Thursday, March 31, 2022

We Can Do Better

 I am sorry for what seems to be a deficit in the capacity of male human beings to apologize. I could take a long time to explain why I believe this has become the path of consolation, but these "sorry, not sorry" teases are offensive to everyone. 

A long time ago, I learned that it is not enough to just mouth the words and then move about your business. And there may come a time when the offending party is asked about his motivation, but first you need to take responsibility for your actions. When I say "his," I am focusing on that part of the population that seems to be under the impression that as long as their behavior comes with some justification it can be excused. 

That's poison, folks. One human being harming another is significant. Worth noting. Worth pausing in the course of the day's events to recognize as such. I would like to use this space to help get men over this unfortunate void. Someone placed this ugly substitute for an actual apology into the mix, and suddenly it's become all the rage. Let me be clear: an explanation of your actions is a very different thing from taking responsibility for those actions. The rage I mentioned prior is at the core of this problem. We are all gifted with these things called feelings, and sometimes they get the better of us. When we are caught off-guard by those emotions, we are not at our best. I would like to press the point that these non-apologies are not the collective us acting at our best. 

Heat of the moment, saw red, lost my cool, and so on. As soon as the temperature returns to anything close to normal, steps need to be made to restore the rational discourse. "He or she had it coming" is the kind of phrase that plays well in revenge fantasies, but it does absolutely nothing to restore relations. I am writing this in the shadow of the ugly scene that went out to a worldwide television audience, where Will Smith got up out of his seat at the Oscars to defend his wife from a poorly timed cheap shot by comedian Chris Rock. He did this by slapping Rock and continuing to shout expletives from his ringside seat once he returned. To hear Smith's explanation, he insisted that "Love will make you do crazy things." 

So will anger. The love in this particular moment was not in question. Compounding the level of uncomfortableness for everyone watching, it was only a few moments later that Mister Smith was awarded with the Best Actor award. He used that opportunity in front of a worldwide audience to ask forgiveness from the Academy, who gave him the statue, insisting “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people.” Protect them from ill-advised award show banter? 

To be clear: I am not singling out Will Smith. I thought that Chris Rock's joke was an unnecessary jab at an innocent bystander. I believe it is yet another in a series of unfortunate events of mansplaining and toxic masculinity. The words "I'm sorry" should not appear anywhere near the conjunction "but." That path leads far too often to the phrase, "he/she/they were asking for it." Apologies, I tell my grade school friends, build character. They don't tear it down. Apologies should be an assurance that we hope to do better, and an affirmation that we will continue to try. 

We need to be better at this. I am going to work harder to mine those depths of bypassed sincerity. 

Thank you for listening. I'm sorry if I went on too long. I will make it up to you by making another with less words. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

March The Second

 I went for a walk downtown this Saturday. Most of it was in the middle of otherwise busy streets. The fact that I was carrying one side of a banner and periodically raising my voice in unison with a crowd that surrounded me is probably what kept me safe and free from arrest and/or prosecution. 

Once again, I fell in love with my constitutional rights. Freedoms of speech and assembly, specifically. Police presence was at a minimum, perhaps because we were a group of educators, parents and students. We were wending our way through the streets of Oakland in broad daylight. We carried signs, pushed strollers, and some brought their little dogs on leashes. Our intent was to disrupt, not destroy. We wanted to keep our public schools open to the public. The traffic we impeded was generally supportive with their honking horns as hundreds of us streamed past, hollering and chanting and shuffling our feet. 

There was a certain familiarity with the crowd, some of whom I had taken to the streets with a few weeks back, making some of the same loud points but in a different corner of town. The message, "Save our schools," was still the same as well. There were also plenty of faces that I recognized from hanging around the same district for all this time. This time we weren't there for a training or professional development. We were there to raise a fuss. 

In the months since the list of schools the Oakland Unified School District decided to close, things had gone from bad to worse to worser. Not only are they continuing with plans to close our school, they decided to cancel our playground repair and upgrade and give it away to a school they have designated as a "welcoming site" for students who will be displaced when our school shuts its doors. In the days and weeks since that announcement, I have found it hard to stand out on our school yard and look at the cracked pavement and imagine that somehow this is the playground these kids deserve. On top of this came the school board's decision to extend still more leases to charter schools so they can use the buildings they are currently seeking to empty. 

So I walked a few miles with like-minded individuals and hoped for a future in which all those people who honked their horns or were handed a flyer will find a way to join us for whatever happens next. Because no matter how big the march is, somehow I ended up feeling very alone. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Heart Beat

 It's okay if you don't know who Taylor Hawkins was. I know who he was, and now that he's gone it becomes increasingly likely that I may never see Dave Grohl perform live and in person. If that name doesn't ring your pop culture bell, that's okay too. Dave Grohl is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Foo Fighters, a rock band that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I suppose I felt the need to include that last bit to legitimize my appreciation for them. Mister Grohl was also in a band called Nirvana, which has also been enshrined in that very same museum. And yes, I know that there are a number of individuals who appear on that list of honorees twice, as members of two different bands or also being such a Hall of Fame worthy solo artist. 

That's not the point. 

Foo Fighters were one of the first bands that my son and I completely agreed on. I believe that I did a pretty good job infecting and affecting my son's musical tastes. I also believe that as he grew older he helped shine a light for me on music that was recorded in this century. Foo Fighters were that sweet spot that does not exist primarily in either his nor my CD collection. Playlist. Whatever. Over the past ten years or so, we have made half-plans to take in one of their shows. Something always came up. 

Way back in the days before I had a son, I had aa similar hope about seeing the band for which Dave Grohl played drums: Nirvana. On the night they played in Oakland, I was across the bay taking in a much more low-key artist's show: Bruck Cockburn. I consoled myself at that time with the idea that I would almost certainly get another chance to see what was, at that moment in time, one of the biggest bands in the world. Four months later, Kurt Cobain killed himself and took my dreams of seeing Nirvana and their drummer with him.

I could continue to pine about how Taylor Hawkins' death affects my concert-going future, but the reality of the situation is that Dave Grohl has had to live through the deaths of his friend and bandmate Kurt Cobain only to wait just long enough to experience the passing of the man he has referred to as his "brother from another mother." That thunderous noise emanating from Taylor's drum kit has been silenced. Putting someone else on a stool behind it won't fill the void he left. 

Not for me, and especially not for Dave Grohl. Taylor Hawkins beat on the Terra with fury, and he will be missed. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Club Dues

 I think that the unraveling or our collective conscience can be found most readily in the argument between "pro-life" and "pro-choice." One side is pro-abortion. The other is anti-abortion. I'll give you a moment to unscramble this word jumble. 

If you decided that both of these labels are somewhat ineffectual because they have been sanded smooth of their actual meaning, then I will award you a special gold star for rhetoric. Somehow, being backed into a corner that suggests that anyone would be "pro-abortion" is a trap that far too many caring individuals have been forced. 

Now go ahead and expand this view into the realm of "conservative" and "liberal." Pity the poor Democrat who winces under the yoke of all the baggage that comes with that label: Liberal. Suddenly you are burdened with an entire ideology and the messiest parts of its legacy. Likewise there are plenty of Republicans who have taken to the revisionist view that it was their party who brought forth on this continent a new President, conceived as Lincoln and committed to the idea of abolishing slavery. It's a convenient eddy in the stream of time where things were different. One of our country's most unrepentant racists, George Wallace, ran under the Democratic banner.  

Of course, there is safety in numbers, and aligning oneself with a crowd allows one the opportunity to duck behind the label without ever having to explain or rationalize one's own beliefs. Suddenly, it's no longer a personal belief, it's part of a codified system that may or may not reflect all the tricky ins and outs of modern life. This may be the only way to imagine how a herd of mostly men could grip tighter to their podiums and declare that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother. As if the light creeping through any crack in their group's views might signal weakness. 

The same can be said of the Second Amendment club that seems to grow evermore insistent that every man woman and child has not just the right but the duty to bear arms, as if somehow the body count might reach a point where it turns back on itself and suddenly guns are no longer killing people, they are actually resurrecting them. Cataclysmic weather events across the globe continue to be ignored by those who have committed themselves to the idea that climate change is a hoax. 

If the club you find yourself attached to ignores things like math and science, you might think twice before renewing your membership. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Smooth Sailing

 Last Thursday was the first time in (checks watch) I don't know how long since I rode my bike to work without encountering a crew putting up cones or barricades declaring my way interrupted for some reason or another. This pavement renaissance has taken place primarily over the months stretching into years of COVID-19. The initial foray into all this additional signage did not begin with any actual repair or construction. The first blockades were erected to let anyone who cared to read them that these were "slow streets," designated to exclude through traffic and to be used by those who needed some outdoor relief: walking, running, biking. It was during these initial weeks that I chose to include myself in the very local group of travelers, not necessarily a commuter but a neighbor out for a morning ride to exercise my lungs and legs. Followed by another later in the day. 

Shortly after this limit was put on cars and trucks, streets nearby began to erupt in repair. Lanes and avenues that had become nearly impassible after years of neglect were finally getting their due. Some of the streets that were lavished with this asphalt attention were the same ones that I had become used, over a quarter of a century, to using on my daily shuttle to and from work. And after fearing that every other thoroughfare but the one closest to my house would be renewed, the time had finally come. 

That hill that has for all these years been the way I woke up and later called it a day was stripped down, leveled and repaved to a smooth path. At last. In the final stages or this process, I had to dart and dodge the machinery of change, which gave me pause because I welcomed it but was still annoyed at the hassle of having to bend that most direct route to accommodate what would eventually become that roadbed I had always imagined. I never strayed too far from my well-beaten path, preferring instead to hop onto sidewalks to skirt the ongoing reclamation. I watched it happen, five days a week, with the occasional pause for holiday or appreciation. 

Until one day, the signs came down. These were no longer the rugged trails of the frontier. This was just another street in a great big city, coincidentally the one I had become familiar over a long haul. A long haul of just a couple miles, but ten times a week for twenty-five years. You do the math. I'm enjoying the ride. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Tragedy Plus Impeachment Equals...

California recently recorded record warm temperatures for March. Tornadoes touched down in New Orleans. Donald Trump would like us to believe this is "weather." A clever observation from a man whose previous experience with science had him staring at a solar eclipse. Still, one might imagine that this man was truly interested in ramping up for a rerun at the White House in 2024, he might do well to temper his blather. 


“In my opinion, you have a thing called weather. And you go up and you go down. If you look into the 1920s, they were talking about global freezing. OK? In other words, the globe was going to freeze. And then they go global warming, and then they couldn’t use that because the temperatures were actually quite cool, and it’s many different things. The climate’s always been changing.”

That last little bit may stand as the only tacit confession that the former game-show host and twice impeached "president" will ever make. As for the "global freezing" in the 1920s, well it doesn't seem as though there is any science to back that up. Rather we have the opposite, but this should not deter those who follow this disgrace. Instead, you can bet that somewhere in a concrete bunker there are minorly skilled minions cranking out "The climate's always been changing" T-shirts while social media flacks are using their limited familiarity with technology to promote this weak train of thought. 

Because it makes those people feel better about this wreck of a planet that we are handing over to our kids. My wife heard me grousing about the most recent Marjorie Taylor Greene rant about vaccines, and she asked the obvious question: Does she have any kids? A quick check let us know that she has invited three children into her death-spiral of a world. 

Which seems unconscionable. This of course presupposes the existence of a conscience in any of these folks, but it continues to mine the potential for the next generation being our last. Which is not sad. It's tragic. 

Please don't let that happen. When you see the cliff ahead in the distance, don't accelerate. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Rogan Wrap

 What breeze went rushing through Joe Rogan's head recently? Well, in case you missed it, he took to his million dollar podcast to praise the deep state. You know, the "deep state" that he introduced this way: “One of the things that the tinfoil-hat brigade likes to talk about is the deep state.” He wasn't talking about how we might all get more rest on a Sleep Number bed. Or even using a My Pillow, though it would seem that the My Pillow Guy might fit into that tinfoil-hat category. 

To be clear, Joe makes a distinction between the tinfoil-hat brigade and this deep state. He worried about how (messed) up our country would be without this mystical order, apparently located just beneath the regular state. "People who are there for a long period of time who do understand it.” In his ramble, Mister Rogan was making the connection between career politicians and what Merriam-Webster defines as "an alleged secret network of especially nonelected government officials and sometimes private entities (as in the financial services and defense industries) operating extralegally to influence and enact government policy."

Joe says, “Listen, I’ve disrespected Joe Biden enough, I don’t think I should do it anymore. I’ve said enough about him being mentally incompetent. He’s just compromised, he’s an old guy. We know, everyone knows, the guy is falling apart. But imagine if he really was the only say in how things run, and how things go? If he really was a dictator.”

So it's a good thing, according to Joe (Rogan), that there is this secret network of government types who are pulling the strings. His defense of former game-show host and twice-impeached "president" prior to Mister Biden was supported by his insistence of the existence of this cabal that was dedicated to bringing 45 down. Now Rogan would have us believe that the only thing standing between us and dictatorial oppression is this same ill-defined secret society. 

In the big book of tinfoil hats, this doesn't raise too many alarms. Until you notice that Joe Rogan maintains a base of eleven million listeners. That's a lot of tin foil. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Over The Top

 How many do we have to do? This is the question I am asked a few dozen times over the course of the Physical Fitness Testing Window. As if there were some magical number at which these fifth graders would transcend their mortal beings and drift up to the heavens after doing more than ten push-ups. Or curl-ups, or any of the required exercises mandated by the state to discover just how fit our kids are. 

I would suggest a different means of calibration: Simply keep track of every time a student asks, "Is this good enough?" That should give us some notion of how fit they are to take the test, let alone how they will respond once they have been introduced to physical exertion. 

Please understand this all comes with the appreciation I have for their predicament. For years I would wake up in a sweat knowing that I would eventually have to climb the rope. When I was in elementary school, they built a brand new gym when I was in fourth grade. PE classes were no longer sharing space with the cafeteria. The one thing that they brought from the old equipment were those thick ropes hanging from the ceiling. They followed me as if to remind me that as much as I tried I still could not shimmy up to the rafters like so very many of my peers. I understood that there was no in-between. No points for halfway. Each year those ropes stood as a barrier to me and self-esteem. It never occurred to me to put on airs or cop an attitude about it. I was going to master this gravity related feat or perish in the attempt. 

As miserable as I was, and as miserable as I made myself, this story does  have a happy ending. Way back when I was in grade school, they went all the way up to sixth grade. This allowed me that one last chance to push, or rather pull, myself to the top. It was quite the sweaty ordeal, and when I slid back down to earth there was no brass band or congratulations from my friends. I had done the minimum, just in time to move on to the even more arduous and periodically cruel world of junior high Phys Ed. The one where your last name appears in the box on your uniform T-shirt. 

All of this plays out in my head in seconds each time a fifth grader asks me how many push-ups they have to do. They don't have to do any. That's the secret. It's all about what they want to do. 

But do you think I would tell them that? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Information Interruptus

 CNN got in trouble a few weeks ago for its tone deaf cut from air-raid sirens in Ukraine to an Applebee's commercial. Of course the network apologized for the machinery that created such insensitivity, but was it really necessary? We are the beasts that line up to the trough of twenty-four hour news coverage, and in an attempt to keep that vein open, pushers like CNN have gone to great lengths to get us all tuned in and stuck there as they slide their advertisements in on half the screen while on the other side the horrors of the day continue unabated. This is the world in which we currently live. We have evolved into multi-tasking freaks that register horror and pain while planning a night out with the family. 

Don't believe me? Check out all the places where you can find televisions on all day long. Waiting in line for your table at Applebee's or a casual dining station of your choosing you are likely to find a discretely mounted large screen piping in details of the day's tragedies. The deal CNN had with airports around the country to play all twenty-four hours of their new to travelers as they made their way to vacation destinations far away from the headline crush expired only recently due to the decline in air traffic that came along with COVID-19. Which begs the question: If news breaks in an empty airport, did it really happen?

But it's not just CNN where this creepy need to stay informed shows up. Google and all its attendant information tentacles reach out to remind you of all the news they feel you need to know. Now you can keep up with the Kardashians, manage your stock portfolio and catch up on the latest scores while you sit in the bathroom stall of your favorite Applebee's. Or you can stay up to date on the carnage around the globe while you're waiting for the movie about carnage in Gotham City to start. 

And all of these "services" come to you with a heapin' helpin' of hype. Want to know about the shooting at the car show in Arkansas? Prepare to sift through the pop ups and sidebars and the occasional insistence that you subscribe to the free news service that shovels all this content at you. At the bottom of the page, you will probably be invited to click on other stories "you might like." 

Because we do, you know. We do like to have information shoveled at us. Because we are so very hungry. For a little bit of chicken and an ice cold beer to go with our chaos. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Miracle Cure

 Here is what I think may be at the root of all of this: We are far too patient. 

A few days ago, Kevin Sorbo reminded us all why a little Twitter is a dangerous thing. He tossed out this thought: “Remember when we treated the flu with tea, soup, and saltines instead of communism.” My first instinct upon writing those word down here is to correct the punctuation. This is obviously a question, rhetorical or not, and therefore a period is the incorrect end to this interrogative. Never mind how inane the parameters set by this rhetorical question, it is still a question. Written by someone who attended college, but did not graduate. Had Mister Sorbo graduated, he may not have made the punctuation error, or left himself so very wide open for ridicule. 

Do I remember when we used to treat flu with tea, soup and saltines? Well, no. I do remember a time when my mother would bring me tea, soup and saltines when I was sick with the flu, but I can tell you as an adult how extremely grateful I have been for my yearly flu shot. The one that makes it possible for me to work among the snotty-nosed and infected little people for weeks on end without succumbing to the disease that would necessitate tea and soup and saltines. 

A college degree might also have saved us all from the herculean leap from government supplied and supported vaccinations and communism. He left behind his dream of being an advertising director and became an actor. Which may explain how he ends up with nearly eight hundred thousand followers on Twitter. Most of those we can assume are not doing so ironically. I believe that conservatively there are half a million people out there who are anxiously waiting for the next pearl of wisdom to drop from Kevin's pointed head. Anxiously waiting, as if they needed a sign from the guy who once played an ancient Roman superhero on TV. 

There is a league of pointed heads out there that continue to spout nonsense and worse who enjoy more than just cult-like attention. Not just bitter, used up folks like James Woods and Jon Voight, but people who have used their money or borderline charisma to get themselves into elected office where they have a government-issued soapbox upon which their spouting can be elevated, seen and heard by even more slow-witted minions. 

And some of the pointiest of heads end up with their own shows on Fox News. 

I just wish I had the patience to make fun of every single one of them, but it takes all the energy I have just to keep the saltines down. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Subdued Laughter

 Mel Brooks had the right idea: Nazis are funny. We should laugh at them. At every opportunity. "Springtime for Hitler?" A masterpiece. Sure, maybe it wasn't lauded as such when it first appeared, as it did, a quarter century after the death camps had been liberated but hindsight proves to be quite useful. As does ridicule. 

This may be why Vlad "The Shirtless Wonder" Putin's insistence on the Nazification of Ukraine as the rationale for his own attempt at world domination. It is Vlad's way of positioning the invasion of a democratic republic as a continuation of "The Great Patriotic War." You remember, the one that was mocked in The Producers. By historical coincidence, Russia happened to be fighting alongside the nominal good guys back in World War II, having sat out the First World War while they were having their own revolution. Now, after a few decades of the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, it's Vlad's idea to bring back some of the greatest hits and attempt to reabsorb those previously socialist republics. And what better way to instill his nation's patriotic fervor than to label Ukraine as everyone's favorite bad guys?

Except that Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish. And who recently signed a law combating antisemitism. Oh, and did I mention that he is a comedian? And that he did something that Sean Spicer couldn't do: He won Dancing With The Stars. Netflix is currently airing Zelenskyy's comedy series in which an ordinary schoolteacher rises to the presidency on the strength of his wit. 

Nazi? Hardly. But maybe it's the projection that comes through when Putin (rhymes with "pukin'") talks about his target. Who looks more like a Nazi? I suggest that we continue to support Ukraine in any way possible, and perhaps the best and easiest way to do that is to point and laugh at the Shirtless Wonder. The way Charlie Chaplin did. The way Spike Jones did. The way Taika Waititi did. 

Putin deserves ridicule if only for insisting a bordering country is harboring secret Nazis while blowing up women and children in that bordering country. Like a Nazi. Who would you believe, the guy who wrestles bears, or the guy who supplied the Ukrainian voice for Paddington the Bear

And if that doesn't help, try imagining Vladimir Putin as Colonel Klink. My money's on the Jewish comedian. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022


 Somewhere in there, we just waltzed past two years of being stuck in this. Stuck in masks. Stuck in hand sanitizer stations. Stuck in looking suspiciously at anyone's nose and mouth they dare to expose. Two years ago this past week, a fifth grader came to school complaining that "they" had cancelled the championship game of his basketball league. By the end of that day we had all packed up and headed home, without any certainty about how and when we might return.

Those first few weeks were an ugly revelation. Rationing toilet paper? Endless discussions about what to binge next - food or television? Internalizing six foot distance? Having everything delivered to your house? 

Except toilet paper. 

The life we are currently living skews much closer to "normal" than that. The acceptance of millions of deaths, however, does not feel normal. These past two years have had elements of an extinction event. Somewhat early on, Stephen King was at pains to say that his book The Stand, telling the tale of a superflu that wiped out most of the human race was not prophecy. It was an allegory. Or was it a handbook, of sorts? 

Meanwhile, hospitalization rates and new cases have been pushed off the front page. Every so often a new variant will come along to remind us of the gray zone in which we find ourselves. People are still dying. By the hundreds, and even thousands daily here in the United States. From the disease that has become standard operating procedure. 

You need to have an ID to buy liquor. You need a license to operate a motor vehicle. Still we have people across this great land of ours who want to argue about having proof of vaccination. Vaccination against the deadly disease that continues to kill men women and children every day. Recently many school districts in our area rescinded their mask mandates. Ours was not one of them. Now in addition to the regular reminders about wearing a mask properly instead of as a chinstrap, I am having periodic debates with ten year olds about those policies and the decisions around them. 

The memories I have of life before the lockdown are filtered through the past two years of flinching every time I see a crowd on television or the odd feeling of getting away with something by eating in a sit-down restaurant. Will it be over soon? Don't hold your breath. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Okay, Herschel. I've Thought About It.

“At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not? If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.” 

Those were the words of one Hershel Walker, former football great, current Senate candidate. I will give you just a moment here to imagine what party he hopes to represent. Think about it.

Time's up. If you chose to imagine that Mister Walker is a Republican, then you are a student of current political trends or a really good guesser. Either of which leaves you a few moments to consider Herschel's original quandary. 

For me, it goes back to a time in the late 1960s. I began to make a study of this "evolution," and how it might possibly be a flawed notion, or perhaps less understood by many. At first, there were those who considered this new learning to be too much for my six year old mind. My parents had witnessed it first hand, in a drive in located in Texas. The truth was revealed to them, and they worried that their young son might become swept up in this train of thought, this "Planet of the Apes.

I only took me a short time to discover the truth for myself. Man had indeed evolved from apes, but after a plague had wiped out all the dogs and cats on Earth, people began to bring apes of various sizes into their homes. At first they were pets, but their natural intelligence and ability to perform simple tasks made them able and ready servants. It wasn't long until those same apes became a second class, a slave race kept down by their human masters. Until one day, when a savior came down among the oppressed simians and led them to their freedom. Some say Caesar came from the future. Others insist he was the result of genetic experiments. No matter the cause, this ape king brought his people up from bondage to freedom, far away from the cities where they were once enslaved. Then, somewhere along the line, all those apes became as smart as Caesar, and all the while, humans began to regress until they were the dumb animals. Kept in zoos. Hunted for sport. 

I know, it sounds like science fiction, but think about it. 

I did. I purchased my own gorilla mask and began practicing the mannerisms and movements of my simian ancestors. I met my wife-to-be while sitting on top of a Pepsi machine, pretending to be a gorilla. The story goes that this is what first attracted her to me. Eventually, we settled down and raised a family of our own, passing along these stories and traits that dropped us here, on the cusp of this so-called "evil-lution." Every so often, I look over and see my son forgetting how to use simple tools, or hear him respond to me with grunting sounds. It makes me afraid, but it also gives me an odd sense of pride. I know that he will be ready when that future arrives. 

Think about it. 

Friday, March 18, 2022


Daughter of Hugh Hefner's best friend claims Playboy had 'shadow mansions' where sex abuse was rampant. 

I read this headline twice before I fully understood: The news folks would like us to address this as news. As if this was some sort of stunning revelation. They would like us to peel back the curtain on this well-kept secret. The very idea! Sex abuse was "rampant" at Playboy "shadow mansions." 

I grew up in an era where Playboy was a dirty magazine. The joke in around this publication was that gentlemen were reading it. For the articles. Much in the same way that they were visiting Playboy properties around the globe for stimulating conversation with world leaders. 

No they weren't. The men who found themselves allowed entrance into this mildly scrubbed world of pornography were there for rampant sex abuse. Sure, I know this comes as a huge revelation to the rest of you who clicked on this link and discovered that the women who did not make the cut for Playmate of the Month or Year or Week were lured to Los Angeles with dreams of Hollywood and were kept as sex slaves in miniature versions of the legendary House That Hef Built. Dreams of becoming an actor or model were dangled in front of these women who were drugged into a stupor and kept on hand for orgies. 

Knock me over with a feather. You mean that Hugh Hefner, millionaire purveyor of scantily clad women in a magazine had a sideline as a pimp? The man who drank all that Pepsi and tended to lounge around his empire in his pajamas was running an operation that had more in common with a bordello than Time Magazine? 

Perhaps in the intervening decades since Playboy became "woke" and stopped publishing a print version in March of 2020 "because of the pandemic" put pornography back where it belongs: on Al Gore's Internet. 

I would not be surprised that among the "products" being promoted by the newly digitized Playboy empire, aside from loungewear and their own line of male enhancement potions, that one could (for a price) "live just like Hef" in your own condo-size version of the infamous mansion. Grotto not included. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022


 Georgia is changing their gun laws. Before you begin to get your common sense parade ready, you should know that the National Rifle Association refers to this new legislation as "Constitutional Carry." Aside from the alliteration, what is there to object? To hear the pointy head of the NRA tell it, the new law "allows a law-abiding adult who is legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm, to do so without first having to obtain government permission. This ensures that citizens have the right to self-defense without government red tape or delays. Additionally, this legislation maintains the existing concealed handgun license system, so citizens who still wish to obtain a permit may do so." 

If you feel like that last bit was thrown in to appease those who might otherwise object to their friends and neighbors running around with guns hidden in their waistbands, you'd be right. "If you still feel like you need a piece of paper that says you're okay to pack heat, go right ahead. Sissy." And then there's that other bit of wording: "permission" instead of "permit." "Permission" is something you need from dad before you take the new truck out on a date. "Permit" is something those buzzkills in cubicles expect us to follow. 

Now we brace for a whole lot more than buzzes to be killed. 

Until now, residents of Georgia needed to have a Weapons Carry License in order to carry a concealed weapon in public. Which makes me wonder just how bad are Georgians at hiding their pistols? One might imagine that if you were concealing a weapon, nobody would need to know that you had it, right? Until all of a sudden, bang bang bang, and then it's not a secret anymore. 

There are voices of dissent in the Peach State. Georgia's sixth District Rep. Lucy McBath, , whose son was a victim of gun violence, shared a similar sentiment online writing: "Governor Kemp’s outrageous proposal endangers Georgia families. Full stop. Irresponsible gun laws like this ripped my family apart, and I am tired of our leader turning a blind eye to safety." Her son, Jordan Davis was seventeen years old when he was gunned down at a Jacksonville gas station over a loud music dispute in 2012.

No updates on Georgia's legislature working on permits for playing loud music. It seems like they have found their volume control. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Looking Up

 I celebrated the thirty-third anniversary of my sobriety by purchasing a few beers for my son. If this seems like a strange way to observe the occasion, please take a moment to listen to my story: I never drank because I liked the taste. I never drank because I liked the feeling of being a little tipsy. I was on the express train to Face Down Town just about any time I picked up a drink. Contrastingly, my son can actually speak some mild authority about the brewing process and about what beer pairs well with certain meals. I would share a six pack with someone if it meant that we were on a fast track to buying a second. My son often shares a beer with this mother. 

I am saying that ours are two a very different experiences. What a difference a generation makes. I learned about drinking from the stories my father told me. His was a somewhat troubled youth, but always told in a way that made the danger sound a little less dangerous, and the tough times a little less tough. And for most of my youth, I stood on a principled pitch from which I would announce that I didn't need drinks or drugs, because I was high on life. 

Which was true right up until the first time I got high. Once I had been drunk and woke up the next day having survived the experience, I felt emboldened to see how much closer to the edge I might push myself. It was a game of Truth or Dare, where the truth was I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I wanted to give everyone around me the impression that I did. I did not. I was doing that thing that younger folks like to do: make it up as they go along. And perhaps that was what kept me going back to that particular well over and over again. I have always been rather tightly wound, and being drunk or high was a way to loosen up that had the added bonus of making me appear carefree and uninhibited. 

It never occurred to me, way back when, that I could choose to lower my inhibitions through a conscious and concerted effort. The chemical reduction of my normal reserve was a socially permissible excuse. Up to a point. Once I was on that slippery slope, I wasn't able to slow down. Or stop. 

Not until I hit bottom. And the best thing about that moment was that if provided me a way to climb back out that gave me a view of all that I had been and eventually all I could be: A husband. A father. A teacher. A survivor. A dad who could pick up a six pack for his son who was going off for a few days to put a new transmission in his car. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Short Supply

 This summer, I will turn sixty. Years old. Aside from being the reason for kids at my school to be amazed that anything could live that long, this has become a source of consternation on my part. Not because of the reaction of the short people, but because I have entered a phase in my career during which the question of retirement begins to loom larger. And larger. Especially at this moment in history in which I find myself being told that the school where I have done the entirety of my teaching is about to be closed. 

The math does not support the idea of me pulling the plug on this particular life support system. I've got another three or four years left in my public service bucket before I can cash in on the version in which I can wander off into the sunset. Retire. 

Because part of me would like nothing more than to say, "I gave my best years to this school and have no interest whatsoever in finding a place to mark time for a few years while the clock runs out." Once a Horace Mann Jaguar, always a Horace Mann Jaguar. It pains me to recall that the Arby's I worked at is now The Ali Baba Grill. The video store where I spent my college years is yet another brunch spot in Boulder. The office furniture warehouse I worked at is empty, and Bookpeople where I got my first job when I moved to California is now the county food bank. The thought that I might outlast yet another place of employment is no real testament to my longevity. I would much rather leave a legacy at a place where I could come back and visit, not just to say, "This used to be..."

All the while I keep reading about all the places in this great land of ours where there is a teacher shortage. It would seem that far too many educators took the threat, "Don't mess with Texas" literally and chose to flee rather than be forced to pretend to teach the retrofear currently being passed off as curriculum in the state that would be Taxes if spelled incorrectly. Last month a Texas American Federation of Teachers survey of 3,800 of its members found that sixty-six percent of educators throughout Texas said they have recently considered leaving their job. This is a place where the annual salary for teachers decreased from $55,433 to $54,192 between 2010 and 2019. And now they have to lie about slavery in their classrooms. This is also a place where when they close schools it's because they don't have any electricity to keep things warm. 

Which brings me back to me. I won't be heading to Texas anytime soon to continue my career. Nor am I certain that I want to find a quiet closet to monitor for what remains of my tenure as a California teacher. All the more reason to keep searching for ways to keep my school open. I don't want to go to Houston. Really I don't. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

They Live

 I looked it up. The definition of oligarch is "a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence." Oh, and I left out the parenthetical that preceded it: (especially in Russia).  Which is interesting, since it seemed like the definition was just fine without it. Instead, we are left to wonder if Jeff Bezos an oligarch? It certainly seems as though he fits the description. How about Elon Musk? It could be that somewhere in there, these men are both secretly Russian, though in the case of Elon the question isn't so much what country but what planet. 

As the images from Ukraine keep tumbling in, stories of refugees streaming to the borders, maternity hospitals destroyed, and the casualties mounting by the hour, I couldn't help but wonder where the billionaires were. They are not walking across the borders. Ukrainian oligarchs are chartering jets and hopping on whatever private and expensive conveyance they can buy to get out of the country before things get even more horrible.  

But what sort of horrible things happen to oligarchs? In the case of the previously mentioned Mister Bezos, whose fortune has nearly doubled over the two years of global pandemic. Mister Musk? His nest egg has grown from about twenty-seven billion in early January 2020 to more than one hundred seventy billion today. Dollars. Ironic perhaps that the biggest purveyor of electric vehicles should never have to worry about buying six dollar a gallon gas. 

Speaking of six dollar a gallon gas, let's try and keep in mind that when the minimum wage employees of your neighborhood Shell station went out to put new plastic numbers on the sign out front advertising the new and historic price we would all get to pay for fossil fuel, the folks in the Netherlands were not scrambling around looking for change in the couch. The gas that was in the tanks below their filling stations was already refined and paid for, but just in case the slightest pinch might be felt anywhere along the way, it was important to pass along that pain to the customers. I know. The image of some big fat guy in a cowboy hat in Houston would be so much more palatable than a big fat guy in a Dutch bonnet reclining in The Hague. Right? 

This is why we have money: To insulate us from the harsh realities of life. Like expensive gasoline. Or war. It doesn't really matter what country these oligarchs choose to moor their superyachts. They won't feel that aforementioned pinch until the very end. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022


 I maybe have only my own lack of awareness to blame. It was a colleague who sent me a text that included an amendment that the Oakland school board was considering. I had, at this point, stopped paying laser focus to the shenanigans' of my district's governing body. After they had voted not once, twice, but three times voted to close my school along with a dozen others despite loud and angry disItsent from the community that they allegedly serve. Instead, I had taken to the business of proving them wrong. Organizing. Marching. Speaking out. 

Little did I know they had surprises left.

At their "regular" meeting of March 9. 2022, an amendment was introduced that would take the playground reparations and improvements and move them to two other schools instead of mine. At this point, I feel compelled to recognize all this "my me mine." I have beat the number of years I have worked at this site into the ground, perhaps to the point at which it means less. But I feel a personal connection to the place where I have spent the majority of my adult life. And a great portion of that time has been spent out on the yard at Horace Mann Elementary School. 

I have delivered countless Friday Morning Messages out there. Supervised more recesses, lunches and free time there than I can remember. For a year, I watched it sit empty while our kids were in distance learning. I wondered back then if the district would use that opportunity to renovate the stretch of asphalt that serves as a soccer field, a basketball court, a four square grid, a play structure and a vast expanse for imaginations and energy to spill out. 

That never happened. But when we returned to in-person learning, some of my younger colleagues banded together to formulate a plan that would bring some relief to the aged and ever more dangerous plains of Horace Mann's yard. Trees. An additional place to climb and play safely. And a surface under it all that was not crumbling. Plans were drawn up. Supervisors and architects visited with clipboards and maps. 

In December of 2021, the Oakland school board approved the plan, with support from Kaboom, a group whose stated mission is to "end playspace inequity." In late January that same board voted to close our school. The last shoe to fall in this process was for the board to give our new playground away. Which brings us to present. 

I walked out on that yard the next morning and surveyed the cracks and holes that have only become wider over the years. The aging mat underneath the monkey bars. The surface that is constantly covered with gravel due to the ongoing disintegration of the asphalt where children have been running and playing every day. Before I got here. The whole time I've been here. 

At the beginning of this school year, as we welcomed our students back to our campus, a group of dignitaries visited us. There were news crews. There were reporters. There were community members. Along with the district superintendent and members of the school board. I made a point of walking our superintendent out onto the yard, and asking her why our playground had been ignored for more than twenty-five years. She assured me that it was on a list. 

No mention of the other list that we were on: The one that would close our doors. And make our new playground an afterthought. The night I heard the news, I was beyond words. But I seem to have gotten over that. But I will stick with the ones that I know for sure: This is my playground. This makes me angry. This place I call "mine." 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

I Mean It In The Best Most Life-Affirming Way Possible

 I am inclined to go along with Kate McKinnon's piece on last week's Saturday Night Live. Her initial response was “I heard about this law, and I think it’s amazing! Because when I was in middle school in the ‘90s, I was kind of tortured by the constant use of the word ‘gay,’ like, ‘That’s so gay’ or ‘Ew, you’re gay,’ and it made me feel horrible. And to hear that  Ron DeSantis has taken a stand and said, ‘No, you cannot say gay in school anymore!’ I’m so jazzed. And in Florida, of all places!”

That's when the veil fell. Ms. McKinnon was reminded that the Florida law is intended to keep children from having to hear about anything "gay." Having spent a similarly miserable time in junior high being labeled "gay" because I did not conform with the uniform behavior and dress standards set by popular culture, I can imagine what a glorious relief it would be if Kate's first impression had been correct. So much so that my current experience as an elementary school teacher would be enhanced by never having to speak to seven and eight year olds who have heard that word and see it as a way to degrade their classmates. Currently I have to stop every week or so to let the hammer of truth sing out. "What's wrong with gay?" I ask.

That's when it gets very quiet.

"Did you call him gay because you wanted him to feel bad?"

Usually it stays quiet, but every so often a very macho second grader will want to insist that whatever their little companion had done was abhorrent or wrong. Because it did not meet his very primitive sense of the world. The one that was handed to him by his parents. If being thoughtful, caring, empathetic and creative is "gay," then sign me up. Meanwhile, we have a number of families with parents, cousins, siblings and on and on who would prefer if "gay" was celebrated or accepted at the very least. There is already far too much in the world that tells our little minds that it is not. 

Now we have the state of Florida telling us that it's best just not to talk about it all. "Don't say 'gay?'"

Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. y. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

A Heart With A Mind Of Its Own

 Hearts and minds. According to many experts in the art of war, they are necessary to come out on the winning end. John Adams, who was President of the United States right after the first guy, wrote: "The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in the religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution" One hundred forty years later, the subject came up again during the War in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson, who was President of the United States much later than the first guy, said this as the heat in that particular conflict began to ramp up: "So we must be ready to fight in Viet-Nam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world."

The difference in that century and a half was one of insurgency. Back in the early 1800s. the United States was a babe in the woods, having turned away an occupying army and was basking in their nascent republic. In 1965, we were the occupiers, having stumbled into a conflict that had been left unresolved by France. The French had spent nine years trying to tamp down a bunch of left-wing revolutionaries in their colonies. When that didn't end so well, the United States found themselves in the position of holding back the dominoes of tumbling communism. It was important for the hearts and minds of a nation half a world away to be invested in this struggle. Ultimately, we weren't. What was happening in our own country at the time turned out to be far more important than the rise of communism in East Asia. 

After the attack on September 11, 2001, it seemed as though the hearts and minds were in line with the dogs of war. There was a surge in enlistment in the United States' armed forces, and Congress almost unanimously got behind The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. "War" for short. This was piled on top of the "Enduring Freedom" campaign we were already pursuing in Afghanistan. 

Twenty years passed. We got Saddam Hussein. We got Osama bin Laden. And we kept our troops busy with the task of setting things up in such a way that no more chaos could spring from those zip codes. It was not a success. Hearts and minds fell by the wayside, and only fear of five dollar a gallon gasoline kept us in it. 

What I am suggesting here is that perhaps "hearts and minds" are not the key to managing a conflict we once thought it was. Anybody out there rooting for Vladimir Putin? Now that he's lost Tucker Carlson, the war is over. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ain't That America?

 So, Ricky Schroder's little trolley has jumped the track. Not that this is news. Ricky's been struggling to keep it on the rails for a couple years now. Ricky has determined that wearing a mask during a global pandemic is tyranny. 

Wait a minute. Back up. Did you say Ricky Schroder? That cute kid from the remake of The Champ? Or the teen who starred in Silver Spoons? How about the nominal hunk from NYPD Blue that wasn't Jimmy Smits? 

Nah. I'm talking about the loopy guy who recently joined the slow convoy to nowhere. The guy who confronted a security guard at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum about their mask policy. Various accounts have him "being booted out" while others have him having a "public meltdown," depending on the outlet you might choose to listen. To his credit, Ricky held it together at the museum a lot better than he did at the Costco. He's had a year or so to get his rhetoric together. He asked the guard if he was there to uphold "man's law" and not "God's law." Which didn't try the patience of the nice man at the front gate who chose not to engage with this resident of the "where are they now" file. Ricky then wandered outside to finish his rant by being aghast at the idea that "Nazis" were now in charge of the museum that stands as tribute to the man who defeated the Nazis. His outrage was dutifully recorded and submitted to Ricky's Instagram account, which continues to be viable in spite of all the "big tech fascists" who are out there keeping him down. 

First of all, if these folks that Ricky has encountered are Nazis, they are among the most pleasant and patient Nazis I can imagine. Or maybe he is just overwhelmed, as we all should be, that the worldwide death toll for COVID deaths has just passed six million. Why does that number sound familiar? Perhaps because six million is a round figure used to describe the number of Jews killed by Nazis in the Holocaust. Federal mandates for vaccines and masks have been put in place to limit the number of deaths. Just the opposite of what Nazis did during World War II. 

I'm guessing that General Eisenhower would have been okay with masks. Until the fight against this deadly disease is over. Ricky? He seems a little confused. Someday this global struggle will be over, and Ricky can get back to whatever scary cause he wants to back next. Because that's America, right? 

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Who, Me?

 I had just finished conversing with a neighbor, admiring the effort he was putting into moving sod from his back yard to a dumpster at the curb that would be hauled away once it was full. It was a quick catchup on a Sunday morning. I was on my way to do that exercise thing, and he obviously had a few more wheelbarrows to haul, so I wished him well, turned on my heel and started on my way with a tap on my headphones to return me to running mode. Over the roar of the music, I heard a voice cry out: "David!"

I stopped in my tracks. I turned around to see my neighbor's wife coming down their driveway. I poked my headphones again to silence them. "Yes?"

"Oh, you didn't have to stop. I just wanted to say hello." Which seemed expressly neighborly, and I felt a moment of embarrassment for not asking about her during my first interaction about moving sod. So I made some sort of grand gesture and called out.

"Hello!" And then there was nothing left to say unless we were going to discuss the relative uncomfortableness of the interaction. It wasn't until I was a block away that it occurred to me why it felt so odd to me. 

She called me "David." It is my name, after all. So why the sudden discomfort? Well, it stems from the reality in which I have placed myself for lo these many years. When introducing myself in public, I tend to defer to the more casual "Dave," especially when my last name doesn't make the cut. In a more professional setting, you might get the full "David Caven" experience. Put a handshake in there and you might get a James Bondian "Caven, David Caven." These days, when I hear "David," I assume it's one of the kids at school who has figured out that all us teachers have our first names printed on our mailboxes and nothing is more amusing than Mister Caven's first name. 

Or my mother is in the room. 

The only other place where both syllables get used on a regular basis is in print. This blog is written by David Caven. I show up online first and last. It is my nom de plume. It's my name. It's also the name of a few dozen others out there with access to Al Gore's Internet.

So, I guess you can understand my confusion.  

Tuesday, March 08, 2022


 I've been to a few protests. Not as many as the general tenor of my bleeding-heart ideals might suggest. Most of my politicking takes place from behind this here keyboard. Every so often, I will join a march. Carry a sign. Participate in some that good old call and response chanting that is so much a part of that experience. The problem is, I am far too much a smart aleck to simply parrot back whatever eight to twelve syllables I am coached to repeat. It usually takes me three or four cycles through the same regurgitations that I feel the need to misbehave. 

"Whose schools?" Our schools! "Whose schools?" Our schools! "Whose schools?" Well, actually they are kind of a community property, purchased primarily through state funds but supplemented to the tune of a bout a third by local taxes with an even smaller slice of that pie coming from the federal government. So, when you're asking "Whose schools," I feel it's important to consider that the majority of the support comes from outside our district. 

Oh. This was more in the line of a rhetorical question. Then they're our schools. Sorry for that digression. 

And then there's the pace of these actions. I was in my high school's marching band. When you say "march," I have a sense of metered and regimental stepping, not the shambling gait brought to most of these affairs. Maybe it's the anarchic sense of walking down the middle of a street that brings out the scofflaw in all of us. Why worry about staying in step with the person next to me when we have all this freedom? Okay. I'll allow that, but is there a reason why we can't get from point A to point B in a little more timely fashion? The other experience I have being on closed streets is the occasional footrace in which I have participated. I didn't come in first place, but those people with their strollers were just begging to be passed. 

And then there's the signs. I have to admire those that are clever, but also get a point across. This past weekend the one that sticks with me is "Education cuts never heal." There was some thought put into that one. Of course, then I rounded the corner and saw another three signs with the same slogan, so I felt a little more reassured carrying the pre-printed banner for our school with its direct insistence of "No Closures!" 

Finally, there was the matter of the masses involved. Before we all stepped out into the streets to make our voices heard, there was a sense of a vast throng that would be choking traffic for hours. When we finally reached the end of our march, it became apparent that we only strung out for about a city block. Hundreds of people, to be certain, but not worth bringing out the news chopper to get the view from above. But we were noisy. And we made our voices heard. When we could remember the words.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Over Reaction

 Last week was tough. Try as we might, the students and staff at our school are struggling to avoid the stress that hangs in the air like the scent of musty coats in the lost and found. Teachers facing the ongoing fight to keep the school open are hanging around late and getting up early to prepare for whatever the next action will be. Making signs. Having meetings about making signs. Creating agendas for meetings about making signs. It seems like our waking moments are spent at school or figuring out how the school can stay there so when we get there we have a place to meet. 

And all of this stress rolls downhill. An early blast of spring-like weather would have been enough in any given year to send our students into a tizzy. The little things become big things, and the big things that hover over them every day of their lives are compressed by the pressure of a bunch of grownups who are not managing their tension as well as they might. Some of our most at-risk kids are more sensitive than they usually are, which is a lot. This means one person cutting in line on the way to the cafeteria can become an afternoon of misery for all those involved. A shove on the playground can blow up into a brawl among first grade soccer players. 

And who is there to calm these stormy seas? A group of adults who are carrying around their last nerves, holding their stretched composure at the end of a day that seems to stretch on and on, with yet another zoom meeting to be had once all the short people have gone home. 

All of which is to say that I understand why Florida's "governor" snapped at a group of high school students during a visit to the University of South Florida last week. All because some of the students were wearing masks. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he said, letting out an audible sigh and shaking his head. "Governor Ron" was obviously at the end of one of those days when that extra straw of encountering a group of children protecting themselves from a deadly plague set him off. Ironically, out here on the left coast, I find myself getting testy when I have to remind eight year olds to put their masks on. 

But let's just say that I understand the reaction. As awkward and misdirected as it was. I suppose we should congratulate the "governor" for not reaching out and snatching the mask off the kids. And to the kids who didn't knock him out for his trouble. 

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Many Hats

 Ten years ago, I was recognized by my principal at the time and by the school district as The Outstanding Teacher. To commemorate this honor, my wife made me a set of matching baseball caps. These were to acknowledge all the different jobs I held down at my school, Horace Mann Elementary. One said "teacher" on the front. Another said "coach." Another said "liaison" for my connection to the after school program. Of course there needed to be one that said "tech" for all the things I fixed. Or turned on. She made one that said "principal" for those days when I had to step in to that role for a moment. And the sixth one just said "slash," which made the others less useful since it described best the way I moved through my day.

Ten years later, I am still doing pretty much the same thing. What makes me happy is that I work with a group of people who could also wear any one of these hats as they go about their day. That is because they take the same approach to teaching I do: It takes a village. It always has. It always will. 

When I first got to Horace Mann, it was a year round school. There were so many kids enrolled here students alternated being here for three months and would then take a month off. Things have changed a lot since then. Somewhere in there, charter schools started popping up around Oakland. Someone even came by to sell us all on the idea of converting our school to a charter. We sent him away. We are a public school, named for the man who invented public education. We are a school for the community.

And we will continue to be just that.

The school district wants to point at our declining enrollment as a reason for closing our school. They do this without acknowledging the impact of the past two years of COVID. They do this without outwardly acknowledging the number of students in our neighborhood that are attending charter schools. Rather than finding ways to grow our student body, the district is using this opportunity to close a school that has been the center of a community for much longer than the years I have been here. I am just a tiny part of the history of Horace Mann. All of those students, families and educators who came before me and all those who come after I am gone will tell the rest of the story. 

Right now we are gifted to have a dedicated staff, and a principal who has brought all kinds of services and programs back to our school. The fact that our library is open for business after years of being used primarily for storage and meetings is a blessing. The same can be said of our after school program and all the ways we connect with our kids and their families every day. 

We are asking for your help to spread the word about our school. Horace Mann is down, but not out. We deserve the right to show everyone what a special place we all make it. Let's tell everyone: Horace Mann is here to stay. 

Saturday, March 05, 2022

The Day Before

 Back in those giddy days of the late seventies, there was a phrase that was bandied about by those Me Generation types who were mining the humor of mankind's eventual destruction. "One nuclear weapon could ruin your whole day." This was a direct attempt to deflect the quiet certitude we all carried around in our heads that eventually the missiles would be launched and we would all hasten the directives of the Civil Defense films with which we had been inculcated in our youth. Duck and cover, thus providing us all better posture for kissing our collective posteriors goodbye. 

It wasn't until the events of September 11, 2001 that our heads were jerked viciously away from missile silos to airports across our country and the potential threat they served. Suddenly there was a mass casualty event on American soil that did not involve nuclear weapons. Security in those airports was ramped up to ensure that no one's shoes or underwear could ever pose a threat to us again.

Meanwhile, all those missiles with atomic bombs attached to them sat in their holes, awaiting launch codes carried in a briefcase just behind the president of that moment. Some of us wondered how comfortable we felt with some of the men who had access to the "Football" as it was nicknamed. But mostly we turned our eyes to the non-conventional war of terror. Part of that concern was focused on the potential of these radical splinter groups gaining access to the ways and means of generating "dirty bombs," and a number of lighthearted Hollywood romps included electromagnetic pulse devices as plot points. This was their response to a change in our fears. The teenage hacker teaching us all a lesson about the terrors of nuclear war by playing tic tac toe with a computer disappeared. In his place came wild-eyed fanatics bent on the destruction of our way of life, one block or passenger aircraft at a time.

And still those missiles sat, part of the highest stakes poker game ever imagined while we set up another game: One of economic sanctions and diplomatic shame. A welcome turn to be sure, but no one thought to tell all those guys sitting down in their silos or flying endless missions in bombers awaiting orders to stand down. Every so often a nuclear submarine from one of these superpowers runs into something and we are reminded of the true terror of the deep. 

Now we have started to have discussions of "the nuclear option" in a realm outside of firing a professional football team's entire coaching staff. The weapons that are currently targeted at Ukraine are not metaphors. The ones that dot satellite maps of our own Midwest are a reminder to the rest of the planet that would last about twenty minutes in the event of a full-on exchange between Russia and the United States. China might have something to say about that too, but that would be (if you'll pardon the expression) overkill. 

Everything old is new again.  

Friday, March 04, 2022

Peace Sells

 Give peace a chance. 

Not unlike the little seedlings in our planter out front, we would like to offer peace a chance to take root and grow.


There are, of course, a lot of things that keep this from happening. Not the least of these is capitalism. I know this because I play this game on my computer called "Civilization," and I know that I can get lots more gold in my treasury if I topple the tiny kingdom adjacent to me. Anyone who tells you that the reasons for Russia's invasion of Ukraine is any more complex than this is lying. 

Making trade deals and treaties takes a lot more time and negotiating than simply rolling in the big guns and stomping neighbors into submission. The image of the "liberation" of Iraq is not complete without the sea of oil derricks in the background. The United States has not been in the business of freeing oppressed people without a pretty cool cash incentive. Hitler was killing people by the thousands and toppling governments for years before the United States decided to get into the fight. It took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get us off the bench and into the game. Hitler and his goons had steamrolled across Europe without much of a fight and were on their way to England when his Axis friends finally pushed things a little too far.

We have not spent a lot of time in the intervening years fighting unless there was a price tag on the territories being engulfed and devoured. It just so happened that the Domino Theory worked the other way, allowing democracy to rise up and topple oppressive regimes without firing a shot. This is one of the reasons Ronald Reagan gets so much applause. He once insisted that "Mister Gorbachev tear down this wall," just before it was going to happen anyway. The most likely reason for this action was not an overwhelming rise in the need for freedom as much as free enterprise. There was a GAP store located on the western side of the Berlin Wall and button fly jeans were fifty percent off. 

So if we can get a brief cease fire and a really good deal at all eastern European Toyota dealers, we could wrap this whole deal up in a weekend. 

Thursday, March 03, 2022

What Did He Say?

 I remember seeing somewhere on Al Gore's Internet this question: "Did William Wallace really scream 'Freedom' just before he was pulled apart?" Hard to imagine that Scotland's favorite son/savior having the presence of mind while he was hung, disemboweled, drawn and quartered after having been dragged to his place of eventual execution to say something meaningful. But this is what screenwriter Randall Wallace would like us to believe he said: "Freedom!" Not "Arrrrgh!" or even "Wish I hadn't worn a kilt!" or any less powerful sentiments. We could all use a good writer to punch up our final scene.

Which is precisely why I have such admiration for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. History has finally delivered on its promise to bring us someone memorable, staring down overwhelming odds. His training as a comedian turns out to be just the thing in the face of most of the Russian army rolling toward your hometown. When asked by American President Joe Biden if he needed to be extracted from his tenuous position, he replied "I need an ammunition. I don't need a ride." Not exactly a laugh line, but he is very clear that he is being seen by the world. And all the world is a stage, I am told.

Which makes it all the more confounding why we can't get our own politicians right here in the US of A to provide a little more in the way of cogent comment. Once again, we turn to the source of so much ridiculousness, Representative Lauren Boebert: “I pray for Ukraine, and I wish them the best. But we also have neighbors to the north who need freedom and need to be liberated, and we need that right here at home, as well.” Yes, that's right. the congressperson was suggesting that the plight of the American people and our "neighbors to the North" need more ammunition too. She was referencing the trucker's protest that was recently broken up in Ottawa, where a group of protesters blocked streets and highways for weeks, waving flags and shouting (you guessed it) "Freedom!" Not from an invading force, but from public health. In their ongoing struggle against reality, these truckers provide unintentional ironic counterpoint to that found in Ukraine. In Ukraine, men, women and children are taking up arms against an invading force. This is the kind of sticky dream for Boebert and her followers, who only wish that they had a reason for wielding all the firepower they chose to lug around on their Christmas cards. The difference is one is for showing off, and the other is for survival. 

The trouble with history is that there wasn't always a way to take down the final utterances of heroes. And the trouble we are having now is that those who are far less than heroic have access to way too much of our bandwidth. And now back to our regularly scheduled debacle. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Fair Practice

 The talk around here continues to be about what is right and what is fair. It's a big discussion. One of the places this discussion is heard most loudly is in the lower left-hand corner of our continental United States in the sleepy little burg of Hollywood. There are all kinds of voices raised in anger and frustration about his and that injustice, so much so that quite often the rhetoric spills over into the award shows that they hold on a regular basis to remind themselves of their own importance. 

I should stop at this point to confess my ongoing infatuation with all things Hollywood and an embarrassing infatuation with these same award shows that I am currently about to slag. I am the one who fills out his Oscar ballot with a conscientious eye toward winning the family/office pool. In other words, I try to vote as I imagine industry types would. 

Which is why I cannot imagine how the powers that be in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences chose to simply flick a switch and move eight of the previously major categories into a montage piece wedged into the beginning of the big broadcast. The awards for Documentary (Short Subject), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Short Film (Animated), Short Film (Live Action), and Sound will be  "folded seamlessly into the live broadcast," according to the folks at the Academy. The suggestion of seamless folds occurs to me as a physical impossibility, but I still trying to figure out how Orson Welles got the camera to fly through that sign on top of the El Rancho nightclub and into the skylight. 

Of course, I know the real answer. It's about getting the periodically dirge-like procession of awards and presenters to match the pace of our modern world. Watching a four hour telecast is a burden and a waste of valuable network time that should perhaps be filled with more Dancing With The Stars. This is why over the past few years all the management types have been trying to sap any and all extraneous weight of musical numbers and acceptance speeches that run over the ninety seconds winners are allowed to describe the arc of their careers that ended up with them holding a statue. 

So why not just blow on past those trophies that "no one" cares about? 

Well, back in the olden days, they gave a couple of Oscars to Walt Disney for making Best Documentary Short Subject. I would imagine that if they defrosted Walt's head and asked the man who would be the titular head of the corporation that runs the network that will be broadcasting the Oscars. Or maybe the fair thing to do would be go ahead and do just that and see if the severed cranium of Disney Inc. would be happy to be played off. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

The Process

 From the backseat of my son's car, my wife said, "It's democracy we have to look out for now." These words came after a long day of bumping into all the impediments we could imagine to the way of life we once held dear. Democracy, a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state. When the people are united, they can never be defeated. 

That's what we've been told, after all. But somehow it doesn't seem that way from where we were sitting. Back seat or front seat. Thousands of people in Oakland have spent the past few weeks voicing their displeasure and indignation to the democratically elected school board. The school board that decided to close schools. One of those schools is the one where I work. And if you can believe this: I once helped get the president of that school board get elected. I gave glowing quotes to his campaign. I voted for him. I would like very much now to have that vote back. But that's not how democracy works.

Then there's Ukraine. A democratically elected government is being threatened by its former empirical overlords. If shelling its cities and rolling tanks into their streets can be considered "threatening." It's more like turning back the clock. Back to the bad old days. All that voting and participating in elections turns out not to mean so much. Not in the face of artillery and carpet bombing. 

And speaking of counting votes, we are still, as a country stuck wondering if the results of every election will be subject to question and potential insurrection. The guy who was impeached after losing not one but two presidential elections via the popular vote is still trying to to contest the results that have been certified by Wikipedia and other important bodies. This same guy was impeached, as I was saying (twice), the first time was for trying to extort some dirt on his opponent from (wait for it) the president of Ukraine. What did the former game-show host want to give Ukraine in exchange for misinformation about Joe Biden and Russian interference in U.S. elections? Military aid. 

Oh, and I wonder if Russia will close down any schools in Ukraine once the smoke clears.