Friday, January 31, 2020

On The Record

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, trouble was brewing.
"Say guys, do you suppose there's any way we could screen the wretched refuse coming into our country to make sure that we never have to spend a dime on them?"
"Well, that would mean that only people who were self-sustaining would ever get into the country."
"Yeah?"
"Do you really feel like that is in line with our country's moral center?"
Laughter erupts. "Feel? You're kidding right?"
A general wiping of eyes and snorting. "Moral center?"
A fresh burst of snickering.
"But seriously, ahem, couldn't we just keep all the poor folks out and only let in the rich ones?"
"Seriously?"
"Wouldn't it be best to keep all those tired, poor, sick, yearning to breathe free types off of our doorstep?"
"Well, I suppose we could limit the number of new immigrants who would require government assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid."
"Well, we could ask the Supreme Court, since the Court of Appeals already ruled against something like this." 
"Sure, sure, but I've got that problem pretty much taken care of now."
Chuckles ensue. "Well sir, I guess that's true."
"And while we're at it, can we put some sort of civics test in there? Just to help weed out the really dumb ones?"
"Something simple, like branches of the government and their responsibilities?"
"Yeah, like that."
"Maybe a question or two about what Congress does and what the President does?"
"Pardon me?"
"You know: Checks and balances. Separation of powers, that sort of thing."
"Excuse me?"
Silence in the room. "Oh. Right. My apologies, your highness."
"That's better."
"Yes sir."
"Now can we get back to more important things? Is it time for Fox and Friends?" 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

My Beef With Kobe

If you have listened to me whine here for years about Kobe Bryant, you understand that my issues with him as a basketball player run a little deeper than whose uniform he happens to be wearing. For those of you less familiar with my rant, I will attempt to distill it into its essence: He left high school to join the NBA. This put a gigantic hole in my argument to ten year olds that they should look to possible alternative career paths other than hoops. Kobe could do it, after all. Why not them?
If you slept through this past weekend and missed the news, Mister Bryant and his thirteen year old daughter were among the victims of a helicopter crash just north of Los Angeles. All eight passengers and the pilot perished. And ESPN stopped to tell the story. All day long. Along with a great portion of the rest of America and basketball fans across the world. These were parents and children who died on their way to a basketball game.
Like so much of the rest of the country, I was caught up in the media event that was The Crash. Presidents tweeted about it. Movie and recording stars stopped making movies and recording albums to ponder their existence in a world without Kobe Bryant. Mourners who gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles threatened to overwhelm the crowds gathered for that night's Grammy Awards. This was an event of epic proportions. This was an enormous media event.
So here is the friction that I feel: Like the way that kids at my school could look at Kobe and imagine themselves flying above the rim, without strings or the weight of a college degree, I have a twinge anytime someone falls from the sky in a small aircraft. That is how I lost my father. It isn't the flying that is so difficult, ask any member of Wile E. Coyote's pack, it's the landing. The speed and force involved in slipping the surly bonds of earth are as profound as any we know. I believe we should all be surprised when humans take off and land in one piece, which puts a solid crimp in my dreams of owning a flying car.
And speaking of dreams, here is what I want to say: When I dream of flying, it is very matter of fact. I don't have to race to reach escape velocity. I don't have to flap my arms furiously to stay afloat. Mostly I just hang there, not unlike those slow motion videos of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant leaping into the air. I don't worry about the landing. I will have time for that when my flight is over.
If man were truly meant to fly, he would do it on the basketball court.
Aloha, Kobe Bryant. You didn't so much stomp on the Terra but hang above it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Long Road

Way back in the early nineties, I remember watching the vein in Eddie Vedder's forehead and wondering just how much longer he could go on like that. Then Kurt Cobain shot himself, and I began to dread hearing the news about Eddie and how all that intensity finally caught up to him. Nirvana and Pearl Jam are both in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kurt beat Eddie to Cleveland by three years. Posthumously. Eddie lived long enough to induct the surviving members of The Ramones, sporting a leather jacket and a fresh mohawk haircut. Eight years after Kurt pulled the trigger.
As it turns out, maybe I didn't need to worry about Eddie quite so much. Rather than seeing his music as a window on his suffering, it turns out that maybe he was expelling the demons from his soul through his lyrics. How do I reckon this? Back in 2011, he released and album of Ukulele Songs. I expect there are plenty of ways to connect up grunge to ukulele, but not through the depths of suicide. Because Eddie and his bandmates, to crib awkwardly from another album title, lived through this.
These are the guys who came tumbling out of Seattle in that first great wave that helped clear the beaches of hair metal, at least for a while. And long since we all put our flannel shirts back in the closet, they are still making music. Not as a reunion act, with a new lead singer, but a working band with thirty years on the road. Yes, they have a few drummers in their past. Who doesn't? They have a new album coming out in March: Gigaton. Pearl Jam is alive and well.
After years of tilting at windmills such as Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam continues to make music and tour. After all these years, it is perhaps sad irony that I bought my tickets to the upcoming date in Oakland through Ticketmaster. They were not cheap. But I suppose that's what age and experience will get you. Those are expensive items. And this will be the start of the potential tirade by some about how they sold out and their new stuff doesn't sound like their old stuff and they were never that good anyway.
Which isn't a very objective standard. What is objective is that thirty years later Eddie Vedder is still alive and kicking. Maybe not as hard as he used to. He's fifty-five years old. I don't kick as hard as I used to. And worrying about things like burning out or fading away is left for others. Pearl Jam has done neither. Which affords them my applause. And the money for a ticket to see them play.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

By George

Dear George,
It was just about two weeks ago that you gave me one of my proudest teaching moments. I had introduced the reading quiz we were about to take in class by saying that it wasn't  the first students who finished who usually did the best. It was those students who took their time to try and figure out the answers to the questions that they read who got the best scores. Just before the end of the class, you were the last one in the room to finish. You got one hundred percent. I was happy for you. Not just because of your success, but because I know that reading is not your favorite thing. I know this because you have announced it. Several times this year. You got every answer correct on your quiz not because you love reading so much, but in spite of it. And I was happy for me, too. I considered this a success for me as a teacher too.
We have known each other since you were in kindergarten. I taught you then, and now six years later, I am winding up my time with you. During that time I have seen you struggle with reading and writing in computer class, but I have watched you blossom out on the playground. In PE, and as a Young Hero during recess, your skills are abundant. I applaud your efforts on the soccer field, but even more I appreciate your willingness to try something new: basketball. You are taking a chance on something you were never that good at, but you found yourself taking to it almost from the very first practice. I guess none of us should have been surprised.
But at the end of last week, you also broke my heart a little. I know how much you struggle when we have a substitute in your room. It takes you a long time to warm up to a new person, and getting used to a new grownup telling you what to do is one of your biggest challenges. Which may be why you tend to challenge them back. Complaints of "What did I do?" and "That's not fair" come out of you long before all of your great problem solving abilities. You run your teachers through an obstacle course of acceptance that is calculated to make them match your first teacher, your kindergarten teacher whom your still regard as the best you ever had.
She probably was. She got you to read and to learn and to accept responsibility for your actions. She put you on a path to being the leader that you have become at our school. I am grateful to have made a connection with you that has helped me help you. Finally, after all this time, I feel as though you will listen to me. That is what that reading quiz taught me.
But the next week, when you were struggling with that new authority while your teacher was out, you retreated to some of those old habits. You got stuck in a place that made you question authority. Even the voices that were trying to help you get to a safe place for learning. I lost my temper with you, and for that I apologize. I was upset because I felt that I could not go back down a path where I was begging you to do the right thing. I was not comfortable watching you exchange your true leadership skills for those of a class clown.
You are not that. You are far better than that. And I am a better teacher than that.
So I am very sad. It was a tough week for a lot of kids and teachers at our school. It was one of those weeks where we are all glad when the weekend shows up and we can push the do-over button for the next Monday morning. Bouncing back is never easy, but it gets harder when you're as old as I am. I hope you can help me with that. I hope that there is still another great moment of learning ahead for the two of us.
If there's not, I want to thank you for that one. And many others, over the years. Next year, you'll be off to middle school and I will be back at work, trying to solve the puzzle that is three hundred other kids. I hope you remember that time we have spent together, not for our last week, but for all those weeks before. And what lays in front of you.
Sincerely,
Mister Caven

Monday, January 27, 2020

Tick

"One year ago, I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire. I said I wanted you to panic. I’ve been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do. But don’t worry. It’s fine. Trust me. I’ve done this before. And I can assure you: It doesn’t lead to anything." These were the words that Greta Thunberg used to begin her address to the World Economic Forum. 
She continued: "The fact that the U.S.A. is leaving the Paris accord seemed to outrage and worry everyone. And it should. But the fact that we are all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least. Any plan or policy of yours that doesn’t include radical emission cuts at the source starting today is completely insufficient for meeting the one point five - or well below two-degree commitments of the Paris Agreement."
The underlying sentiment of her full address can be summed up in her assertion that "Our house is still on fire." United States Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin replied in the only way he knows how, by sneering,  “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”
Which is probably why, two days later, the Doomsday Clock moved to its closest point ever to midnight. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are currently one hundred seconds to midnight, or the metaphorical Doomsday. We are no longer talking about minutes, as we have in the past. We are now talking about the time it takes you to say Mississippi one hundred times. Back in 1947, the clock was originally set to seven minutes (seven hundred twenty Mississippis). This was just after a certain country used nuclear weapons during war, and suddenly everyone else needed to get themselves one of those nuclear weapons to make sure that nobody would ever use nuclear weapons in war again. For the record, it was a bunch of Atomic Scientists who came up with that idea for nuclear weapons in the first place, so it sort of makes sense that they are attempting to figure out a way to get that genie back in its bottle. Since 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been reset twenty-three times. It hasn't been a slow and steady march to midnight. In 1991, they pushed it back to seventeen minutes til midnight. 
Lately, the combination of climate change and the renewed specter of nuclear war leaves us with just a few moments to gather our loved ones to say "adjรถ." That would be "goodbye" in Swedish. A year from now it would be nice to think that we could come together again to celebrate the new administration with a few more seconds added to our potential. In the meantime, stop idling. Plant a tree. But most of all, tell everyone else that we want to live through these next one hundred seconds.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Longview

That dull roar you hear in the distance is the Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump. The "J" in this particular instance stands for "justice." Whether or not it will be served is anyone's guess at this point, since as my mother points out, very little seems to have slowed him down up to this point. That roar, by the way, depends a little on how closely you are monitoring the situation in Washington D.C. My wife has the feed coming through her speakers all day long. I can't stand to listen to it, but I keep my eyes out for any alerts. Like: "President" resigns in disgrace.
How did it come to all this? Instead of doing the campaign for 2020 dance as we all will have to do anyway, we are going to sit through this exercise in the democratic (small "d") process. While the rules and general civility of the experience will be debated endlessly, we might all agree that it is infinitely preferable to the armed insurrection alternative. Not that we don't have to keep that potential in the back of our minds as the side with the guns make threats both general and specific. And just for a moment, can I ask where the proud Democratic (big "D") gun owners are? The ones that shout about how if the "president" isn't removed from office they'll come locked and loaded to our nation's capitol looking to do harm?
Nope. These are the op-ed folks, more likely to write a strongly worded letter than pick up a weapon. Because they truly believe the pen is mightier than the sword. Or the keyboard is mightier than the automatic weapon. Well, to paraphrase the poet, how did we get here?
Once upon a time, someone suggested that when we grow up, "anyone can be president." This would be a test of that theory. As my mother likes to point out, there are a lot of people who seem to think this is a good thing. This is "their guy." Keeping in mind that we continue to encourage every American to vote, even though there are efforts to disenfranchise certain portions of "the people," but we are still "we the people." Our ongoing mission is to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. And where you stand on the current state or our union has everything to do with how you feel about the Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump. History is not on the side of those favoring removal, since only three American presidents have been impeached, and the two previous cases ended in acquittal. Was justice done? Depends a lot on where you stand, historically. But the historical perspective suggests that this too shall pass, much in the same way that the previous two did. It was not pretty, and those past trials helped create the situation in which we currently find ourselves. It may not be justice, but it is history. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

And Now For Something Completely Sad

Herding cats. Chasing the wind with a net. Directing Monty Python.
Impossible feats, all.
Terry Jones may not have been much of a cat wrangler, but I can imagine him with that net and I know that he directed Monty Python. For those of you who are challenged by the notion of who is whom in that multi-faceted comic troupe, Terry Jones was the one who wasn't American. Terry Jones was the one who co-directed The Holy Grail. He was Sir Bedevere in that one. Terry Jones directed Life of Brian. He was Brian's mother in that one. Terry Jones directed Meaning of Life. He was many things in that one, but perhaps most notably Mister Creosote.
And if all of that resonates with you, then you will also miss Terry Jones' inspired lunacy here on this plane. It will please no one more than my good friend from high school to know that the Oxford English Dictionary includes the word "pythonesque" to describe a style of absurdist humor found in the television show Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was this group of Englishmen and one American ex-pat who forever altered the course of John Phillips Sousa's Liberty Bell March. And comedy.
It is absurdly tragic that Mister Jones suffered his last years with dementia, since he wasn't able to fully enjoy it. It was the dementia that he suffered on all of us for so many years for which we have him to thank. We can also be thankful that he thought himself amusing enough to join up with college chum Michael Paliln (the nice one) and begin a silly assault on the times in which they lived. And before that, too. Terry Jones was an author as well, penning children's books as well as scholarly works about Chaucer and other high-minded pursuits.
And now he goes to join that comedy revue in the heavens, joining fellow Python Graham Chapman with songs by Neil Innes. His brand of lunacy coupled with an inner calm that defied the chaos around him is a rare thing. He stomped on the Terra, and then pointed back at it to laugh. He will be missed.
Aloha, Mister Jones.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Super Collision

It should be noted that Martin Scorsese said that Marvel movies are like theme parks. For this Oscar-winning director, they are not cinema. He didn't mention DC movies. Perhaps because the latest entry into what was once the DC cinematic universe, Joker, would not be considered by most a theme park. The distinct lack of capes is also a tipoff. And unless you believe that sustaining repeated beatings a super power, then there isn't a lot of that on hand either.
But there is a lot of Scorsese.
Back in 1976, Martin Scorsese made a little film called Taxi Driver. It tells the story of a loner, searching for meaning in a troubled world with an equally troubled mind. Somewhere along the line, this loner, Travis Bickle, gets it into his head that he can affect change himself by becoming a vigilante. To say that the trouble starts there would be an understatement, but more on that later.
In 1981, Scorsese did a comedy remake of Travis' story. In King of Comedy, we watch a loner searching for meaning in a troubled world with an equally troubled mind. The kidnapping of a talk show host does take place with a toy gun, but the obsession in this one is no less intense, and the laughs don't come easily.
In the years between those films and Joker came John Hinckley Jr. and his own obsession with Taxi Driver star Jodie Foster that brought him to attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Fans of coincidence may note that this attempt occurred one month after King of Comedy was released. Then there was the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in a movie theater where the killer called himself "The Joker." That was in 2012. Four years after Heath Ledger received a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of, well, you're probably way ahead of me by now. The Joker.
Into this timeline drops Joaquin Phoenix, who has already won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award, for playing The Joker. In his acceptance speech, Phoenix describing standing on Ledger's shoulders. I would like to believe that if Todd Phillips, who is nominated for directing this best picture nominee, will confess to using a little bit of Scorsese to sweeten his mix. This would include putting Robert DeNiro, the King of Comedy Taxi Drivers, in his film as talk show host Murray Franklin. Somewhere in this gritty bit of cinema is an origin story. An interview with the BBC suggests that Martin Scorsese was once asked to direct Joker. He turned it down, saying “For me, ultimately, I don’t know if I make the next step into this character developing into a comic book character. You follow? He develops into an abstraction. It doesn’t mean it’s bad art, it’s just not for me…The superhero films, as I’ve said, are another art form. They are not easy to make. There’s a lot of very talented people doing good work and a lot of young people really, really enjoy them.” 
The billion dollar box office would suggest it's more than just young people.
Scorsese's Irishman, starring Robert DeNiro is also up for Best Picture. Now that's a coincidence.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Champs

Congratulations to the San Francisco Forty-Niners. They completed their season by winning their division  rivals, assuring them the first seed in the National Football Conference playoffs, winning thirteen games while losing only four. Beating the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers punched their ticket for Miami where the Super Bowl will be played in two weeks.
Over the course of the broadcast of the NFC Championship game, a lot was made of the history and legacy of the Bay Area's remaining professional football franchise. Past glory, Super Bowl wins and the plays that made it all possible were replayed coming back from commercials. We were reminded of the names that made the team what it is: Rice, Montana, Young, Walsh, Siefert. We were afforded the opportunity to recall all the former glory of the Red and Gold.
There  was no mention of Jim Harbaugh or Colin Kaepernick. In 2011, Harbaugh drafted Kaepernick, who sat on the bench for his first season, attempting just five passes, completing three. The following year, Kaepernick replaced an injured Alex Smith midway through the season, and the Forty-Niners didn't look back. That team won thirteen games, and lost three. Led by the play of their young quarterback, whose abilities to run and pass many suggested might revolutionize the position, the Niners were one win away from a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
In Super Bowl XLVII (forty-seven for you non-Romans), San Francisco fell behind the Baltimore Ravens early, and struggled to come back. Jim Harbaugh was coaching against his brother. There was a massive power outage in the middle of the game. And there was a moment when it looked like Colin Kaepernick might lead his team on one last desperate drive to win the game in the closing seconds.
That didn't happen. Shortly after that, Jim Harbaugh packed his bags to return to the college ranks. Colin never found his way back to the Super Bowl. Instead, he began to make a name for himself through social activism, leading a wave of NFL players who knelt during the Star Spangled Banner. Injuries were the reason the franchise eventually gave for turning him loose, but the rest of the planet knew the real reason. He was a troublemaker. He was using his position as a professional athlete to point to the oppression of people of color. As the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl team, the media took notice.
So did the new "president." He suggested Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him." Even though it seems as though the United States had worked pretty well for him right up until he started spouting his opinions. Which may have been how the networks casually lost the Kaepernick highlight reel when it was time to pump up the Forty-Niner faithful. 
It's a huge challenge to make it to the Super Bowl. It's an even bigger one to try and make your voice heard amidst the din.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Going But Not Gone

Half my life ago, I used to run forever. I would go out the door of my one bedroom apartment, down the stairs and just go. And go. About thirty years and forty pounds ago, that was the way I exercised. Over hill and dale I roamed. At the time I was lugging a cassette Walkman, the Sportsman model, so I could keep going to the sound of the music from mix tapes sent to me by my buddy from New York. Ninety minute Maxell UD-XLIIs meant I could go for forty-five minutes without having to stop and turn them over. This was my way of knowing how long I had been away. Side B meant that I should probably turn around and head back home.
To that one bedroom apartment. Which is where this all began. It may have been some sort of inspiration. Flee the solitude of that cramped space for the solitude of the open air and the prospect of doing something for myself. Every day, one day at a time, I was getting better and better. This was shortly after I had retired from drinking and drugs, so I was most definitely substituting one addiction for another. This was the healthy thing to do. At this point, it was easy to reckon my diet of TV dinners and Tombstone pizza with the amount of energy I was pouring into the sidewalks and trails. I was a lean, mean running machine. My human interactions were limited to those I had with the guys at work. The ones with whom I installed modular steel office furniture. At one point, one of them asked about all this running around I did. "What's your best time?"
"For what?" I responded.
"You know," he laid it out, "Your pace per mile. Your best five K or ten K?"
At the time I was running one race a year, the Bolder Boulder, with my father primarily because it was a point of contact with him. I told my interrogator, "I dunno. Less than an hour for a ten K."
"How much less?"
I knew that I could probably care more about time, but I was more interested in the miles I covered. The amount of time was only interesting me in terms of how much time I spent away from that one bedroom apartment.
Once I moved to a home, with a wife and kid to whom I could return, that wandering spirit left. I still enjoy being away and feeling that purposeful stride, but I am also acutely aware of the forces pulling me back. And somehow that feels more healthy to me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Commute

Devin and Dashawn are brothers. Dashawn is older by a year. Devin is in second grade. Dashawn is in third. It is Dashawn's responsibility to get his little brother out of the house and on  the  bus every morning for their trip to school. They are inevitably among the first kids to enter the playground in the morning.
Last week, Dashawn showed up with a worried look on his face. Devin was lagging behind him, limping noticeably. "Devin got hit by a car," announced his brother. This was the kind of news that wasn't met lightly by me or our principal. As we made our way abruptly to the office, we heard the full story in a tag-team fashion.
When the boys left their house, waiting to cross the street to the bus stop, a car slowed coming to the intersection. Stepping out into the street, the car sped up and tagged Devin on the thigh and rolled over his toes on the way past them. Dashawn picked him up and got him across the street. They took the bus as they usually do, and made their way to school.
The principal and I were a little confounded about why they hadn't gone straight back home, but it became apparent that every morning they left their house sometime after their mother went to work. It made sense to Dashawn that it was his job to get his brother to school even if one of them were injured. It was the sense that a third grade big brother could make under extraordinary circumstances. We took a moment to inspect the abrasion and the burgeoning bruise.
There was a moment of reckoning before we got on the phone and called their mother. After we explained the big picture, we put Devin on. We couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but Devin's went something like this: "Yes ma'am. No ma'am. Yes ma'am. I'm not sure ma'am." Then he passed the phone to his brother. Dashawn's interaction with his mother followed a very similar vein. Then the phone was returned to our principal, who made arrangements for the boys to be picked up as soon as possible.
Later in the day, I asked our principal how the boys were. She told me that they had been picked up not long after the day began for everyone else, but their mother's reaction was not what we might have anticipated. She began screeching at her boys in the office, and continued as she led them out onto the steps outside. The nature of her screeching centered on their carelessness and in particular Dashawn's insistence that they continue on to school. She called him stupid.
At first, this story broke my heart. I couldn't imagine that this tale of brotherly love and concern would end that way. Then I reflected on the mother's story. How she must have felt, getting that call first thing in the morning. Your son has been hit by a car. Fear and disbelief. Worry that she would be in trouble with her boss for having to leave. How would she be able to afford any medical care? Why was this happening now?
Which is right about the time I forgave her.
The boys were back in school the next day. Devin had a protective boot on his foot, and Dashawn had stories about how nice everyone was in the hospital. They got to watch a movie while they waited for the X-rays. I didn't ask if they had taken the bus to school.
I knew.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Trouble

We have been warned.
The "president" has said, via a quote from Pastor Robert Jeffress, "If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”
Of course, you don't have to believe me. Or the "president." But maybe you will believe Major League Baseball umpire Rob Drake. Rob tweeted back in October  that he planned to buy an AR-15 "because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020." Bad news on that one, ump. Strike one on the spelling. Strike two on the impeachment thing. 
Sticking with the boys of summer for a moment, back in November former San Francisco Giant letting us know that he was “Getting my boys trained up on how to use a gun in the unlikely event @BernieSanders beats @realDonaldTrump in 2020. In which case knowing how to effectively use a gun under socialism will be a must. By the way most the head shots were theirs.” The proud poppa even tagged the National Rifle Association in case he full intent wasn't clear. 
We live in troubled times
Last week The FBI has arrested suspected members of a neo-Nazi group who were armed and anticipating a race war, one of whom was a missing ex-Canadian soldier who allegedly snuck into the United States. This puts a fairly ironic twist on that whole illegal immigration thing, doesn't it? Three men connected to the extremist hate group known as The Base were taken into custody in anticipation of trouble expected at a gun-rights rally in Richmond, Virginia. The members of The Base see themselves as “accelerationist group that encourages the onset (of) anarchy and so it can then ‘impose order from chaos.’” Their inspiration comes from the book Siege by neo-Nazi James Mason. Not the drunk in the Judy Garland A Star Is Born. The James Mason we're talking about here is the guy who sees the work of Charles Manson as an inspiration. 
We live in troubled times
I encourage you all to be a light that shines in the darkness. It's getting scary out there. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Political Theatre

Around my house, we have a phrase in response to anyone asking "what are the chances that..." for an event that has already occurred: "About one hundred percent." It is the rhetorical version of walking in the front door, dripping wet, to someone asking, "Do you think it will rain today?"
So, on the day that the House of Representatives finally sends over the Articles of Impeachment, what are the chances that a witness to all that has unfolded over the past few years who could corroborate not just anecdotally but with memos and texts and boxes of evidence?
Now please to be repeating the line: "About one hundred percent."
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and one of the most feared humans in half the country, knows what she's doing. Is there any reason not to believe that the delay in sending over the articles was calculated to let this particular cat out of the bag? 
The cat in question is one Lev Parnas. A Soviet-born businessman, Mister Parnas has been part of the show in the Impeachment Circus for several months, appearing as an associate of the "president's lawyer," Rudy Giuliani. In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Lev had this to say: “He knew exactly who I was especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events." "He in this version of the truth would be the "president." “I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president. Plenty of times.” If you're a fan of those procedural shows, this would be the kind of revelation that shows up right before that commercial break three quarters of the way through. In screenwriting terms, this would be the gun that was loaded in the first act, going off in act three. This screenplay has begun to unravel a little more like Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny than the Corleones. 
Except that it's not funny. It is tragic that an administration has been blowing smoke up the trouser legs of its fans for the past three years while operating like an inept bunch of rabbit hunters. Parnas told Maddow that he and Giuliani struck a deal with Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian gas billionaire who has been stranded in Vienna for years as he fights extradition to the U.S. on foreign bribery charges,whereby the oligarch would provide the Trump team with information and, in exchange, the Department of Justice would drop the charges against the Ukrainian mogul. Pardon me if I don't put quotation marks around the Department of Justice. There is only so much irony that any one person can expect to punctuate. 
So the drama that should be governance continues, as we begin act three. 
Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Nom De Nation

Stephen King, the author not the wingding Representative from Iowa, got himself in a little social media hot water the other day. After the nominations had been announced for this year's Academy Awards, some took exception to the lack of diversity among them. Stephen King, the author, was not one of those voices. Instead, he tweeted, "As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue -- as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway -- did not come up. That said... I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong," This unleashed a second wave of disapproval, this time focused squarely on the author, not the wingding Representative from Iowa. Most of it was polite, but to the point: "With the utmost respect, I think this is quite a bit unfair. When films created by people of color, irrespective of quality, constantly get overlooked by institutions that are predominately comprised of white men, there is an implicit bias at work here,"replied ZORA senior editor Morgan Jerkins. There were other less polite responses, but most of them were in the vein of "we thought you were one of the good guys."
Mister King, not Representative King, took a step back and replied, "The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts. You can't win awards if you're shut out of the game."
So there it is. Problem solved.
At least where Stephen King is concerned. The author, not the wingding. On social media. For the moment. There is an asterisk in many of the categories this year. Like the one that goes next to Antonio Banderas in the Best Actor category. Not a white guy. On the Best Picture slate, there is Parasite, which is a South Korean film, and Little Women which is a movie about little women directed by a little woman. Who did not receive a nomination for Best Director. Bong Joon Ho, who is not a white guy, did. For the aforementioned Parasite. 
Stephen King, the author nor the wingding Representative from Iowa, was shut out. Maybe it's just me, but I think there should be more wingdings represented at the Oscars. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Shifting Sands

The enemy of my enemies is my friend. Therefore, the friend of my enemies is not my friend but my enemy. And the enemy of my friends must therefore be my enemy. Which leaves this whole aphorism a little top-heavy on the enemies.
Now let's go ahead and try to unravel the Middle East.
Iran and Iraq are enemies. Historically, anyway. Which makes it hard for us here in the U.S. to determine who is our friend. This is primarily due to the somewhat frequent flag burning and chants of "death to America." Protesters in the streets of Iran have lately been vocal about how the problem is really the theocracy and suddenly we have a front-runner in the friends sweepstakes. The clerics who have been in power there for decades have been our enemies for most of that time, so maybe this is our in.
We assume it was that same group of Iranian mullahs who may have been behind the missile that brought down a Ukrainian Airlines passenger jet, killing all one hundred seventy-six passengers and crew. A terrible thing. Not unlike the missile that took out an Iran Air flight back in 1988. That "whoops" was on us. As in the U.S. The accidental destruction of passenger aircraft turns out to be more problematic than an actual act of war. The Iran Air "accident" ended up costing the United States one hundred thirty-one million dollars in death gratuities. And a new aircraft. Which didn't end up making us friends or anything. We were still enemies.
But what about the Canadians on the Ukrainian Airlines flight? Canadians are friends with everyone. Which is probably why Iran is so incredibly embarrassed by their little mistake. Go ahead and try rolling the words in your mouth: "Canada declares war on..." It doesn't come easily. Meanwhile, relations between Canada and the United States might best be described currently as less-than-friendly, but still we don't find ourselves hopping into bed with Iran.
Except our "president" is now Tweeting in Farsi.
Meanwhile, the country that sent most of the hijackers from September 11 (Saudi Arabia) is still our friend. The "president" told us recently that the Saudis have even paid us one billion dollars for some of our troops. What are friends for?
If you guessed oil, I think you may be onto something there.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Achievables

I play this computer game called Civilization. Specifically, Civilization IV. My wife might call it "Obsession IV" because of the hours I have devoted to it over the years. Over the course of my hours of gameplay, I have made myself familiar with a variety of cultures and people and destroyed them. This is how Civilization works. It is far easier to win the game by crushing your enemies than making attempts at diplomatic solutions. One of the indicators of success is when the cities of your empire begin to celebrate. I have learned that it's not necessarily a good thing when they are celebrating "Despot Day." I looked it up. Being a despot isn't a good thing. Think Idi Amin. Think Pol Pot. Think Adolph Hitler.
Last week, our "president" gave an interview in which he sounded like a despot: "We're keeping the oil, we have the oil, the oil is secure, we left troops behind only for the oil." This left Rear Adm. William Byrne to explain, "I'm not going to pick on your words, but I would only — I would be cautious with saying that 'the mission [is] to secure the oil fields. The mission is the defeat of ISIS. The securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission, and the purpose of that task is to deny ISIS the revenues from that oil infrastructure." Got that? It's not the oil. It's defeating ISIS. 
Which is why the "president" popped up again on Fox News, telling Laura Ingraham, "They said, 'He left troops in Syria.' You know what I did? I left troops to take the oil. I took the oil." 
Which turns out to be pretty prototypical for this despot. Using "I" instead of "we" and attempting to diminish all other conversation surrounding what is essentially a war crime is standard operating procedure for this guy. So is selling our troops. “We have a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia—I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited one billion dollars in the bank.” Spoken like a true Don.
Or maybe a despot?
Is this civilized?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What's On The Label

These are, as my wife will tell you, the high holy days of football. Having only recently concluded the last of the eighty-seven major college bowl games in anticipation of the World Championship of non-professional football, culminating in the crowning of the team that gets to eat fast food with the "president," we find ourselves feasting on the buffet that is the tournament setting up the Super Bowl. I mention my wife in this equation because she gets a little wistful around this time of year. She realizes that soon my weekends will give way  to more focused adoration on her instead of those sweaty men on the television. And football.
This year the playoff teams include the Titans, the Packers, the Texans, the Seahawks, the Ravens, the the Forty-Niners, the Vikings and the Chiefs. This brings to mind the challenge that continues to exist in the National Football League regarding ethnic stereotypes being used for mascots. Has anyone considered now the Norse feel about having their birthright slandered in this way? Okay. Maybe not. But the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs continue to slide on by with fans whooping and making their tomahawk chops evades me. It's 2020. Couldn't they choose some sort of local attribute to supplant this image?  The Kansas City Ribs, perhaps?
Bringing me to the struggle our country continues to have adapting to change: change of the  most  superficial nature. In Killingly, Connecticut this year the local school board chose to change their high school's mascot from the Redmen to the Redhawks. Students didn't have a problem with it. But their parents did. When the members of the school board were up for re-election in the fall, they were unceremoniously dumped in order to give Republicans an edge that allowed them to reinstate the team's mascot. Jason Muscara, one of the new Republican board members, insisted, “I recognize there have been many Native Americans who have voiced those concerns. But I would say there is an equal amount of Native people who feel the opposite.” Prior to this dustup, Mister Muscara had a little trouble distancing himself from his previous association with The American Guard, a group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "a general hate group." I suspect that the number of native people interviewed by Jason number approximately zero. 
And to think this whole  thing could  have been  avoided if they would have just gone ahead and called themselves The Killingly Racists. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bang The Drum Slowly

Bang on the drum all day.
Go ahead. You could do it for weeks, months, even years, and you would never approach the brilliance of Neil Peart.
If you finished that last sentence with a "who?" feel free to spend the next few minutes clicking on cat videos and don't waste your time reading this. Neil was the drummer for Rush, who were only recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They're Canadian, and while they rock as hard as any band, it's their national trait of politeness that kept them from stirring up the fuss that they might have. Their fans, on the other hand, have and continue to obsess on the sounds these men made over the span of forty-five years and twenty albums.
I was not originally among them, I confess. In those years that might have been considered their initial heyday, I was tracking a very different void. My punk/new wave era coincided with Permanent Waves, Hemispheres, and the seminal Moving Pictures. I callously filed this music in the "Oh Wow Rock File" and ignored it.
Until my freshman year in college. The guy across the hall had a record collection that rivaled my own in terms of eclecticism, and there was plenty of Rush in his rotation. I sat in his room, and after a rerun of Star Trek (the original series), he went to his stereo and cranked up "Tom Sawyer." Which was followed by "Limelight." Which was followed by my surrender to this power trio from Ontario. I found myself remembering all the times my good friend from high school, a drummer, had sung the praises of Neil Peart. This was back when I wasn't listening.
I was listening now.
My previously installed "greatest drummer" had been Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake and. My older brother had introduced me to his ferocious technical precision ten years earlier, and I hadn't had the time or inclination to worry about checking into this category since.
Now I was ready to hand over that top spot to Neil Peart. There were drummers whose licks I had pretended to play in the air in front of me, but I could not fathom how all these rhythms and noises came from one person: two arms, two legs, and a whirlwind of sound that not only provided some of the most intricate beats I had ever heard but melodic riffs from drums that took his sound out of the realm of strictly rhythm. I set aside my previous obnoxious sniping about Geddy Lee's voice and focused on the drumming of Neil Peart. Furious bursts mixed with delicate ringing of cymbals, he played with a delicacy and purpose not necessarily associated with rock drummers.
Oh, and he wrote the lyrics, including the song that I used to introduce my son the car nut to Rush, Red Barchetta. Telling the tale of a young man who flees an oppressive anti-automobile regime in a vehicle "from a better vanished time," Neal drew his inspiration from a science fiction story originally published in a 1973 issue of Road and Track. It was Neil's song Trees that finally got my wife to stop turning down the car radio every time a Rush song came on. Which allowed me a chance to air drum in the passenger seat.
It was reported that Neal died from brain cancer, but I think it is much more likely that he simply ascended to the heavens because he was just that good. He will be missed. He pounded, stomped and rocked the Terra. Aloha, Neil Peart.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Kippers And Mash

The world is on the brink of war. The Middle East has more loose threads than your great grandma's afghan. The shawl, not the region. The "president" of the United States has been impeached and is awaiting trial in the Senate. A Ukranian passenger jet was shot down by Iranian missiles. And what breaks Al Gore's Internet?
The British Royal Family.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known by their secret identities as Harry and Meghan, have decided to step down from their roles as senior members of the royals. In a statement issued last Wednesday, the couple said they plan to “work to become financially independent” as they “carve out a progressive new role” within the monarchy. This comes as anticipation that they could be cut off by Harry's brother, the once and future King of England, Prince Charles. It should be noted here that Prince Charles has no secret identity. He continues to be the poster boy for all that is or might ever be Royal. 
By contrast, Harry and Meghan have always lived on the outskirts of Buckingham Palace, acting like the millennials they are. "We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.” They said. Which most likely means they will move to Canada, which has a picture of a beaver on one side of their coins and her majesty, The Queen, on the other. The young couple will be taking their kid and head out to the Great White North, since they're pretty much guaranteed not to find themselves or their progeny on the throne. Why not go hang around with the Trudeaus? They seem to have it all going on right now. Except that whole Ukrainian airliner thing. 
And if this seems like a pretty solid soap opera compared to the train wreck that is the political landscape of Britain, currently being run by a ruddy buffoon with a blur of hair and a "plan" to wall his country off from the rest of the continent - wait a second - this sounds familiar. Yet the story of where a young couple decides to make their home and raise their children becomes front page news. Maybe that soap opera clue wasn't so far off the mark. Our fascination with drama that only appears to be of lasting concern is as old as we are as a country. If only the affairs of our First Family could be as inconsequential in the scope of global politics. To borrow a phrase from across the pond: Not bloody likely. 
Stay tuned. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Heaven Can No Longer Wait

Benjamin Braddock approaches the desk in the Taft Hotel, and is greeted by a smiling desk clerk. Nervously, Ben begins the check in process, taking the card that he had begun writing on and shoving it in his pocket, starting fresh on another. "Is there a problem?" asks the clerk. "No. No problem," replies Ben as he nervously finishes scribbling on his second try at checking in. The clerk glances quickly at the card and asks, "Do you have any luggage Mister Gladstone?" After a beat or two of confusion, Ben tells him that he has some in his car, to which the clerk responds, "Very good, I'll get a porter to help you bring it in." He rings the bell sharply once but before he can do it again, Ben has slipped his hand over to silence the bell, leaving the clerk to come down again with some force on Ben's hand.
This is the kind of quiet comedy constructed by Buck Henry. He played the desk clerk in The Graduate. He wrote it, too. Not just that scene. The whole movie. And if he had only played the clerk, that would have been a happy bit of comedy history, but he wrote one of the great films. If you don't believe me, believe the American Film Institute. Mister Henry was also part of one of the longest steadicam shot in American cinema, as he pitches a sequel to his 1967 masterpiece in The Player. He also directed, along with his good friend Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait. That film did not make the top one hundred, but includes some of the same inspired bits of lunacy that can be found throughout Buck Henry's work. Like Catch-22. Or co-creating the TV series Get Smart with his pal Mel Brooks.
And if you missed all that, then maybe you caught one or more of his ten appearances as host of Saturday Night Live. A friend of mine wrote me that he never felt like he really "got" Buck when he showed up on that show. Which I think is a fair appraisal, first of all because we were teenagers when they first ran, and also because there was something about Buck that asked us all to keep a safe distance. He looked calm enough on the outside, but just below the surface was where we would find Uncle Roy.
And ultimately, Buck Henry was a gift from the Gods of Comedy. Though he went on to join the writing staff up above, he left us with a wealth of his genius in which we can all splash about for generations to come. Buck stomped on the Terra, and made us all laugh hard enough to do a little more stomping. He gets double points for that. Aloha, Mister Henry. You will be missed.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Quite Ugly One Morning

Our custodian and I have a relationship that spans many years. Over that time, we have had occasion to talk about all manner of practical things: clogged toilets, broken windows, missing tables. Aside from these concern-based items which we muddle through, helping each other keep the school safe and clean, we have also talked about our kids and our jobs with the school district. We commiserate as parents and employees. And we talk sports. Mostly basketball. Over the past several years there has been a lot of basketball to chat about here in the Bay Area. But not once have we talked about politics.
Until now.
A few mornings ago, as I arrived in the small  hours of the morning, she opened with this: "Did you see what that president has been doing over in Iran?" Now we weren't talking about the door for room six and how to get a paper clip out of the lock. We were talking about a "commander in chief" who seems to have gotten it into his head that a shooting war will keep everyone quiet about his impeachment. "We gotta get rid of him," she continued. "He's dangerous." Specifically, I reflected, for our sons who are squarely in the proximal zone of any draft that might become necessary to provide more soldiers for this dolt to push around on his big map. "I didn't vote for him. And I'm sure not going to vote for him this time."
And suddenly, we had shared one hundred percent more about politics than we ever had before. The struggles of the Warriors from the three point line had been replaced by the struggles of warriors across the globe. This conversation was both affirming and depressing. As with so very many things, we were in agreement with what we wished would happen, but now we both felt a power larger than us moving pieces around the board.
We won't stop doing our jobs. Keeping an elementary school up and running is a vital enough function that neither of us feels called away. At the same time, we agreed that voting was something we would not skip. Not now. Things had lapsed to the point where the first thing we talked about in the morning wasn't Steph Curry's injured hand, but the looming war in the Middle East. And just like getting on the other end of a table that needs to be moved down the hall, I am more than happy to do my part to put things back into order.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Feel The Burn

Hey kids, Australia is on fire.
I know that I spend a lot of time gazing at the collective navel of the United States, but this is a continent we are talking about. You could drop a map of this island nation on top of that of our lower forty-eight, and it would cover that space. Side to side. Up and down. New South Wales has been hit the hardest with one hundred thirty individual fires burning across the east coast of Australia. More than one thousand three hundred homes have been destroyed, and thousands have been evacuated as efforts to contain the blaze continues.
For those of you who may not have figured on science playing a part in all of this, let's start with something easy: It is currently summer in Australia. Hard as it may be to believe that while we struggle with winter storms up here in the northern hemisphere, below the equator fires are being fed by oppressive heat and winds. While I understand that this theory flies in the face of a flat earth and is not nearly as amusing as toilets flushing in the opposite direction, it is the reality in which an entire continent is being consumed.
How do we battle this crisis? How about cute? Koalas, mascots of airlines and lugubrious emissaries from down under, are threatened. Scientists project that half a billion animals are affected with millions already dead. Koalas not cute enough? How about kangaroos? Herds of the hoppers can be seen bouncing out of the way of advancing smoke and flames. The lucky ones. Millions more have not been as fortunate.
Did I mention science? Scientists, whose job it is to illuminate the world of science for the rest of us, have stated that climate change is making fire season longer and more dangerous in Australia. Meanwhile politicians, whose job it is to ignore the world of science for the rest of us, continue to insist there is no connection between fires raging across their nation and climate change. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, say Australia does not need to cut carbon emissions more aggressively to limit global warming, even after a three-year drought and unprecedented bushfires. On the last day of 2019, Taylor wrote, “In most countries it isn’t ­acceptable to pursue emission­reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, ­destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth.” 
If this sounds familiar, it could be that it was a page from the current administration here in the frozen north. On the first day of 2020, our "president" said, “While the goals of NEPA remain the same as they did fifty years ago, the environmental review process designed to improve decision-making has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate.” The view from both hemispheres suggest that the environment can be put on hold while money is made, and if there's anything left after that, we can protect what is left. 
If there's anything left.
Want to help save some koalas

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Coming Distractions

I know that in some corners we have just turned the page on calendars and we look forward to a fresh new year. Here in Scholasticland, we have reached the nominal halfway point, and we are turning the corner around which we will find more standardized tests. (derisive cheers and applause here) This is the time of our year during which we begin to talk about expectations and standards and strategies. This is the time of year when we try and coax the best performances out of our students.
And we try to convince them that it is tantamount for them to succeed where others before them have failed. We attempt to cajole them out of their mild interest and concern for their achievements and turn them into something that they have not been up until now: Test Takers.
The very clear and distinct challenge here is trying to get a group of kids whose regular response to most any task is, "Is this good enough?" or "Can I be done now?" and turn them into beasts of the standardized test. This will be A) a challenge B) a struggle C) more important to us than them D) all of the above. If you saw that last choice and saw it as the best option, then someone before me has worked some of the magic on you. Read all the possible answers before simply checking one, even if (and I say this with all the conviction I can muster) it messes with the pretty pattern that you had begun to assemble.
It will be difficult to try and negotiate the relative importance of The Big Test compared to all the Pretty Big Tests they have taken thus far. A great many of our students fall apart or become enraged when they disagree with the outcome of a four square game at recess. Suddenly we are going to ramp up the tension by expecting them to stay in their seats for hours at a time as questions that will be far beyond many of their capacities are run in front of them while we coax them through with encouraging words. Words like, "Pick the one that makes the most sense." "Eliminate the wrong answers, then choose from the ones that seem more likely to be correct." On top of that, we live in a world where standards have been ratcheted up to the point where simply choosing A, B, C or D is not enough. They will be asked to write a short dissertation answering why they chose that answer. We know ahead of time which of our kids will be pining mightily for the word searches that await successful completion of the test.
But we also know that if we start now, there may be a few students interested in showing off how much they have learned. Because they have. We have a lot of very clever kids wandering our halls. We have taught them lots of things. Negotiations continue to see just how successful we will be in getting them to share that knowledge when it comes time to show off.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Belief System

I was never confirmed. My older brother was. I did earn a bible. It was a great big beast of a thing. I received the word of God for completing the requisite number of worksheets about verses found in  the Good Book. I studied. I read the whole thing. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out  that I was also the kid who read the entirety of Leslie Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion. I read a lot. For a kid, anyway.
I don't know if my older brother read the whole bible, but I know he studied too. Which was part of the whole confirmation thing. It's the way you get into that particular club. As I have mentioned here on a number of occasions, my father led an exodus of our family from not just the Methodist church, but from organized religion as a whole. My younger brother grew up a godless heathen.
Well, that's not entirely true. Frequent replays of Jesus Christ Superstar on our eight track tape kept the story of our savior on the top ten. That and my mother's bible study. She was the one who kept us in the game, spiritually. Not in an overbearing, god-fearing way but more of a get-to-know-you-god kind of way. We didn't feel shame or worry about being struck down because in my mom's version of the gospel there wasn't a lot of vengeance or guilt. My mother's church had a lot of reassurance in it. I used to enjoy quizzing her about the events and relationships that occurred both BC and AD. I knew then and appreciate even more now that her vision of these stories was reinforced by the technicolor epics that she watched in her youth. The same technicolor epics we watched with her whenever they showed up on television. Many of them seemed to involve Charlton Heston and his struggles with heaven and its politics.
It was home schooling. And I figured I came through more or less unscathed, so why would I worry when it came time to indoctrinate my son? The simple answer: telephone. Not so much the instrument but the game in which a phrase is whispered from one ear and passed along to the next. Tracking the change in the message from the beginning of the chain to the end is the amusing part, but what if that message happens to get mixed in with all the silliness and satire that takes place in our household? This along with all the chatter about Star Wars and the Flying Spaghetti Monster and The Life of Brian, one might wonder what flavors are contained in my son's spirituality.
A rainbow, no doubt. I wouldn't imagine it any other way.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The News Cycle

My wife and I ended our holiday movie-going with Bombshell. For those of you who may have missed it, and the box office receipts suggest that may be a vast majority of those attending the cinema over the past couple of weeks, Bombshell tells the story of the decline and fall of Roger Ailes via sexual harassment. Among his targets were Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, played by Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman. John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes. Three Academy Award winning actors. Why aren't people flocking to this film?
Well, a couple of reasons: The most obvious being the automatic elimination of any and all Fox News viewers. I would imagine they would have an adverse reaction that would not be characterized as either fair of balanced. Those who do not habituate Fox News, the argument could easily made, while standing outside the ticket kiosk, that there is enough sadness in the world with much of it pouring out into the living room every evening. Why plunk down thirteen dollars for reruns of that experience when Star Wars is playing on the big screen? And the one that came to mind while I was in the theater, taking in all that tawdry business, "Am I really in a place where I can be sympathetic to Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly?"
My answer was, eventually, "Yes." I may not agree with these women's politics, but they are human beings and should not be subject to the pandering and salacious slobbering by their boss. Or the public at large. This set off an alarm in my head that recalled my somewhat antiquated concern about the fact that men tend to dress as if they were attending a business meeting to deliver the news, while women are dressed as if they were serving cocktails. Which in turn makes me feel even more about cocktail waitresses. Which is a great big kettle of fish that brought me back to the present, where I was being sold a movie about women on Fox News being objectified. "Television is a visual medium," is the refrain heard from Roger Ailes as the movie recounts the sordid details of his "meetings" with these women.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle here is the fact that all of this took place concurrently with the eventual election of one Donald J. Trump, the man who responded without apology to Ms. Kelly's questioning of his treatment of women during a 2015 debate she moderated. He did what he has done for his entire political career, and for his life before that: He doubled down. Tripled. And so on. He made her the issue and ended up making it difficult if not impossible to continue doing her job at Fox News. And yes, as a viewer, I was able to piece these threads together as I watched the film, but I found myself once again in that uncanny valley of "how can other people, especially women, not see this for exactly what it is?"
So, when Roger Ailes was fired and ended up with a severance package that rivaled the amount paid to all his victims in compensation. Fox News is still on the air. Donald Trump is still "president." And television is still a visual medium.
Yeesh.

Monday, January 06, 2020

This Is Not Strike One

Go ahead and try to convince me that you knew who General Qassem Soleimani was before he was killed last week by a U.S. strike. Sorry. I'm not buying it. The hyperbole regrading Iran's Quds Force has been ramped up in the wake of the wake of Soleimani. We are being asked to believe that killing a "military strongman" saved lives. As a matter of fact, the  U.S. "president" took a few moments out of his golf vacation to remind us that  “a lot of lives would have been saved” if he'd been hunted down years ago. Killing this guy, or rather "hunting him down" would have saved lives. Not his, of course.
We're also being asked to keep in  mind how military strikes are ways to keep the peace. This is all a part of the Middle East strategy that has never and continues not to make any kind of sense. Not that this is an exclusive feature of the current administration. No one, not ever, has been able to properly corral all of the hate and tragedy that flows like the oil upon which it sits. United States Marines have been singing about "the shores of Tripoli" for hundreds of years.  
Now they're headed back there. After sending in an airstrike in Iran to deal with a protest at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the only logical response is to send three thousand troops back into the Middle East. The place out of which the "president" insists we are trying to get ourselves. That was when we were removing troops that stood between Kurds and Turkish troops that were pushing into that mess we call Syria. 
It does help to have a map, but knowing the players can be beneficial too. According to White House, the recently deceased General “made the death of innocent people his sick passion.” Seven people died in the drone strike. We should all assume that the other six were just as horrible and twisted as the General. Or that somehow their lives were the casual result of missiles fired from drones. Justice in the Middle East is a messy business. 
And  this will most certainly bring about the peace and calm that that region, and  the rest of the planet so desperately needs. 
No? Not convinced? 
Neither am I. 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Who's Watching Whom?

In 1984, we worried about Big Brother watching us. There was some dust kicked up when cameras were installed on stoplights to catch those errant motorists who figured they could just skip the red when no one was looking. Because now someone is always looking.
Early on January 1st, a crying woman ran and started banging on a door, pleading for help. A man exited a white sedan, and quickly ran up behind her before throwing her onto the ground and kicking her in the stomach. “Get in the car,” he said, as she struggled. The man proceeds to drag her by the hair towards the same car before driving off. We know this because it was captured on someone's Nest doorbell camera. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police had requested the public’s help in identifying the victim and assailant. They announced in a statement that a twenty-three year old suspect, Darnell Rodgers, had been arrested on January 2nd. because of tips provided provided by the public.
Justice served. Cold.
So how do we feel about having all these cameras taking footage from doorsteps and alcoves on every street and parking lot? How do those neighbors of yours who picked the day the Google van was driving past to try out what they believed was their secret spot for nude sunbathing? Out of the realm of speculation, back in the real world, the guy across the street had his house broken into a month ago. He replaced the sliding glass door and felt relieved enough that nothing else seemed to be missing. Except for that peace of mind he had once courted. So he bought himself a camera that stares out across his front yard and into ours. Not that I was considering doing anything lewd, or mildly illegal. As for our neighbor, he told me that now he can check the app on his phone, "whenever I get the feeling - you know." 
I didn't exactly. After our house was burglarized some years ago, I figured that we were probably safe for a while, at least until the bad guys gave us a chance to replace all the cool stuff they had taken in the first round. Which doesn't mean that I am immune to the thought of home security. At least three times over the holiday season as my wife and I discussed how we might gift ourselves we found ourselves standing in front of the home security display at Best Buy. One of these stops was accompanied by the story of a woman whose bedroom security was violated by a hacker who gained access to her goings-on. Safe, secure, creepy.
All of which makes me remember the lesson I learned way back in 1977. Upon entering the detention bay on the Death Star, the first thing Han, Luke and Chewie do is destroy the cameras so no one can see them trying to rescue the Princess. And these were the good guys. I guess I hope that whatever home security I come up with is better than the Empire's. 

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Coming Far Too Soon

I was happy, for the most part, with the sequels that came out in 2019. I was fine with the loose threads of the Avengers saga being tied up. I was satisfied with the precise and much too neat way that things came together at the tend of nine movies in the story of Star Wars. I sat through the second chapter of Zombieland, and I waited for M. Knight Shyamalan's convergence of superhero-type movies to appear on cable. I paid to see Toy Story 4 on opening weekend, and was pleased to let my wife and son take on Frozen 2 over their Thanksgiving break. I anxiously awaited the return of Spider-Man, and enjoyed every web-spinning minute. 
And there were a bunch of second chapters that couldn't get me off the couch. Like a second film in the Godzilla reboot series. And the Secret Life of Pets 2 seemed to suggest that I cared that there was a 1. The story of Kingsmen kontinued. The X-Men tried again. I missed both of those because I was not stirred.
And now it's 2020, and though I carefully avoided both chapters of the Jumanji remake, I hear that there are a ton of additional pieces to the puzzle that amounts to making a franchise out there. Should I start with Top Gun: Maverick? What makes thirty years after the fact the perfect time to squeeze out another recruiting advert for naval aviators? Maybe because forty years might be too long, such that Mister Cruise will no longer be able to lower himself into the cockpit. Feel free here to use the word "cockpit" in your own joke.
Then there's the sequel machine that is Keanu Reeves. John Wick Three, Bill and Ted Three, The Matrix Four, will keep mulitplexes full of Keanu in the coming year. For those of you who just can't get enough of the dramatic stylings of Mister Reeves. 
Indiana Jones 5.
Coming To America 2.
It starts to sound more like a sports report than coming attractions. And yes, there will be another James Bond film. If "No Time To Die" sound opportunistic as a title, then I think you're starting to understand the machine that is Hollowood. 
Does this mean I will be staying at home and watching reruns of Spin and Marty on Disney Plus? Perhaps, but chances are that once the hype builds and I see a trailer for Gladiator 2, I will gather myself and my date and head off to the movies. Because it gives me something about which I can reflect in the following year.