Monday, December 31, 2018


It is the last day of 2018. It would seem as good a time as any to look back on the year that was. It was at this moment that a song from the past come flooding into my head: "You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack," go the lyrics. They are words from a Talking Heads song called Once In A Lifetime. In addition, it asks the musical question: "Well, how did I get here?"
In many ways, life here on the Rancho is not so terrifically different than it was a year ago. Or two. Or three. My wife and I continue to go about our business as citizens creating and giving back to our community as we can. Our son drops in when he is not otherwise encumbered by the trappings of being a college student. We go to Disneyland. We watch movies. We make good choices. We make some bad ones too. So far no one has dropped by to ask me to stop teaching. No one has started a petition to get us to move out of the neighborhood.
We do not own a flying car. Or a personal jet pack. One might guess that the year in review eighteen years into the new century would include something spectacular like that. I got a new cell phone. My son bought it for me, so he won't feel embarrassed by the one I was hauling around in a shopping cart, looking for outlets to charge it while waiting for just the right weather conditions to make a call. So that's a relief.
My wife and I celebrated twenty-five years of wedded bliss. Or twenty-five years of mostly blissful co-existence with pockets of not-so-bliss. An achievement, we felt, if only though endurance. My son made it to Europe before me, travelling to Italy with his mother while I kept an eye on the homestead. Or something like that. Maybe I was staying stateside to massage my anxieties about leaving the continent. By sticking to my post, nothing bad happened on my watch.
Except it did. Looming over all this normalcy was the shadow of the big orange twit. Interactions that would otherwise be carefree or joyous were tempered by the Wall. Or threats to national security. Or democracy. And though we were able to take a momentary sigh or relief after the midterm election, there was still a lingering doubt about what good might come from it.
And here I must apologize for the tenor and content of this blog over 2018. My head has been so full of what is missing that I have sometimes ignored shining a light on those things which continue to bring hope. There are a lot of them. Good movies. Good food. Good friends.
Good times.
Somewhere in the midst of all that fire and terror and ranting there were moments of peace. Those are the moments I will take with me. The rest of 2018 is now past. Hit the reset button, please.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Personal Beef

I can imagine that someday I could be that ugly American gnawing on a Big Mac underneath the Eiffel Tower. It's not that I mine these experiences exactly, but I do have this vital need to seek comfort wherever I can. We might have a long discussion now about how it is that I come to find comfort in the epicurean delights found at McDonald's, but let us for now take it as a given that once upon a time I was referred to by my family as "The Burger King."
I am sure that when my wife married me she imagined something different for our Friday night dates. The fact that I continue to wheel back around at the end of each week with a need for a cheeseburger is perhaps not the most romantic of impulses, but it serves as a regulator for me. After a tough week at work, I do not find myself at the neighborhood tavern, sloshing down cocktails with my fellow minions. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that impulse. I just don't happen to be very good at it. With alcohol, I never really knew what my limit was. That's a little easier with cheeseburgers. I know that limit. And my wife tags along, without reminding me of just how horrible cheeseburgers are for our planet. She lets me be me.
This might have always been the case. I know that there were different expectations for our gastronomic experience than a series of burger joints in my wife's future. We live in the Bay Area, and you can't sneeze without knocking over some amusing ethnic eatery. Or even if there was one of those artisan type creations with ground elk and arugula and designer condiments, it would somehow up my game a little. But it's kind of a failing of mine that I don't tend to go for the finer things. I like Hershey's chocolate. I like Lay's potato chips. All that artisan is wasted on me.
Because I really like the comforts of home. That's where my heart is. And the trips that I took with my family to Mexico back in the olden days were saddled with the pain that I carried with me for not being able to find a proper hamburger, especially since our itinerary did not include fast food. Not that there was a lot of fast food to be found in Mexico during the seventies. My tastes have evolved since, and I know a good meal from one that is purely for maintenance. The fact that I have turned that maintenance meal into a ritual continues to amuse my wife. And she allows it. Even encourages it.
Which is why I can imagine that Big Mac at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Belief System

Okay, here's where we stand currently: On Christmas Eve, the "President," helping out in ways only he can, took a call from the NORAD switchboard. Happily, he was only responding to the North American Air Defense's Santa Tracker and not anything more sensitive like nuclear warheads or missile launch codes. No, he took this opportunity to ask a seven year old girl if she was "still a believer" in Mister Claus and then suggested that might be a little "marginal" for someone of her advanced years.
Okay, so maybe my son was on the far end of the spectrum by maintaining his belief in Saint Nick into middle school. He was not availed of the same clever deductive reasoning my older brother shared with me as he pointed out that Santa and our mother had very similar handwriting. That was perhaps an awakening I may not have arrived at on my own, but it was enough to tip the scales on that rite of passage. However, since we both enjoyed several more years of keeping our youngest brother in the dark, the magic lived on.
Who knows what will happen in this little girl's mind. She has become yet another in a series of flashpoints in a year full of "can you believe what he just did?" The little girl's parents, for their part, were fine with the interaction between the "President" and their daughter. “I’m a teacher. I’m OK with the vocabulary,” mom said. “He was very kind. I was very impressed with the phone call.” And there, it might have ended. The social media folks had their fun, and a seven year old has a story to tell when she  gets back to school. 
Then Mike Huckabee got into the act. “It wasn’t like he was boiling the little girl’s bunny rabbit in a pot on the stove or something. He asked a simple question.” To be clear, no bunnies were harmed in the creation of this post, but it certainly makes me wonder what goes on in Mister Mike's head. He went on: “You can never find a way that President Trump will make some of the people in the press happy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what he does. If he didn’t make the call, if he didn’t talk to the little girl, they’d say that he was curled up in a fetal position in the White House and that he was unwilling to come out and talk to anybody.”
And so, with the boiled bunny and the fetal position, we now have two additional images that will not soon be sandblasted off the nation's collective hippocampus. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 28, 2018


In the dream I had, a kid was tumbling through the air, and I was trailing along behind shouting, "F equals MA!" I was attempting to assure the parents on the ground by hollering the formula explains how force equals mass times acceleration. In that moment, it seemed like exactly the kind of reassurance these folks needed, even as the arc of that kid's trajectory began to change. I believed that describing the physics of the situation would help out. No need to panic, what goes up must come down. Unless there was sufficient acceleration to get the kid out of the atmosphere, in which case the acceleration of gravity would be negligible and -
That's about the time my dream ended: The limits of my imagination. Or understanding. Upon waking, I realized that I was using Newtonian equations to describe a situation that was probably more complicated than that. And even if I were able to describe the landing spot based on the speed that the kid left the ground, based on the force of the trampoline or explosive got him airborne in the first place, I had only a rudimentary understanding of how the arc would be affected by all the other forces, especially gravity.
Which is to say that I could draw you a picture of it and begin to explain it, but would come up short of any definitive explanation. That would be for physicists to do. This is about the time that I began to understand where my own path began to diverge: In my sophomore year of college, I took a class called "Astrophysics for Non-Science Majors." As fascinated as I was with the ways  things moved and the interactions of all the vectors affecting objects in motion and those that were not, I surrendered at that moment to the certainty that I would only be able to understand the "dumbed-down" version.
Consequently, I have spent the rest of my life since that fateful semester feeling as if I could explain the rotation of the earth on its axis and the reason we don't tend to come flying off the surface of our home world into the trackless void of space. Somewhere in there I did some impressive math that allowed me to calculate velocities and forces with equations that have since become part of the things for which I have decided not to be responsible. I will now allow that there are laws or at least strong suggestions that cause things to rise and fall and spin and drop that I will not ever understand. I am not a scientist. I am a writer, after all. And a dreamer.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


I like to think of myself as an open-minded individual, but I know that this is not consistently true. I like to kid myself that I have very fact-based reasonings behind my opinions. Which is what they are. The way I appreciate PCs over their across the room competitors made by Apple. I will point to matters such as price point and the relative ease that PCs can be upgraded or repaired compared to their very streamlined cousins. I know this is a "bias," and though I try to shake these cultural blinders, at fifty-six years old, I know that some of them are lodged in there pretty tight.
Like the way I perceive comic books. I read my share of DC comics in my day. I hold the work of Frank Miller in especially high regard. I understand that it was Superman that made so much else possible. But they aren't Marvel.
I had this prejudice reaffirmed last weekend when I went out to the movies with my wife. We were headed out to see Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse when we became encumbered by holiday traffic. When we arrived at the superfaplex, the Spider-Movie had already begun, but it just so happened that Aquaman was starting in just a few minutes. In the big theater. Big holiday movie in the big theater? Why not? It's a super hero movie, after all, and everyone else seemed to be lined up to see it.
So in we went.
Two and a half hours later, I felt abused by the oppressive drum beat of the uber world of undersea. I was burdened by the plot holes that I was being asked to ignore in favor of the spectacle and explosions. Then I remembered that this was the DC world, and even though I respect their initials, I don't love their movies. Or characters. They show up as super heroes, and it's only a matter of time before their omnipotence finds its way to the surface. Surface. Get it? The DC stable is all pretty solidly based in the "born to greatness" camp. Recently it became apparent that Superman's powers include resurrection. It's not a matter of how DC heroes will save the world, but when.
I don't relate to that.
The characters at Marvel are the ones who tend to have greatness thrust upon them. How they end up coping with the proportionate strength and agility of a spider is at the heart of their stories. The next day, my wife and I found our way to the Spider-Verse, and were impressed and relieved to find the story of Miles Morales, a teenager who finds himself in a familiar predicament: bitten by a radioactive spider, he is suddenly in possession of a number of special powers and abilities. It's hard enough being a nerdy adolescent, but the son of a cop and nurse in an ethnically fluid Brooklyn who is suddenly confronted with great power and great responsibility. Being a hero turns out to be a challenge in and of itself.
And I won't go on about how beautiful the Spider-Verse was. It was an animated film that stretched itself beyond being just a cartoon. A comic book lit from inside. Sorry, I promised. But when it was all over, I felt renewed. I felt - dare I say - heroic.
I miss Stan Lee.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Chutes And Ladders

The National Christmas Tree was turned off after a demonstrator tried to climb it, damaging the decorations. Because of the government shutdown, it was feared that the symbol of our victory in the War For Christmas would remain dark even as the Day approached. Luckily, kindhearted donors who created a grant that will keep the lights on all the way until January 1st. Most of the National Park Service will remain closed. That means the forests from whence the the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins of the National Christmas Tree will be lonely without anyone visiting them as the government continues to be shut down.
The  Grand Canyon will remain open. Kind of hard to close a chasm that is more than two hundred miles long and eighteen miles wide. Campgrounds and restrooms around the canyon will remain closed.
Four hundred twenty thousand federal employees will be going to work without paychecks. This includes forty-one thousand law enforcement and corrections officers. And eighty-eight percent the employees of the Department of Homeland Security, which is pretty interesting considering that's the department that is charged with keeping our borders secure. And since there is no great big wall to keep the bad guys who have no respect for our borders without a wall, we can only expect that they will come across in hordes with the intent of doing damage to all of our sacred institutions. Like the Grand Canyon. And the National Christmas Tree. If they were to set that tree on fire, five thousand forest firefighters won't be paid either. Could be trouble.
If things got really bad, there could be even more difficulty getting the giant space arks off the ground since ninety-six percent of NASA's employees have been furloughed. Along with fifty-two thousand Internal Revenue Service workers, so there won't be any taxes collected to pay for the government services that won't be happening during the shutdown.
Happily, another civic minded individual started a Go Fund Me account to help pay for the border wall that caused all this mess in the first place. Or if you're looking for a way to be less civic-minded, you could send a few bucks to the page that is raising money for ladders to get over that wall. Maybe after January 1st the National Christmas Tree could  be milled into lumber to build the wall. Or ladders.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Light Ahead

You were expecting
a virgin birth
a parting of seas
rising from the dead?
These are no longer
the moments we seek
since most of that
is done with machines.
The miracles we seek
are not as big
they are they kind
that sneak up on you:
A baby's laugh
a bright blue sky
a song on the radio
exact change.
When you take a look
a little bit deeper
you see these things
you hear them too.
They happen every day
right in front of you
and it never hurts
to stop and notice.
An act of kindness
Forgiveness on tap
A smile into the wind
A growing force of change
We can't look back
for very long these days
and miss what is coming
along life's track.
Wonders will appear
when least expected
and joy will follow
as it always has.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Orgy Of Greed

When I was but a mere slip of a lad, I used to believe that if I went to bed extra special early on Christmas Eve, then Christmas itself would come quicker. I had not, at that time, taken into account that I would be laying there in a pool of fevered anticipation, not able to close my eyes. Instead, my brain was full of the things that a slip of a lad would have running about his head. These weren't sugar plums. These were vivid images of a living room packed to the ceiling with presents wrapped in paper that reflected the lights from the tree that was all but obscured by the packages. The stockings were still hung by the chimney, but now they were stuffed full and overflowing with candy, Hot Wheels and all manner of goodies that could be shoved inside.
My wishes had been informed and itemized through nearly constant exposure to the last fifty or so pages of the JC Penny Winter catalog. The ones with all the toys. These were the pages that informed my brothers and I as we labored over our lists to Santa. And even as our belief in Saint Nick began to waver, we continued to make discrete and careful descriptions of those things that were most wanted (needed) and which could be left up to the elves' discretion. Even as we set out that plate of cookies and cup of egg nog, alongside the carrots for the reindeer, we considered additions and substitutions to the list.
Then we waited.
My bed was in the corner of the room, and as I lay there and looked up under the drawn curtains into the night sky, I was certain that I could see movement. Suddenly, I was swept up in a blur of anxiety. We were perhaps only moments away from a visitor from the north. What if I wasn't actually asleep? What if he just passed us by? Just because I couldn't close my eyes and drift off into unworried slumber? I would not be able to bear my brothers' disappointment in me. The lights hanging from the eaves outside taunted me with their blinking. Stay Awake! Don't Miss A Thing!
Eventually, year after year, I managed to drift off. Only to wake up before the sun and wait for the release time agreed upon prior to bedtime with our parents. Then the mad dash to the living room, where we discovered a scene that was not far removed from our imaginations.
And I believe I am the luckiest slip of a lad on earth. Again.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


The next sound you hear is the winter coming. Not that it hasn't made its impact felt well in advance, but now that the solstice has come and passed, the days will start getting longer again and hope will be renewed. Which is probably why the Christian church chose to drop the celebration of Christ's birth into this spot. It's always darkest before the dawn, and all. I did a quick check, and it turns out that Bethlehem is forty-one degrees above the equator. That means that if there was a birth in that neighborhood two thousand or so years ago, it would have taken place in the nominal winter months. Coincidentally to the magic of this virgin birth was the return to light.
Pretty savvy planning on somebody's part.
Apparently, pagans had been dragging greenery into their homes as a way of acknowledging the middle of winter, so the idea of chopping down an evergreen tree and spraying it with white foam was just a stumble into the woods and back, or in terms of our current state, a stumble into Home Depot to buy a plastic tree that sings with a card made of the traditional plastic.
Pagans obviously had a thing for plastic, too.
I am not suggesting that Christians simply appropriated pagan traditions and made them their own. Instead I would suggest that there has always been a challenge bringing new into a world of old. Take peanut brittle, for example. There is absolutely no reason why I could not go out and buy two pounds of raw Spanish peanuts and a couple pounds of sugar in the middle of June. Sure, standing over a pot of boiling Karo syrup and sugar during the heat of summer would be less comforting and joyful, but the actual reason is that this ritual belongs in winter. Like so many things of this season, peanut brittle comes but once a year.
Is there a biblical reference to peanut brittle? Do residents of the planet living below the equator feel challenged by having all this wintry goodness shoveled into their summer? I have a couple of weeks off. Maybe I'll look into it. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tuck Rule

Advertisers are fleeing Tucker Carlson's show, eponymously named Tucker Carlson Tonight. As is the case in these kind of transactions, it is not that the advertisers suddenly had an attack of social conscience. Instead, it was Mister Carlson who finally went too far. Last week he insisted on his television program that illegal immigrants were making our country "dirtier." He also placed the blame for the country becoming more divided at those same immigrants' feet. Apparently there is a scarcity of mirrors and video playback in Tucker Carlson's world. He went on to bray, "Huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Nope, cynical shakedown artists who have been watching too much CNN.”
Bowflex cancelled its advertising after this outburst. Then there was, which probably has a business related concern considering the number of ancestral ties we all seem to share with immigrants of one sort or another. And the International House of Pancakes, who must have been relieved to have a rational response to get involved instead of claiming that they were no longer going to call themselves the International House of Pancakes. The focus, instead, leaped to that International portion of their name.
Fox News, for its part, called these "unnecessary distractions," and blathered on this way: “It is a shame that left wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech,” their spokesperson said. “We continue to stand by and work with our advertisers through these unfortunate and unnecessary distractions.”
By week's end, the companies that no longer wished to advertise their product on anything named after Tucker Carlson. Which makes us wonder just how awful do things have to get on Fox News, which is a business, for Mister Carlson to be asked to go broadcast from his mother's basement? What is worse is the corresponding thought: What other advertisers will rush in to fill the void? Dirtier? Poorer?
Huddled masses to be certain.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Empty Chairs

Loss is hard. This is not news. What is news is the number of people who will be experiencing this holiday season. Families will be sitting around their tree, table, living room, hearth and know that someone is missing. Someone who used to bring the eggnog. Someone who used to sing like an angel. Someone who loved. Someone who was loved.
Sixty-eight of those spots will be unoccupied by the losses created by mass shootings here in America. Anecdotally, I should mention that not all the empty chairs this year were the result of gunfire. Six hundred thirty thousand Americans died this year from heart disease. If you're a fan of such statistics, that will be one fourth of the deaths on these shores. Why not make as much a fuss about that as I seem to do about this mass shooting thing?
I guess it has to do with the chances. Most people with heart disease have a doctor, or a room full of doctors, working to keep them alive. Treatments and medicine that can lessen the suffering and ease the pain, adding months or years to patients' lives, giving them a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. 
That's not what happened to Telemachus Orfano. He survived the attack in Las Vegas in October of 2017, only to be shot and killed in a Thousand Oaks bar a little more than a year later. This would be something along the lines of dodging an asteroid only to be eaten by a shark the following year.  The chances of being a casualty of a mass shooting are around one  in one hundred ten thousand, or  about the same chance of dying from a dog attack or legal execution. Make that a radioactive shark. Add to that probability the possibility that one might escape that scene and land a year later in front of another idiot with a gun? Make that a two-dimensional radioactive shark who traveled to that point in time via a portal generated by Captains Kirk and Picard. 
Imagine staring at that hole in the Orfano family. But better still, love and appreciate those closest to you at this time of year, since it's traditionally encouraged. Savor those moments and, heaven forbid, talk about it a little. We may know the odds, but for sixty-eight families this year, that percentage turns out to be one hundred percent. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner were married. For just a few moments, I encourage you to imagine what parties at their house used to be like. Michael McKean and David L. Lander romping about, Carrie Fisher hanging out with who knows who else. And all that silliness and laughter ended up being funneled into that comedy machine known as Laverne and Shirley. It was the slightly grittier big sister of Happy Days, and I could spend an age or two trying to diagram all the points of intersection between all of those stars and American Graffiti and those fifties kids in Milwaukee. Ron Howard and Cindy Williams being the most obvious of the bunch.
Then there's that little matter of how her brother, Garry Marshall, served as the nexus of humor for more than a decade at ABC before turning his attention to the big screen. This was the guy who gave Penny her start on television, as Oscar Madison's secretary in The Odd Couple. It was a few years later that she won a spot on the cavalcade of amusement that would eventually spin off a young comedian named Robin Williams in his own sitcom, Mork and Mindy.
A few years after Fonzie literally jumped a shark, Laverne and her pal Shirley moved out to Los Angeles, providing them with their own encounter with the metaphor. All of a sudden, after nearly a decade, the joy had left that gusty, oddly paired couple.
So Penny set about making movies. As a director. She made Big, with that ABC sitcom castoff Tom Hanks, who had once guested on a post-shark episode of Happy Days and starred in a movie made by Ron Howard and another one made by her brother Garry. And then she gave Tom the chance to tell the world, including Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell that "There is no crying in baseball."
And when she was done with that, she had Mork play a neurologist who helps Robert De Niro awaken.
Not bad for a goil from the Bronx. She stomped on the Terra, and then found ways to help others do the same. As the big train of comedy comes pulling into the station, she will be missed. Aloha, Penny.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


'Tis the season to think fiscally. As the year comes to a close, accounts are settled and bills get paid. Or put off until the haze of delirium passes into memory. It would be great if the joy of the season didn't come with the worry of how we were going to pay for all this joy. There was, back in the day, a way to ameliorate this situation: A Christmas Bonus.
It has been some years since I have received an extra check at the end of December. When I worked at a video store, after we closed up on Christmas Eve, there was a party amid the mostly empty shelves, and as beers were sipped and chips were dipped, cards were handed out by the owner. Inside the card was an extra little something to help make the holidays a little more cheery. That extra bit of cash made the onslaught we had endured standing behind the counter in the days leading up to the one day of the year we were closed. And it paid for an extra gift or two for my friends and family.
When I moved on to moving furniture, I was still afforded the treat of a holiday bonus for a job well done. The formula wasn't directly tied to the number of desks under which I had crawled or the pounds of other people's junk I carried from one corner of the IBM plant to another. But it was a remembrance of the toil in the trenches. I wasn't buying a new car or financing anything that I might not otherwise have considered on my furniture mover's salary. I was happy to have money in my pocket to start the new year.
When I worked at the employee-owned book warehouse, salaries and bonuses were all about revenue sharing. Everyone got an equal share, and there was no particular holiday associated with its disbursement. It had everything to do with the politics of the institution in which I found myself employed.  I was a manger. Big deal. I was on the board of directors. Big deal. It wasn't a bonus so much as an expression of the freedom of the proletariat.
Then I became a teacher. There are no bonuses to be found here. Except this: The other day I was sitting in front of the school, waiting for students to be picked up. A kindergartner was scampering up the ramp and down the stairs, chattering away as kindergartners whose parents are late picking them up will. As she rushed past me, I heard her say, "Came to some tall grass. Can't go under it. Can't go over it. Can't go around  it. Guess we'll have to go through it." She was going on a Lion Hunt. This was the shtick I had taught her in PE class. Now, here she was, rambling around in a world I had set up for her.
I got my bonus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

There Is Nothing Right About This

There are a number of Guatemalan girls at my school. I teach them. A few of them are seven years old. My heart broke a little when I read that a  seven year old Guatemalan girl had died of dehydration after being arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. The little girl started having seizures eight hours after she was arrested by border agents in New Mexico last Thursday, after entering the country with her father at an illegal crossing. She later died from dehydration, septic shock and fever. She had nothing to eat or drink for several days. Though she  was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas she went into cardiac arrest and died the next day. 
In what version of the American Dream is this okay? 
Pundits on the side of walls and intolerance lay the blame squarely at the feet of the girl's parents. If they didn't want her to die, why did the father insist on dragging her across the desert? Why did the mother let them go? I can't really call them "pundits on the right," since there's nothing really right about this. 
Eight hours. 
Why did it take eight hours to figure out that a little girl who had been trekking  across a desert, who had nothing to eat or drink for days, might be in need of medical assistance? The idea that this is somehow not "our problem" because we never asked her and her father to come here in the first place borders on the obscene. 
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News the girl's death was "a very sad example of the dangers of this journey."
Tucker Carlson wanted to put blame at the feet of Democrats who have been fashioned by conservatives into the sponsors for illegal immigration: “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided. Immigration is a form of atonement.”
Atonement. Reparation for a wrong or injury.
There is no atonement for the death of a seven year old girl. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

There is a moment in the James Cameron film True Lies when Jamie Lee Curtis comes to the realization (spoiler alert) that her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a spy. And he has killed a a number of people.To which Arnold adds, "Yeah, but they were all bad."
It is this kind of assurance that makes the goings-on in the White House so much easier to take. The "President" says that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is just doing all this talking about hush money and affairs with strippers "to embarrass me." Somewhere in this mix is the disappointment the "President" has for the way his previously trusty fixer is now ratting him out in public. Which tends to undercut his embarrassment, which is an emotion that our "President" seems incapable of anyway.
I'm wondering if Richard Nixon was embarrassed by John Dean.
Or wanted him dead.
Now legal experts are suggesting that all of these tawdry goings-on are not enough to impeach anyone. Even a philanderer and serial liar.
Which makes me wonder where on this slippery slope we can actually call "the bottom." Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an extra-marital affair. Okay, it was a little more complex than that, but it was the thing that stuck. That was twenty years ago. And continues to stick. That was about the time when we started to learn way too much about the private lives of our chief executives. For years, it had been kind of cool to think that JFK had been canoodling with Marilyn Monroe, and that FDR had a mistress. Then the mental pictures started to form: That elaborate network of back braces that Jack Kennedy had to negotiate before intimacy. The generally floppy nature of the lower half of Franklin Roosevelt's body.
Thanks to social media and a twenty-four hour news cycle, we have become privy to way too many details of the current "President's" special moments. All of which is not, we are reminded, collusion. It's just really icky.
And disappointing.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Setting My Sights

I have been wearing glasses since I was five years old. Life through lenses is how life looks to me. This doesn't explain the pit that appeared in my stomach when I found out that my son would need glasses. He, like his father, had a lazy eye and the notion that I might have somehow passed along this unenviable trait to him in the lottery of genetics made me terribly sad. The fact that he rarely wears them now and occasionally pops in a contact lens or two has brought me some relief, but I have not fully escaped the vortex of guilt I swirl around for impairing my son's vision.
Which doesn't keep me from being lighthearted about it when kids at my school are prescribed corrective lenses. Here I see it as a victory, since one of the possible roadblocks to reading has been removed, and all those gray squiggles on the page can now be transformed into letters and words. "All the smart people wear glasses," I whisper to those students who are struggling with their new eyewear.
Because it is a struggle. When I was a lad, the optometry department at the medical center stocked extra left and right bows in my style because they knew that I would be in on a regular basis, looking for a replacement for the twisted plastic and metal that resulted simply as a matter of them riding on the face of a five year old. I see this same struggle occur on our playground on a daily basis, and even though parents admonish their children to leave their glasses inside when they go out to recess, that's a step that sometimes gets missed when it comes time to race out to the playground. Once fun and physics take over, anything can happen. And heaven forbid that a kid would actually remember to take his or her glasses off and put them in a safe place before all that action, resulting in that safe place turning out to be not so safe or easily forgotten.
Back to the world of the nearly sightless. Another trip to the optometrist and another chance to adorn the bridge of your child's nose with a fancy new pair of spectacles. Until that pair is dropped, crushed, lost or digested by the void.
Now that I'm all grown up, I tend to hold on to a pair of glasses until my insurance says I can get a new pair. For the past nine months, I have been limping around with glasses that are slightly askew, a result of an unfortunate collision with a fourth grader. He wasn't wearing his glasses. I was. My glasses took the brunt of the impact.
I'll get this straight again soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Standing On The Corner

As I stood on the corner, cars racing past me, I was impressed once again with the concept of "Rush Hour." I had taken up a spot behind the first row, who were eagerly leaning off the curb to be seen and heard by the late afternoon traffic. Horns honked. Voices were raised. This was a work action.
And I was in it.
In spite of my ambivalence.
I was hollering, as my tired voice allowed, along with my fellow teachers. I was waving my sign, though my arms were sore from a day of lifting and stretching and leaning down to tie kids' shoes. I made my presence felt.
This is what I tell myself now as I reflect back on the hour that I spent on that corner, repeating the call and response chants that became more familiar each time they reached my ears. The noise from the street at times overwhelmed that from the sidewalks, so I sometimes just uttered random monosyllables to feel as if I were participating. Because I wanted to participate. Because I wanted to be heard.
This was a demonstration of solidarity. My union is preparing itself and the community at large for a strike. That decision is still pending, since we won't need to strike if the school district bends to our demands, and we can all relax and get back to the drudgery of our day to day jobs.
That ambivalence I mentioned earlier? I remain conflicted by the very need for a teachers' union. Why isn't education a priority in our country? Why do I, as a professional educator, need to stand on a street corner on a December evening and scream at passing cars? Because when fresh-faced graduates from a credentialing program arrive in Oakland to discuss the possibility of starting their careers in our schools, they look at the salary schedule. They want to be here, helping those students who really need them. They also want to make a living wage. The fringe benefits are pretty amazing: being the first on your block to acquire the newest strain of flu, constantly changing directives and curriculum, a sea of faces that all require your special attention, and the opportunity to shape young minds. And the chance to keep your old mind fresh.
So why do I feel as though I accomplished more here in these paragraphs than I did standing on that corner?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Guardians Of Our Galaxy

If you have let your subscription to TIME magazine run out, you may have missed their big announcement: You can still buy subscriptions to their magazine. That, and they also let the world know their choice for Person of the Year. In 2018, the winners are The Guardians. These super heroes are the front line in what Time called "the war on truth." Journalists. The ones who ask a second question even when the microphone is being yanked away. The ones who are labeled "fake news" as they attempt to describe the byzantine business of a government gone wrong. Men and women like Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered and hacked to bits by assassins anxious to still his voice.
Sorry. Did I say "murdered and hacked to bits?" I meant to say "allegedly murdered and hacked to bits." The allegedness is inserted because even with an obscene amount of evidence both physical and anecdotal, the current administration chose to ignore it for weeks while they attempted to continue the cozy nature of our relationship with the country that sent the killers: Saudi Arabia. Jamal wrote, "“Must we choose between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” 
Back here on our shores, there was the staff of the Capital Gazette, five of whom were shot and killed last June for being a standard for the First Amendment, a daily newspaper that has been reporting on the events in and around Maryland since 1884. The shooter was unhappy with the reports the paper published about his harassment of a high school acquaintance. After a lawsuit against the Gazette was dismissed, the nutjob got a shotgun and decided to shoot up the place.
And where would such an idea come from? 
Back in June, the "President" announced that "Fake News is the biggest enemy of the people." If you're a borderline person with access to a shotgun and you happen to have a beef with the local newspaper, why not do the "people" a favor? 
And if a Washington Post columnist is murdered and chopped up, why not reserve judgement on the overwhelming pile of evidence that implicates the powers that be, the ones sitting astride all that oil? 
Just keep shouting "Fake!" and deriding those who would remind you of reality even as it continues to rush past. 
Congratulations to those that tell the truth. We salute you. And hope that yours will be a less dangerous occupation once again. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Steaming Hot Cup Of Justice

Time for the folks at Merriam Webster to let us know what we are going to put in our scrapbooks as this year's Word. And the winner is:
Wait for it.
No. It's not "wait for it," that's just to build tension.
2018's Word of the Year is Justice. And that seems to make sense to me. Whether we are talking about the pursuit or the lack thereof, it certainly has been on a lot of people's minds. On this little corner of Al Gore's Internet, there have been twenty specific mentions of justice, dating back all the way to 2009. So it would appear that I am ahead of the curve, appreciation-wise. As a matter of numerical fact, this entry will put me at twenty-one, so I feel pretty good about this level of justice acknowledgement.
And it turns out that justice is pretty important. It is fully one third of the things for which Superman tends to show up. There are warriors who use justice as their modifier. We have a Department of Justice that seems to be in a state of flux currently. It's also something that seems to be obstructed from time to time. This is not something that eating more bran can fix, however. Finding ways to get a more freely-flowing stream of justice is in most everyone's interest. In many ways, 2018 was a year in which justice was sorely lacking from our cultural landscape.
It should be noted that the folks at Merriam Webster decide on their annual word in part by the number of inquiries made to their web site about spelling and definition. If you're curious, they define it as "the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments." If you would like to break into small groups at this time and discuss "what is just," remember that you have just twelve months to be back here when we will hopefully have an answer.

The Walls

“'Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.'” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,....which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!"
Let's start with the "smocking gun." A good laugh, since it's mostly a product of early morning thumb typing, but still worth noting that it had to be repeated. This is the social media account of a desperate man. The typos are one thing, but the caps lock identify it as that which should not be protested too much. The whole point of the Meuller Investigation is to find collusion, and with each passing day, it becomes more evident to just about everyone outside of the White House that collusion is exactly what was going on. And as unhappy as he may be about his choice of Michael Cohen as a litigator now, it was the choice he made when he needed a lawyer to pay off a stripper to keep her mouth shut about an affair. Sorry, alleged affair. And the "President" is currently swimming upstream in the river of lies he has created over the years.
"A simple private transaction?" Raise your hand if you have had a lawyer arrange hush money paid to anyone before? There is not anything simple about it. It's the kind of thing mobsters do. Not presidents. The smocking gun? It's right there: "but even if it was." This is burrowing back into the muck and mire that has already been sprayed. If Michael Cohen is trying to get his sentence reduced, it is because he has muck and/or mire to spread on the wheels of justice to help them grind smooth and hopefully, yes, reduce the time he will spend in jail for "making a mistake."
If it gives you the sense of walls closing in, like those in the garbage compactor in Star Wars, you're not alone. However, in Star Wars, there were heroes mixed in with that garbage. Here there is only garbage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Outside The Wall

My grandfather was a mailman. This may explain why I attract the attention of so many dogs as I go on my way. Running or riding past a fence is quite an affront if you happen to be of the canine persuasion. It is their territory and they guard it ferociously. It is their job. That and sleeping in the patch of sun that comes through the trees. I get it.
Our dog, who was as patient and loving as any I have encountered in my travels across the galaxy, still had issues with those who dared make the mistake of walking in front of our house. If you happened to be wearing the uniform of the United States Post Office. So much so that there was a time when she was sitting in her chair, staring out at our front lawn, when she spied a mail carrier approaching her turf. Enraged, she began to bark and paw at the window. With each step that the postman made to the mailbox, our dog became more unhinged. I had just walked into the room when the window broke. For a moment, no one moved. Not me. Not the mailman. Not our dog.
The mailman moved first. He quickly shoved a couple envelopes into our box and moved on. I looked at our dog. She looked at me. With a certain amount of resignation. "Did you just expect me to let that guy come and trifle with our empire?"
She didn't really say that. Dogs don't talk. But I could feel her profound disappointment at being in trouble for doing what came so incredibly naturally. For my part, I was more interested in keeping her from leaping through the shattered glass and continuing her pursuit in whatever shape the shredding and the drop would allow her to. Happily for all concerned, the pause was long enough to keep her inside the house, and though she was still agitated, her focus had shifted.
Which is why I tend not to exacerbate the situation when I run past a dog who is working to protect their masters' domain. I understand that it's nothing personal. It's just a job. It's not an easy job either. There are constant threats to their sovereign territory. It might look like they are simply passing by, but they won't be fooled. They put on a show of teeth and snarls. Don't let that tail fool you. This is for real. Until the sun hits that certain spot on the yard. Then it's time for a break. Vigilance takes a lot of of a pup.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


I have no issues telling anyone who will listen that last Friday night, at approximately eight forty-five, I teared up a bit. I was standing right at the edge of the stage watching Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul playing just for me, and I got all misty. Okay, maybe weren't playing just for me, but they sure made it feel that way.
Let me back up: A few months ago, I caught wind of an organization called Teach Rock. Their champion and their muse was none other than Steve Van Zandt. I know. This is where I lose a few people, but if I say "guitarist for the E Street Band," some will come wandering back. Little, Miami, or whatever modifier you put in front of Mister Van Zandt's name, has been singing and playing in support of the teachers of America - for free.
I got to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for free. From the second row. And got a free T-shirt. I got to hear him and his band rock the Fillmore in San Francisco for two solid hours, and before that, along with a sea of fellow educators, I was treated to a glimpse at what he referred to as "STEAM" curriculum: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. He and his organization have shoehorned Arts back into the equation, encouraging students to find what they love and follow their own path. The message: Don't teach kids what to think. Teach them how to think.
From my own years as a student of music and a student in general, I can remember finding the history in the songs I heard. Procol Harum had a hit with a Bach mashup. And the way math swirled around in all those different beats and rhythms. I spent most of my junior high and high school years doing homework with my headphones on. Listening to music.
So there I was, twenty-plus years into my teaching career, treated to a concert by one of my favorite artists, dancing and singing along. I felt joy. The night, the music, the soul, the sound. Rock and roll was there to save me once again and remind me that I made the right choice, all those years ago. When the show was over, I didn't exactly want to go home, but I did want to take that feeling with me wherever I went. Teachers have power. Music has power. Together they make a difference. Together, teachers make a difference.
I had been making the joke earlier that this was a better perk than the school photo I get for free once a year, but now I see those as souvenirs that I can use as a way to show my commitment to the next generation. Thank you Steven. Thank you for making me feel happy to be a teacher.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tucker Everlasting

I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.”
Our "President" “knows very little about the legislative process, hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t surrounded himself with people that can get it done, hasn’t done all the things you need to do so. It’s mostly his fault that he hasn’t achieved those things."

These are words that spouted from the head of the usually sycophantic Tucker Carlson. You remember Tucker, don't you? He's the guy who said in 2016,  "There's no reason to elect Donald Trump president. There's literally no reason." 
Which is interesting, since he has spent the last couple of years taking up a position on the conservative side of the television news aisle. Not that all conservatives are supporters of the current resident of the White House. Melania's husband. That guy has taken the words and claims of Mister Carlson and his minions and turned them into fact-based morsels to incite outrage. Like Tucker's segment last August in which he bemoaned that a land-reform policy proposal in South Africa was sparking the murdering of white farmers in that country. The "President" proclaimed, via Twitter, that he had asked his secretary of state to check in on the matter of “farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” The “South African Government,” he added, “is now seizing land from white farmers.’” In case there was any confusion where he got the idea, Trump helpfully tagged his tweet with the verified handles “@TuckerCarlson” and “@FoxNews.” 
I don't expect that the Tuck's most recent tirade will be re-tweeted via the White House. 
It's almost as if Fox News is beginning to separate themselves from the big orange baby before he becomes completely untethered. True, it's not like the friends of Fox and Friends have suddenly turned their back on their favorite viewer, or as if Sean Hannity had made any indication that he would stop sharing lawyers with His Royal Orangeness, but as the release date for that Mueller Report creeps ever closer, who knows what will happen.

Sunday, December 09, 2018


For many years now it has been suggested to me that I "should take more days off." I am one of those people who has maxed out the number of sick and personal days they can carry on account. I could, potentially, walk out of school one day and not have to look back for several weeks. The theory behind all of this nose-to-the-grindstone foolishness is centered on a somewhat fervent commitment to my employer. I figure if I am being paid by this entity for my services, I should show up and deliver them as agreed.
Exceptions in the past few years have included jury duty and a kidney stone. Aside from that, I have managed to limp into work, or ride my bike in most days, and put in my eight hours. Or ten. Or whatever it happens to take. This kind of tenacious loyalty has been rewarded by a steady move up that salary scale. The same progression available to those who finish the fiscal year with a zero balance in their days off. If there was a cash value for sideways looks earned by telling others what my work attendance has been like over the years, I would currently be retired in style.
Running a bait shop in Key West. This is the alternative at which I tend to arrive when I start to imagine a place to land instead of the front door of my school each morning. I figure that the number of sick days a guy who runs a bait shop would probably be limited, especially in south Florida. And if I did decide not to open up that day, it would be my own business that I would be turning away.
It doesn't work that way with kids. Every day, they're here. Not all of them. Some of them miss a lot more days than I ever will. But when they show up, I want to be there. Because that's my job: being there. Sure, I hope that I can cajole some learning out of them, but when you're seven years old and there's this guy who is there day after day, holding the door open, getting the balls down off the roof, asking the tough questions like, "Did you really kick her on accident?" it starts to feel like a permanent gig.
One that I will continue to show up for until they tell me to stop. Because that's what teachers do.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Age Of Conspiracy

History Lesson:
There was a comedian who once suggested that he had concerns about giving Ronald Reagan access to "the Button," the one that sends our nuclear arsenal into the first act of Armageddon, because "I have an uncle who's seventy and we don't let him use the remote control for the TV." This was later considered by many to be ageist. 
There was a senator from Alaska who insisted that the Internet is "a series of tubes." Plenty of folks had fun with this meme for a while until apologists decided to make the stretch that maybe Senator Ted was "kind of right." The senator's age and wisdom from all those years in office gave him the gravitas to make these kind of weak generalizations. Al Gore, who invented the Internet, was not available for comment. 
In my own living room: 
My son, on his visits to his ancestral home, will sit down on the couch and shame his mother and father for their lack of bandwidth and set about fussing with settings and modulations before he declares us once again safe for cyber traffic. And just when we believe we have caught up to him on Facebook to thank him, it turns out that he has moved on to some other social media venue that requires setting up an account and logging in. And once we get there, he's gone again. Like vapor.
What I am suggesting:
Technology is for young people. Rudy Guliani, "lawyer" for our "President" hastily made a tweet in which he wrote: "Mueller filed an indictment just as the President left for
http://G-20.In July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please?" Because Rudy did not put a space between the period and the "In," he inadvertently generated a hyperlink, which a clever person used to place the message, "Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country." "If you don't believe me, click the link above. This required a conspiracy response from Rudy: Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message. The same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn’t happen. Don’t tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. Time Magazine also may fit that description. FAIRNESS PLEASE"
The tweet he referenced included the parse “Helsinki.Either” and since .either is not a recognized domain, there was nothing the machine could do but allow the sloppy typing. Rudy Guliani is seventy-four years old. Someone please hide the remote control. 
 July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please? 

Friday, December 07, 2018


I remember a time when I flinched at the idea of having Arnold Schwarzenegger for a governor. I can remember groaning at his acceptance speech, when he insisted that his administration wasn't just going to "think outside the box, we're going to blow up those boxes." This was an election in California that included such other impressive candidates as former child star Gary Coleman and former porn star Mary Carey. We elected the Governator.
Did I mention Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican? We re-elected him three years later. How did this happen in the bluest of blue states?
Maybe it was the same energy that eventually brought Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Maybe California was test-driving the new reality before it actually hit the market a decade in advance. Or perhaps there was a sense that all those signs - the infidelity, the Humvee, the allegations of groping - were all part of a smokescreen to cover up the tree-hugger inside.
"If we would've never started in that direction and used other technology, we'd be much better off. The biggest evil is fossil fuels: it's coal, it's gasoline, it's the natural gas," he told U.N. climate delegates at a conference in Poland. He said he wishes he could travel back in time like the cyborg he played in The Terminator so he could stop fossil fuels from being used. Schwarzenegger later told The Associated Press he has converted his signature Humvee trucks to run on hydrogen, electricity and biofuel and only allows himself to eat meat three days a week. "I mean, maybe it tastes delicious, but I think we should think then and there before we eat about the world and about the pollution," he said. "So I discontinued eating meat four days a week. And eventually, maybe we'll go to seven days." What happened to the Governator? There must be some sort of science fiction silliness at work. Did Green Zombies come down and fill his head full of these radical new ideas? Some sort of ecologically safe body swap with a member of the Sierra Club? Or maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, and we should applaud this re-education. We're glad he's back. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Just Don't

It's an interesting thing, this American football. In so many ways, it is a mirror that can be held up to reflect so many of the best qualities of this land of ours. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The run-pass option. Maybe it's the ground acquisition element of the game. It's like war. Or real estate. We love a hero. And we love to see a hero fall.
Over the next few weeks, the National Football League is promoting itself by allowing its players to wear shoes that reflect their beliefs. Causes such as underprivileged youth, safer schools, breast cancer awareness and the SPCA are featured on cleats worn by players across the league. And when the television cameras zoom in on their feet, as they sometimes do, there is a moment when that choice is visible to the worldwide audience. One player, Demariyus Thomas of the Houston Texans, chose to use his feet to bring attention to the problem of domestic violence.
An interesting choice, given the past couple of weeks in the world of professional football. Star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt is no longer the star running back with the Kansas City Chiefs because the Kansas City Chiefs let him go. They let him go because of a video that surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of his Cleveland residence. The video was taken last February, and it was only after those civic-minded folks at TMZ decided to publish it last Friday. Mister Hunt did not disclose any of the details of the event to his employers, nor did he have contact with any law enforcement. If you're a fan of the game, you might remember former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's elevator incident back in 2014 during which he punched his then fiance in the face. TMZ was there again to make sure the world saw that ugly scene.
And if it sounds like I am in any way ambivalent about any of this behavior, I am not. The whole thing stinks from top to bottom. The idea that we need tabloid journalists to help find our conscience in these matters troubles me. For his part, Kareem Hunt understands that his time in the sun may be setting. It would be amazing if this was the object lesson that let everyone know once and for all that no matter how mighty or talented, it is a long way down from the top. Or the middle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018


I love to go to the movies. However, with all the alternative paths that those movies can take on their way to my eyes, when I do go out to the movies, I would like very much for the experience to be worth my while.
When I end up feeling as though the meetings that took place in order to get the movie made in the first place, then I start to feel regret for driving out to find a parking space and buying that ticket and one for my wife and maybe some popcorn and a big old Sprite and sitting there in the dark wondering, "I bet the meetings that took place in order to get this movie made in the first place was more interesting than this movie itself." Which is probably not the optimum response to any movie-going experience. It was, however, the way I felt after I went out to see Creed II.
I really enjoyed Creed. The story of Apollo Creed's illegitimate son finding his way in the gritty world of professional boxing was a good ride. It was a way to bring new life to the Rocky saga, a saga that had managed to go the distance over the course of six films, into the twenty-first century. It was Ryan Coogler, writer/director of Fruitvale Station, who helped make this leap. And that was fine. This was a story that deserved some screen time.
And it made a lot of money. So of course there was a discussion to be had about how money could continue to be made, along the lines of the thirty years of Rocky movies turned out by Sylvester Stallone and company. Who benefits from this exchange? Sylvester Stallone. He wrote and produced Creed II. His supporting role as the trainer got a little heftier in this sequel to a reboot. He was also able to wrangle stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, fresh off their successes in Marvel super hero franchises to reprise their roles as the boxer and his lady. Mix in a little Dolph Lundgren as the Russian beast who has fallen on hard times since his defeat at the hands of the Italian Stallion, and a cameo by Brigette Nielsen as the Russian ice queen and you have a retro-sundae of a return to what used to be.
Without any of the soul that once made Rocky and Creed great stories in the first place. Underdog stories became a cliche because of the success of Rocky Balboa. Delivering that to a new generation deserves some praise, but banking on it by using the same formula without even bothering to write new characters. Boxer loses first fight, has to find his way back and wins the second. The other stuff is essentially window dressing. And yes, I paid to see it. There was some comfort to be gained in all that familiarity, but do I wish I would have waited for it to show up on some streaming service?

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

One Less Point Of Light

The first time I attended a real protest, I was brought there by the policies of George H.W. Bush. I shouted along with the crowd outside the local armed forces recruiting offices, "No Blood For Oil!" This was on the eve of Operation Desert Shield. This was how "Poppy" and his administration proposed the United States should protect our oil in Kuwait. Did I say oil? I'm sure I meant "friends." Not oil. That would be a horrible suggestion, especially in this time of national mourning.
No. I meant oil.
And once we got all those tanks and soldiers over there in Shield formation, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a Storm. No longer content to merely stand around protecting our oil friends, the decision was made to chase the bad guys back into Iraq. Where they came from. For their part, the bad guys insisted that Kuwait had always been a part of Iraq, and they were just going down to protect their coastline. The coastline with all the oil and harbors for shipping oil and so forth.
And if all of this sounds familiar, A) you may have lived through it, or B) you may have caught the rerun a little more than a decade later. Conveniently enough, Poppy's little boy had found his way into the White House by then, and he was gifted with the opportunity to go raging back into the Middle East in search of the man who shot his Poppy. Well, they didn't exactly shoot him so much as embarrass him out of the White House.
And now time has done us all the favor of making a kinder, gentler version of this chunk of history. The Bushes and the Obamas have been hanging around together at various funerals and natural disasters. It would seem that time heals all wounds, except those of the two thousand U.S. soldiers wounded or killed in Desert Storm, or the hundred thousand wounded or killed in Gulf War Part Deux.
Yes, I understand that comparing the failed policies of another generation allows twenty-twenty hindsight. But I knew it way back then. And I know it now. The passing of a leader is always a chance to reflect, and I hope that given our current regime's proclivities, we are getting a clear picture. George H.W. Bush caused a lot of Terra to be stomped upon, but it didn't need to happen. Those thousand points of light could have been run on solar power. Not oil.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Effects Of Radiation On Vegetables

What would you call it if a lawyer walked into a courthouse and told the judge, "I was lying?" You might call it a pretty good start. If you're like me, you might call it The Beginning Of The End.
If you are not like me, but perhaps aspire to be, you should know that this is a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to a 1957 movie about locusts that eat radiation enhanced vegetables that grow to gigantic size and terrorize the city of Chicago. You would also know that this film stars Peter Graves, who ended up becoming famous as Jim Phelps the leader of the Impossible Mission Force, was also the little brother of actor James Arness who played The Thing From Another World. A giant carrot. His brother Peter, who made those giant vegetables in the first place and started the mess with giant locusts attacking the City With The Big Shoulders eventually figured out that those enormous insects could be lured by a sound that mimicked that of locust mating calls. Right into Lake Michigan. Sorry. Spoiler alert. Anyway the whole doom and gloom part of the title comes from the moment shortly after the big bugs have drowned that scientist Graves wonders what other insects, animals and so forth might have made a meal of his irradiated vegetables.
All of which brings us back to the lawyer: Michael Cohen, who admitted that he had lied to Congress out of loyalty to the "President" and to align with his boss's “political messaging.” He had been lying about his involvement along with his boss, referred to in court documents as "Individual 1," in the 2016 discussions about building a giant skyscraper in Moscow. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been under economic sanctions by the Obama administration. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been meddling in the U.S. electoral process. Moscow being the capital of the country that had been involved in secret experiments on the effects of radiation on vegetables and certain insects. 
Okay, I might be lying about that last part, but the other stuff? Lying to Congress about then Candidate Trump's business affairs with Russia? Collusion? I looked it up: "secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others." Keep your eyes out for the giant grasshoppers. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Dispensing Widsom

When I was in ninth grade, I suddenly felt that I had acquired the gift of foresight. I believed that my experiences on the outside looking in gave me some additional sense of what really was instead of what was supposed to be. I began matter-of-factly labeling my peers as "plastic" and "real." Having lived to the ripe old age of fourteen, I was pretty sure that I could judge someone's character by the tangential interactions I had with them. I wrote a forty-two page epistle describing these distinctions. "Plastic" people were those who lived in that bubble of the social hierarchy. They had boyfriends and girlfriends. They went to dances. They sat at the cool table. The table itself wasn't that cool, but the people at it were (or were purported to be). They were not like the "real" people with whom I chose to consort. These were the ones with real feelings and cared about the feelings of those around them. They were the ones who kept quiet in class. They were the ones who carried the whole day's books with them in their backpacks to avoid an uncomfortable interaction at their locker. They were my friends.
This was the dawning of the geeksurge that would hit its peak through the films of John Hughes. Before my eyes were opened to the potential that it really was the nerds who were running things, I thought it was simply our job to provide shoulders to punch. Whether we were flinching or not.
What I hadn't counted on, way back then, was that I was generating my own private cult. All that matter-of-factness was being spooned out in great big globs to my friends and then to their associates such that I started receiving terrified notes from girls asking, "Am I plastic?"
Only now, after all these years, does it occur to me that I might have used this moment to my social advantage. That is the kind of thing that turns a social outcast into a campus hero. And just as often, it required him or her to have some kind of comeuppance which would require the revelation that we are all "real," but we wear many masks.
That's not what happened to me. That was the John Hughes path. In the late nineteen-seventies in Boulder, Colorado the way it turned out was this: I slowly began to realize that I was putting myself further into a corner, and as an oracle of sorts I was only making myself more and more untouchable. That was not what I wanted. Thankfully, I was afforded a summer with my family at our mountain cabin which allowed me to become more of a memory to those I had so callously labeled. When I entered high school in the fall, I was just another nerdy sophomore. Surrounded by a school full of teenagers trying to find their own way.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Price You Pay

General Motors stock went up after the automotive gigantus announced that they were cutting fourteen thousand jobs and closing seven factories across the globe. For me, this is a terrific illustration of just how the stock market does not work for the American worker. As of 2013, the top one percent of households by wealth owned nearly thirty-eight percent of all stock shares. Stock ownership by individuals has fallen since the recession of 2006, and as of 2013 the top twenty percent of Americans owned ninety-two percent of the stocks, leaving eight percent for the rest of us. General Motors shutters factories, and the top eight percent wins. 
Meanwhile, our "President" wants to get all fighty with GM because he had been promising American workers, specifically those who held jobs in some of those auto plants, that he would make America Great Again by keeping their jobs here in the once great but soon to be great again land of the free and home of the brave. 
And out of work. 
Meanwhile, as the "President" continually touts the peaks and records of the stock market, he is threatening to end subsidies to General Motors because they laid people off. Last year, the "President" told workers, “Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. It’s going to happen.” 
Back in the recession of 2006, as American automakers were teetering on the edge of collapse, the United States government gave them billions of dollars to stay afloat. Thirteen billion went to General Motors. Now they are closing factories. And their stock goes up. All of those big corporations that benefited from big tax cuts from the current administration are making money again. Including General Motors. Money is being made in lost in vast troughs that never seem to land on the workers, specifically those who are losing their jobs. 
All that winning. Some of us are tired of all of that winning. The "President" wants to take away the subsidies from GM? What sort of impact will that make? Maybe it will cause another trillion dollar bailout. Winning, winning, winning.