Friday, December 31, 2021

If You Ask Me

 Wave bye-bye to 2021. The dumbest year on record is slipping into the rearview mirror. It's easy enough to point to the font of all stupidity. Just look for the idjits wandering around without masks. Without vaccines. With defiant attitudes. "You're not going to trick my body into staying healthy. Just because the government gives us something for free, I'm immediately suspicious of it." Yes, this is the same group of dullards who booed their less than fearless leader when he let slip that he had taken not one, not two, but three shots of the vaccine his administration put into warp speed. On a long enough timeline it seems that the former game show host's base will extinguish themselves. 

More stupidity: This crew that is so steadfast in their insistence that the government should keep their hands of their bodies are also up to their shoulder blades in supporting legislation that would limit a woman's right to choose her own reproductive care. Meanwhile, once these lives that we spared in the womb have become a drag on the economy, they should be cut off. Or given guns to continue the die-off that has reached the ugliest of proportions even while so many of us are trying to save lives. It would seem that the preservation of life is a real mixed bag for the intellectually stunted. 

Worse yet, we seem to be furthering their stupid plans for world domination by allowing them to use social media, elect candidates dumber than they are, and perhaps worst of all: Trying to reason with them. 

"What makes you think the election was stolen?"

"A guy on the Internet said it was."

"A bunch of other guys on the Internet said it wasn't."

"See? That's just what the guy in the Internet said you would say! It's prophecy!"

More than a year after the last votes were counted, several months after votes have been recounted and a truckload of conspiracies have been debunked, this conversation continues to take place. Stupid. And we are just days away from the anniversary of the most glorious display of stupidity from the year that was. A bunch of stupid people decided to go to Washington DC and storm the building where the predetermined results of that election were being formally committed to history. A government building that has countless security cameras. Not to mention the steady live-stream from the perpetrators themselves, who went about their vandalism and insurrection while the world watched, slack jawed. More than seven hundred of these stupid people have been charged in this dimwitted display of anarchy. Many of these have been shocked and surprised to discover that, not only could they be caught and prosecuted and jailed, but the object of their misguided affection would leave them hanging while he tried to keep his own stupidity from going on display to all of us. Stupid and non-stupid alike. 

And all the while, one hundred Americans die from gun violence every day. More than a thousand die from COVID-19. That's pretty stupid, if you ask me. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Father Figure

 Looking like your parents can be an awful burden. It can also be a brilliant tribute. 

It depends a lot on the timing. I spent decades drawing caricatures of my father on birthday cards and father's day gifts. It was a pretty easy gig, remember the bald head and include a little bit of a spare tire around the waist and you've pretty much got it. I would not say that it was a flattering portrait, except that it was his son that was doing him the mild injustice of turning him into a somewhat more benign Homer Simpson. 

In my teens, the idea that I might end up being follicly challenged was a creeping fear of mine. School photos suggested that my hairline began to recede somewhere around second grade, and by the time I was in high school bangs were pretty much a memory. As for the spare tire, it was and continues to be a challenged to master my midsection. While I slide through middle age, I find that my gut remains a constant reminder of the man my father used to be. He ran. He played racquetball. I run. I ride my bike to and from school every day. 

I get it, dad. The joke is on me, after all these years. 

Which is okay by me, since I have spent the intervening years becoming accustomed to the shape in which I find myself. I have made some changes to the original recipe, by shaving off the sidewalls and going with a full-on chromedome. I remember my father's admonitions about combovers, and shaving my head pretty solidly eliminates that possibility. I count my steps and fret at least once a week when I step on the scale. I get support for my intermittent fasting and workout regimen and my wife is always there to remind me of healthy alternatives to that afternoon snack. 

All of which did not keep someone from looking at the picture we have of my dad in his Interrupting Cow costume from thirty years ago and saying, "Hey. You look just like him." 

And I think this is a compliment. Because I know what my father was inside and out.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Price Of Freedom Is Eternal Vigilance

 Desmond Tutu. Go ahead and say his name out loud. 

It's fun. To me, it's almost as fun as saying Modesto. Having said these names aloud, I feel comfortable moving on to the actual substance of the man whose name I have just been making fun of. He went to heaven this past weekend. If you're one of those who scoff at such a notion, heaven that is, perhaps you should consider the man's resume. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Which makes sense, since Desmond was a bishop. It would have been more of a surprise if he had won a Nobel Prize for physics. Instead, he was afforded this honor for his tireless work to bring down the ugly institutionalized racism of Apartheid. It is worth noting that it would take another ten years to end South Africa's ruthless system of oppression, and through it all Bishop Tutu was there speaking his truth. "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land." Tutu's work was always founded in non-violence, but you have to admit that those were fighting words. 

How about this one: "If you want peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies."

And talk he did. He used his pulpit to speak out against the brutal system that held sway for nearly fifty years. For most of that time, Nelson Mandela was kept silent in prison. When Mandela was finally released and became President of South Africa, he appointed Tutu to be chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which uncovered the abuses of the apartheid system. 

Desmond Tutu's search for peace and understanding did not end then. He continued to fight for human rights, including those of LGBTQ individuals. In 2013 he said, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.’”

So, if there is a heaven, I hope that Bishop Tutu is enjoying eternity in a peaceful rainbow afterlife. He stomped on the Terra, and made the world a better place. He will be missed. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Revision

 Something about the holidays just seems to kick up a little more dirt. Extra feet tracking in the outside world, bits of wrapping and scraps of paper from this and that. Vacuuming moved from being a once a week job to an every couple days type chore. It was during one of these post-festive sweeps that I noticed the switch on the handle of our fancy new sucking machine. One side was labeled "normal" and the other was "Max Suction."

Why, in the name of all that is holy, would I ever want to use the "normal" setting? Ever? 

"Nope. Sorry. This isn't a really big mess, and I really want to take my time making sure I get every last crumb and dust particle by going over this one section of the living room several dozen times."

Of course not. I want Max Suction and I want it now. 

How many times do we, as consumers allow ourselves to be fooled by "regular?" I want maximum strength pain reliever. I want my dishes cleaned with extra grease-cutting scrubbing power. Why would I be happy with a cursory initial brush of my teeth when there is extra whitening available? 

This cautious path toward New and Improved is, of course, always tempered by the looming specter of New Coke. How could an American corporation with so much to lose unleash such a terrible thing on an unsuspecting public? The cynic in me wonders if they had simply started shipping the new formula without making such a big deal about it would anyone have noticed? 

Sure they would. Because at the same instant that we consumers like to have something bigger better faster shoved our way, we are also creepy creatures of habit. Upon reflection, I expect that there are those who are probably very self-conscious about the use of their Max Suction button. They may notice that particular setting tends to rile up the house pets in a way that normal suction does not. Perhaps the weave of certain rugs in their homes don't allow for such violent action from their home appliances. It's only on rare occasions when only that extra little shove over the cliff like a bag of sifted flour finds its way to the floor that such drastic measures become necessary. 

But that's not me. I'm going to leave my vacuum switched into overdrive. And, for the record, I was one of those who will be eternally grateful for the person who designed the upside-down ketchup bottle. Changed my life forever. For the better. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Level Forty-Two

 Anybody here remember the Terror Alert Scale? Keep your hands up while I count.

Okay. About seventeen. That seems about right. Back when we were at war with Terror, our government gave us a simple and colorful way to know how frightened we should be. Starting with the lowest level of fear, we had green, then blue for just a little bit scared. Which sort of makes sense in that "green means go" kind of way, but blue seems so much more chill. Yellow was next, which was deemed "significant risk" and that's pretty much how we all lived for the first ten years of this new century. What comes after "significant?" How about an orange high, followed by red, which splits the hair once again to be called "severe." I might have suggested adding brown to the spectrum, for all the inappropriate reasons you might imagine. 

For the past few years, the folks at Homeland Security have been sending out regular advisories about when we should be afraid, and when we should be more afraid. They aren't bothering with the Rainbow of Terror so much anymore, having consigned that to the dustbin of history in late 2010. If we really want to be in the know about or level of fright, we are asked to read these notes from NTAS, the National Terrorism Advisory System. The most recent of these reminds us all to be on alert for big groups of DVEs. Domestic Violent Extremists. "The ongoing global pandemic continues to exacerbate these threats, in part due to perceived government overreach in implementation of public health safety measures."

Yes, everything old is new again, as we make our way to our second full year of COVID and all the fear associated with it. Sure, we can choose to worry about foreign agents disrupting the two week lull while we change our calendars and try to figure out how to return things from Amazon, or we could just ago ahead and start being afraid of the Greek Alphabet. Omicron is the fifteenth letter, which suggests that we may have slept through all those other letters since Delta. Or perhaps there were some variants that were less threatening than others, with side effects like making it sound like you inhaled helium for a a few days. That would be the cute variant, maybe Iota, since it sounds funny. 

Or maybe we have finally reached a place in history when we can't be terrified anymore. The bar has been moved so many times that we just don't bother trying to clear it anymore. Life is just a constant flurry of dread, and trying to make gradients within it is time that could be spent panicking. 

Which suggests we just passed brown. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Surrender

 Someday we will look back on this time, and we might laugh.

We might laugh at the idea of "getting used to" the masks we now wear every day all the time. We might laugh at the notion of a divided country. We might laugh at the idea of living on the surface of our planet. We might laugh at these memories as the beginning of the end times. 

"Way back when," we will tell our Morlock children, "your ancestors roamed the earth above us in cars and planes. We went everywhere."

"Grandpa? What's a 'car?'"

We will explain it, just like we will have to describe the two-party system of politics that eventually destroyed the very fabric of what was the greatest democracy ever. We let egos run the world and ignored our principals in favor of our basic instincts. 

"You mean like scavenging for grubs?"

Not exactly. I mean that we could have looked at these crisis points as calls to action. Not that some people didn't, but the number of "humans" who chose to ignore the warnings was ultimately too great to overcome. We were dragged down by the very freedoms that we never fully understood. We surrendered to the newest iPhone and the screens that became the center of our lives. We even had screens on our refrigerators.

"What's a 'refrigerator?'"

That's a story for another time. Maybe next time I will tell you about the billionaires who took other people's money and made rocket ships so they could take celebrities on joyrides in outer space while children went hungry. 

"Rocket ships?"

There used to be a group of very rich people who used famous people as test subjects for their test flights, and eventually they took all their money and most of the air with them to a distant planet. 

"Famous people?"

Yes. Like Morg-17, except better dressed and they could see in color. Now, back to work. Those grubs aren't going to surrender themselves.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Gift

 There is a comet somewhere out there

making its way through the dark

That comet is on its way back

That's how it works

Even if it takes thousands of years

It will come back to the warmth of the sun

It will take in the light and the heat

and to back out into the void

If you look down on the earth

as it makes its yearly trip

even the wobbles can be described

by equations about circles

because we all come back

Eventually

Nothing stays lost forever

even if we aren't around to see it

The circle of the dryer reminds us

that socks can go missing

only to turn up in the hamper

The first time we go around

we don't always notice

so we get another chance

and another

and so on

We will meet again

don't fear

It's designed to work that way.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Prayer

 “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”

These are the words of Pope Francis. I don't always go along with voices from the Vatican, but I get this. I get it on a very deep level. It fits in pretty well with my own notion regarding "deeds not words." I have been known, from time to time, to talk endlessly about causes I support or would like everyone to support because I am far too busy talking about them to actually do anything except spread words around. 

So, now that's out of the way, let's go ahead and feed some people. My family and I are asking you, once you've finished praying, to feed some people. I am suggesting that you donate to my school's Virtual Food Drive. This effort is dedicated to serve those in Alameda County, where I live. I can vouch for these folks and the work that they do. The Alameda County Community Food Bank is offering you a tax-deductible opportunity to put some weight behind my words. And yours. 

And speaking of weight, now that I have made my pitch, I will attempt to reinforced the suggestion by relating the following anecdote: Around the fourth day of my holiday break, I hopped on the scale after my morning workout and admonished myself. For eating too much. It only took a moment for the shame of that sentiment to fully settle in before I decided to stick it here in my plea for contributions. One in six Americans will experience food insecurity, and that number continues to grow while the pandemic continues. The time that I spend looking in my refrigerator and complain about not having anything to eat when I can't see the back of the top shelf because it is so crowded with - yes, you guessed it - food is time I could be spending working on making good things happen. 

I can understand that you may not be swayed by these words. There are a kerjillion different charities and concerns that could be the place where your tax deductible donations land. As a family, we spent a few evenings discussing where we would like to spend our donor dollars. The list was extensive. But we couldn't ignore the reality of children here in our community going hungry. And if you're keen to be feeding those in your own neighborhood, use this handy link to locate a food bank in your area. 

And on the way out, I'll just drop this old nursery rhyme as Holiday Punctuation: 

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Priceless

 It all started when I first heard about Bruce Springsteen selling his music to Sony. All the recordings. All the publishing. The words and the music. For a tidy little sum. No, strike that. There is nothing tidy or little about half a billion dollars. For a few minutes I wrestled with that figure and tried to imagine all the places and ways that five hundred million dollars could exist in one place. That scraping sound inside my head was competing with all the times I have felt joy and release as a direct result of those words and music. I tried to imagine the negotiation. Sure, "Born To Run" is worth untold millions, but then there's the stuff on the Human Touch album that should probably be packaged with some stronger material to get it off the shelves. 

But who am I to assign a dollar value to art? The relative success of an artist is based almost exclusively on promotion. Which is probably why paintings and books and music become so much more valuable once the person who created it dies. Death is a great sales tool. The fact that Mister Springsteen was able to make such a monster deal while he was still around to wallow in it is a tribute to his talent.

I suppose. 

This came on the heels of the announcement that Eric Clapton had successfully sued a woman for selling a bootleg CD of his music on eBay. She was paid twelve dollars, and now she's liable for about four thousand dollars in court fees. This affirmed my current feelings about Mister Clapton, but what am I to do with my attitudes toward Bruce? Hero of the working man, blue collar troubadour, good friend of Barack Obama. I have often imagined a chance meeting between myself and The Boss, but that half billion dollars is a pretty good measuring stick for the distance between our worlds. 

Which doesn't mean that I will be burning any of his records, books, T-shirts or CDs any time soon. I paid for them, after all. I am a victim of pop culture, it seems. You can see it in the way that I felt pleased and gratified by the success of the latest Spider Man movie. Boffo box office numbers to which I contributed won't do much for me but assure a sequel. And ultimately another shot at disappointment. 

Meanwhile, this past weekend I also went on a pre-holiday visit to see my younger brother's new apartment, and the surrounding area. On our walk through San Anselmo, we stopped by the Artists Within gallery. Here we found paintings and jewelry and weaving and art created by the clients of Cedars. My brother had stories about all the artists, with whom he had worked over the past few years, and celebrated their fearless creations. The art there was for sale. Some of the pieces were more expensive than others, but I remembered the struggles my brother had endured trying to arrive at a price point for his own work. What is the difference between a seven hundred fifty dollar sculpture and a seven thousand five hundred dollar sculpture after you pay for the materials? The zeros. 

And even now, as I pursue my own muse from the relative quiet and safety of this keyboard, I can set aside the dollars and cents and assign my own value to the things on which I place value. A well-turned phrase, or a high note held for that extra second, or the collected works of a musician from Freehold, New Jersey. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come

 The following is a series of thoughts that I hope we might all carry through into the next year. Feel free to disregard or take to heart any or all of them. At your own peril.

I believe that the biggest threat to our democracy is our own democracy. People are voting for these numbskulls. Knock it off, already. 

Please stop putting "at" at the end of your questions about location. We can save valuable space and time without this unnecessary preposition. 

The suggestion that "the one who smellt it dealt it" should have a statute of limitations. After seven minutes that fart is everyone's. 

I suggest we start erecting statues to the heroes of the War on Christmas. Starting with the Grinch.

The NFL in its tireless attempt to make a vicious sport more precise and kind should do away with any sort of reference to "sudden death." A kinder gentler version of overtime is available in a working form just across the street at the NCAA.

I give up: Guns don't kill people. People kill people. And that's why people shouldn't have guns. 

If Popeye's Chicken Sandwich is so good, why do they have to advertise it?

I recommend that we institute another global lockdown. Not for COVID necessarily, but we should all have to go back to our rooms until we fix that attitude of ours. 

I would like to remind everyone that Patrick Swayze was right: "It's nothing personal."

I wonder why winter is the only season that gets to have its own greetings.

That song in your head was put there by someone. Blame them.

If we are going to have electric cars, can't we also have acoustic cars?

Those who believe in cancel culture probably don't believe in evolution. Things change. That bit about cro magnon men are so much smarter than neanderthals hasn't aged well. 

In honor of all those nights I spent playing Trivial Pursuit, I will no longer ask for a "slice" of pizza, I will be asking for a wedge. 

While 2021 was a pretty awful year, there is absolutely no guarantee that 2022 will bring renewed hope. Or personal jetpacks. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Making Other Plans

 Why not spend the holidays off planet this year? I know, it sounds like something out of Heinlein, but we could you know. With apologies to Beth Jarrett, we could all use some sort of lift this Christmas, and the burgeoning space tourist industry seems like the best place to put all our vacation dollars.

Consider that the nature of space travel requires clean, even sterile, environments and the efficiency of the recycling of air on those newfangled rockets is second to none. Once you get over that whole claustrophobia thing, you'll be able to enjoy the safety and quiet of the vacuum of space.

Of course, there are some potential obstacles to this plan: Reservations for a seat on Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic will set you back a quarter to a half million dollars apiece, so you probably want to check your list twice before taking anyone naughty. The billionaires who are running this concession are currently booking about seven years in advance, with a preference to high profile astronaut types like William Shatner and Michael Strahan. The pretend captain of a pretend spaceship and a former American football player turned morning talk show host. So you can see that the screening process is pretty rigorous. 

And what do you get for your hundreds of thousands of dollars? How about a snappy blue jumpsuit and eleven minutes of roaring into out of the atmosphere and plunging back into it. Twenty-five thousand dollars a minute. 

But you get to go to space, and you won't have to fret about COVID or finding a parking spot. 

Or maybe you'd rather go sit in a darkened movie theater with the periodically masked rabble, listening for a cough in the midst of a surge. How about Disneyland, with the throngs of probably vaxxed individuals and their children who probably keep up with the latest precautions and mandates. And who can afford the slightly less expensive than a ride into space voyage into the imagineered pocket of California heretofore known as the happiest place on earth. 

Now, one of the most terrifying places on earth. 

So, I'm asking: Why not spend the holidays off planet this year? 


Monday, December 20, 2021

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

We had all been counting down to that day: Friday December 17, the last day of school before Winter Break. Then along comes Tik Tok to spoil the moment. 

Schools across the country chose to shut down rather than live through "Shoot Up Your School Day." This "challenge" was posted just before we all got our shoes on to head once again into the fray. Once more before two weeks of only having to deal with the rest of the planet and not the potential for violence in our place of employment. 

So, it's an Internet Threat, what possible harm could come from that? Well, from where I'm sitting, the harm has already occurred. The fact that anyone might possibly take an anonymous post seriously suggests that we are living in a state of shock and dulled awe. Mission accomplished idiots. You did what COVID variants could not: You got schools closed. Again. Just as we were starting to turn back the tide of nearly constant reminders to pull up your mask and use hand sanitizer and make sure that your classroom's air purifying system is working, we have to start thinking Kevlar. 

Why take something like this seriously? Well, let's say that you're a school district in the central California town of Gilroy, and students in your area have been sharing this post for a few days. And you just happen to be living in a place where some nimrod opened fire on their annual Garlic Festival, killing three and wounding seventeen others. Your response might be a little different. The specter of a mass shooting looms much differently in communities that have already lived through one. Thanks to antisocial media, you can take a big wide swipe at an entire nation with the press of a few buttons, and the rest of us have to decide for ourselves if you happen to be the kid who got a gun for Christmas, who didn't like his grade on that final, the angry parent who is fed up with Critical Race Theory.

Or just some kid who wants one extra day of vacation. 

Five years ago, Halloween was ruined by incessant rumors of people dressed as clowns, roaming the streets of unspecified towns, looking for prey. Killer clowns were enough to scuttle many schools' plans for trick or treat, long before COVID. Aren't the times in which we currently live scary enough? Who needs clowns? Or Tik Tok? 

I went to work. Just another day. When it could have been such a happy one. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

In Another Universe...

 I was speaking with a group of fourth and fifth graders with whom I work on a leadership group. It was our last meeting of 2021, and we were finishing up our project, reflecting on our relative successes and challenges. This is about the time that the subject turned to Mister Caven.

"Wow," said one, "I'm really glad you're the computer teacher," before finishing up with, "Instead of principal."

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because this school would be so different."

"How so?"

"We wouldn't get away with anything 'cause you're so strict."

For a moment I felt a little sting. Not a big one, since long ago I abandoned the search for an administrator's credential in favor of playing utility infielder for this home away from home for the past twenty-five years. And yet, I confess to that little pinch. These were kids who had volunteered to spend Tuesday afternoons with me after school for an hour, so I knew that their feelings for me were pleasant enough. This particular student felt I was strict. No big deal.

And the other five joined in agreement. 

Which caused me to reflect on my practices. Did I want to be the "no running in the halls guy?" Did I want to be the one who enforces the no Pokemon cards rule? Did I want to be the teacher that causes whispered discussions to stop as I walk past?

Well, in a word, yes. As a reformed screamer, I feel as though after a quarter century of dealing with elementary school kids, I have a pretty solid understanding of what works and what doesn't. Screaming does not. Neither does being the "cool teacher" who turns a blind eye to the mischief and chicanery of those far younger than myself. I don't go out of my way to prosecute, suspend, or send home, but I do talk to them about their choices. Which leads to some eye-rolling and teeth-sucking. 

And that's okay with me. If history has taught me anything, it's that I prefer being a little annoying to being lightly disrespected. That's the gig I signed up for, and it's the gig I am currently playing. Right after this two week break. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Arrogance

 In an attempt to disregard the emphasis we might all be pouring onto holiday cheer, I would like to bring up the case of a particular street in Kentucky: Moss Creek Avenue in Bowling Green. It was here that a tornado touched down last week, killing eleven people. Seven of them were children. Two of those were infants. 

What I am about to do is wrap this tragedy up in a great big bag with all of the others that have descended on our world over the past couple years. Tornadoes are not new, but their severity and some say their frequency has increased. Scientists are slow to connect this trend to climate change, but I would imagine that there are plenty of folks on the ground in Kentucky who would be happy to name a culprit. Fifty tornadoes across eight states over the course of a weekend. More than one hundred people have been confirmed dead, and another hundred remain unaccounted for. 

If we use round numbers, we could compare those two hundred lives to the two hundred Americans lost to gun violence over the same two days. It was over the past weekend that the US death toll from COVID-19 crossed the eight hundred thousand mark. 

That bag is getting pretty full, but are these events in any way connected beyond my morbid fascination? 

I will now suggest that arrogance is at the heart of all of this suffering. An unwillingness to allow for things bigger than us humans in the nature of things. Weather, for example shouldn't be ignored. For example, there was a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky where employees were threatened with termination if they left their shifts early. To flee the coming funnel cloud. Eight people died when the building was hit. Dozens more had to be rescued from the debris that was their former place of employment. 

Meanwhile, across America, more than a thousand people continue to die each week from a pandemic that has been raging for nearly two years. And there are people who still want to argue about its existence. Or wearing a mask. Or getting a vaccine. People are leaving their jobs rather than submitting to such outrageous suggestions. 

Which tends to make everyone a lot more tense. Which does little to increase the peace in a country with more guns than people. 

And the beat goes on. Sleep tight, America. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

And The Winner Is...

 Let's take a walk down history lane: Charles Lindbergh, first aviator to cross the Atlantic solo and Nazi sympathizer. 

Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese Republic that eventually became Taiwan, who also suppressed his critics during The White Terror, subjecting his country to thirty-eight years of martial law. 

Adolf Hitler, Austrian born painter and dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945. His other accomplishments are part of the record. 

Joseph Stalin, who ran the newly minted Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953. He is widely condemned for overseeing mass repressionethnic cleansingwide-scale deportation, hundreds of thousands of executions, and famines that killed millions.

George C. Marshall, who oversaw the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, and author of The Marshall Plan, viewed by most as the start of the Cold War.

Harry Truman, took over for Franklin Roosevelt, and held up a paper that had the results of an election that was wrong. He is also the only world leader to ever use nuclear weapons on another country.

Richard Nixon. You remember him? He was an American President. Then he wasn't.

Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican Revolution of 1994. Filed for divorce from his third wife shortly after she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Go ahead and add Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg to this list, and you've got just a sample of the folks that Time Magazine has selected as their Man of the Year. Selecting Elon Musk to join this pantheon of infamy seems oddly in step with the way we view our world. Or at least the editors of Time. 

Not Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who led insurrectionists away from the Senate chamber on January 6. Not Doctor Anthony Fauci. Not the healthcare workers around the world who have kept us alive during this pandemic. Not Dave Grohl. Instead, we are presented with the billionaire genius who can't figure out how economics work. 

I'd say that seems right on brand. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Heart Of Darkness

 Last one out of Faux News, please turn off the lights.

What? You say the lights have been off this whole time?

Chris Wallace announced this past Sunday that he was leaving the company after eighteen years serving at the whim of Rupert Murdoch and the gang. He said that he would be joining "the enemy," hosting a show on CNN's streaming service. 

How could this have happened? Could it be that finally there just wasn't enough news to report from the tower of Doom known as Fox News? If one were predisposed to having any integrity at all as a journalist, maybe it was finally time to retire from the clown show and go somewhere that doesn't require exaggeration as a practice. Or sacrificing your immortal soul. 

Or maybe he is planning on meeting up with his father, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame in the hereafter. I would imagine that Chris would have a difficult time explaining all the less-than-ethical chicanery going on behind the scenes at the house that Rupert built. Certainly, he is due some praise for being one of the few voices of reason in a den of confused jackals more interested in continuing the absurd rhetoric and slanted views that were so very popular for the past five years or so. 

Now seems like a pretty good time to leave that dead horse behind. 

"It is the last time, and I say this with real sadness, we will meet like this," Wallace said as he pushed away from the desk at Fox News Sunday one last time.  He described his time at Fox as a "great ride" and said he was "ready for a new adventure." Some people might have the same reaction to their time in Disneyland. Or a trip up the river to find Colonel Kurtz. I've got Mister Wallace cast in the Captain Willard role, with Sean Hannity taking over for Brando. Tucker Carlson in the Dennis Hopper role. 

Whatever the case, I find it difficult to applaud what was a pretty simple decision: leave while you still have a shred of dignity, or stay and become part of the Borg. Another creepy analogy for a creepy place to work. The downside being that at Faux News, he showed up as the lone voice of reason. Who knows what will happen when he has to make sense every day? 

We will wait and see. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Don't Shoot

 It's all about the sanctity of life. 

That's why California governor Gavin Newsom announced over the weekend that he will push for a new law modeled on Texas’ abortion ban that would let private citizens sue anyone who makes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns. 

Because it's all about the sanctity of life. 

For a very long time, it has been apparent that the right is very particular about saving every life from that ill-defined moment of conception, but not so keen about how to protect those lives once they spill out into the world. No family leave. No universal preschool. No universal health care. No increase in the minimum wage. And the list goes on and on. Once those children have been forced into a world they and their parents do not control, they are on their own. 

Oh, and good luck dodging the bullets that seem to fly around places where our most vulnerable citizens seem to find themselves at the exact wrong time. 

So, if those who are connected to the taking of a life are to be prosecuted and punished, why not go after all the killers? Every day, twenty-two children between the ages of  one and seventeen are victims of gun violence. Five of them die. This is a portion of the one hundred six Americans who die every day from guns. 

It doesn't take a degree in child psychology to divine the connection between the prevalence of guns and the desperation felt by children placed in unhealthy and dangerous environments. Neil Young once sang, "There's one more kid that'll never go to school/Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool." The kids who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jasper Wu from Oakland, who didn't live to see his second birthday. Twenty-two kids every day.

It's about the sanctity of life, and if we are going to insist that everyone connected with abortion including the Uber driver who takes a woman to a clinic is liable, then we need to start going after everyone who brings a gun into the world. 

Oh, and if it's really about the sanctity of life, why not get a vaccination and wear a mask. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Constant Harmony

 A few weeks ago when Stephen Sondheim died, I toyed with the idea of writing one of my patented celebrity obituaries. I figured it would spin on something about "Send In The Clowns," and about how many of his words I have committed to memory. Then came the flood of tributes from musical theater aficionados who had a lot more to say on the subject. My own reflections paled by comparison. And in that moment, the window passed. But to be clear, I have nothing but admiration for the man and his work, and I say with certainty that he stomped on the Terra like few others. He will be missed. 

Which leads me to the genius of Michael Nesmith. One of two remaining Monkees. The one in the hat. When I came home this past Friday to the news of his passing, I started crafting the words I would use here. I will start by telling you that we asked one of our friends to sing a Mike Nesmith song at our wedding: Harmony Constant. It includes this refrain, "And the Harmony Constant in all of these things/Is the thought of the future with you." Which was a highly appropriate sentiment at the time, as well as giving me a somewhat smug feeling of being one of the only people I know to feature a Mike Nesmith song at their wedding. 

That smug feeling was hard won. Having been a Monkees fan from way back in my youth, I picked Mike as my favorite of the "pre-fab four." He wasn't the cute one, or the dumb one, or the Circus Boy. He was the one who seemed to be completely in on the joke. He was along for the ride, looking for a way to make himself heard. And seen. After the implosion of his television band, Mike took the path of solo artist, providing Linda Ronstadt with one of her earliest hits, "Different Drum," which appeared on his second non-Monkee release. Which is about how close "Papa Nez" came to having a hit of his very own. It was in elementary school that I adopted the knit hat look of my favorite Monkee. I still have the hat that I wore until my mother finally asked me to stop. 

And somewhere in there, I lost track of Mike Nesmith. But in 1979, he came roaring back into my life with his video for "Cruisin'," part of his experimental video album "Elephant Parts." A collection of skits and songs and whimsy from a man who emerged from beneath his own wool hat to become a pioneer in music video, and producer of cult favorite films like Repo Man and Tapeheads. And when I moved out to California, one of the first concerts I attended with my then-fiancĂ©e was Mike Nesmith on his Tropical Campfires tour. Not long after that, I was married to with the sounds of one of my favorite songs of his still ringing in my ears. 

So to say that Michael Nesmith truly stomped on the Terra. My Terra, specifically. His death at seventy-eight didn't seem to shock many who knew of his Christian Scientist upbringing and his declining health over the past few years. But it shook me. He was the Monkee who was friends with Frank Zappa, and along with his bandmate Mickey Dolenz brought Jimi Hendrix along on their tour in 1967. He was easily the coolest guy in the room. 

And he will be missed. Aloha, Mike. 

Unlimited joy, unlimited time
And the beauty of infinite light
Unlimited freedom that's rightfully mine
And is yours is unlimited life

Monday, December 13, 2021

Why Does The Right Have Such Trouble With Rights?

 Can you hear the sounds of marching in the streets? 

No? 

That could be because there aren't any. Or at least not as many as there ought to be. The United States Supreme Court just upheld the Texas ban on abortion. But they did allow clinics to sue over it. This second piece is what is known in legal circles as a "pyrrhic victory." Currently in the Lone Star state, abortion is illegal after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo. That’s around six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. 

But feel free to grab yourself a lawyer and go fight it in court. After the highest court in the land has already approved this draconian measure. 

In the past couple paragraphs, I have evoked a different age:  Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign, and Draco, also called Drako or Drakon,  who was the first recorded legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. These examples come to us from a different time, when legislators wore togas and women were property while the togas went around figuring things out for them. 

That was a very long time ago. However, I encourage you to take a moment to try and pick out the women in the grotesquely staged photo of the Republican lawmakers crowded around Governor Greg Abbot's desk after he signed the bill into law. It's a pretty small group. Want to find a person of color? Look elsewhere. They are not in the room. And since this law will impact primarily women, and disproportionately women of color, this makes me wonder about representative democracy. 

In a poll of adult Texans, the new law had forty-seven percent approval, compared to forty-seven percent who disapproved. A pretty slim margin, but only thirty-nine percent of women supported it. You know, the ones who will be affected by this legislation. They didn't give a breakdown for teenaged mothers or victims of rape or incest. 

Keeping in mind this is Texas, where no one can tell you to wear a mask during a global pandemic. But they are completely comfortable controlling the reproductive rights of their women. If you don't like them rules, then lawyer up, pardner. 

Or take to the streets. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Collecting

 Mostly, I collect dust. 

Afforded, as I am, with ample living space and even more room for storage, I maintain a somewhat ridiculous number of "collections" at my family home. The moment that this came into focus for me was when my wife asked me what we might do with more than a dozen volumes of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. These books have occupied a place on the shelf in our back bathroom for (checks watch) a long time. And while I have spent moments over those years enjoying various bits and bites of kind of interesting anecdotal information, when my wife asked me "What shall we do with all those Bathroom Readers?" I did not flinch.

"We could keep a few, but I don't think we have to hold on to all of them."

It should be noted here that she did not ask me about the tub full of T-shirts in the basement. This is a collection of souvenirs from my youth, most of which no longer fit me, and some that have simply fallen out of the regular rotation. But that does not mean they aren't treasures. These are reminders of times when I went somewhere and just had to buy a T-shirt. Which was most places and most times when I was in my twenties. Concerts, sporting events, tourist traps. These were my diary. 

Now they're a tub I have to move when I want to get to the Christmas tree decorations. 

On either side of our VLTV (very large television) there are two wooden towers of drawers. Each drawer contains a letter or two, of my compact disc collection. The real estate they take up has diminished slightly over the time we have lived in our house, having been decanted from their amusingly named "jewel cases" and slipped into plastic sleeves with their cover art and lyric sheets. And their they sit, monuments to my musical tastes, rarely seen but regularly referenced in my Spotify playlists. Much in the same way the bookshelf filled with DVDs behind the door in our living room reminds me of all the films I loved so much that I needed to own a copy to watch again and again. 

Until I stopped. 

The stacks of movie posters I have acquired over the years sit in a corner of another room, waiting anxiously for their chance to appear on the walls that allow only a limited number of them to be featured. I trot them out from time to time, to show guests what lies in obscurity. In storage. 

But there they all are, captives of my unwillingness to let them go. These are the treasures I drag along with me. They sit next to the ones my wife has, and the ones my son holds onto. I know that someday, unless I do something responsible about it, they will all become my son's concern. And then he can figure out where to put all that stuff. 

Collecting dust. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Dona Nobis Pacem

 I have made a tradition of two things around this time of year: making peanut brittle just like my dad used to do, and designing our family Christmas card. In all the decades (yes, decades) that this has been my assumed responsibility, at no point has it occurred to me, "Hey, I know: Let's get the whole fam together and take a photo of us loaded down with guns."

Not once. 

Not a doodle of reindeer inspecting the barrel of their assault rifle, or elves churning out handguns by the score. I tend to keep things pretty secular, so there isn't a lot of outward religiosity going on, but I am pretty clear that the occasion that we are celebrating with all of this mail is the nominal birthday of the Prince of Peace. 

This message was apparently lost on Representative Thomas Massie from Kentucky. He gathered his brood together to show off their arsenal, including the wish for Santa to "bring more ammo." Not a bike. Not a Nintendo Switch. Not frankincense or myrrh. Or goodwill toward men.

Guns. Lots of guns

Another thing that happens while I am creating my family's Christmas card is that I have to remember all those other cards that I have drawn in the past, as well as all the clever designs I have seen from others over the years and try not to rehash any of those ideas. 

This notion was wasted on Representative Lauren Boebert from Colorado. She posed with her boys and their rifles, grinning from ear to ear, with the message, "The Boeberts have your six, RepThomasMassie! (No spare ammo for you, though)"

Ho, ho, ho. Get it?

Last week there was a shooting at a school in Michigan. The fifteen year old who committed the murders there was given the gun that he used for Christmas. Somehow, I don't believe that the sentiments coalescing in all this ugliness could be contained in a card. Or a tweet. Or a blog entry.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Getting Away With It

Once upon a time, there was a presidential candidate who insisted that, "“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters." He spent the next five years proving just exactly how true that sentiment was. 

Most of you recall that we didn't just allow this goofball to run for President, we let him take office. And after one term, two impeachments, and an election which he lost we are still trying to get rid of him and his sociopathic bent. 

Recently we learned that 45 showed up to a presidential debate after testing positive for COVID-19. His former Chief of Staff explained that in spite of the rules stating that each candidate was required “to test negative for the virus within seventy two hours of the start time … Nothing was going to stop [former gameshow host] from going out there.” 

Certainly not common sense, or concern for those in attendance. He was going out to show the world that nothing could keep him down. He was going to show them that the only one who could hold him back was the infected idiot himself. This was also the moment in which the Trumpian spawn showed up to support their sire without masks, flaunting the rules in their own deadly way. 

So, nobody died, right? Just political theater. Just 45 being 45. 

Okay, how about the Faux News interview in which he bragged: "Don't forget, I fired Comey  Had I not fired Comey, you might not be talking to me right now about a beautiful book about four years in the White House, and we'll see about the future. If I didn't fire Comey, they were looking to take down the president of the United States. I don't think could've survived if I didn't fire him." 

Hello? He just admitted to obstruction of justice. On "national" TV. A majority of Republican voters say that believing that this doofus won the 2020 election is important to being a member of the Grand Old Party. 

What will they say when he shows up on their street with a loaded gun?

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Too Late? Too Soon?

 A very good friend and very funny person was checking into the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley with his kids, and when the desk clerk paused a moment in the process to let him know that the spa only took reservations until five on Thursdays and Fridays, he slammed down the pen and uttered these words: "Oh, great! 9/11, and now this!"

He was being funny. He's a funny guy. The pen slam was mock outrage. His comparison to the spa being unable to accept reservations after five on Thursdays and Fridays was a little bit of theatrical humor, probably for my benefit, since I was standing there. His kids just rolled their eyes. They had probably seen  this bit before. Comparing the events of September 11, 2001 to the incredibly mild inconvenience of access to the spa in a luxury hotel is the type of thing upon which humor is based. 

Which is why comparing Doctor Fauci to Josef Mengele is so funny. Or rather is should be. If you were to tune in Saturday Night Live and watch a sketch in which some wild-eyed caricature of a Faux News correspondent went off the rails making such a comparison, it would be humorous. In questionable taste, certainly, but the attempt at making a joke would be apparent. 

No one at Fox News would make the mistake of casting Laura Logan as a comedian. Ms. Logan is the host of a show on Fox Nation called "Laura Logan Has No Agenda." Feel free, at this point, to make your own joke about that title. On this program she was not joking when she made the one to one correspondence between Doctor Anthony Fauci and Josef Mengele. Josef Mengele, also known as "The Angel of Death," who performed unspeakable experiments on the prisoners of Auschwitz. That Josef Mengele. She also chose to make this comparison on the second night of Chanukah. 

At this point, I feel compelled to mention that this very good friend of mine was in Manhattan on September, 11 2001. He lost friends in that attack. Some may argue that, even years after the fact, this bit of levity was too much too soon. But he gets points for making the joke. Ms. Logan has no agenda, and she has no discernible sense of humor. 

Or historical perspective. Doctor Fauci is in the business of saving lives. 

Get it? 

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Short Attention - What Was That Again?

 Thanks. Thanks a lot.

A family in Corte Madera, California sent their chose to send their child to school last month. Not a huge deal except that this child was infected with COVID-19. The parents chose not to notify the school. Subsequently, seven other children caught the crud and seventy-five more needed to be put in quarantine. This meant that all those families who had plans to travel for Thanksgiving were not able to do so. It also meant that school officials had to do the maximum amount of investigation and contact tracing to be sure that they had examined all the possible links in the infection chain. 

To be clear: These parents were informed of their child's condition, but they chose to flaunt the protocols and precautions in place. Sorting this kind of thing out is the school's responsibility. Keeping in mind this happened in the liberal bastion of Marin County, California. 

I work for a school. I spend a great portion of every day there reminding kids to wear their masks. Wear them properly. Wear them as something besides chinstraps. Four months since our return to in-person instruction, kids and adults are feeling the strain of maintaining conventions put in place to slow the spread of the disease that has killed nearly eight hundred thousand Americans. A few days ago, I had taken off my mask while attending a Zoom meeting while I was alone in my classroom. When it was over, I got up and started getting ready to leave, and I made it all the way into the hallway before that telltale breeze on my upper lip let me know that I had forgotten something. The alarm bells went off in my head as I rushed back to my desk to retrieve my mask. I felt a flood of relief as I took that first deep breath of cloth-filtered air. 

Human beings have not become more resistant to COVID-19 by ignoring its existence. Across the globe, thousands are still dying from coronavirus and its Greek Alphabet of variants. It will not go away just because we lost interest in it, like we did with McLean Stevenson. 

Is it a complete and total onerous bore to have to test and vax, rinse, later and repeat? You bet it is. You know what's worse? 

Dying. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Enough

 Who is exactly responsible? 

Well, to hear the NRA lore tell it, guns don't kill people. People kill people. Although I feel the need to point out that giving people guns has made that task much, much easier. 

Which is probably why so many of these stories include a section describing how the killer of people managed to get hold of said gun. Or guns. Because having access to more firepower than many small countries is a right we stuck in our Constitution right after the right to complain about it. Furthermore, it is the potential for putting an end to someone's life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness that someone got it into their heads to sue the merchants of death. Pardon me, gunmakers. 

This past week, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that gun manufacturers and distributors cannot be held legally responsible under state law for deaths caused in a 2017 massacre in Las Vegas. Sixty people were killed then. By another person who just happened to have a hotel room full of guns and ammunition to help him out. Though the court said the companies were immune from the wrongful death and negligence civil claims brought by the parents of Carrie Parsons, on of the victims, Justice Kristina Pickering wrote: "We in no way underestimate the profound public policy issues presented or the horrific tragedy the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting inflicted. We urge the legislature to act if it did not mean to provide immunity in situations like this one." 

If you sensed a buck being passed there, you're pretty savvy. "We don't make the laws, we just interpret them. Go make some different laws so we can give the people what they want." The trouble is, there are still a lot of people who are completely comfortable having all those guns in our country. Last time someone did a count, there were more guns than people in this great land of ours. I don't own one, so that means that someone else has two. Or three. Or a hotel room full of them. 

Which brings us to the Crumbleys of Oxford Township in Michigan. James and Jennifer are the parents of a person who used a gun to kill people. The gun was purchased by James and Jennifer as a Christmas gift for their son. On Black Friday. That same gun was most likely being carried by their son as the family sat down in the principal's office for a discussion of the drawing young Crumbley had made depicting a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding figure, with the words "Blood everywhere" and "The thoughts won't stop - help me." 

After this meeting, mom and dad headed home. Young Crumbley went back to class and shortly thereafter killed four of his classmates and wounded several others. And shortly after that, mom and dad went into hiding. When they were found, they were charged with involuntary manslaughter, because children under eighteen are not allowed by law to have one. Unless they are hunting with a license. At the meeting, no one bothered to mention the gun that had been purchased. Because that would have spoiled the surprise. 

The surprise came later. When their son killed other people. With a gun. 

Had enough? 

Monday, December 06, 2021

iContact

 If you are reading this, put down your phone. This may make it difficult to read if you're in the habit of catching my personal brand of telling it like it is via your cellular device, but I'm just asking you to set it down for a moment. The same with your keyboard. Push away from the desk just a bit to give you a chance distance yourself from the words you are reading. 

These are my words. My thoughts. You are free to have your own. You can feel free to share them. I would go so far as to encourage it. But first, read the whole thing, and then respond.

If you've got a gun in your hand, put it down. As a matter of fact, why not go ahead and take the time to unload it and lock it away someplace safe for the duration of this interaction. 

If you're in a car driving somewhere and trying to catch up with me on your way to buy a new phone or gun, pull over and read this all the way to the end before continuing on your way. Please do this safely. There is no rush.

What you are currently reading is a group of words assembled to incite a reaction. It is not to be ignored, like the instructions to an IKEA dresser. As long as you're here, stick with it for the duration.

Everybody comfortable? Everyone set?

Here it goes:

Pay attention to the things in life that matter. Spend more time with flesh and blood human beings than the avatars and electronic friends you maintain. Take the time to talk to your family in meaningful ways, and by this I mean somewhere outside the auspices of the comment section of their Instagram feed. If you're in a car or plane or bus or train, take the time to make eye contact with someone. It might be a little scary at first, but I promise you it won't hurt. 

Those people are someone else. They are not robots or computer game images. Their minds are doing things that yours may be doing. Their minds might have all kinds of things to share with you. You could try something really old school: have a conversation that doesn't involve typing with your thumbs. Or Caps Lock. Again, this could be frightening at first, because they sound you hear won't be just that of your own voice rattling around in your head. 

If you've followed this prescription and it doesn't bring you any relief from the urges to buy a new phone or gun, continue on your way. It's a free country, after all. These are only suggestions. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I am pushing away from my own keyboard to go look at other people in the eye. 

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Sticks And Stones

 Whoever said that "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" did not grow up on my street. Nor do they live in my head where I can still recall the epithets that were hurled my way as I grew up. One particular "friend" had a rehearsed litany of nicknames for me, none of them complimentary, that he used to greet me on the off chance that I might have forgotten them in the hours since we had been apart. I was comforted on numerous occasions by the comparison of sticks and stones to words by parents, teachers and peers. Each time I took this sage wisdom and went out to do battle with the casual slings and arrows hurled in my direction. Not the physical, but the verbal. 

Something I learned along the way: There are those who, once they are ignored, will resort to physical abuse once the verbal has missed its intended target. That idea about turning the other cheek is great if you have more than two, or if you're a real fast healer. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of bumps and bruises. And scars. 

Inside and out. 

Now it's my job to try and mitigate the damage done to the self-esteem of elementary schoolers as they seek to assert their dominance over one another. At my school, I am fully aware of just how much our kids have lost in the empathy department after being away from one another for a year and a half. During that year and a half, they have been witness to models of the most egregious sort of behavior. From adults. Our elected officials seem quite content to make their case for their side by degrading and demeaning the other in the most aggressive way possible. And all the while, the wife of the twice-impeached former president and game show host used her lofty position to run a campaign called Be Best. From their website, regarding their second pillar of "online safety" comes this assertion: “By teaching our children uplifting, positive, and respectful online interactions, we take them one step closer to the safer lives and incredible futures that await them.” This might be a good place to point out that her husband's online presence was redacted because it was neither positive or uplifting. 

And yes, I understand that I am walking a very thin line by talking about a former chief executive and his wife in this way. I am not able to simply ignore or diminish such hypocrisy. In the same way that I am not able to ignore the ugly way that partisan politics is being carried out on a national stage with members of Congress calling one another names and posting threatening videos and generally behaving in a way that would get them suspended from any public school in this great land of ours. 

So, maybe it's not so great. Maybe the path to making America greater does not come from diminishing one another and wearing red baseball caps. We need to dig a little deeper and try to hold off on that pithy putdown, even if it comes as a response to being poked even harder. We have lived through a dark time where the War of Words turned physical. We are scared of one another and our reaction to that fear is causing that gulf to widen. 

We need to show up as better role models for our children. Before they discover just how devastating words can truly be. 

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Not Again

 Okay, it was a pretty sick joke at the time, but it's starting to feel even more grotesque: The suggestion that the best thing about kids going to school online for a year meant that there weren't any school shootings. For a year. 

We were so focused on protecting children from the deadly coronavirus, we completely overlooked the potential lifesaving potential of keeping them out of the crossfire. The shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan this past week took the lives of three teenagers, wounding eight others. The killer is fifteen years old and was taken into custody moments after the shots were fired. 

This is the part in the story where those in the community start to wonder how "something like this could happen here." But at this point, why would anyone imagine that a high school is a safe place for anyone? What is especially troubling in this case is the number of signs pointing to trouble ahead of this. Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe downplayed the significance of an incident in early November when a deer head was thrown off the school roof, which he said was “absolutely unrelated” to the shooting, this was in addition to allegations circulating on social media that there had been threats of a shooting. 

There were reports of numerous students who chose to stay home and submit their assignments online rather than head back to a place they felt held danger for them. These were not the students who were making what are now the somewhat commonplace texts made from behind barricaded doors, underneath desks, assuring their parents that they were okay. 

Okay? 

How can fifteen to twenty shots from a semiautomatic handgun fired in anger inside a school be construed in any way to be "okay?"

At least they had masks on? They were all vaccinated? Somebody help me out here. I get that we are all struggling to reenter society and that we are having a tough time of it. Homicides are up twenty-five percent across the country, even while the overall crime rate is going down. 

All of which makes me reconsider taking all my business, retail and otherwise, to the relative safety of Al Gore's Internet. Is there a vaccine for this? 

Friday, December 03, 2021

Settlement

 Alex Jones would like you to hear his side of things. The Free Speech side of things. It makes sense that a man who has bludgeoned the Constitution in every way imaginable would come slithering back to the First Amendment for salvation. His conspiracy laden world view has been sprayed across the country in a way that might best be described as "liberally," but that word does not seem to apply here. 

A Connecticut judge ruled this past month that Jones was liable by default in a defamation lawsuit brought by relatives of some of the victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre. The Sandy Hook Massacre that occurred in 2012. The one that Alex Jones began describing way back then as "a hoax." The parents of the children who were shot and killed that day would beg to differ. They would also beg to have Alex Jones and his minions to shut up. If you know anything about Alex Jones, you know how that plea might be ignored. He is far too busy speaking freely to hear anyone else in the room. Listening is not one of the man's strong points. 

If you have filed Sandy Hook away with so many other mass shootings over the past few decades, remember that twenty of the twenty-six victims were small children. First graders between the ages of six and seven. It was Alex Jones' assertion that this was all a made up "false flag" event, created by those who might attempt to undermine the insane vision he holds of the world. It's not the maniacs with guns we should be worrying about, it's the Clintons and the Obamas. He clamed that the parents who appeared on the scene of the murder of their children were "crisis actors," all a part of some bizarre theater presentation designed to take our freedom away from us. By "freedom," of course, he means "guns." 

There is not currently a statute on the books that suggests an appropriate penalty for being a soul-sucking leech on the belly of society. If there was, there would be a whole lot more lawsuits clogging up an already overstuffed legal system. The name of Alex Jones' podcast is Infowars, which might as well be Realitywars since the ongoing battle seems to be between him and the world in which we all live. Is he free to spin his yarns to those who might listen? From inside his own house, or on a busy street corner, but not with a worldwide web of a megaphone that shoves his rants into the faces of rational folks, some of whom are grieving parents. Once again we find ourselves confronted with an arsonist who insists that he is entitled to yell "fire" in a crowded movie house. 

I suggest taping his mouth shut and taking away his matches. 

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Ladies And Gentlemen...

 This past weekend, the planet lost another soul. This one was not COVID-related, so it won't go into a specific count, but it will affect me and those around me for a good long time. It is possible that you are familiar with Al Kolwicz from his regular appearances on various forums and conservative outlets for his persistent views on voter fraud and other right wing issues. His was a voice that would not be stilled. 

Now it is. 

But Al's conservative views are not the reason for me to laud him here. I could be praising him for being one of the first voices for a cashless society, working in the mines of data that would eventually produce the Plus System, a way of connecting you to your money with a magnetic strip on a card. Ironic, considering his eventual distrust of networked computing for counting votes, but this is also not the reason I am taking the time to eulogize the man.

Al was nearly my father in law. Once upon forever ago, I thought I was going to marry his daughter. And all the intimidation that came with that distinction was felt keenly by me at that time. What exactly were my prospects, when it came to being part of the family. The truth was, as a college freshman, I had little to offer in this vein beyond those offered by being a studio art major. I was not, in so many words, a good catch. I was also terrified of the prospect of having to impress this man who had grown his own business out of his start at IBM. Al had prospects. 

And the reason I didn't just run and hide was that I knew this story: Al's ex-wife was a huge Elvis fan. He took his wife to see The King. She was lucky enough to be handed a stuffed Teddy Bear that Mister Presley used to wipe some of the sweat from his brow. She kept it wrapped in plastic. It was one of her prized possessions. What she never knew was that Al had made arrangements, paid arrangements, for Elvis to bestow this keepsake on his wife. As far as she knew, The King had singled her out for this special honor all on his own. She had been picked out of the crowd by some magic. The magic of a man bringing joy to his wife in the form of a sweat-stained stuffed animal. A romantic gesture to which I still aspire.

I can tell this story because Al has left the building. He goes with the beating heart of a romantic, no matter what else he might have done in his life. He will be missed. He stomped on the Terra. Aloha, Al. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Band Of Brothers

I spent the back end of my Thanksgiving holiday watching the Peter Jackson Beatles documentary Get Back.  Like so much else that Mister Jackson has done, this is epic and expansive and maybe even at times excessive, but being a Fab Four Fan forever I was immediately drawn to it. This is a behind the scenes look at the behind the scenes documentary Let It Be. That one ran one hour twenty-one minutes. Compare that to the nearly eight hours presented by the Lord of the Rings auteur. 

The one made back in 1970 showed the slow disintegration of the world's greatest rock band. It concludes with the iconic rooftop concert, the last time the lads would play together as a band. Bittersweet hardly begins to describe it. Peter Jackson's film winds up with the same show, but the path to that gig is made so very much more clear that deciding to come together (see what I did there?) one last time on top of the Apple Headquarters was healing and inevitable. 

Spending three weeks with the Beatles as they tried to bring the vision of their next project to fruition gives us a chance to see the love and respect they shared. Not the divisive grumbling that would eventually become canon. George Harrison, history tells us, became a Beatle when he was only thirteen years old after John and Paul who were only a year or so older invited him. Ringo was comparatively old when he joined the band at twenty-two. Still, he got in at the ground floor and took the ride with the other three to the top of the pops. They were elevated beyond what they and the rest of the world had ever seen before. 

Expectations were high. This brought tension that could only truly be felt by the boys in the band. It is important to remember that their manager, Brian Epstein had died only a year and a half prior to this, and no one was minding the store. The Beatles were amazing musicians, not businessmen. You can see them struggle with suggestions from the director of the film within the film, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, for an enormous extravaganza set in the ancient amphitheater in Sabratha, an ancient Roman city in Libya. 

Somewhere in the midst of all this hoopla, George decides he's rather just quit. Only a couple of meetings with just the lads convinced him to come back and give it one more go. Watching the results of the sessions, not just the ten songs captured that would become their penultimate album, but all the noodling and jamming and silliness that took place in that basement studio brings joy to the session on the roof that closed things down. That was January 1969. Eight months later, The Beatles were finished. 

More than fifty years later, they are together again. One last time. And it's an amazing thing to watch fall apart.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Big Savings

 For a while there, I was able to resent Black Friday because it was the day that deprived us of having our son at home for Thanksgiving. He worked retail in that big blue box full of electronics store. Never mind all the other reasons, the glorification of greed, the exultation of excess. Some believe that merchants liked the name because it meant that would no longer be "in the red" after the receipts had been counted up for this celebration of commercialism. This perception is infinitely preferable to the notion that there is doom and gloom attached to all that capitalism. So a few folks get trampled trying to make their way to the pallet of Playstation 5 consoles at the back of the store. It's all in the service of the almighty dollar. What could be more quintessentially American? 

Sadly, even though Thanksgiving as celebrated by Americans has not been adopted as freely as the day after by our friends across the globe. Folks in other countries can skip the turkey and stuffing and gear up more readily for the onslaught the day after at their local retailers. Perhaps not the export for which we should be most proud. 

Nonetheless, crowds of shoppers with visions of sugarplums and savings dancing in their heads hit the malls hard last Friday, in search of deals. Which they found. They also encountered gunfire. In Durham, North Carolina three people were shot as the spending melee continued until authorities closed the party down. Among the wounded was a ten year old child. The stampede in this case wasn't so much for merchandise as it was for self-preservation. Only one person got shot up in Tacoma, but the flood of humanity was similar. 

Meanwhile the new trend of "flash mob robberies" continues to spread as large groups of smash and grab thieves target mostly high-end retailers. Initially a California phenomenon, this crime frenzy managed to land in far away frigid Minneapolis on Friday. 

At a Best Buy. 

Am I happy to honor my son's wishes that we go nowhere near the mall on the day after Thanksgiving? Turns out it doesn't just save me a few bucks. It might be saving my life. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Practice

 I am grateful that I took all those piano lessons. I admit that I may not have always shown it. It felt, at the time, like a chore that I was saddled with and not the kind of chore could be completed and then move on. It was a commitment to time I pretended not to have. Practicing felt like homework, and why would I volunteer for any more of that? 

In my head, even now, I imagine myself sitting down at the keyboard, cracking my knuckles and proceeding to play all today's biggest hits. I was never going to be a guitar player, though the idea that I might stayed in my wish box for years after that possibility closed. I could have stuck with the piano. I lived with one for eighteen years. I learned to read music and understand how it worked. But never enough to master it. 

Those piano lessons stuck with me. All these years later, when I listen to a song, I can see the notes flying at me. I appreciate the math. The composition. There was just enough music theory in my lessons to build an understanding of sharps, flats, major and minor. Somewhere in there, I even had a little vocal training wedged in there. I can look back now and say that all this knowledge was important to creating the person I became. 

But I wanted out. I could not see myself doing the things that it would take to make me anything but a pretty good piano player. Instead, my focus switched to playing tuba. I had the lungs for it, and all that prior music knowledge helped me move right along. When I finished junior high, I finished piano lessons. Somewhere in my head, I had equated piano lessons with something that little kids did. At fifteen, I was all grown up and ready to take the world by storm. Me and my tuba. 

My father used to grumble about my choice of instruments. Why couldn't I play piccolo or something that would fit in my pocket or backpack? Whenever it was time to haul the school's sousaphone from school to home or vice versa, it was a project that required all the space we had in the back of the station wagon. I was part of a band, after all, and rehearsing is something that bands do. I was down with that, because it was mostly a social thing. Even though I was in a band with other kids in band, it was still social. It was something I wasn't getting with piano. 

When I played in the high school stage band, I watched the keyboard player. He was pretty good. So good, in fact, that he ended up playing with Gloria Estefan after he graduated. I didn't get the sense that he practiced. Ever. He just sat down and music poured out of him. That was the talent thing. Somewhere along the line, I figured that was what was missing from my musical experience. 

And now, the piano that I grew up with sits behind me, having made the trip across the country after being lovingly sent to me by my mother to look after. When I turn around, my mind fills with long ago afternoons of scales and arpeggios, metronomes and fingering charts. 

It's never too late. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Human Offsets

 My wife introduced me a long time ago to the idea of trip linking. If we happen to be going out to Target to pick up some of life's necessities that can be found there, she would suggest that we also take that opportunity to drop off some dry cleaning. And maybe pick up something for dinner. And why not stop off and see if grandma needs help getting her wi-fi hooked up. Because this is more efficient and we feel better about all that gas we would be using if we made separate trips for all these errands. And since we're driving our hybrid car, we can feel all the more smug about the way we are saving our precious natural resources and avoiding putting fewer parts per million of carbon into our atmosphere. 

So we can get a deal on Tombstone frozen pizza. 

This is similar to the rationalization I make just about once a week as I ride my bike to work each day and enjoy our Meatless Monday dinner so that I can feel good about the cheeseburger I am going to enjoy on Friday night. I am pleased and happy to be relieved of any guilt for my carnivorous habits. 

I'm a good person, and I do all these amazing things to save the planet. Like put solar panels on our roof. And stay put instead of flying to points east or north or south. Or the way we recycle. We are monsters when it comes to keeping things out of the landfill. We sort varieties of plastic and if there is a way to re-purpose anything that might be labeled by someone less, we'll do it. So we can spend those other waking moments planning our trips to Disneyland. 

It's a lot of give and take, but we all know what the bottom line is: We are not fooling anyone. We are consumers and we consume like so many others. And the tomatoes we grew in the planter box out front, though delicious and bountiful, did not keep us from going to the grocery store up the street to buy more produce. Organic, of course. And we can walk there. So we don't feel so bad about those plastic bags when we forget the reusable ones we always bring along. Except when we forget them. 

The earth will forgive us, won't it?