaneous other preparations is that I have been all but cut off from the steady barrage of news. The ugliness and horrors of Charlottesville seem like a distant memory as I help get classrooms ready for children to return from their summer sojourn and the rhythm of Autumn replaces that wandering attention. The first day of school will be followed by the second and third. Updates to this progression will be noted as they become available.
But now my vacation starts. I will no longer be able to sit by and take in each new gaffe or disturbing statement. I will rely on others to distill them for my later consumption. A lot of this will be done by Fake News organizations, my only trusted point of reference. I will also keep world events in my mind to help our students navigate the quickly changing planet which will be left to them when we have finished doing our damage to it. There have been budget cuts that don't allows us to have access to certain programs or resources. We will continue to do the best we can with what we have, and making sure that we show up to do our best work no matter what the bookkeepers tell us. Or politicians.
I work for the Oakland Unified School District. We are a Sanctuary District, which means we are here to serve kids without checking their papers or asking them to put themselves or families in danger. The first thing they taught me in teacher school was that kids can't learn unless they feel safe, so that's what we're going to do. And we're going to try and make that learning fun. There will be plenty of time for all of us to be reminded just how awful things are everywhere else, but our school has brightly decorated bulletin boards and a devoted staff who will help every kid reach their potential.
And later, when I get home and catch my breath, I'll check out my news feed to read about the tragedy in Barcelona or the firing of Steve Bannon. Huge and important events, but it will take a while for their significance to trickle down to our third graders. In the meantime we've got to learn how to read. Once that's done, they'll be able to figure some of this out for themselves.
When they do, I hope they can explain it to me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Too Soon

Next year I am told that the school year will begin almost two full weeks earlier than it does this year. This is not because of some arcane business about full moons or third Mondays or any other superstitious rot. I am in the education business, and the idea that we want to get our hands on those little minds as soon as possible has long been the secret desire of oh-so-many reformers. This whole summer vacation business was all about making kids available for the planting and the harvest. Send them back to school when the crops have begun to wither and dry.
The kids I teach are about as far removed from that reality as anyone could imagine. When I first came to the teaching  profession, I did so at a year-round school. That did not mean that the students were attending school year round. That was my job. They were still attending classes nine months each year. I took off a couple weeks each summer to celebrate my birthday and the Fourth of July. It was the way I was able to re-calibrate my personal clock and the way I could monitor the next phase of my tenure.
Year round school was a space issue. We didn't have enough seats for the kids who attended our school for them to all sit down at the same time, so we sent a group of them away for a month at a time. Then they would come back for three months until it was time for them to evacuate once again. Most of the teachers took these breaks along with their kids, but since I was the Computer Guy, I hung around to make sure that everyone got the tech training they deserved.
And then, we weren't a year round school anymore. Enrollment changed and charter schools opened and charter schools closed, and the science behind year round school was no longer necessary because we could now accommodate that certain number of students that made that concept an antiquated one.
And yet, here we are, trying to figure out how to shave off a few more days, weeks, hours from those halcyon moments we call summer. Going back to school before Labor Day makes a lot of our parents grumble, which is amusing since these are the same parents who sigh heavily when presented with the notion of hanging around with their kids for more than a weekend at a time. Generally, they warm to it, as most parents do. Turns out it's not such a bad thing to have junior  rattling about  the house during those warm months when the sun never seems to go down.
Alas, the sun has set on this summer, and  next year will cycle through even more quickly. I will try not  to miss a second of those lazy hazy days. Like I am right now.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Moving Story

Way back before I became a teacher and a blogger, I worked as a furniture installer. Modular office furniture, primarily. This meant that I spent a good deal of time in newer buildings and creating work spaces for employees who had yet to be hired. Or, in some instances, we were crafting new hives of cubicles for the drones to inhabit once they fled their old hive. New installations were the fun and magical part of the job. Unwrapping all that chrome and peeling the plastic sleeves off the office chairs that hadn't had their hydraulics diminished by thousands of absent-minded adjustments while waiting on hold. Wire management with no wires yet to be mismanaged. Panels whose fabric smelled every bit as clean as the fresh carpet upon which we trod. It was stirring.
But that wasn't the only part of the job. Living as we did in close proximity to a number of IBM satellite plants, I was often sent with a crew to repair or reassemble work stations that were being relocated in other offices or annexes or departments. What became clear to me very quickly was that IBM was happy to spend the money on not just us, the furniture installers, but an onsite crew of movers whose job was to roll boxes of personal effects and papers that needed to be taken out of the room before we came in to dismantle the desks, overheads, typing returns, lights and modesty panels. Once we had broken the furniture into its components, we would put them on four wheel dollies and roll them through the maze of hallways looking for the empty office into which we would reverse the process. Meanwhile, that crew of movers would head off to the snack bar, knowing that their next step was still some time in the future. They were in no rush. They understood this as part of the company culture. In the late eighties it was a simple enough assumption that IBM had this kind of money to burn. Why not? They were at the forefront of this computer revolution. Of course they could spare a few hundred dollars to have Bill's desk taken apart and moved to another corner of the building. I was pretty certain that I moved some of those same desks multiple times over the course of the three years I had the opportunity to be part of the migration. And all the while, those movers were hanging out, on the clock, in the snack bar. And the drone whose office we were navigating from one drab room to another was most certainly taking a personal day while all this mess got sorted out.
When I finished bolting the desk back together, we were off to the next one. Someone in housekeeping would give the movers a shout on their walkie talkie to let them know that it was safe to shove those boxes full of paperweights and rubber bands into their new home. Inevitably, it would be the following day that Mister or Missus Drone would reappear and begin the process of putting all those paper clips and sticky notes in just the right spot.
I knew it would be just a few weeks before we would be back. And the whole mess would start over again.
Job security.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Safeway Parking Lot

Comparing apples to oranges is not a new idea, but what if the guy doing the comparing happens to be one great big Tangerine? A frustrated "President" Trump lashed out at reporters the other day, asserting that "George Washington was a slave owner." With his next breath, he asked we can assume rhetorically, "Was George Washington a slave owner?" The answer, just in case, is "Yes." George Washington was a slave owner, as was the next target of his tirade, Thomas Jefferson. So, his orangey-ness wants to know, if we start tearing down statues of slave owners, are we going to knock George and Tom off their pedestals?
A pretty keen argument if you're getting drunk in the Safeway parking lot with your buds on a Friday night. But this is the President of the United States making these wild swings of mood and taste. He's ignoring simple facts of the matter, like the community of Charlottesville had decided to remove the statue and it was a group of protesters from outside that descended on that college town and decided they wanted to argue the matter. If someone in the District of Columbia could get enough signatures on a petition to change the name of the monuments to reflect more culturally sensitive individuals, then we might have some quid pro quo.
As it stands, this was the desperate flailing of a drowning man. A man so mired in his own fear and loathing that he can no longer distinguish right from wrong. The thugs that dropped by the University of Virginia were there to incite. They were not there to discuss. They showed up armed and ready for battle. This is not, in spite of our current "President's" vision of the world, how we conduct business in the United States. What the Nazis did was stand outside a crowded movie house and shout "Fire!" as they lit a match. If they had shown up and stood there in the dark with their Tiki torches smoldering and chests puffed out without their racist epithets and hateful propaganda, they might have kept their permit and walked home the next day.
That's not why they came. They came to kick at the hornet's nest and then blame the hornets for being angry. Just like our "President." Thinking people from across the globe watched him melt down as he did yet another turnabout when someone asked him why he couldn't be a little more succinct about what was wrong with the events of the past weekend. He couldn't do it. Instead he went for that Safeway parking lot argument and made everyone of the pinheads who spewed their venom in the name of White Supremacy feel vindicated. By the President of the United States. Just under seventy years before the Civil War, George Washington wrote in his will that he wanted to emancipate the slaves he held on his farm at Mount Vernon. Not exactly an abolitionist, but still pretty forward thinking for a gentleman of his time. Thomas Jefferson wrote legislation as far back as 1778 to abolish slavery. Was there hypocrisy in his maintaining his own plantation slaves? Yes. the kind of conflict that was unclear back before we elected our first President.
Now we're on number forty-five. You'd think he would know better.
You'd think that he would think.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fly On The Wall

"Okay. Let's go over it again."
"Right. There's lots of blame on all sides."
"No, no, no. It's got to be more specific."
"There's a bunch of bad hombres out there."
"I think we might want to avoid vernacular, sir."
"Hate is bad. I can say that, can't I?"
"Well sure, but I think it would be best if we..."
"And we as a nation don't like hate. Of any kind."
"Well, yes."
"It's sad."
"Yes it is, but let's try and get back to -"
"I know, I know. More specific."
"Yes. If you would."
"Okay. Haters be hatin' and we won't let that happen."
"Nice start, but what about naming some of the groups or organizations?"
"Like CNN?"
"Not today."
"Obstructionist Democrats?"
"I thought Captain America took care of them."
"That was a movie, sir."
"Great one, too. Maybe we could get that Steve Rogers to drop by the White House."
"Yes. We'll see what we can do about that. Now about your statement."
"You want me to say Nazis are bad?"
"Yes. And the KKK?"
"The Klan. The Ku Klux Klan."
"But if ai call them out, won't that make them mad at me?"
"There are a lot of angry people who need to be reassured."
"Like that's my job?"
"Well. Yes."
"Okay. What do I have to say?"
"You should say that we as Americans will not allow these groups, the KKK, neo-Nazis, white bring their repugnant -"
"Oooo. Repugnant. Can I use that?"
"Yes sir."
"But if I call out all those groups -"
"Who will I be left with?"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lessons We Learn

Actions have consequences. My son got a speeding ticket Monday. He was rushing to work and was pulled over, given a summons and was an extra fifteen minutes late to work for his trouble. To his credit, he called his parents to let us know what had happened and that he was going to work a couple of shifts to get back to even. Leaving a few minutes early for work next time might be a solution that would be more cost-effective. And safe. He did that all by himself.
Okay. Not exactly by himself. I'm sure he could hear the voices of his mom and dad in his head before he ever called, because that's the person he has become.
I wonder what Peter Cvjetanovic's parents think about their son. Peter is twenty years old, and he spent a part of his summer vacation from the University of Nevada attending a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. His face became easily recognized in a photo that was spread far and wide on social media. There he is, carrying a Tiki torch, and screaming angrily into the night. He is shoulder to shoulder with a number of other young white men who had come to the University of Virginia campus to share their views about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. At the top of his lungs. 
Later, when journalists tracked down this face of the white nationalists, he said he was surprised that people see him as "an angry racist." Interesting, since the photo shows him in a highly agitated state amid a group of people whose views might best be described as racist. “I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture. It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”
It makes me wonder just what sort of history courses Mister Cvjetanovic has audited at the University of Nevada. What does he understand about what Robert E. Lee stood for during his time? Maybe a letter he wrote in response to then President Franklin Pierce might shed some light. In it, he concludes, "Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?" Coupled with his assurance that slaves were most certainly better off here in America, it does make you wonder what honor and respect we owe him, exactly. 
The statue is not a relic of the Confederacy. It was commissioned in 1917 and completed in 1924. It is a monument to another place and time. I don't know if Peter and his young friends fully comprehend that, and how culture and history move together through time. “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
My son is going to pay his ticket. He'll probably have to do some online traffic school. I confess that I'm a little surprised that it's taken this long for him learn the lesson about speeding, but I'm proud to see him evolving. 
I wonder how Peter's parents feel. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


It happens every so often: Kids from my school see me outside the confines of my classroom, playground or sidewalk in front, and they stare in wonder. This can be as minuscule a deviation as the distance up the hill from my school, riding my bike: "Hey! It's Mister Caven!" For many this sight is on par with a sighting of Big Foot, and since Sasquatch are pretty scarce on the streets of Oakland, I will have to do as a curiosity.
Still, I was surprised by the amount of awe I was able to arouse in the faces of my elementary schoolers when  they came across me standing at a table at the city's big Back To School Rally. I was there to hand out copies of my wife's book, The Bullying Antidote, and to act as the face of a parent and teacher. I was spreading the word: Zorgos. That's the name of the super power that my wife and her mother discovered and wanted to share with our community. The Back To School Rally was a great place to do just that.
In that great milling throng of humanity, every so often, I familiar face would pop up. Invariably with the same surprised look. "Mister Caven?"
Yup. That's me. I tend to appear at or around the start of school each year and dissipate once summer has come. Think of me as your Autumnal Groundhog. I saw my shadow, so it's back to school with you. Oh, and please, take a book to share with your parents.
I took my job very seriously. I made a point of putting a book in anybody's hand with whom I made eye contact. It's a free book, and it has lots of great words in it. I'm standing here in the August sunshine letting you know about it. Come on. Take a chance.
I joked with a number of people about how I was anxious to have my basement free of the pallet of boxes full of books that had been there waiting for such an event. There was a true and serious side to this, primarily since these books were doing absolutely no good to anyone locked up beneath my house. Sharing them with the parents, teachers, and students of Oakland seems like a much better deal.
And now I have room for that antique coffee grinder collection I have always dreamed about.
"Mister Caven, do you really have a collection of antique coffee grinders?"
Well, once I return to my hole in the ground, I'll have to check that out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!

It's a pretty easy thing to claim white supremacy in a town where whites make up just a little under seventy percent of the population. Like Charlottesville, Virginia. Congratulations, you win. Not satisfied with this statistical edge, however, a rally was put together to protest the potential removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park there. Organizers called their get-together "Unite The Right," probably in reference to their politics, not their actual correctness. The white nationalists who are concerned that their history and their heroes are being cast aside like so many pigeon-dung-infused chunks of granite. Come to think of it, getting rid of a statue is a pretty big endeavor and probably involves heavy equipment.
So what did these guys have in mind? Laying down in front of the bulldozers? Chaining themselves to the crane that would lift their stony hero from his perch? They found themselves surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson Saturday night. My suspicion is that the light of their Home Depot Tiki torches didn't allow them to distinguish the author of the Declaration of Independence from the leader of the Confederate Army during our nation's Civil War.
And now it's probably time to mention the frequency that the Confederate Flag gets displayed alongside the flag of Nazi Germany. What do they have in common? Well, both of these nations lost their wars, and fell into - how shall I say it? - disfavor. A bunch of young men screaming at the top of their lungs surrounded by symbols of historical losers sends a very sad message. All that anger comes from somewhere. As I have often reminded us all, Denis Leary once made a list of all the things his five year old hates: "Naps. End of list." His point was that hate is something you have to learn. It doesn't just spring forth organically. All that hate that brought people from both sides came from a great big pool of fear. A lake. An ocean. The thought of losing the position at the top of the pecking order is horrifying to many. The thought of never being allowed that opportunity is just as horrifying for those who have not been allowed to breathe free.
Hence the Tiki torches and the yelling and screaming. The governor of Virginia called for a state of emergency to deal with the violence that has erupted in the wake of Uniting the Right. Oh, and the fondness these guys have for that freedom of assembly doesn't stop there. It continues on to the glorious Second Amendment, which brought a whole lot of guns to the show. Lob some tear gas, baseball bats, and elevated tension, and you've got yourself an emergency.
All of which doubles back on the continuing whirl of our political landscape. Some seven thousand miles away, a very scary young man leading a country now emboldened by their nascent nuclear weapons capability is wondering if it's worth wasting a missile on us. We seem to be perfectly capable of beating ourselves to a bloody pulp. Over a statue. I hope they don't do anything drastic until they figure out which one they really want to tear down.

Monday, August 14, 2017


To begin the year, folks like me who help facilitate educational technology got a little pep talk/wake up. We were reminded once again that we have ten year olds walking round with more computing power in their back pocket than was used to land on the moon. Back in 1969, there were not very many ten year olds involved in landing a man on the moon, but wouldn't it have been amazing, as an educator, to have your students connected to such a momentous occasion?
I think about the time I spent back in 2009, rushing around our school building, trying to get televisions set up so that every classroom could watch Barack Obama's Inauguration. It was a day that wanted to be shared. It needed to be shared. This contrasted mightily with the Inauguration that occurred eight years later. Our teachers, parents, and students as a group put their heads in the metaphorical sand and made ignoring it an act of defiance. Looking back, I do wish that I had taken the opportunity to engage some of our fifth grade students in a more proactive way. They definitely had opinions, and lacking an organized forum or a unified voice, they were left with the fear, hurt and anger this election generated among the families at my school.
If the kids at my school aren't using their technology to land men on the moon or to live stream the inauguration of the first circus peanut ever to become President of the United States, what are they doing with it? According to most studies, listening to music or watching TV. After that, they are connecting with one another about what they just saw or heard. The kind of conversations that take place on the playground about didja see this or didja hear that can now take place across vast distances and be shared with millions of other interested kids.
Millions. This is the highlight of the tour. What you thought about last night's WWE cage match will be sent out across the wi-fis to anyone who cares to pick up the thread you've cast. Just like that photo you took of your friend. Whether they wanted you to or not. And then there are all those things that you might be tempted to do with that much bandwidth and that many eyes and ears. If you weren't interested in landing a man on the moon. Or watching Barack Obama's Inauguration.
In an instant. To millions. Not just whoever happened to come into the bathroom and read what you wrote on the stall. It's my job to try and keep the ketchup in the bottle. Once it's out, it tends to be pretty difficult to get it back in. And these are very powerful bottles of ketchup. Did I mention that they could land a man on the moon?
Or maybe you could text your President and tell him what you think. You've got the power. Use it wisely. Use it well. No pressure.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Make America Dark Again

In just over a week, darkness will be coming to this country. It comes in the shape of a solar eclipse, which at one time was seen as a sign, a portent of things to come. Interestingly, we live in an era when, instead of fleeing the shadow of the moon as it wanders across North America, people are moving in droves to be within the path of totality. This is possible because of science. Yes, I said it, and I stand by it. The ability to track and predict solar eclipses is a gift given to us by astronomers and mathematicians who have this thing figured out to the nth degree. These folks are so very clever, in fact, that they know that "nth degree" means. Serious biz.
It wasn't always that way. There was a time when humans looked up at the sun and were terrified to see it being eaten by some terrifying force that threatened to swallow it whole. Imagine their relief when the light returned and order was restored. About three hours later. Imagine the chaos and terror that might have ensued back before there was a way to forecast such events. The end of days came and I didn't even make it out to Costco to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Of course, that was before the invention of duct tape, which is something we can also take time to thank science for, but not right now. This was back when Galileo was put in prison for saying that the earth was not the center of the universe. Thanks to him and his buddy Coprenicus, I can take a flashlight, a tennis ball, and a globe and entertain fourth graders with the very low-fi version of how all of this magic happens. Thanks to the science of flashlights, too. And globes.
So here we are, in the twenty-first century with families and friends taking time off work to find their little place in the lack of sun. There will be plenty of these folks who would probably like to argue the existence of global warming, since they don't see Florida sinking.
Not yet.
And yet, when climate scientists released their State of the Climate report for 2016, stating that last year was the hottest on record, a great many of us shrugged their shoulders and went back to their Twitter accounts. Oddly enough, it was on Twitter that I was encouraged to consider this science thing by noted science guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's kind of like the Twitter version of Galileo. He keeps jabbering on and on about how the world isn't that hard to figure out if you do the math. Because that is what science does. Next week it's going to bring the darkness. We can't really stop that from happening.
Global warming? There are still things we can do.
Thanks, science.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fire And Fury

First of all, I think that Marvel comics has its new spinoff series title, thanks to our "President." He really said that he would respond to North Korea's threats with "fire and fury." It  could be that he chose this particular turn of phrase because "shock and awe" was still under review by the patent commission. These things take time, you know. 
The trademarking of a phrase, I mean. Not the popping off despot dictators. That just takes a few seconds. This may also be why, a couple weeks back, when the "President" made his multi-tweet pronouncement that began, "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow… " followed by a nine minute pause, many Americans feared the worst. The misguided and phobic finale of that flurry came as a relief to some, including some of the Generals who were not only caught off-guard by the ban on transgender Americans in the Armed Forces, but feared for a moment that the "President" may have been declaring war between games of Candy Crush
Drop on top of this frightening war of words the assurance the "President" gave in yet another tweet: "My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before...." Then a seven minute gap before he finished his his thought: "...Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!" The guy has been in office for six months. A few of those months had to be spent explaining to Rick Perry that part of his job as Energy Secretary included managing our nuclear weapons. Almost five thousand warheads. Let's say that Rick got right to work in February. And he had some help. Are we convinced that they all got renovated? And modernized? No more steam-powered nukes for the USA!
That's what makes America Great. Again. A renovated nuclear stockpile and a nutjob with an itchy trigger finger. A nutjob with an itchy trigger finger with no sense of history. The only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in war is the United States. Twice. Once on August 6, and then three days later in 1945. Ask the folks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They're in Japan. That's pretty close to North Korea. And our "President" chose to drop his bomb right between those dates.
Saber rattling is something that countries that like to think of themselves as super powers do. If you have super powers like Fury and Fire, you don't really have to do that. Unless you're a nutjob with an itchy trigger finger and no sense of history.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Missed It

I was sitting in my classroom the other day, with a week and a half still to unwind before the short people start to fill the seats and the halls outside. I was thinking about Ned. Ned won't be coming back to our school this year. He was a fifth grader and got promoted along with the rest of his classmates.
Well, actually, that's not completely true. Ned will be going to middle school this year. Somewhere. I don't know exactly where because he didn't show up for the promotion exercises on the penultimate day of school. This was strange to me because Ned was invariably one of the first kids to show up on any given day. He was there before I put the PE equipment out on the yard. He was invariably the kid who would take a variety of different balls from the rack and punt them across the playground. After I had gone back inside.
Ned was discreet, in this way. It didn't mean that the other kids wouldn't rat him out the minute I returned to the playground, but at least he had the decency to wait until I wasn't staring directly at him. That meant that I had a great many chances to discuss with Ned the safe, respectful and responsible use of playground equipment. So much so that he accepted my challenge to become one of our school's young heroes. It was his job, along with five or six other kids in red T-shirts to keep the games and jump ropes and assorted balls in play and not launched onto the roof or into the bushes up the hill. It also meant he was expected to be a role model for the other kids.
That was the tough part for Ned. He wasn't difficult or mean in any typical sense. He was someone I could slow down or stop with a teacher-voice holler from across the yard. But that didn't keep him out of mischief. Which is what eventually lost him his job as a young hero.
Ned was part of the after school program I ran for fifth graders, building community through leadership skills and cooperation. He shined. He came up with our group's first semester project slogan: More Friends, Less Bullies. He came to every meeting, and when no one else had any ideas, Ned came up with something to get the discussion started. He saved me from being the droning adult voice in the classroom.
Why didn't he come to promotion?
He practiced along with his classmates. He walked in and out of the auditorium countless times. He listened to all the speeches. He sat in his seat. Until the day came that it counted.
Ned wasn't there.
I didn't get a chance to say it: Goodbye, Ned.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


She'll be fifty-three.
She'll be twenty-five.
She'll be ready to go.
She'll be back.
It's the amount of time between this and that.
We'll be falling in love again.
There will be dancing on the Lido Deck.
She's making plans for world domination.
There will be sunshine.
There will be cake.
There will be a party.
She'll be happy.
She'll go for a walk.
She'll be ready.
It's her birthday.
And always.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


My son dropped by this past weekend to stir up his parents' dull existence and to see Green Day perform at the Oakland Coliseum. There were dinners at the kitchen table. There was a trip to the local cineplex. There was a lot of talk about this and that, but there was an awful lot of talk about technology. My son, the theater arts major, spent the last few months being employed by his college's engineering department as their IT guy. While this mix of specialties might seem odd for those of you tuning in just now, knowing my son's predilection to most things mechanical makes it less startling. He has reasoned, and for the most part successfully backed up, that anything he can watch happen step by step on YouTube can be replicated  in his living room. Or garage. Or someone else's living room.
This is how he learned to replace his own brakes. Change his oil. Swap out hard drives. These were not skills that were passed along from father to son. Though my own power tool acumen continues to grow, I can only feel truly responsible for his periodically snarky sense of humor. The rest of these abilities come from a certain fearlessness which I cannot fully comprehend.
This, I believe, is how he finally got his new job at Best Buy selling TVs. He will go on about color, contrast and clarity at absurd lengths. He was able to this many months before he ever started wearing a blue shirt. While I was busy memorizing comedy albums in college, my son took a different path: researching component technology and capacities. When he speaks, there are times that I hear a bit of his grandfather the printing salesman coming through. He knows his stuff, and he wants to share it with anyone who cares to listen. LCD, LED, OLED, MOUSE, letters that have made glancing connection to my life and daily world, but my son has taken the time to explain them to his old man. My father, who used to say that he had printer's ink in his veins, would happily discuss the offset printing process if anyone gave him an ear. Mostly he wanted his customers to know that he understood and he was going to make sure they got the best he could get.
I know that my son did not expect to be a Best Buy Blue Shirt when he grew up, and I imagine that he has plenty more stops to make on his career bus. It is interesting to see his name on a badge, not too very different from the one that was made for me when I started work at Arby's back in the twentieth century. I don't suppose I ever cared as much about the roast beef sandwiches I was serving as he does about the home theaters he sells. There aren't as many moving parts to a big screen TV, and they are probably more digestible than your standard Beef 'n' Cheddar.
This is all part of the wandering path our son is taking on the way to becoming an adult. It's a fun ride, and most of the time he doesn't mind stopping by to hook up our new router if he's in town. It was nice having him around.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Real Money

Does it seem like humanity has slowed down to a trickle? There are so many despicable characters roaming around these days, it's hard to find what amounts to good news. Let's take, for example, Martin Shkreli. It could be that his shoes were too tight, or it could be that he has four consonants in a row in his last name, but whatever the case, this guy is a real whatever the opposite of mensch is. He is the guy whose company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of one of one of their drugs five thousand percent. A pill that once cost thirteen dollars and fifty cents was jacked up to seven hundred dollars apiece. These pills were Daraprim, used to treat toxoplasmosis and HIV.
So, you're really sick, and you need medicine. Let's hope you have insurance, first of all, since thirteen fifty a pill is still a little steep if you're taking more than one a day. Now go ahead and figure on that seven hundred dollar pill. Nearly five thousand dollars a week if, as I suggested, you're taking just one pill a day. That's when we enter that tricky world of insurance money. Big money. Profound money. Outrageous money.
And you might think that is how our friend Martin found himself in jail. Nope. You can hate on Mister Shkreli all you might like to, but it's his company and he can charge whatever he likes for his medications. You don't have to pay it. Free country. Free enterprise. And all that. And he can say whatever he wants about Congress on Twitter. Free speech and all. And he doesn't have to answer questions that Congress gives him because of more Constitution stuff. He is going to trial for using millions of dollars from one business to bail out another which he had bankrupted via a failing hedge fund.
If this all sounds a little confusing, it's probably because folks like Martin Shkreli don't have to make sense of their lives. They are far too busy making and losing other people's money to live life in the fast lane. Of course, that's not what Martin would like us to believe. He would like us to see him as a Horatio Alger story, who saw a need for children who needed his help. And if he happened to make a boatload of money while pursuing this altruistic dream? That dream that just happened to include buying a one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan album for two million dollars.
And maybe that dream didn't include being found guilty of security fraud. Which is too bad because now young Martin is going to jail. Maybe for twenty years. At one pill a day, that works out to a little more than five million dollars. That could buy a couple Wu Tang Clan albums.

Monday, August 07, 2017


I went to see the new Planet of the Apes movie, much in the same way that I felt compelled to go see the new Spider Man movie. I'm a fan, okay? Not that either one carried a particular stigma or an embarrassment to my family and friends. Lots of people went to see both of them. Seriously. Not just nerd-types like me.
Oops. What a giveaway. "Nerd-types like me."
Yes, I saved up my nickels and dimes and dollars until I got to fifty and could go buy my very own official Planet of the Apes gorilla mask. I went with the gorilla because Cornelius just seemed a little too on the nose and the orangutan was never going to be as convincing. Once I got home, I realized that if I wanted to move the mouth effectively, I needed to stuff newspaper in the back to force my face into the front. I also invested a couple dollars in eye-liner which I used to approximate the skin tone around my eyes to match. Sometimes I even brushed "hair" on the back of my hands to give me that real ape-y look.
Nerd-type. By this time, I had already bored my friends to tears recreating scenes from the five original films, centering primarily on Escape, since that had the fewest ape parts and the most concerned humans. There was a little more enthusiasm among the guys in my neighborhood for reenacting Conquest, since that played out more like a war movie. I couldn't get many takers for a staging of Battle. Ape-interest had dropped off to next to nothing by that time.
Except for me. I kept watching the TV show. And drinking my orange juice out of my Planet of the Apes plastic mug. I waited for the Apes renaissance that I was sure would come. It was around this time that my parents asked if a family friend might borrow that gorilla mask. Against most of my better instincts, I allowed this to happen. I even sent along some hints about how to really maximize the mask's potential.
The mask never came back. There was some sad story about it being stolen from the back of the car, but it didn't matter. By this time, the magic shop where I had made my purchase had closed, and finding a replacement without Al Gore's Internet was next to impossible. I reconciled myself to a life without a gorilla mask.
That didn't douse the fire I held in my heart for the franchise. I raced out to see Tim Burton's re-vision and massive disappointment in 2001. Mark Wahlberg was better off staring at giant transforming robots than trying to make sense out of this mess.
Then they started making movies with computer generated imagery. No more masks. And they went back to the beginning. Well, sort of, since the beginning of the first five films is really almost the end and the end comes when the planet blows up but three chimpanzees escape and come back to earth to start the whole loop over again.
I enjoyed the new Planet of the Apes movie. I won't bore you with the story about the Spider Man costume I had my mom make for me. When I was in high school.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Golden Knob

I got a crown on the molar in the back of the right side. It's good to know that my teeth are squared away, but I am hyper-aware of that corner of my mouth. I had a temporary crown for a few weeks and I consciously avoided chewing things in that quadrant and was oh so very careful about flossing. Now that the permanent crown has been installed, I continue to fret about that one tooth. I understand that it's all part of proper dental care and being a certain age and it would always be better if there were no cavities or fillings or extra bits floating around in there, but the alternative is too frightening to think about. For me, anyway.
And why would I bring this up? Because I am so very tired of talking, writing, thinking, considering, pondering, confronting and dealing with what is happening in my country. There's this great big golden knob that has been dropped into a void and now I can't not think about it. It's there all the time. When I wake up in the morning. When I go to sleep at night. Sitting down to breakfast, lunch or dinner, it's there. Pick up the phone to talk to friends and family and what do we end up discussing? The Golden Knob. It would have been so much nicer if I could have kept that tooth. I grew up with it and it was doing such a fine job, but that particular tooth had a term limit that could not be exceeded. And that's a shame.
At this point, I run the risk of becoming a latter-day Lenny Bruce. Sure, there's plenty of clever bits in here, and I've got miles and miles of funny stories to relate, yet I feel compelled to keep writing about the horrible awful no-good Golden Knob. Each day there is some fresh discomfort or confusion that fills my head with words that scream to be heard.
By whom?
I don't get a lot of argument around here about what I have to say about the Golden Knob. It's distracting, painful, and not conducive to the proper alignment of anyone's mouth. I understand that the end of this metaphor has me sitting in a chair undergoing a painful dental procedure, all of which could have been avoided if I had only been more attentive to the hygiene of my mouth.
What could I have done to avoid the Golden Knob isn't the question. I know that the issues in my non-metaphorical mouth are much easier to deal with than the crisis that faces the mouth that is our country. That one really great, effective tooth isn't coming back, and the void that will most certainly make things worse before it gets better.
Lenny Bruce's solution to his torment was to drag everyone who would listen to him along for the ride. I don't know if I want to do that, but every day brings some new torment to a mouth that was already full.
Suddenly my crown doesn't bother me so very much at all.
Thanks for listening.

Saturday, August 05, 2017


According to some,  it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.” In this case, "them" would be the Boy Scouts of America. And "some" would be our "President." If you asked the Boy Scouts, they would say the reaction to the speech was "mixed." If you asked the tangerine masquerading as our chief executive, he would tell you, “I’d be the first to admit mixed. I’m a guy that will tell you mixed. There was no mix there. That was a standing ovation from the time I walked out to the time I left, and for five minutes after I had already gone. There was no mix.”
This was a speech to a group of Scouts at their annual Jamboree that included  bragging about his election victory, slamming his former opponent Hillary Clinton as well his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, and repeatedly decrying the media for what he deemed unfair coverage. "Oh, and by the way guys, I've got a lot of experience with knots, if you know what I mean." 
Okay. That last bit was my own invention, but I don't suppose it really matters at this point, since invention is the way this administration gets through every hour of every day. Six months after the inauguration that was "“the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” as announced by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer no longer has a job as White House Press Secretary. It would be ridiculous at this point to blame Sean. Or maybe not. He could have shrugged his shoulders at some point, and simply said what everyone else was thinking: "I don't know. He told me to come out here and tell you this stuff and we all know that it was not even remotely the case. Sorry." He stood at that podium and maintained his composure for moments at a time until that little vein in his forehead began to scream "aneurysm." That vein serves as the metaphorical Pinocchio's nose of the current regime. Now it's Sandra Huckabee Sanders' turn to brave the potential head implosion that comes with the job of standing in front of a group of eager questioners with nothing but alternative facts to defend. Endlessly. 
When the "President" got up in front of a group of police officers and encouraged them to rough up suspects, "He was just joking." When he stood in front of a group of supporters in Ohio and described the way gangs "take a young, beautiful girl, sixteen, fifteen, and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die, and these are the animals that we've been protecting for so long." Thanks for the visual, "Mister President." 
What's that? "With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office."
Really? I guess I'll just let Communications Director Anthony "Will You Do The Fandango" Scaramucci handle it. 
Oh. Yeah. That's right. 
Never mind. 

Friday, August 04, 2017

How Long?

Your average weather forecast.
Chance the Rapper's debut mixtape.
Detox from nicotine.
Recreate the Slovenian War For Independence.
Master the skills taught in today's business schools.
Take a seminar on the Epidemiology and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke.
Spend the money you would use on soda or coffee on providing clean water to people that don't have it. 
Take a safari.
Have an anagama wood firing.
Get an acute case of the measles. 
Restriction for young women getting abdominal X-Rays.
Cleanse the sugar from your system.
Experience an introductory meditation course.
Transform your life with the principles of Jack Canfield. 
Make Amish Friendship Bread.
All the time you need to vacate the premises if you fail to pay your rent. 
Tour Tasmania.
These are all things you could experience in the amount of time that Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci held down his job as Communications Director for the current occupants of The White House. It was suggested that the turnover in the current regime is somewhat reminiscent of that experienced by Admirals of the Imperial Fleet under Darth Vader's command. Ten days isn't much of a "get to know you" period, but it seems like we all got a pretty good sense of what The Mooch had to offer. 
And so we bid him a fond adieu, and wait another ten days for the next shoe to fall. 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Go Boom

That's what you do when you fall down. You go boom. It used to happen a lot to my son when he was little. He spent most of his toddler years trying to catch up to his enormous cranium. As a result, he was constantly tipping this way and that. I will probably never know if his wandering into the occasional gravity storm was anything out of the ordinary for kids of his age, size, deportment, etc. Any kind of inquiries at the time might have led to more questions on the part of social services, wanting to know how this kid could keep bouncing off of things after a little ice and a kiss on his boo-boo.
It probably has a lot to do with the fact that his father spent a good deal of time falling down for the amusement of others. Sometime in junior high, while watching the Dick Van Dyke Show, that tumbling over a hassock wasn't such an impossible feat. It was just an elongated forward roll, and if you managed a nick or a bruise on the way down or up, it was more than made up for by the shock and awe of your audience. By the time I reached high school, and Chevy Chase had made a legend for himself by tripping and falling over most everything imaginable, I elevated my game by tossing my feet over my head and landing on my back without any particular reason or setup. Often, it simply broke the tension.
The number of times that I did this kind of awful acrobatics along with the regular use of the "I opened the door into my face" bit eventually wore out the concern button on my friends and family. Consequently, when I jumped out of a swing and tore four ligaments in my knee and tried to get up to walk it off and my leg folded up under me like a bad card table, all my friends could do was laugh at my zany antics.
Was it worth it? Well, still more years in the future after I had my knee surgically repaired, I was asked if I had any "special talents" that might win me a free pair of Levis. I told the hosts of this particular promotion that I could recreate the opening of the Dick Van Dyke show. Curious, they asked for a demonstration.
I won the jeans.
Then my son was born, and after a while, he began to appreciate the potential of flinging himself about. So much so that at one school gathering he introduced himself by telling anyone who would listen, "Hi. My name is Donald and I fall down a lot."
So very, very proud.
Then, pushing forward a decade or more later, I am out running, as is my custom. I fail to negotiate a crack in the sidewalk and fall face first to the concrete. Scraped hands and a skinned knee. About a week after that, I encountered another vortex with nearly the same result. No laughs.
Then it occurs to me: Dick Van Dyke didn't always fall over that hassock.
Time to reassert my mastery over gravity.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Due Process

It's not on every police car door, but enough that it becomes something of a meme: To protect and serve. That's what law enforcement officers are here to do. Whether it's enforcing traffic ordinances or checking a four-year-old's house for monsters, Or maybe you'll be charged with taking down a notorious gang, like MS-13. If you are unfamiliar, Fox News calls this group "the gang that scares other gangs." Keeping in mind this comes from the news channel that scares other news channels, and is also the font of all discernible "thought" in the current White House. It comes out of Steve Doocy's mouth and comes out of our "President's" Twitter account. Which would be fine if Steve was using facts or generating policy. He's not. That leaves the heavy lifting to the "President," who let's face it, really isn't up to the task.
How does our "President" propose our nation's law enforcement officers deal with MS-13? Addressing the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island, he urged them not to be "too nice" when they are "thrown into the back of a paddy wagon." Trump then spoke dismissively of the practice by which arresting officers shield the heads of handcuffed suspects as they are placed in police cars. "I said, 'You could take the hand away, OK?'"
Gales of derisive laughter.
What the giant tab of chewable Vitamin C has not considered is that this is precisely the thing that makes doing a cop's job so difficult. They are connected to the community, extensions of the neighborhoods and streets that they patrol. All that tough talk is great when you're surrounded by a group of heavily armed Secret Service agents, but it doesn't play as well out in the world which the rest of us live. 
The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a statement just a few hours after the bulbous carrot finished his rant. It said, in part: “The ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity is very challenging" said the statement.
“For these reasons, law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures, as well as conduct extensive training, to ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers.Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect.This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.”
Are you listening, Steve Doocy? 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Greatest Hits

It would sound like Elvis
And Springsteen
A little like DEVO
because it's our choice
If you listen carefully
you can hear the words:
People are more
important than things
takes four hours
and costs
about a hundred dollars
And between the laughter
and the tears
You can hear the magic of
Why not?
It's got a good beat
but it's hard to dance to
Not because we don't
want to
We do
We want to dance
We want to sing
And sometimes
there's harmony
And sometimes
there's a waltz
There are so many moments
that make up a year
a decade
They don't all sparkle
and shine
Those grains of sand
stretch out
On the beach
of our life
There are jewels
Why not?
There are roses
Why not?
There is laughter
Why not?
There is you
Why not?