Thursday, September 30, 2021

Lucky 13

 Odd that I would be using the word "restraint" and "Facebook" in the same sentence, but Facebook showed some mild restraint recently when it decided to halt their plan to launch Instagram Kids. I say mild restraint because Instagram's head ended his sentence with "for now." Then he picked right back up again,, saying that launching an app for kids under 13 is still “the right thing to do.”

If you are one of those who wonders what newfangled sorcery this Instagram thing is, it is a video and photo sharing application created way back in 2010 and absorbed by the Borg (Facebook) in 2012 for the low low price of just one billion dollars. Why have a competitor when you can just absorb them? It is perhaps worth noting that currently, Instagram is not as old as the users who they hope to add to their service. Not that conscience plays a big part in the machinations of Silicon Valley. 

I am the computer teacher at a school where every one of the students is younger than thirteen. That said, they are have all grown up in a world in which posting photos and videos to Instagram is part of their reality. If it didn't happen on Instagram, it didn't happen. And yes, I know that there are kids looking at this and snickering about this old dude talking about Instagram. By the time I become aware of most of the really cool apps or websites, the children have moved on to something way more hip and trendy. 

Which is precisely the aim behind Facebook's move to get those under thirteen into their system. The box that needs to be checked next to the "I am over thirteen" on the account application page is the main security measure keeping pre-teens from joining Instagram Classic. This pause comes just before a congressional subcommittee called “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms” is scheduled to convene. Chief of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, insisted  that critics of “Instagram Kids” will interpret the pausing of the app’s development “as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case. The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

Instead, Mosseri asserted, alting Instagram Kids “will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.” By "younger teens," he means kids between ten and twelve. All of which kind of flies in the face of the place where I live, with eight and nine year olds carrying phones around packed with apps that "need parental consent." Many of these kids have figured out how to add a few to the year in which they were born and sign up, beating the "system." 

So, it seems that this odd bit of restraint from the Borg is just a pause meant to satisfy those who don't have an Instagram account in the first place, and a nice way to entice those kids who may have grown tired of that old thing anyway. Facebook? Instagram? My dad uses that. Meanwhile, I would be much more impressed if Mark Zuckerberg or his minions would come out of their cubicles and say that kids should be outside in the sunshine, having real interactions with one another and waiting until they are over thirteen to start hiding behind a profile picture. 

I am so very, very old. 

Older than thirteen. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Girl Gone

  So I will attempt to tread lightly here, in hopes of avoiding hypocrisy or appearing insensitive. On the contrary. I am very sensitive. And I will attempt to show just exactly how sensitive I am by discussing the case of Gabby Petito. 

Why is this such a big deal?

Okay, admittedly not a great start if I am trying to win the compassion ribbon here, but this is a story that has been at the forefront of American media for weeks now. So much so that MSNBC's Joy Reid found herself in trouble with a chunk of America that did not see eye to eye on her views surrounding Ms. Petito. Ms. Reid suggested that Ms. Petito was an example of the "Missing White Woman Syndrome." Interestingly, in a report from Faux News that discussed the news from the past week highlighting their indignation for this sentiment, the picture at the top of the article was not one of Gabby Petito or her disappeared boyfriend but rather a video of the horseback patrols used by border agents to round up Haitian immigrants. Apparently all the stock photos of Ms. Petito have been used up at this point and the outrage surrounding this story seems to be about equally split between that disappeared boyfriend and the members of the media who are trying to make the story of one missing and now confirmed dead woman as important as the suffering of a planet wracked with multiple catastrophes and political blunderings that seem worth reporting as news. 

Which is not to say that the death, now confirmed, of Gabby Petito is not news. If nothing else, her story brings into sharp focus the pain of so many who have and continue to lose loved ones to all manner of nefarious schemes and tragedy. The public's fascination with the "mystery" of her disappearance is emblematic of just how much we all need a puzzle that is simple to solve. Outside of Hollywood stories like Gone Girl, cases like this don't end up being as interesting as we might all hope. But as we as a nation watch the tale unravel in real time, we have a place to hang our hope, or our sense of justice, or perhaps spiteful revenge as we await the eventual discovery of the perpetrator and his motives. Maybe there will be a surprise. Maybe this will all be scooped up and turned into on of those Hollywood stories like Gone Girl. 

Or maybe we will remain distracted from climate change and COVID and the throngs of refugees fleeing murderous regimes across the globe. Gabby Petito's story keeps us all from having to focus on the remainder of the news. Which isn't very good right now. 

I thought that was pretty sensitive. Didn't you? 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Target Rich Environment

 A Kroger's grocery store in Tennessee. Reminiscent of a King Soopers in Colorado. A supermarket where people go to buy food for their families. Not to dodge bullets. 

And yet, that's what happened. In Collierville, the body count was much lower than the one in Boulder. But it did raise a question for me about mass shootings: Why are they still happening? What efforts need to be made in order to make shopping for groceries safe? Or going to the movies? Or the Garlic Festival? Or the local high school? Those of us blessed with more than our share of snark pointed out that while we were in lockdown, school shootings ceased. If only you could do your marketing via Zoom. 

Okay. Now my secondary question: When they say that one person was killed in the Tennessee Kroger's shooting, they are pointedly leaving out the shooter who killed himself. The death toll was really two. Apparently, self-inflicted gunshots get you an asterisk. The shooter in Boulder was shot by law enforcement, but only wounded. He was not included in the list of those injured. Even though he was. Technically. 

Which sends me back to 1999 and the Columbine High School Massacre, accounts of which report twelve students and one teacher killed. And then the addition of two other students who happened to be the shooters who finished up their day by shooting themselves. That would be fourteen dead students by my count. The question here is more about "victims."

Would I argue that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were victims? Not in the way that the other thirteen were. Or even the dozens who were injured by their attack. The last thing I would want to drum up here is sympathy for the devils. Instead, I would encourage us to figure out a different scoring system, which takes into account human lives lost. The math isn't that hard, not on paper anyway. 

The challenge comes from looking hard at how we want to want to acknowledge the true cost of continuing to do business this way. I would advocate for shading the numbers to the high end so that the tally reflects the experience. If five shooters killed two people in a Whole Foods and then all five of them shot themselves, I think seven people died. Two "innocents," and five not so much. 

Or maybe we should just stop having mass shootings so I can go back to thinking about how upset I am that Chris Pratt was cast as Mario the Plumber. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Situation: Normal

 The ninjas are deadly and silent

They're also unspeakably violent
They speak Japanese
They do whatever they please
And if you tear of their mask
They'll be smiling - "The Ninjas" by Barenaked Ladies

Just a quick note here: The ninjas we will be discussing are not necessarily silent, nor do they speak Japanese. However, after most recent revelations, I am smiling. I am writing today about the Cyber Ninjas, the group that just completed a months-long hand recount of the presidential election of 2020. The one that was reported as a win for Joe Biden in Arizona. As we prepare to enter the tenth month of President Biden's first term, these Cyber Ninjas are going to report that what happened for the rest of us back last November is confirmed. The “Maricopa County Forensic Audit” not only shows that a majority of voters in the fourth most populous county in the United States selected Joseph R. Biden as the forty-sixth president. And the report also confirmed that Senator Mark Kelly remains Senator Mark Kelly. Thank you ninjas, for that update. 
Millions of dollars were spent on this redundant endeavor, and it would seem that the promises from head ninja Doug Logan that all that Trump-related financing would not interfere with the veracity of their findings. The hand count shows Trump received 45,469 fewer votes than Biden. The county results showed he lost by 45,109. This trend suggests that additional poking about might bump that number up past 45,700.
But what's the point, really? No fraud was detected. No massive "ballot dumps" were discovered. All that secrecy and stealth provided us with results that were available to us months and millions of dollars ago. Of course, no one said that ninjas are not crafty. By essentially reproducing the data from November, Doug and his crew were able to rake in millions of dollars of conservative money to put on a show of counting and recounting election results that were never truly in doubt. The need for such an enterprise was lacking from the very beginning, but that didn't mean there wasn't money to be made. 
So the checks were cashed, and Sylvester McMonkey McBean will move on to the next place stars need to be placed on Sneetch's bellies. Or taken off. 
Situation normal...


Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Music Of The Night

 A few days back, I celebrated the occasion of the worst possible neighbor. Coincidentally, that neighbor was me. And coincidentally, it was on the occasion of Bruce Springsteen's birthday. 

My erstwhile companion at this time was my very good friend and native of New Jersey, with whom I shared a number of apartments. This particular version of accommodations was a spacious two bedroom, far more luxurious and expansive than the ones we had occupied previously. This one had a trash compactor, which we used from time to time to stress test various forms of packaging and the machine itself. It was not this behavior that made us the worst neighbors in the world, though it was certainly indicative of the kind of tenants we were. 

As I mentioned previously, my friend and I had gone through many apartments together. By "gone through," I mean that when we sat down to sign our lease and were told that our damage deposit would be four hundred dollars, we smiled inwardly knowing with grim certainty that we were more than capable of doing four hundred dollars worth of damage. We were the guys with a full-sized Battlezone arcade game in their living room. We were the guys who had pop bottle rocket battles in our apartment. And we were the ones who only needed the smallest excuse to have a party on any given night.

On the night in question, we did not have a small excuse. It was Bruce Springsteen's birthday. We were honor bound to celebrate. When we drove out to the liquor store, some quick hungry drunk boy math let us know that buying a case of beer was actually more expensive than purchasing a quarter keg. Especially since we had our own tap and a tub for the ice, and the deposit on the keg would be politely voided by my cousin who worked at the liquor store. 

Upon our return home we set up the beer station, as we always did, on the front porch. This meant that the melting ice would not drip onto our floors or carpet. Instead, it would rain down on the front porch of the apartment located directly underneath ours. This also meant that each trip for a refill necessitated a walk across the apartment, opening of the front door, pumping of the tap, then padding back across the hall to the living room having closed the door behind ourselves. True, it was just the two of us, but we were capable of making many many trips to that keg. 

Which would not have been our worst offense. That came about as a function of all those trips. Each beer swilled by us necessitated a rise in the volume of the music: All Bruce. Deep cuts. Album tracks. Singles. Personal favorites. 

It was well after midnight when we finally reached what was a completely unnecessary crescendo. When we played "Born To Run," we "sang" along in the manner to which we had become accustomed at arena shows featuring the Boss and the E Street Band. Not that we weren't singing along before this, but this was the encore, the mostly vowels version of the National Anthem of Springsteen fans. Not feeling this was enough enthusiasm, we began to pound on the floor in time with the music. More or less. 

This floor was the ceiling of the apartment directly below us. Upon whose porch we had been raining keg runoff for hours at this point. And after we wound up our featured number, the phone rang. How we heard it is anyone's guess, and why we expected anyone else but our downstairs neighbor is a question best answered by those who have lived through a night like this. On either side. 

She was in tears. She pleaded with us to let her and her little girl get some sleep. It was a school night, after all. 

I would like to tell you that we felt shame at this moment. That we apologized. We didn't. We did turn down the stereo. We did take it as a sign that Bruce Day (Observed) was winding down. We did scoff at this philistine who did not appreciate the import of the occasion. Eventually we wandered off to our bedrooms to sleep it off. And I would like to say that the next day the shame actually kicked in and we sent a nice note and a box of chocolates to our downstairs neighbor.

We did not. 

We were horrible, horrible people. 

Which is why, when neighbors turn up their music or drive their thumping cars by late at night. I roll over and remember Bruce Springsteen's birthday. Happy Birthday, Boss. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Surviving

 When all this is over and it turns out that it was a great big scheme by pharmaceutical companies and mask manufacturers to drain us all dry, I will apologize. If that's how it turns out. For now, I will be taking the news for news and not theater. When I read that California now has the nation's lowest transmission rate for COVID-19, I will breathe a sigh of relief.

From behind a mask. 

After a summer surge, experienced across this great land of ours, California's rate is ninety-four cases per one hundred thousand. By comparison, Texas is three hundred eighty-six and Florida is two hundred ninety-six. We here in the Golden State have a high vaccination rate of seventy-percent, with an additional eight percent having received their first shot, to thank for this distinction. 

For the record, no one is currently attempting to mount a recall election for the governors of Texas or Florida. My guess is that they couldn't afford the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs to run such an operation. These states are far too busy passing oppressive legislation, and mandates against mandates. 

That summer surge occurred in California just as we were all prepared to "go back to normal" as many of the restrictions were lifted. Now there is a new mandate that  requires attendees at indoor events with one thousand or more people show proof of full vaccination or a negative test. There a plenty of folks in and out of California who feel this is the kind of oppressive legislation mentioned previously, but for all the fuss, this turns out to be rooted in keeping people alive. Not outlawing abortion or making it even easier to carry a gun around. Keeping the living, breathing residents of the state living and breathing. 

So, the battle continues. The war is not over. Recent history suggests that variants evolving in areas with lower vaccination rates are finding their way around the barriers put up by shots and masks. We are not out of the woods by any stretch. The nation as a whole recently passed a grisly milestone in which the death toll for COVID passed that of the 1918 Spanish Flu, making it the deadliest epidemic in U.S. History. 

Get a shot. Wear a mask. Stay alive. 


Friday, September 24, 2021

Baseball Frank

Generally speaking, I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member, even if that club included Groucho Marx. I am proud, however, to pronounce my affiliation with #OaklandUndivided.  This was the crew that was responsible for moving the number of connected households in our fair city from twelve percent two years ago to ninety-eight. In response to the stark reality of the Digital Divide, a group of like-minded individuals came together to create this organization that put computers and Internet access into the hands of those who desperately needed it in the early hours of the COVID shutdown, and the advent of online school. I would love to tell you that I was one of those originators, but I definitely served on the front lines, distributing and supporting Chromebooks and hotspots delivered to the families at our school. At the end of last May, one hundred percent of the students at our school had the devices they needed. 

And that felt good. 

So good, in fact, that when the powers that be invited me to come to a celebration of our accomplishments with #OaklandUndivided, I got in line. As mentioned here a number of times over the years, I am an easy touch when it comes to a free T-shirt. Go ahead and add a pair of baseball tickets to that and I am waiting in line. Which is where I was this past Monday evening, outside the Oakland Athletics' stadium, assembling with a bunch of other computer nerds and civic-minded types, looking for our swag. We were asked to wear our shirts, take a slew of photos, and then assemble at security so that we could find our way to our Undivided section for pizza, sodas, and baseball. 

Which is where things started to slide sideways. The Monday evening security at the stadium was not prepared for a hundred or more of us to come pouring through at once. Attendance over this past season has been down, and a Monday evening game late in the season was not expected to draw much of a crowd. Which didn't mean that we could just waltz in on our good intentions. We had to be detected for metal and have our swag bags searched before we could walk up the stairs into the stadium. When we reached our seats, we were stopped again, since they don't let just anyone into the Hero Deck. So we waited while wristbands were handed out. Until they ran out of those, and then a conversation ensued between the #OU folks and the A's security team. Finally, it was declared that all of those who were wearing their nice new blue T-shirts would have free access to the section, and we filed in. We looked out upon all the empty seats and wondered why it was necessary to have such airtight restrictions on seating on this particular evening. At this point, we discovered that getting that pizza and soft drink would be another line, but since we had been asked to be in our seats to have our Jumbotron moment, we waited until a fourth grader in his matching blue shirt threw out the first pitch. And I felt proud. Then it was time to get in line for food. In those intervening moments, they had run out. All they had left were some cans of diet Seven-Up. Which I graciously accepted with the promise of "more pizza" soon.

No more pizza came. My wife and I ended up buying a bag of peanuts to hold us over. Then a couple hot dogs and some Cracker Jacks. Somewhere around the sixth inning, with the home team trailing by three runs, we began to wonder if we had enough of the festival of congratulation. We had fun. We enjoyed the recognition, but it was a school night. I was getting up early the next morning to go and do many of the same things for which I was being lauded that evening. 

I was tired, and a little hungry, but I was happy. I had been recognized. I was proud of our efforts. Maybe next time we'll put the same energy into organizing the baseball outing as we did with handing out computers. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

There Will Be Blood

 It was a case of oversight on my part, assuming that I would eventually watch all the Academy Award nominated best pictures. I had a pretty good track record. But something happened back in 2007, and I managed to whiff on There Will Be Blood. Perhaps I was too busy with the affairs of the day. Or maybe I was so pleased with Martin Scorsese's The Departed that I  did not have room in my heart or schedule for the epic tale of one man's epic descent into madness as he drills for oil in turn of the century California. Over the past fourteen years, I had not created a spot for Paul Thomas Anderson's loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel, Oil! 

When the "milkshake scene" became a pop culture water cooler moment, I played along. Without the slightest notion about the context. I didn't want to appear out of touch. That was not, however, enough to get me to sit down and take in all two hours and thirty-eight minutes of the saga of Daniel Plainview. 

Until I was trapped on a bed with needles jammed into both forearms and no place to go while I had my plasma sorted from my platelets. This donation process takes approximately two hours. And a little more, given the need to label and prepare and sterilize and insert the tubes and start the machine. So there I was, sitting in front of a television, though not a plasma screen, with a wealth of Netflix choices that could be made. 

I decided that, after all these years, while my blood was being processed, that There Would Be Blood. As I lay there, entranced by the cinematography and Daniel Day Lewis' performance, I kept squeezing the foam rubber cylinder in my right hand. I was only periodically aware of the pinch I felt in the crook of each arm, and only glanced down once at my precious bodily fluids leaving my right side and returning on my left. Behind me there was a whirring machine doing its magic, but I could not hear it over the sounds coming through the headphones. 

At last, the phlebotomist returned and said that I had about two minutes left. I was so caught up in the story, I hardly noticed, but I became concerned when I realized that I still had not seen "the milkshake scene." Would I be asked to move on and make room on the bed for another donation? 

I needn't have worried. I my needles were removed, and the tiny holes cleaned and dressed. I was offered a cold bottle of water. Which I drank as I watched the conclusion of the film. And witnessed the milkshake scene for myself. In context. 

It was an amazing movie. I am glad that I finally gave myself a chance to see it. And for my trouble, I got a free T-shirt

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Anybody Out There?

I sit down in front of this keyboard with the intent of writing something that will unequivocally change people's minds about masks, COVID, and vaccinations. I look for proof that will be undeniable, and then I realize the well into which I am shouting. This is not a subject which allows rational discussion or debate. 

Because we are afraid. We are all terrified. We are nearly two years into a pandemic that has changed the way all of us view the world and those around us. So much of the sickness and death could have been avoided. And it still could be, if only we weren't so scared. Fear and ignorance are great friends, and can usually be found wandering the earth side by side. The perfect storm of the 2020 census and a plague has white folks in America chilled to the bone. For the first time on record, the white population dropped in the United States. No matter that white folks still make up sixty-one percent. That's down ten points in a decade. 

It's only a matter of time. Never mind that non-white people are twice as susceptible to the disease as their white counterparts, the fear is already here, and each right wing radio host that succumbs to the virus just makes the fear grow. 

What is the solution? Get vaccinated? Wear a mask? Follow federal guidelines? Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? All you left-wing multicultural "scientists." It's a trap. You want us all to be magnetized wi-fi transmitters for the coming invasion. Trump is our president and there is no such thing as climate change. Don't make me look at science or math. It will only lead me back to the conclusion that our time at the top is ending. 

The most difficult part for those outside this bubble is not falling prey to the fear ourselves. The threat posed by large assemblages of anti-vax/mask/reality abusers is a potential threat to us all. Each new infection is a dozen possible contacts. A hundred possible transmissions. A variant that is more resistant to the vaccines and countermeasures we already have in place. Worse yet, denial is almost as easy to pass along as germs. Bad information travels faster than good information because it's almost always easier to digest. Being a martyr for a cause that no one understands is preferable for some. 

And the hits just keep coming. 

Wear a mask. Get a shot. Quit living in fear. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Like

 This school year I am trying to keep foremost in my mind that I am dealing with kids. Children who are in the earliest stages of building a personality and becoming people with all the attendant worries and concerns of adults without the experience to put them into context. At our first day of in-service training this year, my colleagues and I considered the relative difficulty we all have moving through a room. The example given was a cocktail party, but any social situation would do. Where do we stand? Do we make eye contact? How do we get from here to there without bumping or scraping past anyone else's personal bubble? Suddenly, all those frustrated insistences that I have made as a teacher for eight year olds to "just line up" fell into sharp relief. 

Or lack thereof. 

I can remember being a kid and being terrified of where I might end up. Please don't sit me next to Melvin. He picks his nose, and I am just starting to move past the realm of nose-pickers into just that round kid. And not by Marie. She's mean and sneaky, and I am years away from understanding that Marie might have been expressing some latent affection for me. I just don't want to get hurt. Emotionally or physically. And almost certainly if I end up next to Mia, I will never hear the end of how we are sitting in a tree, spelling out the word "kissing." I could not live through that. Can't I please just sit next to Todd and Ron and Warren for the rest of my life? I know how this works. I do not need my comfort zone expanded. 

Or at least that is what I believed back in fourth grade. So now when I encounter a nine year old in the hallway of my school insisting that he or she cannot possibly go back into their classroom, I bring some empathy along. Of course I also have fifty years of hard-won experience that suggests that Ron and Todd and Warren will eventually grow up and away from me, and I will seek out the relative comfort of playing "horses" with the girls on a somewhat frequent basis rather than subject myself to the pain and ridicule of being inept at most organized sports. I encourage them to talk about how they are feeling, weeding through the excuses about their sore foot or how mean their teacher is. There could be a rock in their shoe, and it's a pretty sure bet that their teacher has lost patience with simply corralling twenty-four fourth graders into a circle to discuss the day's events. How hard could that be? Just sit down on the carpet. Really. 

Except that Sophia is sitting right there, and nobody is exactly sure if she will be a Mia or a Marie. Getting punched or getting kissed? Or just having other kids talking about it at recess even if neither one ever happened? Where is the sanctuary?

I don't have the heart to tell him that I am fifty-nine years old and I still haven't found it.  

Monday, September 20, 2021

Did You Hear The One About....?

 I can remember looking out my bedroom window when I was very young and seeing our milkman, having finished making his early morning delivery to our front steps, he was busily rinsing our empty milk bottles on our front lawn. With our hose! What impertinence. What cheek. What a clever solution to what was essentially a recycling project. Those great thick bottles would be taken back to the dairy to be sanitized and filled up again. The idea that milk would come in cartons was something I only experienced through chocolate milk and this newfangled "skim" milk. 

What sticks with me now is the level of intimacy we allowed way back when. There really were such a thing as travelling salesmen. These were men, primarily, who made their living knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in hopes of gaining entrĂ©e into living rooms and kitchens across this great land ours in the hopes of selling encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, laundry soap and any number of clever devices or implements for which your average housewife would simply not have the time to leave her home to go shopping. So pervasive was this profession that an entire school of humor was eventually constructed around them. These jokes have gone the way of the farmer's daughter, but they remind us that there was a time when, even though that opportunity to make your pitch didn't get past the front porch, there were still enough folks willing to open the door and invite them in that this vocation persisted. For decades. 

My mother would regularly entertain the Jewel Tea man in our kitchen. He would lug in his great basket full of all manner of products that would now constitute a run to Target. Like the milkman mentioned previously, there was not a worry or concern about what sort of danger we might all be courting by allowing strange men into our homes and access to our hoses. 

Every so often, I open the door to face a young man or woman who is eager to tell me about some fantastic opportunity that I must certainly take advantage of from my front porch because they cared enough to walk up our front steps. Not very often, however. Even the Girl Scouts seem to have gotten the message that soliciting is not the wave of the future, unless you can do it via a website. Even that route is now protected by spam filters, and if someone is lucky enough to slip our home phone's screening process, the conversation is more about stringing them along unnecessarily while I waste their time with silly questions and idle chatter. 

What I am suggesting here is that things have changed. And while I am grateful that I don't have to maintain relationships with itinerant salesmen, I feel that we may have lost some of the trust and innocence of a bygone age. Maybe I'll start inviting strangers into my yard to use my hose on occasion. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Come Back Jonee

 Jon Stewart is coming back to television. Well, to be precise, he is coming back to Apple TV. Jon his bringing his new show, The Problem With Jon Stewart, to a streaming service that requires a separate subscription to whatever service you may be getting your television from in the first place. It's a leap up from the basic cable show he grew into a phenomenon way back when. 

And then he left. In the middle of one of the most contentious periods in recent history, Jon Stewart took his ball and went home. Perhaps he felt that the comedy garden he had tended for so long had borne fruit like Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver who could take over for him. Or maybe the thought of doing a Daily Show in which he would be reporting on the slime and vitriol spouted by the eventual winner of the election of 2016 would simply be too draining. 

Recently, Mister Stewart apologized for having misjudged the dangers of one Donald "Jiggy" Trump. He said of 45's buffoonery, “certainty, his ridiculousness, his shamelessness is what made him dangerous.” He continued, “You have to be shameless to do shameful things.” Even more shameful than eating pizza with a fork. 

Which may be why, on occasion, Jon would rise up from beneath friend Stephen Colbert's desk to address what he felt were the moments most in need of his vent. Certainly, between those periodic rants, he has stayed busy. He wrote and directed the film Irresistible. He continued his tireless campaign on behalf of the first responders of 9/11. And he got that prime piece of TV real estate underneath Colbert's desk in part because of his being producer of that show. 

And maybe the past six years haven't been that funny. And maybe tragedy plus time really does generate comedy. And maybe making that pain into sausage for all of us to savor was just too arduous a task. I would like to point out that I stayed at my post during those trying times and even though I may not be considered the comic genius that Jon Stewart is, at least I was there.

Now he's back. But you're going to have to pay for it. Tragedy plus time makes a new subscription? We'll see. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

No Contest

 So, that's it: two hundred seventy-six million dollars later, we here in California have decided to keep our governor. Not a gigantic surprise for those who have become accustomed to the blue-ness of the state over the past couple of decades. The reason for the optimism on the other side was that red break back in 2003. That was when a recall election ousted Democrat Gray Davis and replaced him with first-time Politicking With The Stars contestant Arnold Schwarzenegger. A lot was made over time about the folly of this choice, but history will show that this Republican challenger may have been one of the best Democrats ever to serve the Golden State. He signed into law bills that required health insurance companies to extend to gay partners the same benefits they offer to unmarried heterosexual couples. He allowed the sale of clean needles to slow the spread of AIDS, and he approved an expansion of the state's hate-crimes law to protect transvestites. He approved legislation banning the sale of high-powered .50 caliber BMG rifles over the objection of the California Rifle and Pistol Association. And he has paroled a record 48 murderers serving life sentences. He endorsed tougher auto emissions rules and signed measures to protect the Sierra Nevada and reduce cruise ship pollution.

And, in spite of being the game show host's replacement of one Donald "Jumpy" Trump, he would not support his party's infatuation of the Cheeto Who Would Be King. He went on record as naming 45 as "the worst president ever."  So if we give a pass to the "Governator," we'll just say that there hasn't been a Republican governor of California for a few decades. 

Which is why this moment in time, when voters mailed in more than enough ballots to dismiss talk show host Larry Elder's attempt to unseat Gavin Newsom. It takes more than TV credentials to usurp the dominant paradigm, which turned out to be quite a disappointment for Caitlyn Jenner, an early "threat" to the celebrity version of California politics. Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is spinning in his saddle. 

In the end, Governor Gavin Newsom will remain Governor Gavin Newsom by a healthy margin with two thirds of the vote supporting him. At the end of this contest, I was happy to have backed Newsom, but I kind of wish I would have taken the points. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Heads Down

 My daily runs last between thirty and sixty minutes. On Monday, during the forty minutes I was out of the house, six people were shot in the vicinity of my home in Oakland. When I say "vicinity," I mean that I saw two of the crime scenes as I was out exercising. Three of the victims died. 

That seems like a lot. To me. And I have lived in Oakland for nearly thirty years. The news that a shooting took place in Oakland does not always garner the attention it might. These tend to be reported as part of the "in other news" section. Or if you can put a helicopter over it, then you might wind up with some "breaking news" to punctuate your broadcast. Holding on to the conventional wisdom that "if it bleeds, it leads." 

Had I put in a few extra miles and made my way south from the second crime scene, I might have encountered the third. It should be noted that all three of these events occurred during what most folks refer to as "rush hour." This might have some bearing on the way things went down. They might also be connected to the ongoing fear and anxieties stirred up by living through a plague. A colleague and I were discussing what we believe is a slow deterioration of social contracts. We were noticing this as we tracked the number of cars blowing through stop signs on either end of the block where our school is situated. Our job is to sit out in front and wait with the children who have yet to be picked up by their parents. On a somewhat frequent basis, this wait lasts past the time that our crossing guard works. Once her orange vest and hand held stop sign is out of the intersection, it seems as though brakes become optional and acceleration holds sway. 

I am happy to report that our students have remained safe, and whenever we can catch a license plate we make note of it. And sometimes, the scofflaw turns out to be a parent rushing to pick up their kid. At which point we sigh and appreciate the way they managed to rush over in such a timely fashion. 

At least they haven't had to dodge any bullets. That would probably make it to the headlines. A shooting in Oakland may not be front page news, but a shooting in front of an Oakland elementary school might rate. 

Sigh. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Busy Weekend

 It's a snake chasing its tail. I find myself wishing bad things upon the teens who broke into the PE office at our school. Then I switch the blame to all of us who were too busy to latch our windows before the weekend. And what about those kids from our neighborhood who naturally found themselves here on that big empty stretch of asphalt, looking for a place to play. And balls to play their games. 

Which would be fine if I could stop there. Just go to the closet and pull out a dozen new basketballs and a few new soccer balls, pump them up, and get on with the business of recess for the week. Because we should surrender to the notion that as a public school, we are providing supplies for the neighborhood. Like the parents who stop on the out after dropping off their kids and take a fistful of masks to tide their family through the next few days of the pandemic. From the stock that we have been supplying all of the kids from our school and will continue each time one of them pulls the strap of the side or drops theirs into the toilet. 

It's not in our budget to endlessly replace the things that we use on a daily basis. Like teaching students that pencils do not need to be razor sharpened after each use, as if they were surgical instruments. That makes shorter pencils faster and we have yet to discover a use for pencil shavings. 

I retrieved the four square balls that were kicked on the roof. I dragged the chairs they dragged across the playground back to the coach's office. I found enough balls to get the week started. I reflected once again on the lack of daring these youngsters showed in their daylight ransacking of an elementary school. Not satisfied by the plunder they discovered in the coach's office, they went to work on one of the previously cracked windows at the end of our atrium. They accomplished nothing more than the need to replace the high impact glass that became a mass of spiderweb cracks. 

And again, I thought about what sort of anger and frustration could lead a teenager to an elementary school playground on a Saturday morning to pilfer the meager supplies and batter a window until you couldn't see through it. It is a near certainty that these are former students or siblings of current students. Who were caught on video surveillance. 

What happens next weekend? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Continuance

 I have never been the fastest. I have, on occasion, been the last one standing. Tenacity doesn't always get you a blue ribbon, but it does give you the opportunity to see who else will win the trophy in successive years. I keep running in hopes that there might be an award where someone steps out of the bushes and puts a hand on my shoulder and says, "That's enough. You can stop now." 

But that probably won't make me stop anyway. I can remember running laps around the backstops at Columbine Elementary School. Somewhere in there I was asked to run with my shoulder pads clacking around the practice field at North Boulder Park. And then there was the seemingly endless circuits around the quarter mile loop at Centennial Junior High. In high school, there wasn't a lot of running. During this period, my aerobic exercise was primarily marching. 

It wasn't until near the end of my freshman year in college that running became a thing again. My father asked me if I wanted to run a "ten K." Having been brought up in the 1970's here in America, I had heard of the metric system, but had no real sense of what I was being asked to do. To prepare, I began to run around the perimeter of the campus of Colorado College. I had no idea of the distance I was covering. I simply maintained the idea that I should keep going until I reached the end. Surely someone would step out of the bushes and tell me to stop. 

This did not happen. Instead, when I reached the end of the race course, I was ushered through a chute where my time, such as it was, got logged in with the rest of the cattle in front of and behind me. Yes, there were a number of folks who came in behind me that day. I tried not to be smug about this as I made my up into the stands. Still moving. And as I made my meandering way toward whatever my final destination might be, I was accosted by a number of well-meaning individuals who stuck fliers for yet another ten K into my face as I became increasingly aware that there was no actual finish line.

The race would go on. And on. 

These days when I am out continuing to exert myself, I get passed on the left by someone younger or at least more sprightly as I chug along. Waiting for someone to step out of the bushes and tell me that's enough. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

 Every time you fill in the blank, the terrorists win. Filling in the blank was easy for the longest time. Every time you thought of something with which that blank could be filled, the terrorists won. It didn't really matter. Every time you buy breakfast at Denny's, the terrorists win. Simply invoking the notion was enough to generate terror. For the past twenty years, we have all lived in a heightened state of  anxiety. The terrorists are on a winning streak like Tom Brady could only dream of. That didn't change just because the government stopped color-coding our shades of fear. The threat level has been, and continued to be elevated. 

Interlude: My wife and I are stuck for something to do on a Friday night. A sudden burst of inspiration led us to the airport, where we paid for short term parking and went on inside the terminal. We had dinner at the Tower restaurant. We watched planes land and take off. We imagined all the places we might like to go someday. The food wasn't what made this such an amazing destination. It was all of that potential. It was an absurdly romantic evening. 

We can't do that anymore. The terrorists won. I don't wear my Converse high tops when I travel by air anymore. The terrorists won. I can't meet anyone at the gate anymore. The terrorists won.

And the most absurd thing about this of course is the fact that since September 11, 2001 most of the terror exacted upon American soil has been perpetrated by Americans. We hesitate to refer to mass shootings as acts of terror, but I can't think of any reason why not. Of course, it is completely possible that all of that Patriot Act and tightened security at airports have all but eliminated terrorist threats. But not likely. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That and the right-wing nutjob down the street who is planning to blow up the Verizon Store in the mall because they overcharged him on his family and friends plan last month. And something about Planned Parenthood. 

Instead, we can just toss the War On Terror in a box with The War On Drugs and The War On Christmas. These were fights we never should have taken on in the first place. In each case, it turns out that the real enemy is the one staring back at us when we look in the mirror. 

Come to think of it, I've been writing this same blog for getting pretty close to twenty years. Not every day. Not even once a month. But often enough that I keep helping the terrorists win. 

Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

I Took The Call

When I got downstairs to his classroom, Jared was rolling about on the rug. His teacher had called me because the rest of his students had gone on up to the library. Only Jared refused to get up off the rug and go pick out a book. Leaving his teacher in a bit of a predicament, since he knew that he could not leave a student unattended. Especially a third grader who was voicing all manner of despair and anguish. 

So he called me. 

I relieved Jared's teacher to return to his regularly scheduled weekly trip upstairs to the library, and sat down in a chair next to Jared, who continued to froth about. Not in a violent way, more in a manner that suggested that he was attached to the floor and could not get up. 

"How're you doing, Jared?" As good an opening as I could come up with in a pinch.

After a few more twists on the rug, he sighed, "I don't have any friends."

Seeing an opening, I took it: "Well, what about me? I came down here to see how you were. Doesn't that make me your friend?"

Heavy sigh. "I guess so."

"And your teacher? He called me down so that you wouldn't be left alone. That sounds pretty friendly."

"Yeah." Jared's rolling stopped with him face down. "And Luis."

He was starting to come up with names on his own. "What about Marcy? She's your neighbor, right? Don't you guys play together after school?"

"Yeah," now he was on his back. Eye contact. "And William. And Felicia."

"William and Felicia are up in the library now, picking out books. Do you want to go -"

"No." Abruptly. "I don't like reading."

"Oh? What do you like?"

"I like math."

I gave him a moment before I played my next card. "What if we could find a book about math in the library? Could we go look?" 

"Can Yoshi come?" Yoshi is his class plush animal used for denoting who is speaking, and a source of comfort for kids like Jared.

"You bet."

Up the stairs we went. I introduced Jared to our librarian who was more than happy to direct him to the math books. And suddenly the day was ever so much brighter. Later, at recess, Jared told me that Yoshi had found a book that he liked. He promised to read the whole thing to him. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

You May Say I'm A Dreamer

 I was nine when John Lennon released his album and title track "Imagine." That was half a century ago. Americans were still fighting a war in Vietnam. Nixon was President of the United States. Cigarette ads had only recently been banned from television and radio. Charles Manson and his followers were on trial for the Tate/Labianca murders. Starbucks Coffee is founded in Seattle. Ed Sullivan made his last broadcast on CBS. Disneyworld opened in Orlando. Eighteen year olds in America were made eligible to vote. 

1971. 

All of those events are available in my memory banks, but the one that stays on my desktop is that song. It remains the most singalongable of John Lennon's solo catalog. So much so that ten years after its release, an episode of WKRP In Cincinnati used the lyrics of that tune to cement its place in my heart forever.  Over the course of the episode, station owner Arthur Carlson confronts his devotion to religious leader Doctor Bob as the censorship police come to the door of everyone's favorite Ohio rock station. Arthur, "The Big Guy," wonders how he can continue to let this happen. He brings the lyrics of John's masterpiece to Doctor Bob for his opinion:

Dr. Bob: That sounds like Communism to me. If there's no heaven, no religion and I assume no God.
Carlson: There's not an obscene word in here.
Dr. Bob: Not the way I see it.
Carlson: Go on your list?
Dr. Bob: Arthur, this is typical of the kind of secular liberal humanist point of view that gluts our airwaves.
Carlson: Yeah. But we're not talking obscenities here anymore, Bob. We're talking about ideas, political, the philosophical ideas. First you censor a word and then you censor the ideas.
Dr. Bob: The idea is man-centered, not God-centered. Man is an animal. The Bible tells us to put our reliance in God, not in our fellow mortals. Arthur, this song says there's no heaven.
Carlson: Ah. No, it says just imagine there's no heaven.
Dr. Bob: That's blasphemy.
Carlson: On the list or not?
Dr. Bob: I have no choice but to say "on".
Carlson: That decision was made by one man.

I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Imagine. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Unimaginable

 Listening to the radio in the morning twenty years ago was disturbing. I had my alarm set to wake me to my favorite radio station. I was used to waking to the sound of my favorite AOR morning crew, with music that tended to suit my mood and my mind. Every so often, I would be dropped into a news or traffic report, but those were a mere pause in the important thing: tunes to start my day. 

This is not what I heard twenty years ago. The sound of the voices were distinct but confused. The regular news guy was trying to pull together reports from their sister station down the hall. The news station. They were trying to put together the facts about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. There was a lot more speculation than facts at that point. When accounts of a second plane hitting the South Tower, it became muddled. Even eyewitness accounts were hard to unravel. What people on the ground were watching in New York City was difficult if not impossible to comprehend. 

America was under attack. Across the continent from us. My mind leapt to the friends I had in Manhattan. Then they turned to the matter of my own day. How soon before planes began to rain down from the heavens in my own neighborhood? What could I do to prepare my family for what was starting to feel like the end of the world? Without any outside direction, my wife and I chose to go about our day. I would head out to my school. She would take our son to his nursery school and we would all wait for news that would tell us if we were in danger. 

Somewhere in there, the North Tower collapsed. Then the South. The Pentagon was hit. Was it a missile or a plane? At school, we didn't have televisions on to show us the carnage and destruction. I used my nascent Internet connection to try and piece together what was going on. Each teacher who showed up had a different account or update. My wife was met by a sign at my son's school: "Let's leave the outside world outside." Which was how we all got through the day at my school. There was recess. And lunch. There was probably some reading and math taught. But mostly we tensed for the bad news alerts that were pouring in. 

And we wondered when the high rises in San Francisco would be hit. How long before they blew up something in Los Angeles? 

And who were they? 

Twenty years ago, we had no idea. We wandered around in a daze, hoping for a clue. Shielding my son from the reality of the outside world did not last long. Like his parents, his eyes were transfixed on our new favorite show: New York. For weeks afterward, there were images burned into our memories. The impact of a commercial airliner accelerating into a skyscraper. Then another. Watching as those buildings collapsed on themselves and the debris fields they created. The hole in the Pentagon. United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. 

I felt that day that my job as a parent became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to my four year old son how this could happen. My job as a teacher became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to elementary schoolers how our world had changed on that morning. Forever. 

I am still trying to figure that out. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Land Of 1000 Dances

 I love the nightlife. I love to boogie. 

Or rather, I used to. There was a period in my life, now so long ago, that I would head out most weekends to shake my booty on the disco dance floor. A good deal of this behavior can be traced directly to my consumption of alcohol. Which was considerable. As was my interest in twisting and shouting amid throngs of other like-minded individuals. 

When it became clear to me that the obvious solution to the problem of asking girls to dance, only to be politely turned down (or not), I started to build up my courage to follow Billy Idol's advice and dance by myself. This put a pretty solid kink in the program that others had set for themselves in regard to the mating ritual. Friends of mine were in target acquisition mode from the time we arrived at the bar and paid our cover. They were looking for someone who might say "yes" to more than a turn on the floor to "Rock Lobster." 

Not me. I was looking for open space. I was going to have the fun I paid for at the door, and I did not require assistance. No assistance other than keeping the beer flowing and the music loud. It was somewhere during this time that I acquired a reputation for being "a good dancer." A great deal of this was earned primarily by letting my inhibitions drop to the level at which I felt comfortable moving about, alternately channeling Elwood Blues and David Byrne. This had the amusing effect of having women flock to me because I was "so fun to dance with."

And there's your irony. I had checked the apathy box, which was exactly what made me so very interesting. Not that this ended my evenings in any sort of coupling. Quite the contrary. By the time all those pitchers of beer had done their work, I was ready to be poured into the mail slot on the front door of my apartment and left to sleep off all that magic. 

By the time I chose to stop drinking, this behavior was deeply ingrained. Many was the night that I would find myself in some of those same nightspots, but instead of the watered-down beer that I had once consumed by the pitcher, I was now swilling just the water. Which saved me a lot of money. And considerable hangover. 

And every so often, when the moon sits in just the right position, and the music is just loud enough, and there's an empty spot on the dance floor, you can find me out there. Shaking my groove thing. With a few dozen of my closest friends. 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Blinded By Science

 Back in 1978, there was this comedy show. It was very anarchic and seemed to hit the zeitgeist more often than it missed. This show was Saturday Night Live. You may have heard of it. This will not be a discussion of that show's continued cultural relevance, since much greater minds have wrestled with that dilemma for more than forty years. Instead, I am here because of a skit that came from that second season, hosted by Steve Martin. Steve portrayed Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber. The primary joke was that back in the middle ages "the study of medicine was still in its infancy." This left the doctoring to the local barber, whose bag of tricks consisted primarily of letting blood out of his customers/patients. This was Steve Martin at his haughty, arrogant best, prescribing more leeches and more bloodletting for a man who comes to him with broken legs. 

Eventually, the mother of one of Theodoric's patients becomes incensed when her daughter dies under his "care." She shouts, "Why don’t you admit it! You don’t know what you’re doing!" 

This gives Theodoric pause, as he steps forward to stare directly into the camera: "Wait a minute. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I’ve been wrong to blindly folow the medical traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe we barbers should test these assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a 'scientific method.' Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, navigation. Perhaps I could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance!" There is a very long beat. Then,  "Naaaaaahhh!" Back to the bloodletting. 

End of skit. 

Back in 1978, it was hilarious. A few days ago, I stared blankly at reports of anti-vax protests in front of a hospital in Canada. Canada, eh? Not Florida. Not Texas. Not the United States. It would seem our mild-mannered neighbors to the north are not immune to the radical lack of information that I had believed was primarily restricted to the lower forty-eight. Nope. While doctors and nurses worked furiously to save lives inside, outside there was a furious mob trying to make their job more difficult. This was not a skit on Saturday Night Live. Or SCTV, for that matter. It was real life. Confirming once again that you can lead a horse to a library but you can't make him think. Or a moose, for that matter. Forget the masks, and pass me more leeches. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Add It Up

 We have completed our first month in school here in Oakland. The difficulty level of the job we are doing currently has been raised from "unrealistic" to "are you kidding me?" Which has not stopped us from showing up and opening the gates each day and letting the kids in, much to the relief and appreciation of their parents. Most days I stand just to one side and herd those without masks to the nearby cart where we have two sizes of masks: small and big. The challenge being that no one really wants a small mask, since small masks are obviously "for babies" because the box from which they are dispensed comes with a teddy bear on the side. This means that we have to coach twisting all those extra bits of elastic around little ears in order to create anything that resembles a properly fitted mask. 

That's the first twenty minutes of every day. Somewhere in there we also need to make sure that the air purifiers in our rooms are on and functioning, and that we have decent ventilation in classrooms that were never designed with such a purpose in mind. And most every interaction between student and teacher is potentially repeated at least once because of the muffling effect of that cloth strip across our noses and mouths. Our office staff is no longer tasked with simple scraped knees or bloody noses. They are now actively consumed with the job of taking temperatures, checking symptoms and supporting take home tests for COVID. 

And somewhere in there, we are teaching kids to read, write, add, multiply, and how to keep their hands and feet to themselves. Which is to say that I feel lucky. I am doing my job with the support of my community and all necessary safeguards in place. 

I am not teaching in Miami-Dade County. Fifteen employees of that Florida school district died from coronavirus in ten days. Florida, where there is a mandate forbidding mask mandates, and the biological experiment known as the Delta Variant is running amuck. The question that leaps to my mind is this: How many educators have to die in order for something to be done about it? Something besides denying the existence of a disease that has killed more than forty-six thousand Floridians? As an educator, I feel compelled to ask what possible good can come from this experiment? You wouldn't send a teacher into a class to teach without curriculum, would you?

Then again, this is Florida. But it does not make it any less sad. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Crossing The Line

 They used to keep movies in theaters for weeks. For months even. I can remember when Star Wars, which was the title of the movie before it became a franchise-breakfast cereal-TV series-pop culture phenomenon, played at one theater in our hometown for more than six months. Long enough for me to embrace the quantumness of it and order myself a Darth Vader mask and have it shipped to me in time to wear it to a showing where I was allowed to get in for free because I was such a fan. Such a fan, in fact, that a friend of mine and I were once paid a dollar (each) to stop repeating the lines before they were spoken onscreen. This allowed us (both) to rush up to the concession stand, buy some Junior Mints and come back to different seats where we continued our repertory. 

This was not a singular event. Once upon a time, before the clone wars, theater owners who had a hit on their hands would make an advertising point out of a movie being held over for the "seventh smash week!" Your entertainment dollar was being carefully herded toward what became blockbusters. Theater owners would keep showing whatever was keeping lines going around the block. Or at least filling a matinee. 

Of course, this was a time before home video. Before HBO was making their own movies. Before movies were reduces to a little plastic box containing a spool of half inch tape. Before they became shiny coasters. Before they disappeared completely and started appearing magically on the ridiculously large flat screen in your living room. This was another time. 

We now live in an age where we can decide if we would like to wait the week or two for a film to become available on a streaming service, or pay the nominal fee to have it even sooner. 

Without ever standing in line. 

I remember, before the COVID, going out late in the evening to stand in line to see the first showing of the latest Marvel, or the "last" Star Wars. There was a cultural cachet to those experiences. I continue to hold personal pride in being an opening weekend kind of guy. I want others to ask me what I thought before they go out and don't have to stand in line. They don't because it's not there. The line that is. It will be on Netflix/Hulu/HBO/Apple/Roku/AskJeeves before you know it anyway. At which point, feel free to watch these films as many times as you'd like. Memorize the dialogue. But don't expect to get paid to shut up. 

Monday, September 06, 2021

Enormous Changes

 Greetings from sunny California!

Oppressively sunny California. I have been struggling with trying to remember which comedian wondered if Eskimos ever got tired of their weather forecasts. Here in the Golden State, we are kind of done with all that extra sun. We are on fire out here. And the forecast is for more sun. And fire.

Meanwhile, on the right hand side of the country, things are underwater. Initially, there was some relief in the word that Ida had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. And then the flooding began. Torrential rains pounded New York and New Jersey. While folks in Louisiana are still waiting for the power to come back on, the D Train is running late because it is under of water

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of this undersea kingdom , tweeted, “The Green New Deal, which is a blueprint to create millions of good jobs rebuilding infrastructure to stem climate change & protect vulnerable communities, is unrealistic. Instead we will do the adult thing, which is take orders from fossil fuel execs & make you swim to work.” 

And that may seem like a bit of hyperbole, but out in California where wildfires have been raging for months, commutes, school schedules and everyday life has been disrupted by the ever-shifting realities of the climate. The changing climate. The global warming that was referenced with such irony by deniers when winter came in such a crush last year is here now. The sun is boiling the water and turning it into severe weather that is wreaking havoc in all parts of the globe. Drought on one side of a continent and torrential rains on the other. My family in Colorado has felt little of this disparity, since they have experienced fires and flood in recent years. This summer has been one of few extremes, with nothing catastrophic. However, they can remember floods and fires coming in alternating waves in summers past and they can anticipate more of the same moving forward. 

Which is not news, really. It's just science. It's not weather. It's climate. 

And it's changing.

Really. 

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Don't Fence Me In

 I grew up with a certain distaste for Texas. There was a feeling among Coloradans at that time that Texans were using Colorado as their personal playground, and when they showed up they weren't the polite guests that would have ingratiated them to their hosts. The picture I have in my mind is that of a brash and loud recreational vehicle full of brash and loud individuals who expressed their brash and loud opinions about how things ought to be. Mostly, they wanted everything brash and loud like it was back in Texas.

I know from a solid bit of hindsight that the cultures of these two states were not radically different. Cattle and oil paved the way for a lot of folks to become rich and spread out across vast expanses of land that was never theirs in the first place. Those patches were described by where you could string a barbed wire fence or drill a well. It is no surprise that the fictional Ewings of Dallas competed for ratings back in the day with the fictional Carringtons of Denver. 

But somewhere along the wagon trail the paths diverged. Those small patches of blue that existed in places like Aspen and my hometown of Boulder began to spread. Soon there was a counterculture that became culture in Colorado. Democrats began to take hold. Liberals controlled much of the politics that went through the Centennial State.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, there was the constant battle to "keep Austin weird." This has been accomplished to some degree, but not enough to impact the general drift of things to the right. Just recently, the powers that be in the Lone Star state have made it harder to vote, all but impossible to get an abortion, and easier to own and carry your trusty shootin' iron. How did this happen? 

Maybe it has something to do with that frontier spirit that made settled the west. Nobody tells me how to live my life. Everything, including the egos, are bigger in Texas. They stood up at the Alamo. They stood up to all those who said that they would never last in such godforsaken waste. 

Yee hah. 

Now that same attitude is fueling a surge in the epidemic, and crushing the rights of those who don't own a ranch or an oil well. Which I can only imagine will create some sort of exodus, with havens like New Mexico and Colorado providing safe haven for those refugees of this death cult. My suggestion? Don't drive up in your brash and loud RV. 

Saturday, September 04, 2021

These Go Up To Eleven

 Bill Gates and his ex-wife have spent so much time saving the world that they almost forgot to put out a new version of Windows. 

That's the way I am guessing it went down. Back in the day, it seemed like you couldn't turn around without finding a call to update your operating system. Way back in the late eighties and early nineties, it seemed like the first version would be fine after a few tweaks that came along with 2.0. Windows 3.0 hung on for a few more years after that, but Windows 95 came about giving us the fear that we might suddenly be asked to make a change once a year. That turned out to be three, when Windows 98 showed up, and just a couple more before we had Windows 2000 dropped in our laps. That one only held sway for a year before the very futuristically named XP was rolled out. That was replaced by Vista in 2006 after a nice run, which was in turn remanded to the shelf by Windows 7. Then 8. Then 9. Then came 10. In case you thought that this trend would continue, you're in luck because in October we will be gifted with Windows 11. Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your computer.

Of course, you could be working on one of the Apple machines and have absolutely no idea about the progression of Lion to Ocelot to Yosemite to Pleasant Valley. Or whatever it is that the self-proclaimed geniuses at Mac feel like naming their operation systems. I imagine there is a genius in an office in Cupertino sole purpose at the company is to come up with random nouns to assign to their new products. Just like all you really need to do is slap an "i" in front of anything in order to raise the price by a power of ten. 

Why am I griping about this? I run a computer lab at a school. For kids. Each time one of these "revolutions" occurs, I have to set about scrambling for funds to get the room full of machines in front of which children will eventually sit up to date. This school, as you may imagine from reading many of the other entries which I have written about my job, does not have a parents group or readily available stream of financing the sole purpose of keeping us on the cutting edge of technology. Once upon a time, we were gifted with an extremely generous benefactor who showed up on our doorstep asking if there was anything he could do. "Would you like to have a computer lab with Internet and network printers?" I jumped at that opportunity. Replacing the room full of Apple IIC boxes and tractor feed printers only loosely connected by a hive of wires was a dream. It came true. 

And now, some twenty years later, I am once again tensing for the inevitable crush for funds to make it all work. Again. Better. Faster. Eleven. 

Sheesh. 


Friday, September 03, 2021

The Way Home

 It makes sense, after all. My son is an adult now, even though I have to remind myself of the fact of twenty-four years. My instinct to reach for his hand as we cross the street will come in handy in a few more years when I need help negotiating traffic. And all those reminders I got from my mother for all these years about how I will never stop being her son make more sense now that I have this context. I want to do everything I can to make his path in life easier.

Some things, I find, are beyond my control. 

As much as I would like to be the all-knowing all-caring source of all that is good an kind in his life, my son has discovered that I am a minorly flawed being. I do not know everything. There are things that he would rather not discuss with me. No matter how interested I am. Or pretend to be. And it's not like he keeps secrets. He sometimes sighs and tells me "I'd rather not talk about it." 

And this makes sense. 

I have to remember being in my twenties myself. I have to remember that I was looking for someone who could understand those bits of me that I kept hidden. Or shared my excitement for the things that no one else seemed to appreciate. It's a calculation. It's a wager, a chance taken on the world that is spreading out in front of him. I am grateful for all the ways he has helped expand my world. Formula One racing, for example. Memes for another. These and other cultural threads might never have become part of my quilt, but I have my son to thank for bringing me the flavors I might never have tasted.

And all the permutations of meat and cheese we have always shared together. 

Now he is on a separate voyage, and even when he lives in the basement just below us, it is a separate life. When it came time to figure out who would give him a ride to the airport, it wasn't automatically his mother and father who were on the hook. He figured he could just call a friend, just like he would once he arrived at his destination. A little piece of my heart broke then, but I know I'll be okay since his parents are still the ultimate backup. And his biggest fans. I can't wait for the next postcard or text. Or the name of the Korean Barbecue place he discovered. When did that become part of his palette? 

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Granted

 "You know what, kid? You've got spunk!"

"Well - I -"

"I hate spunk!"

It was this exchange, more than anything else, that brought me to the work of Ed Asner. While it is entirely possible that I was aware of his presence before I watched this scene because of the marathon of a career he had on film and especially television, but this was the moment that captured my attention. This gruff, shirtsleeves rolled up guy, was on the verge of giving America's Sweetheart played in this case by Mary Tyler Moore a chance. Instead, he spat his pointed indifference to her presence in his office. As a result, what would eventually become a TV institution was almost over before it began. 

We all know that Lou Grant ended up hiring Mary Richards, where she worked as associate producer for WJM-TV news for seven years. I watched them all the first time they aired, and then again whenever reruns appeared. This was one of the very few shows that proved an exception to my hardline stance that all episodic TV should be limited to three seasons. For example, I could have done without the episode in which Lou attempts to act on the crush he believes he may have grown to nurture for his associate producer. But mostly it was the better part of a decade getting to know the crew at WJM News. 

And now Lou Grant is gone, along with pretty much the rest of the cast. Except Betty White, also known as Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homewrecker. Maker. Sue Ann's tireless pursuit of the cantankerous Lou Grant was always a reliable source of laughs, as these seasoned pros showed their stuff. Ed Asner won five of his seven Emmys for his portrayal of Mister Grant, spanning the Mary Tyler Moore Show and its dramatic spinoff that featured Lou Grant as an LA newspaper man. And before you decide that he was just a one-trick pony, don't forget the Emmy he won for playing the morally conflicted slave ship captain in Roots. 

Then there was the way he supported so many liberal causes over the course of his career, including those that may have led to the cancellation of his hit CBS series. Ed Asner probably deserved some sort of special award or recognition for the way he proved to be a burr under Ronald Reagan's saddle back in the day. 

Now, he's gone. Lou Grant probably would have hated Ed Asner. He had spunk. He stomped on the Terra and made television a little more interesting in his wake. He will be missed. Aloha, Ed. 

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Spirit In The Sky

 You take your wisdom where you find it.

In my case, at this particular moment in time, I am taking odd solace in the words of fictional character, Tyler Durden. If you are familiar with the wit and insights of this person, I will encourage you to find a copy of the movie or the novel before you complete this next bit. It's not a requirement, and there will not be a quiz, but a little background might help.

You have been warned. 

Mister Durden said, "You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you." 

I repeat this sentiment here not to stir up questions about the existence of a deity or to jab at anyone's specific beliefs. I looked at the news and I saw Haiti being leveled by an earthquake just weeks after the assassination of their president. I saw hurricanes lining up to batter communities already suffering from a global pandemic. I read about the Taliban bringing their own peculiar brand of repressive theocracy to a country that hasn't seen a day of peace for two generations. People are flocking to feed stores to buy horse ivermectin to protect them from the aforementioned global pandemic rather than taking the free FDA approved vaccine being supplied by the government. Jeff Bezos is suggesting that the solution to our tired planet's trash problem is to send it into outer space. 

So, what if Tyler was right? I suggest that we all come together whenever and however we can in what may be the waning moments of our time here on the planet, before the Taliban takes over and sends all those they consider unclean into outer space on Prime Day, and pray.

Or at least apologize. We can do better. We need to do better. Before someone hits the reset button.