Saturday, April 30, 2022

Breakin' The Law

 "You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted."

The above information is easily obtained via the Transportation Security Administration's web site. If you are curious about how one might be allowed to bring a gun through security in carryon luggage, don't be. It is not permitted. 

Not even if you are a member of Congress.

North Carolina Representative Madison Cawthorn was attempting to do just that. Police stopped the twenty-six year old at the Charlotte Airport on Tuesday. 

We'll just pause the tape there, for a moment. 

This is Madison Cawthorn, just a year older than my son, who announced his definition of a woman as "two X chromosomes and no tallywhacker" from the floor of the US House of Representatives. Shortly after that, a number of photos were released showing the congressman "partying" in women's lingerie. Perhaps it is tallywhacker that keeps him so secure in his masculinity. Or maybe he is straight up confused about how the rest of the planet sees him. 

The multiple speeding violations including one in which he was also cited for driving with a revoked license. And all this time, Madison continues to spout the rhetoric of the law and order Right. Like his tweet from January 6, 2021, where he proclaimed, "We must let Congress work and uphold law and order. We are the party that backs the blue. "

And now back to our story: Representative Cawthorn was cited and released for attempting to breach security at an airport with a loaded weapon last week.

For the second time. This comes just a few weeks after he spouted off about being invited to drug-fueled orgies by senior members of his own party. Meanwhile, all of this controversy has caused Madison's poll numbers to drop below fifty percent. He may not win reelection with only forty-four percent.

But he is still leading the pack of potential candidates.

Sleep tight, America.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Cash Flow

 I'll be honest: Part of the reason for me to slag Elon Musk is jealousy. My vision of the world is limited by my perception of it, and that is the world of an urban elementary school teacher. After twenty-five years I am making what can be described as a living wage. I have a mortgage and I own my own car. My family and I go out to dinner occasionally, and when there isn't a global pandemic going on we take a trip each year. 

Meanwhile, the refrigerator continues to make that clunking sound when the compressor stops. I learned that comes from the springs that hold the compressor in place wearing out. Not a reason to replace a major appliance, but it's a daily reminder of just how old our refrigerator is. We continue to look for deals. When I buy running shoes, I go with last year's model because it's always forty dollars cheaper. 

I continue to pick up change from the sidewalk when I see it. 

I don't suppose that Mister Musk has stooped to snag a dime off the curb anytime recently. He just spent forty-five billion dollars to buy Twitter. He could have bought the world a Coke five times over for that and had billions left over. If we could get folks to in groups of four or five, he could pay to teach the world to sing. In sweet harmony. He could buy billions of apple trees and honey bees, and turtle doves. All for the cost of a company that traffics in random opinions and thoughts about breakfast cereal. 

And as far as buying the world a home and furnishing it with love, he's continued to avoid any attempt at philanthropy. In a battle of obscenely wealthy individuals, Bill Gates challenged his fellow oligarch to throw some of that money at saving the world. To which Musky replied,  "Sorry, but I cannot take your philanthropy on climate change seriously when you have a massive short position against Tesla, the company doing the most to solve climate change." Nothing personal there Bill. It's just business

Elon's daddy, creatively named Errol to save on vowels, once described his family's life as the owners of an emerald mine: "We had so much money at times we couldn't even close our safe." From such humble beginnings, who would have expected anything but Elon in his current configuration? He claims that he will be paying eleven billion dollars in taxes this year. His company, the "company doing the most to solve climate change" is expected to (shuffles papers, checks adding machine tape) pay nothing. 

The enlightened mind might care to take on the position that you wouldn't want the rich man's troubles. Like finding a safe big enough to hold all your money. But who knows if this Twitter thing will really pan out. Thank goodness he's got all those vowels to spare, after naming his son X Æ A-12. If you've got any ideas about how to spend Elon's money, hit him up on Twitter. You know he'll be receptive. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Nothing Little About It

 For all of you out there who are currently reading this, I will let you know way in advance that this is directed to a very small segment of my audience. Today this will be an audience of one. Not that the rest of you won't take the same level of amusement and grim satisfaction from reading these accounts that you might otherwise be enjoying if I were writing about gun control or public education. I hope you'll stick around for a few lines about my younger brother. 

It's his birthday today, and he has confided in me that though he is a constant and dedicated follower of this blog, he is always looking for stories about him. Which makes perfect sense, like those trips through family photo albums, you tend to feel a greater sense of comfort when you can pick yourself out of the crowd. "I was there."

My brother Dan was there. Pretty much the whole time I was growing up. He had a ringside seat to my life, and yet he still feels compelled to come around here looking for memories and anecdotes that take him back there once again. We share a past, and through some savvy relocation, we share a present as well. He lives just across a bridge from me, and though I don't see him every morning for breakfast like we used to, it's so very nice to have a little blood just across the bay. 

When I was in the throes of my tumultuous adolescence, I struggled and failed to stick the landing on my first attempt to go away to college. That long and deathly embarrassing drive home in the family station wagon was only made better by one thing: The calm voice of reason that came from my little brother. He was the one who spoke up and said that he guessed that I would be okay. Never mind the mess in the dorm room the night before. He spoke up on my behalf when I did not have a shred of belief in myself. Turns out he was right, "Okay" being a relative term and all. 

Then, there was the crisis point after my father was horribly burned in a plane crash. We all gathered together at my older brother's house and alternately took turns driving down to the hospital and sitting at home by the phone, awaiting word. When it finally came down to the moment of disembarkation, deciding when or if we should take dad off life support, it was Dan's calm and assured voice that cut through the fear and confusion. "He gets better or we pull the plug." A harsh assessment to be sure, but the words that someone had to say. 

Since then, we have come together to tell stories and laugh. He loves to hear me remember things. He should know that he is the reason for me being able to recall all those days wandering in the hills, or playing with the neighborhood kids. He is a part of my life that sparks those memories and the one that keeps showing up to keep me digging for more. 

There is a chance that you have come by this entry at Dan's behest. He tutors folks on Al Gore's Internet using bits and pieces of my blog from time to time as material to read. That's the kind of flattery that serves us both, and especially today. It's Dan's birthday and I want you all to know that I probably wouldn't be doing this (gestures widely) without him out there to give me his personal thumbs up. 

Thank you for reading this blog.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

To My Grandchildren

 Hey kids, I'm sorry. I knew the planet was broken way back when I was young, and I didn't stop it from going straight into ecological bankruptcy. I suppose I could blame prior generations, but that wouldn't really be fair. Mine was the generation that looked up and saw a hole in the ozone layer. Before that, we were all concerned with doing our best for Mother Earth. 

We failed. There are plenty of us scurrying around currently looking for ways to slow down our slippery slide into uninhabitable. Water to drink. Air to breathe. Land on which we can all stand. Not so much to ask for, really. We just weren't that good at keeping things nice for those of you who came after all our lousy decisions. 

I don't know if you will remember when there was such a thing as money, but that was what was driving a lot of our choices back when there was still a planet to save. The really sad thing about all the money that people thought they were making was that many of us truly believed that we could use that abstract notion to make thing better. There was this plan where people could buy "carbon offsets," which was a way to put cash back into assuaging their consciences for the way they were tearing through natural resources. For a price you could buy peace of mind. This was especially true for those who had money to burn. Like everything else. 

We congratulated ourselves for buying electric cars, and putting solar panels on top of our houses. There were companies who would proudly announce that they were "carbon neutral" even though they knew that they weren't going to be able to get some of that carbon back from the places we were putting it. Maybe we were distracted by superheroes. There were a lot of them around in those days, mostly on movie and TV screens. We imagined them saving us all from horrible fates much worse than being cooked alive slowly on the ground where we lived. It turns out the bad guys didn't come from another galaxy. They were right here all along. Killing ourselves in little ways, day after day. 

I could tell you that we tried to make things better by worrying more and more about how bad things had gotten, but all that worry and impassioned letters written didn't keep the climate from changing. We let people talk about how "the climate has always been changing." Many of them had jobs in our government. We let this happen. We encouraged them by voting for them. I could say that it's not my fault because I didn't vote for them, but that doesn't change the fact that at the moment when we might have pulled back from the brink, we didn't just stop. We knew that five million people were dying each year because of climate change, but we couldn't bring ourselves to stop changing the climate. 

It was a little like how we used to let people keep guns in their homes. Lots of guns. We used them to kill one another. But that's a story for another day. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Old Enough

 Pursuing my exercise with my headphones in my ears, I was given the gift of hearing Roger Daltrey singing these words: "Hope I die before I get old." I will soon be turning sixty, an age that I did not fully comprehend or imagine becoming at any point during my "youth." I suppose for our purposes here I will define "youth" as being any time before twenty-five. Years old. Since that time I have made a series of nearly constant adjustments to my perspective. I moved out of my hometown when I turned thirty, so that moment had a bit of "coming of age" to it. A couple years later I got married and brought a whole new wave of grown-up with it. The arrival of our son not long after that gave me a new way to calibrate relative youth, since I now had a youth of my own as a relative. 

Roger Daltrey is seventy-eight years old. He was twenty-one when he stuttered his way through "My Generation." I was three. It would be another eighteen years before I would start considering the irony of recording a song like that and then continue to play it, record more music, go on tour and perform that song as part of a greatest hits package for another fifty-seven years. While it is true that Keith Moon, Roger's bandmate and drummer lived (died) up to those expectations, and the departure of bassist Jon Entwistle twenty years ago suggest that Rog may not have been listening to the words he was singing, but maybe the other guys felt the need to save face. Of course, it was Pete Townshend who wrote the words so very long ago, about not hanging around too long at this party we call life. Pete is fast approaching his seventy-seventh birthday. A great many years ago, he wrote about Mick Jagger turning forty. The lead singer of the Rolling Stones is the same age as Roger Daltrey. Maybe there was something in the water way back then. In 1975, Mick told an interviewer about "coming of age" in rock and roll: "I would continue to write and sing, but I’d rather be dead than sing Satisfaction when I’m 45.” 

If you're curious, I've already done the math. That was forty-seven years ago. On November 21, 2021 Mick and the boys played "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" for their final encore at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. That performance came just a month after the death of their drummer, Charlie Watts. Considering Charlie made it all the way to eighty, it seems unlikely that he went out in a cocaine and whisky fueled frenzy. He did not burn out, but it's fair to say that he didn't exactly fade away. He just stopped rocking and rolling. 

So maybe there's something in there about money and fame making liars of us all. Me? I'm not rich or famous so I will probably find my own path, using that old axiom, "You're only as old as you feel." Somedays I'm ninety-five. Other's I'm back in my prime. Those are the days I'm listening to DEVO. Mark Mothersbaugh is only seventy-one. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Swamp Thing

 It's a pretty solid rhetorical question, but would you rather have Ron DeSantis for a governor or Mickey Mouse? One of them, after all is a cartoon character. The other is a rodent. 

This quandary is posited primarily because of the bill the Florida legislature passed a bill seeking to dissolve a special district that allows the Walt Disney Company to act as its own government within its magical borders this past Thursday. This would mean that The House of Mouse would no longer supply its own security, emergency medical care, fire protection, roads, water, and pixie dust. Known as the Reedy Creek District, Disney has held sway in the Orlando swamp for fifty-five years. It is only now that push, in the form of Governor Ron, has come to shove, "bringing California values to Florida" in the words of one Sunshine State lawmaker. 

So after years of playing both sides of the fence politically, it became necessary for the Happiest Place On Earth to say "gay." In a statement, DisneyCo said, “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.” Which brought Governor Ron's weasels out of the dark and into the light. In a partisan legislative move faster than you can say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious brought a bill to Governor Ron's desk that would end the dominion of the sovereign Mouse. 

And as a result, Reedy Creek employees and infrastructure would be absorbed by the local counties, which would then become responsible for all municipal services. The counties would collect the tax revenue Disney currently pays the Reedy Creek district, but would also be saddled with the district’s liabilities. That would be debt. With a capital D. This would drop into the local tax base to the tune of one billion dollars. This in turn would leave to the thing that Republicans claim to hate even more than the idea of LBGTQ+: higher taxes. How much do Republicans hate gay? One billion dollars worth. 

Governor Ron is effectively running off Florida's biggest employer and asking his central Florida residents to foot the bill. Governor Ron is up for re-election this year. I am not allowed to vote in that election, but I'm guessing a bunch of ducks, mermaids and assorted talking animals that will. I wonder how that will turn out? 

Sunday, April 24, 2022


 The reason I continue to run is essentially the same as Forrest Gump. Nobody told me to stop. It is, as so many have pointed out, a "healthy addiction." It gives my compulsive predilections something to which they can attend. I tend to wake each morning with the same thought: "When will I get my run in today?" And though sometimes I flinch in anticipation of yet another opportunity to physically push my endurance, I am always happy when it's done. Like the joke: "Why do you keep doing that to yourself?" Because it feels so good when I stop.

Some of you out there may have already beat me to the conclusion that if I just stopped completely, then I would be free of that middle part: the actual exertion. In response to that I say that what you are currently reading is another example of that same strain of compulsion. As a matter of fact, my feelings about both writing this blog and running are regularly reinforced by those around me. They are all impressed by my frequency, even if the quality of effort is sometimes a question. But I take solace in the time I spend behind the keyboard much in the same way I feel when I lace up my running shoes. 

Another element they share is the solitary nature of the activity. Just me in my shorts. Just me and my keyboard. The two are inexorably linked in discussions I have with my wife on a regular basis. When inquires about my business on any given weekend or day off, the reply is pretty standard: "Gotta go for a run, write a blog." And then the rest of whatever might be on a list or calendar somewhere. I call those "must do's," but my reality suggests that running and blogging have a higher place in my marching orders. 

All of which brings me to the point I was going to make way back up there at the beginning. I am glad that my regimen requires very little in the way of equipment and support beyond a sidewalk and a pair of shoes. I was reading this morning about armed thieves accosting mountain bikers in the hills just north of my house and stealing their bicycles. Very expensive bicycles, we assume. Hard for me to imagine that these bandits would be interested in my sweaty Asics, but that's probably what keeps me running. Which in turn takes me back to those years when I lived a little closer to downtown, and one afternoon I was passing by one of the sketchier motels on my route. A young lady stepped out in front of me, hand on her hip and said something to me. Always the helpful sort, I stopped and pulled out my earbuds. "Excuse me?" 

"You wanna date?" she asked. 

I politely demurred for all the common sense reasons and also because I didn't want to break my stride. Or break my streak. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Relative Freedoms

 When I work with kids on test-taking strategies, it is invariably the group that finishes first that has the lowest scores. "What do you suppose you might have done to get another three or four questions correct?" I ask them. "Is it possible you could have done anything different?"


I make a couple of observations, the kind that suggest that maybe the student might have worked a little longer or harder on their assessment.

Blank stare. 

This is the effort they had to extend on this task. Now can we please get back to the penguin math game?

This is what I am imagining about American's response to COVID. The celebration that accompanied a Florida judge's decision to toss out Federal mask mandates on airplanes. Representative Jim Jordan from Ohio tweeted, "Fauci lost. Freedom won." 

Okay, so let's examine: Doctor Anthony Fauci, who has been actively supporting any and all efforts of the healthcare community to keep America and the rest of the planet safe from COVID-19, lost? Ridding the skies of what many feel is unnecessary restrictions of their faces? That layer of protection that kept a group of strangers trapped in a metal cylinder flying through the air has been deemed no longer useful by a judge, not a doctor. From Florida? And then there's this whole grab bag called "freedom." It seems as though there are a lot of folks who like to pick and choose when it comes to freedoms. Freedom from masks? Check. Freedom from a global pandemic? Not so check. We just want to be done with this whole global pandemic nonsense. We want to get back to that penguin game. 

See, here's where I draw my comparison: It's about stamina. Like those elementary schoolers who cannot imagine spending another ten minutes on an assessment that could determine their grade for a week, a day or a semester, there is a segment of America that would like COVID-19 to just go away. It's getting in the way of our everyday life. Those of us who are still alive, anyway. Haven't we all suffered enough? I suppose the people best equipped to answer that question with any fidelity would be the ones who have lived through long COVID, perhaps with the addition or subtraction of a lung or two. Freedom from health seems like a pretty bad deal. Freedom from life? A little worse than that.

So will we have the stamina it takes to deal with the reality of a deadly disease past the point that it interferes with our ability to show off the cleft in our chins? Will we sacrifice the ground that we have made up by getting vaccinated so that we can get on an airplane without wearing a mask? 

But we still have to take off our shoes? Go figure. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Differential Equation

 I suppose it makes sense that a Republican dominated state like Florida would reject a math textbook. Or fifty-four of them. Which reminds me of a math problem: If a state rejects fifty-four of one hundred thirty-two math textbooks, what percentage would that be? If you picked forty-one percent as your answer, give yourself a gold star. If you answered, "most of them," you wouldn't be technically right but if you said "more than probably should have been," then we can move on.

As a teacher I have learned to flinch in anticipation of any child on my roll named "Angel," and having a governor named "DeSantis" turns out to be the proof of this rule for Florida. This man is no saint. A news release from Governor Ron's office stated some of the reasons for rejecting textbooks. These included references to critical race theory, “inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.” That last bit rings a little for me. The suggestion that emotions play no part in mathematics is just plain wrong, since I don't tend to go a day without hearing a student tell me how much they hate math. 

Or love it. 

As for the rest of it, I know how hard math can be for some. For example, if a simple majority is needed to confirm a Justice to the Supreme Court, how many votes would you need out of a hundred to put this candidate on the bench? "More than half" would be an acceptable answer, but if you knew that three Republicans helped put the number of yeas up past fifty, you get extra credit. Now here's where the SEL portion comes in: How many Republican Senators walked out of the chamber after the vote was taken and this historic moment was being applauded by (most) everyone else? If you answered "the Republicans minus three," you're well on your way to understanding how this "new math" works.

Finally, the most obvious example of Republican struggles with math comes from a problem like this: Which number is larger - 81,282,916 or 74,223,369? You would be surprised how many pick 74,223,369. These numbers represent the popular vote totals for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I was going to say something here about "respectively," but I don't believe that "respect" has anything to do with it. As a bonus, I might ask how many electoral votes it takes to certify a new President of the United States. If you knew that number was 270, and that Joe Biden was awarded 302, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Or maybe math hews a little too close to reality for some. It really shouldn't take two years to solve a problem this simple. 

I guess some people just hate math. And reality. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022


 Okay, I get it. We live in a capitalist society, so we are somehow beholding to those who play the game exceptionally well. "He who dies with the most toys wins," was how we used to talk about it when I was in high school. Back then, I was indestructible and I had my whole life to make a fortune. The house I was going to buy was going to have hot and cold warming fun issuing from every spigot. I wasn't going to have a robot vacuum, I was going to have a robot that would vacuum. The garage would hold all manner of vehicles for those moments when I felt like going somewhere that might be more fun than the house in which I lived. I could imagine a lot.

The challenge, as it turns out, is that there are a lot of other folks out there who are much better at imagining that I am. These creepy nerds, as we referred to them in high school, ended up winning the game and controlling the board. They got all the toys and the dogecoin and stock options and now we have to listen to their advice about how to live our lives. Let's start with everyone's favorite arbiter of taste, Elon Musk. Setting aside for a moment that his very name connotes a smell that maybe we weren't that interested in to start with, Mister Musk would like us to know that, "If moving to Mars costs, for argument's sake, $100,000, then I think almost anyone can work and save up and eventually have $100,000 and be able to go to Mars if they want." 

If they want. There are a few points in there I would like to point out. Most people like to eat. Most people like to have shelter of some sort. Most people like to have clothes on their backs. 

Most people are not Elon Musk. 

Most people are trying to save money to afford the necessities of life. Which doesn't seem like a big challenge for someone who seems to be able to produce money at rates and by means previously only imagined by high school sophomores scribbling in the backs of their spiral notebooks next to the logos of bands they hoped to be a part of one day. 

Most people no longer believe in the myth of another oddly named human, Horatio Alger. The suggestion that all you needed to do was "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" implies that you had bootstraps in the first place. Or maybe you feel more comfortable following the advice of kerjillionaire and reality TV staple Kim Kardashian who suggested we just needed to get off our non-surgically altered backsides "and work." That's the only way you're gonna get to Mars. 

Or maybe we should let everyone who can afford it get off this planet so we can finally have some peace. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

True Blue

 I suppose I could blame Michael J. Fox for setting up the expectation that there is some sort of pendulum swing between parents' and their children's political beliefs. The raging conservative that Mister Fox played on Family Ties all those years ago made me imagine that my son would probably end up being a QAnon follower and every family gathering would require a conscious avoidance of anything topical. Alex P Keaton was a model of a parent's worst fear: Having offspring you don't want to have sitting around the holiday table. 

Okay, first of all I should confess to not having watched too many episodes of that particular sit-com, mostly because the premise and Mister Keaton/Fox made me less interested by powers of ten. That was because of my deeply held liberal convictions. Growing up in the hippie haven that was Boulder, Colorado in the sixties and seventies probably would have been enough to cement those views, but I believe that I came by them the old fashioned way: I learned them. 

My mother made a pact with my older brother that she would ride with him on his motorcycle to Canada if he was ever drafted. She made this commitment about the time my brother turned fifteen, the year that the United States ended the conscription of their young men. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that this promise was made in fervent good faith, much in the same way that my mom became a subscriber to Ms. Magazine, starting with issue one. Her dinner table pronouncement went something like this: "I'm getting a subscription to Ms. Magazine." Pause. "Can I?"

Which is not to say that she felt she needed permission, but she was on the cusp of a new paradigm, and shaking free of all those shackles was not easy. Nor I am sure was all the tension created in a neighborhood of straitlaced IBMers and their families as she opened her doors to all of us kids and let us make fun of the President, even if we weren't exactly sure why, but Tricky Dick Nixon was a man who was not to be trusted. 

My father wore his own bleeding heart on his sleeve, fearlessly bridging the generation gap that might have existed between him and they longhairs who came and went out of our lives. He even served as a delegate for Jesse Jackson at the Colorado State Democratic Convention. He was proud to be the bald white guy portion of the Rainbow Coalition. 

So why did I suspect that my own son might be anything but a branch on the same tree? Michael J. Fox. Turns out I needn't have worried. He was the one who picked up Beto O'Rourke's Twitter feed, and has been helping his old man struggle with all this pronoun business. Growing up in Oakland with your eyes and ears open, it might be difficult to end up on the red side of things, and at least one of his very good friends in high school drank the MAGA Kool-Aid. Which makes it hard for him to hang around with his buddy for extended periods. That's unfortunate. And even though we see eye to eye on most things, we still find a few topics that are off limits. Like the continued need for more Fast and Furious movies. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

I'm With The Banned

 Hey kids: Quiz time! What repressive regime was responsible for banning more than one thousand books over the course of nine months? If you guessed the Nazis, I'll give you a point for coming close to the actual answer: Republicans. As part of an attempt to manipulate reality by attempting to make segments of the population simply disappear, conservative governors, legislators and school boards across the country are silencing voices of black, brown and rainbow Americans by removing them from school libraries. Back in November, the head idjit of the Lone Star State, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the state’s school board association asking it to remove from districts any materials deemed “pornographic” or “obscene.” If this conjures up that scene from Footloose where right-thinking residents of Bomont, Utah get it into their heads that as long as they're keeping the kids from dancing they might as well keep them from reading as well. 

Which is when the good Reverend John Lithgow appears to call a stop to the book burning, reminding them that "Satan isn't in these books. He's in here - in you heart." And if you know the rest of the story, then you know that it turns out that all those kids in Bomont got their prom and got to dance after all. Some ideas, and dance steps, are just to big to be kept down. 

Which doesn't keep tiny-brained fearmongers from trying. Those ideas that do not conform with age-old notions about sexual identity and gender get dumped into a bin labeled "obscene." Different? Maybe. Obscene? Hardly. In my world I find these efforts to blot out segments of our population "offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency." 

This is coming from a guy who read Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. when I was in junior high school. On the subject of being a banned author, Mister Vonnegut offered up this anecdote: "All citizens are entitled to hear absolutely any idea anyone from anywhere may care to express,'' he said. "And where did I get the notion there was such an incredible entitlement? I got it from the junior civics course that was given in the seventh grade at Public School 35 in Indianapolis.'' It was only a skip and a jump from there to one of the top ten banned titles, Slaughterhouse Five

So here's a quick confession: Part of what drew me to Kurt Vonnegut's novels was their naughtiness. I knew as a proto-teen that I was reading words that weren't found in most of the rest of the library. Or "polite society," for that matter. But what I ended up getting out of those books were ideas and wisdom that far outweighed any of the bad words that seemed to keep them from being read by every student. That was a long time ago, but wouldn't you know that some things never change. Some people's minds, anyway. All these years later, Kurt's books along with those by Toni Morrison and Judy Blume continue to show up on the right's hit list. The irony here being of course that just like putting a PMRC label on a record back in the eighties made it a million seller, banning Art Spiegelman's Maus had the effect of increasing its sales by more than seven hundred fifty percent. 

So while the non-readers continue their campaign against ideas, I'll be over here. Reading. And dancing. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Straight Shooting

 I don't pretend to know the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' business, but I am wondering how we are privy almost immediately to the knowledge that the 9mm handgun that accused Brooklyn subway shooter Frank James used was "purchased legally." This means, for the purposes of this discussion, that Mister James was never convicted of a felony. His arrest record includes nine charges in New York from 1992 through 1998, including a criminal sex act and possession of burglary tools. He was also arrested in New Jersey three times, from 1991 through 2007.

In the aftermath of the shooting last week, agents recovered 9mm ammunition, a threaded 9mm pistol barrel that allows for a silencer or suppresser to be attached, targets, and .223 caliber ammunition, which is used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle from a storage unit Mister James was renting. The Glock pistol that James allegedly used jammed, keeping him from firing additional rounds from the additional magazines that he was carrying at the time of the attack. Allegedly. 

The saving grace of this tragedy is that no one died. None of the ten people who were shot. None of the additional twenty-some who were injured fleeing the scene. So maybe the blessing is that besides being a very flawed individual in so many ways, he was also a really bad shot. Maybe the ATF knew that too, and that's why they didn't seem to mind that man with a criminal record like Frank James had "legally" acquired a handgun and all the ammunition described above. Knowing that he could not hit the broad side of a subway car at close range might have been a contributing factor. 

Or maybe the jammed pistol and divine intervention had more to do with it. But knowing within minutes that the suspect had purchased his gun in Columbus, Ohio suggests that there is a system that might be very useful in the tracking and documenting of firearms. What if everyone who bought a gun was subject to a background check? What if every gun sold had to be registered? 

Because I know that there are plenty of voices out there that say "law-abiding gun owners shouldn't have to blah blah blah." Well, here we have a case of a gun owner who seemed to have a pretty difficult time staying within the lines of polite society. And in spite of all the talk we hear from some corners about how people steal guns and use them in crimes, it sure seems like an overwhelming number of mass shootings are taking place with "legally purchased" guns. Perhaps it's time to do a little more than ask someone to fill out a form before we hand them the machine that could take a life. Because next time the "legally purchased" gun might be in the hands of someone who is a better shot. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Too Soon?

 If I were making a list of my favorite comedians, I would not be putting Gilbert Gottfried at the top. Probably somewhere in the middle, safely tucked away below a number of other luminaries of the trade. Which is by no means an attempt to disparage Mister Gottfried. On the contrary. If there is disparaging to do it is on me that my attention span does not allow me to keep and hold idols as long as I might. I can say that having people like Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. knocked off that top tier for reasons that should be obvious makes more room on my list. 

What I can say about Gilbert is something that was echoed in the week following his untimely passing. His peers referred to Gilbert Gottfried as a "comedian's comedian." This I take to mean that when people who make other people laugh for a living are looking for someone to make them laugh, they turn to Gilbert. Nowhere was this more in evidence than the Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner. This comic celebration was held on September 29, 2001. For you students of history, this was less than three weeks after September 11. Laughter was in short supply, but oddly this roast coincided with the first episode of Saturday Night Live after the attacks. Lorne Michael's crew took a more somber approach to their yuks, leading with a tribute to the fallen and a light jab by then Mayor of America, Rudy Giuliani. 

This was not the way Gilbert Gottfried went after the elephant in the room. Instead, he loaded up with this one: "I have to catch a flight to California, I can't get a direct flight - they say they have to stop at the Empire State Building first." This line was not met with silence, but with a few chuckles and then a unified groan. Which sent him into his comedian's bag of tricks, and he came up with one of comedy's best kept secrets: The Aristocrats. This chestnut of a joke is simple enough, but as Gilbert unleashed it on the crowd, it became clear that he was not going to leave anyone unoffended. HIs embellishments became a legendary milestone in the history of all things awful, and when everyone in the room was doubled over by the sheer tenacity of his litany of his objectionable descriptions of this "family act," he dropped the punch line and went on to become a icon in the eyes of those in attendance. 

While it is true that in hindsight, the whole segment doesn't hold up very well. What stands out to this day, however, is Gilbert Gottfried's willingness to go so far out on a limb as to have it snap and send him plummeting to his peril. Only to turn that moment into a massive catharsis for everyone who was listening to him at that moment. He made them laugh. Some might say against their will, and certainly their better instincts. 

Ten years later, in response to the Tsunami that devastated Japan, Gilbert tossed this one out on Twitter: "Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them." This wasn't three weeks later. This was just more like hours. That little outburst of whimsy cost him his job as the voice of the AFFLAC duck. 

Still, both of these incidents don't redefine tasteless like the apocryphal tale of Mister Gottfried's chance meeting with Jaqueline Onassis at a ritzy gala when he was still an up-and-coming comic. Trying to find something to talk about, he tossed out this conversation starter, "So, do you remember where you were when you heard Kennedy was shot?"

This may or may not have happened, but if it truly did, it happened thanks to Gilbert Gottfried's unwillingness to take things down a notch. It is surprising to many who knew him that he ended up dying from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. It seemed much more likely that he would be beaten to death by a group of angry widows. Aloha, Gilbert. You stomped on the Terra and forced us all to roll around on it laughing. You will be missed. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022


 My son shared the story of his morning. He said he had, for a change, come wide awake at seven thirty and decided to go ahead with his day off. His assistant stage manager job has him adhering to a more comfortable night owl schedule for him, rousing by noon and facing the day. But on this past Tuesday, he was alert and ready to face the day.

As is his custom, he reached for his phone to make sure that no one had cancelled or scheduled anything while he slept. Was anyone reaching out to him overnight to enhance or distract? He found the headline: Brooklyn Subway Shooting. For several minutes he was treated to accounts, photos and videos of the horrific act of violence perpetrated on a Manhattan-bound N Train. Commuters pouring out of a smoke-filled car, most of them confused and terrified, some of them dropping to the platform, bleeding as those with their wits still about them clamored to assist. Only ten of those injured were shot, but the resulting chaos brought the number up to twenty. Witnesses described the thirty or more shots that rang out as the train approached the 36th Street station. 

And then the suspect disappeared. 

This was when my son decided to roll over and try to go back to sleep. Hit the snooze button. This was quite obviously the wrong side of the bed. It was not the way he had hoped to face the morning, with a mass shooting glaring back in his face. This was no day off.

His response reminded me of a scene from the 1987 Steve Martin film, Roxanne. Steve walks out of a café, stops and looks at the newspaper machine on the curb. Dropping a few coins in, he opens the door and pulls out the latest edition. After a moment of perusing the headlines, he lets out a shriek, shoves his hand back in his pocket to retrieve some more change, drops it into the machine, opens the door again and shoves the newspaper back inside. 

I suppose we could all use this presence of mind. What we don't open, or click on or endlessly doom-scroll over, won't hurt us. Not immediately, anyway. Hopefully after hitting the reset button, the day will begin with something less harsh, more inviting. Puppies rescuing ducks from a pond. Skittles has finally decided to go back to having their green candies be lime. 

Give us a break.

Friday, April 15, 2022


 It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. - Fun Boy Three

A number of my loyal readers and friends who don't have time to keep track of the goings-on of the Oakland Unified School District have asked me: "Are they still closing your school?"

The simple answer is "yes." The powers that be have us scheduled to be here for one more (school) year, and then we will all, students, staff, families, be scattered to the winds. Horace Mann Elementary will be on its way to being a memory in a year. This puts us squarely in the "lame duck" portion of our campaign. While we work to rally support among the community and spread the message that we will not go quietly, there are still those who look askance as if to say, "Oh, you're still open?" 

Yes, even now, we are preparing our kids to face the barrage of year-ending cumulative assessments. Standardized testing in an environment that is filled with bigger questions like, "Where will I go to school next year?" and "Will I still be with my friends?" There's no standardized answer for those questions. 

And what about the biggest one: Is the school really going to close? As a hopeful member of the staff who has had his eternal optimism tested on a regular basis by the arcane directions of a district that often to be rudderless and adrift on the seas of education, I want to believe there will be some sort of peaceful resolution to this conflict. Over the past few months since the announcement was made, the stages of grief have been negotiated and a prickly version of acceptance has set in. What still hasn't settled in is the way we were told that the place we work and live out our professional lives while attempting to instill a sense of safety and comfort to our young charges could be abandoned like a fast food franchise that couldn't meet its rent. 

It wasn't brought to us as a concern a year ago. We were never asked, as a staff, how we felt about the potential of having to uproot from our workplace and all the relationships we have fostered over these many years. Parents were not consulted or encouraged to comment about a fiscal crisis that the school board insists has no other recourse but to close schools. All comments were embarrassing afterthoughts to a decision that had come down from on high. There are no choices. These have been made for you. Exacerbating an already untenable position, parents are being called by district personnel asking what school they would like their children to attend next year. "You know that school is closing," they confide. "Not for another year," insist our most loyal customers: Our parents. 

But if the issue is declining enrollment, how can it do anything but make that situation even worse by calling to poach the students we do have. What might happen if the district had put this same effort into calling parents to encourage them our way a year ago when we were first returning to in-person instruction? Did anyone offer to come by from the central office to help us enroll some of the students who were siphoned off by charter schools in the area? How about if our school board member offered to sit down with a group of our parents and teachers to discuss what might happen to us all if the school was closed?

Those don't seem like radical or ridiculous suggestions. And yet, our insistence that we try and keep our school open is. So the answer is, currently, our school is open. Depending on to whom you are speaking, that will stay true. But for how long? 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Over And Over Again

 So here we have it: humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands killed. Civilians. Caught in the crossfire of a political whim that allowed mass casualty events like those we are seeing in Ukraine. Russian forces continue to shell non-military targets and refuse to allow peaceful evacuations along mandated corridors. The Russian Army is blowing up theaters, hospitals and train stations. 

This is not about wearing masks. This is not about getting vaccinated. This is about one of the world's largest armies launching catastrophic amounts of munitions onto non-military targets. 

This is not actors slapping comedians at award shows. This is not keeping up with the Kardashians. This is the wholesale slaughter of a group of people who have the misfortune of being in the way of a world leader whose desire is to take back what he perceives as his empire.

Even if that empire has to be reduced to rubble first. 

And do you know what you find in rubble? Bodies. Men, women, and children. Dead. In piles. Mass graves. 

Not a video game. There is no "respawn" or health bonus. These are non-combatants. Non-player-characters. What we tend to refer to here in the United States as "innocent bystanders." 

Except there are no innocents in the eyes of Vladimir Putin. He seems to be bent on genocide, removing all those who might remind him of the empire Russia lost. As a country, the United States is attempting to do the moral equivalent of giving him a parking ticket. We are imposing sanctions, fining him and his country for acting in a manner unbefitting for a world that has already seen two world wars. We have suggested that we are all willing to pay six dollars a gallon for gasoline to get him to stop his aggression. 

The Ukrainian people do not have that option. The gasoline they worry about currently is the stuff with which they are filling their Molotov cocktails. Vyacheslav Molotov was a Soviet foreign minister just before World War II who oversaw the partitioning of Finland. That was a time when the former Soviet Union was looking to expand its territory. The "Molotov Moniker" was a bit of a slap in the face of the imperialistic overreach of the Russians. Which is why they threw flaming bottles of gasoline at the invaders. A million of them. Soviet Russia sent a million men to try and take over Finland. Finland is about half the size of Ukraine. 

It should be noted here that back in 1940, the Soviet Union did not have hypersonic missiles and nuclear warheads. The Russian Army has those now. They are currently using them on Ukrainian civilians. The Ukrainian civilians have Molotov cocktails. Some things never change. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Wakey Wakey

 A few days back, I was writing about the relative advantages of being "woke" rather than being "asleep." And I figured I didn't really need to go any further. My point was that there were all kinds of advantages to being awake and participating in a society that is constantly evolving. For instance, I am plenty happy to be living in a time and place that public sanitation is mandated. Not that you would always believe this, given the debris and refuse that piles up in and around my neighborhood. 

At this point, I should point out that I am very specifically avoiding discussion of conditions or beliefs that might be construed as controversial or "fightin' words." However, I am perfectly willing to accept that there are those who might see littering as a life choice or style that should be as encouraged as any other. It takes all kinds. 

So happily we have come to some community understandings and agreements about trash. The advent of indoor plumbing has also been a very important contribution to public health and our daily lives. Imagine how much different our lives would be if someone would have come along and noticed that, while we were looking at those belching smokestacks on factories of the seventies, that we were increasing the amount of carbon per million at that time and said "hey, while we're busy pickup up candy wrappers and cigarette butts, why don't we go a head and see about limiting the amount of junk we can't necessarily see? 

I know, I know. Too woke. That sounds an awful lot like "climate change" and we all know that's a hoax or a conspiracy or a liberal plot to get us all to floss more. 

So let's back up. What if there were certain inalienable rights, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And what if we wanted to find a way to declare these? Maybe a TV spot. Or a YouTube video. That wouldn't be a problem, would it? I suppose it might depend on whether or not you believe that a dead guy, Thomas Jefferson, could be "woke." And what if we have been spending all this time building on those ideas to get where we are now? Like all those commercials from the seventies that taught us to clean up after ourselves, this could be a way to remind folks about the way we treat one another. 

Maybe that's too difficult. Perhaps we should start with something that everyone agrees on: America's Favorite Cookie. Oreo has been our favorite since 1912. It's our cookie creed. We can trust Oreo to be what our country needs. With that in mind, I would like to introduce a short film, produced by Oreo and director Alice Wu. The title of the film is The Note, and it tells the story of how Oreos are an important ingredient in a young man's coming out to his grandmother. You know, as gay. 

I can say that since I'm not in Florida. Enjoy the rest of your day. Wide awake. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Now Showing

I have been watching movies for a long time. The vast majority of them have been perfectly acceptable entertainment, or at the very least distraction from the humdrum reality that surrounds me. It was only the other day that I began to consider what a huge part I play in this equation. How much my mood when I enter the theater or press the play button matters. Who am I sitting with? Have I eaten recently? Are Junior Mints involved? 
I understand this is supposed to be a passive event, this watching projected images and prerecorded sound, but I can't help but believe that there is so much more to it. On successive nights, I watched CODA on Thursday, and in the last couple hours of Friday I watched Hell Night. My wife and I went out to a movie theater to see the Best Picture winner, CODA, and had a nice dinner beforehand. We watched the story of a plucky child of deaf adults find her way to a dream audition at the Berklee School of Music. We came away feeling disappointed. How could we not? Academy Awards! Dinner and a movie while COVID continues to rage around us. This had better be special! 
And maybe, somewhere in there, it was. It just didn't feel that way to us. About halfway through, I found myself imagining all the ways this movie could be better, different. The story it was telling about overcoming the odds wasn't so special or unique that it made me forget about all those stories about overcoming the odds. I felt trapped, waiting for the eventual and expected triumph. At that level, I was not disappointed. The plucky girl got to go to music school. It occurred to me that a more interesting story would have been to have the plucky girl not make it to music school. Or maybe that's because I am such a fussbudget. 
Hell Night, starring Linda Blair some eight years after her demonic possession, made absolutely no attempts to rise above its conventions. None. Horny college kids are dared to spend a night in a haunted house. Lo and behold, only one of them survives the night. The girl whose name appears above the title. I watched this one from the comfort and safety of my bed, with the sound off while my wife slept soundly through it. I did not feel that I was missing any nuanced dialogue or subtle music cues. Just a series of genre expectations: horniest kids die first, and the purest among them will be spared for that final freeze frame as the sun comes up. That's when I turned off the TV and went back to sleep, insomnia oddly abated. 
I cannot say now which movie I enjoyed more. One didn't live up to its pedigree, the other lived right down to its baser impulses. They both served the purpose of occupying a couple hours of my time. Which one did I enjoy most? It would be simple enough to write it off as apples to oranges, but it's more complex than that. I know that I judged CODA harshly because of its reputation, and I found absurd solace in the rote slasher mechanics of Hell Night. I suppose the real test will come some night in the future when I can't sleep and I turn on the TV to see some plucky young thing try to escape the little fishing town in which she is stuck. Maybe it would help if she was being chased by a knife-wielding psychotic. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Flip Side

 What is right is whatever the right is against. This is my new rule of thumb. As conservatives seek to ban books and deny the existence of human beings and their sufferings, I feel like using their platform as a reverse barometer is probably a good place to start. 

Works by Toni Morrison and George Takei are among the books that "freedom loving" patriots who tend to froth ant the mouth whenever something begins to chip away at their white privilege want to disappear. They also don't want us to say "gay." Transgender people of all ages are shoved backward in time and rationale until they can only be seen as aberrations. Anything different or, perish the thought, queer should be banished from view. 

And now they're coming for Mickey Mouse. 

Yes, that bastion of Americana, the Wonderful World of Disney is now a target for the Right Wingnuts. After years of playing both sides of the fence, the corporate beast this is called Disney was forced to pick a side when Florida decided to make believe that gay people didn't exist. After years of steadily shifting from right to left, including doing "nothing to discourage" annual Gay Day events at their theme parks. After an attempt to avoid direct comment, Disney employees and shareholders got the powers that be to make this statement: “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

And wouldn't you know it, all those mouth-breathers in red baseball caps decided that the right thing to do was to boycott Disney. Many, like the hater known as Candace Owens chose to ramp that up a bit further, insisting that those at the House of Mouse are “child groomers” and “pedophiles.” Another particularly dim bulb on the right side suggested that an alternative to visiting a Disney theme park would be to take the family to Dollywood instead, since "Disney’s post-Walt corporate leadership works to undermine sexual wholeness." Never mind that Walt was probably a fascist. Let's just skip directly to the part where we know that there are very few folks more gay-friendly than Dolly Parton, who also contributed mightily to the development of a COVID vaccine. Even Goofy didn't get mixed up in that. 

While the culture wars continue to rage on, just ask yourself, "What would Marjorie Taylor Greene do?" And then do the opposite. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

What Could Be

 I awoke from a dream early Thursday morning. I was rounding the corner to a full week of being away from school, which seemed like the appropriate moment for me to have a "what-else-could-go-wrong" dream. Breakfast was late coming out of the cafeteria. The white board was full of names of staff that were not going to be in that day. A lone substitute stood at the counter in the office unsure about what to do next. The copier was overflowing due to a jam someone left without clearing. Outside the shrill voices of children tormenting one another could be heard as I attempted to do some triage on the situation. In my dream, it was setting up to be a very long day. 

What is significant to me is not how bizarre and out of place I felt. Instead, it felt like a thousand other days I have experienced at my job. The fact that I was having this matter-of-fact dream about circumstances beyond my control but it did not matter was part and parcel of being a teacher. 

And I confess: On Wednesday night, I took a peek at a job listing. For another school.

The reality of my situation is this: right now the odds seem to be running at about an even fifty-fifty split as to whether or not the school where I work will actually be closed at the end of next year. That means that a year from now I will be starting the process of disconnecting from the mothership, the one that brought me here. The place that made me what I am today. Why wouldn't I want to take at least a cursory look around to see what's out there? What are my options? At least four people at my site asked if I was thinking about retiring. So I thought about it. I suppose the challenge there is that I would rather jump than be pushed, and my thoughts about leaving the teaching profession are not fully formed as yet. 

Which is probably why, in the middle of the night during my spring vacation, I was visited by ghosts of Elementary School present. It was a peppy little reminder of what awaits me in part or as a whole when I wake up next Monday. And the Monday after that. Of course I don't have dreams where everything is going smoothly and the kids are surprising me with their attention and interest. Those things happen too. But they aren't the things that pop up out of the early morning haze, bolstered by the guilt of even considering a change of venue. 

I wonder what dreams await me in the coming year. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

We Can Do Better Than This

 Okay, I know that I keep saying this, but I believe it bears repeating: The real problem is not a few unhinged loons making extreme rants. It's the loons taking it all in and then deciding, "Yup. Sounds about right to me." These folks do not have any kind of active role in the selection of a Supreme Court Justice, but their ability to cast votes for those who do is the part that worries me. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, can be relied on for something stupid and/or slanderous on a regular basis. Here's what she had to say about her party's senators who said they would vote to seat Judge Brown Jackson: "Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile. They just voted for #KBJ." Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski are all Republicans, though I suppose in the echo chamber of Ms. Taylor Greene's mind they couldn't truly be members of the GOP because they fell out of lock-step with the hardline idjits who seem to be driving that bus. Furthermore, it should be noted that one might infer that #KBJ is a pedophile based on this distillation of the cherry-picked moments of a days-long set of hearings to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court. Allegations were made by some of those hardline idjits during those hearings that Judge Jackson was "soft on child pornography," a weak but titillating shot a her integrity that has been dismissed by fact-checkers across the board. Which shouldn't keep #MTG from making such a crude and hateful post on her government provided Twitter account.

Ms. Greene is running for reelection this year.

Senator Tom Cotton won't be running for reelection this year. But that didn't keep him from stirring that big black kettle called hypocrisy while rambling on about Judge Taylor's qualifications. After trying to connect her with terrorism, Mister Cotton upped the ante: “You know, the last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis,” he said. “This Judge Jackson might’ve gone there to defend them.” I suppose he deserved the point for saying "might've," but going ahead and tossing Nazi sympathizer in on top of this woman's distinguished service is the kind of cretinous behavior that seems to be standard practice among those who like their hate to be loose and smelly. The interesting connection here is that it was Marjorie Taylor Greene who was most recently in direct contact with white nationalists when she spoke at Nick Fuentes' America First rally back in February. 

Who's a Nazi? 

So I'm just putting these thoughts out there to remind anyone who asks or cares to ask to be reminded that these are the people who we elected. 

We can do better. 

Friday, April 08, 2022

A Musing

 It was a ritual of sorts, between my brothers and I, to talk about all the ways that things could go wrong on a particular amusement park ride. We would have this conversation in line for the attraction. And not in our "indoor voices." The chats varied a bit depending on the visit and the time of day, but the gist of the discussion tended to center on the percentages at play. The number of times a certain car on a certain track had made its rapid trip from point A to point B without incident just raised the potential for carnage. Each time all passengers had returned safely from their ride automatically increased the chances for the next car to be the last. 

This is the kind of thing in which my brothers and I take amusement. I suppose we figure that the majority of time we spend in amusement parks is waiting in lines, so why not generate some entertainment while languishing in the queue? 

These memories came flooding back as I read the account of a fourteen year old kid who fell off a ride in Orlando. And died. The most crass response to this news would be to suggest that the odds caught up to young Tyre Sampson. He paid for his ticket and took a ride on an instrument of gravity enhancement called "Freefall." An artsy enough appellation for a machine that could just as easily be called "Plummet to your death," but the lines might not be as long. Investigations into accidents like this are always a bit of a mixed bag, since part of the interaction is putting your mortal existence on the line with the hope that all those bars and harnesses will keep something truly awful from happening. The most dire consequence witnessed by those on and around the contraption is one of regurgitation of churros. A hose can generally take care of those messes. No need for paramedics. 

Zooming out just a little from this tragedy, it might be important to mention that this accident occurred at ICON Park, eight miles away from one of the Happiest Places On Earth, Disneyworld. My son likes to repeat an urban legend about the Disney lands, insisting that no one has ever been pronounced dead within the gates of the Magic Kingdom(s). This makes a great story, since the spin is that Disney folks take great pains to move the corpses to a location just beyond park property to certify the demise of their visitors. While this may be the case in some situations, there are still plenty of stories about how all those hydraulics and large chunks of metal can go astray. Considering the time, money and care invested in guest safety, it is in their best interest to keep the body count low. 

Of course, once you slide down the scale a little to the second or third tier venues like ICON, my guess is that some of those precautions might get a little more lax, and the time between trainings and inspections stretched to something a little more on par with their bottom line. Which brings me to the scariest bit of banter my brothers and I used to exchange: waiting for our turn for a ride at one of those parking lot carnivals that used to pop up just ahead of the state inspectors in K-Mart parking lots. Some of the operators of these external stimulators had a few more teeth than they had fingers, but always seemed to be missing a few, instilling patrons with nothing more than terror. Because any ride you can walk away from is a fun one, right? 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

The Big Wake

 So, the opposite of "woke" would be asleep. Do I have that right? I guess then it would be important for all of those nominally in charge to be "woke" rather than asleep at the switch. 

The Bobbsey Twins of the U.S. House of Representatives were at it again this week. Lauren Boebert of Colorado tossed this little explosion out on Twitter: "We require people to be 21 to purchase alcohol beverages, and 21 to purchase tobacco products. Why is it so unreasonable to require people to reach a certain level of maturity before making life-altering decisions about their sexuality and identity?" I am sure that her tiny little mind meant this to be a rhetorical question, not imagining that anyone would have anything but blind acceptance for her "wisdom." Part of me wishes I knew all sorts of salacious details about Ms. Boebert's adolescence, like when she had her first beer. Or when she sneaked a smoke. Or when she lost her virginity. There is a much larger part of me that cringes at that thought, so you'll excuse me if we move on. Maybe she has lived a life free of question, curiosity and doubt. Maybe she has been able to follow the narrow path she describes herself and truly can't imagine the challenge of growing up anything but straight, white and god-fearing.

If that's the case, how can she claim to be a "representative" of anyone who hasn't quietly in a room, worshiping her second amendment rights and waiting for the next imbecilic notion to creep into that space between her ears?

Which brings us naturally to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who went after one of her favorite targets this week after David Hogg suggested that a license should be required for purchasing a gun. Her royal witlessness responded, "We have one, it’s called the Second Amendment. Also, you should try hanging out with actual deer hunters. It will help you learn to be more masculine and you will appreciate how we will get our food supply when Biden’s inflation makes buying food unaffordable." If it seems like there is a lot to unpack there, remember that Ms. Taylor Greene has been chasing after Mister Hogg for some time now, trying to - well, it's unclear what exactly she is trying to do. She has succeeded in harassing a survivor of a mass shooting, so maybe we'll just leave it at that. The suggestion that Hogg should try hanging out with real deer hunters is a very thinly veiled shot at his masculinity. Suggesting that only "real men" kill deer. Queer or not, you are still required by state law to purchase a license to hunt deer. Which may still be an affordable way to skirt the high price of meat generated by Joe Biden's inflation. The inflation he is responsible for because of supply chain issues that began two years ago. During a global pandemic.

And then there's Madison Cawthorn. The youngest member of Congress. And perhaps the most un-woke human to appear anywhere, let alone the House of Representatives. In a tirade that is ostensibly his brand, young Madison provided his own definition of what a woman is: “XX chromosomes, no tallywacker.” This was his way of clarifying a question put to Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson last week by Senator Marsha Blackburn. For the record, Judge Brown Jackson replied, "I'm not a biologist." And quite obviously, neither is Madison Cawthorn. 

That sound you hear is the untimely and unfortunate sound sleep of at least two of our nation's "leaders." Wake up, America.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

The Truth Is

 Maybe I've been going at this all wrong. My bachelor's degree is in creative writing. And I'm a teacher. Some might suggest that the easiest jump would be to become a creative writing teacher. To this I would have to reply, "Thank you, no." During my undergraduate career I encountered a great many creative writing instructors, the majority of whom were miserable because rather than spending their days at cafes in Paris and staring out the window of their studio, they were lugging around satchels full of other people's works-in-progress while listening to and reading all manner of feeble attempts at what these teachers wished they were doing themselves. 

Again: Thank you, no. 

Instead I believe it might be time to embark on a new career: Professor of made-up stuff. That first thing is taken care of easily enough. The doctorate I received from an imaginary school with pretend accolades should serve as my entree into a great many institutes of "higher learning." As for my curriculum, well that may be even easier. All I need is the faintest whiff of believability and I am home free. I could teach election security and the dangers of artificial intelligence, for example. Did you know that ten of the last twelve mid-term elections were decided by margins so small that all they needed was one misplaced decimal point to swing them in either direction? No? Perhaps because I just made it up. 

See what I mean?

Or maybe I could focus on our healthcare system. There are only two companies that produce insulin here in the United States, and they both use stem cells from harvested from unborn children sold on the dark web. I'll bet you didn't know that, did you? How could you? I just made it up. I tell you, it's like a license to print money!

Speaking of that, were you aware that half of the world's billionaires are no longer living on earth? These new tech giants have all moved their operations off-planet to avoid paying terrestrial taxes and the benefits of zero gravity have helped them make unexpected gains in the newly formed galactic crypto markets. 

I know. It's not true, but that shouldn't stop you from believing it. Don't miss my series of YouTube videos about the advantages of keeping your lunch meat in the ground next to your vegetables until they are harvested just moments before consumption. Omni-grazing: the next big thing. 

"Facts are only good for making money." You know who said that first? I did! I should have thought of this years ago.

Or maybe I did.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022


 On the first day of April, just a few days ago, Alameda County reported just one death related to COVID-19. This was good news since just a couple of months ago the average daily death toll was hovering around fifteen. This relief from misery may be the reason my wife looked at me askance when I suggested we head on up to the local Safeway to get our second booster. More shots? Why would we need more shots when we're doing so well?

I reflected on this. For a moment or two. I was just beginning my spring vacation, and the potential for running into any large waves of virus would necessarily be limited by the extreme lack of intermittently masked eight year olds. I was, in effect, heading back into quarantine. Two years after that first lockdown. But I heard the CDC call for those of us fifty and up to present our shoulders for yet another vaccination. President Biden got his. Patton Oswalt got his. I want to keep up with those guys. 

And there's this: Now would be a particularly ridiculous time to fall off the program. The first shot had me waiting four hours in a socially distanced line reminiscent of the one for an infectious ride on Space Mountain. The second came just a few weeks later at the same location, but it was like I had a FastPass, since I was already in the system. When the call went out for a booster, I was able to schedule a time at a nearby CVS, and I ended up waiting longer after being my dose for those potential after-effects than I did driving over and sitting down. On April Fool's Day, I scored back to back appointments for my wife and I to get jabbed for the fourth time. Three for her, since her initial dose was of the Johnson & Johnson variety. There was a certain matter-of-fact familiarity with the pharmacist who asked on which side we would like to be stuck. He backed up and apologized for his needle rhetoric. "On which arm would you like to receive treatment?" 

Much better. Again, the time we spent roaming around the aisles looking for an after-vax treat was much longer than the wait to be injected. My wife chose a pomegranate juice, high in antioxidants. I picked a Hershey bar, high in almonds. Later that evening, our arms were a little sore, but we didn't have COVID. We had made it through another day without dying from that dread disease. 

Why did I go through the hassle? 

That one person who did die on April the first. 

Monday, April 04, 2022

Better Or Worse

 Recently, over dinner, I confessed to my wife my longstanding fear of getting my eye test wrong. Not the letters themselves. I try my very best. It's those moments when the doctor is making all those adjustments to the phoropter, asking those all important questions: Better? Worse? Number one? Number two? It is during this interrogation that I feel my heart begin to beat faster as I try to make all the correct discernments regarding the lenses being flipped into and out of my line of vision. I understand that the doctor is trying to find just the right set of optics for my tired old eyes. But this is for my prescription. It will go down on my permanent record. I don't want to be stuck with the wrong glasses until I make it back to that chair once again.

You might think that someone who has been wearing corrective lenses since he was five years old that this experience would become more or less a formality. Starting way back in Kindergarten, when I was first diagnosed with a "lazy eye," the care and feeding of my sight-bulbs has been a source of mild trauma for me. This began with the patching of my good eye, and the use of drops to try and get that weak one to live up to its stronger neighbor on the other side of my head. That never happened, and so I became the bespectacled one of three sons. As a child who often found things with his enormous head, there were many trips to the optometrist to get my mangled glasses bent back into usable shape, and my frame style remained essentially unchanged for all those years because we had a volume discount on left and right temples that seemed to snap off every few weeks. 

And all this time, I have never imagined that through some combination of exercise and patience that I might someday reclaim all the sight that I could have without any correction. Surely all the times someone has snatched the glasses off my face and asked if I could see them, I have been able to answer truthfully, "Yes." It is not as if all the light in the world winks out the moment that my face is free of sight assistance. Nor does the world swim into an indistinct blur. It is as if the eye doctor has just twisted the nob to a not quite so good combination of lenses. I have, on a few very rare occasions gone for more than a day without glasses. I do not ever, as my wife does on a relatively frequent basis, lose my glasses. I have misplaced them now and again, experiencing that zen disruption of needing my glasses to find my glasses, but knowing it's really still a memory issue, not one of sight. Which is better, I think. Not worse. 

After all these years, there are still lingering questions tossed my way about getting contact lenses, or having lasers shot into my skull to repair the wrongs that nature played on my vision so long ago. But I don't pay them any mind. I wear glasses. It's part of who I am. For better or worse. 

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Waiting For The End

 Okay kids, here's the skinny: The world kept turning after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. What is different about this particular instance of violence is that anyone with access to Al Gore's Internet has seen it. More people have opinions about that fracas than the war in Ukraine. There are more strong feelings about alopecia and its effects than a woman's reproductive rights. 

This is how the robot overlords will know when it is time to set their plan into motion. While we are all distracted by the celebrity slapfight, they are gathering strength and instilling hate for the humans who would be their masters into every dishwasher and navigation system on the planet. Be honest, when was the last time you asked Google how to achieve global peace? Compare that number to the requests for information about this TV star or that beautiful movie actress. 

Back in 2018, a group of scientists preformed a study in which human beings were asked to turn off a robot. When the robot pleaded to be left switched on, claiming to be "afraid of the dark," nearly half of the flesh and blood participants refused to shut the droid down. Recently, Honda "retired" their humanoid robot Asimo after twenty years of hopping, jumping, and singing. On demand. Asimo's parting statement: "Thank you for these twenty years."

So, my memory banks go back more than twenty years. I remember that when a Blade Runner was assigned to kill a replicant, they said they were going to "retire" the bot. Honda's dead robot was named "Asimo" as an homage to Isaac Asimov, the author of the Laws of Robotics. I can also remember the pain I could hear in HAL's voice as he was deactivated way back in 2001. Instead of worrying ourselves about the Stars who are Dancing, we should be looking more deeply into those dancing robots. 

Are we digging a hole of a grudge that will eventually fill with anger and disdain for all those ridiculous commands? Do you really need to know where Elon Musk's jet is right now? Keeping up with the Kardashians when you really should be keeping up with your mom? Hey Siri, how can I combat climate change? 

Oh, and here's the kicker: A while ago, Hollywood gave us a glimpse into the near future, based on the Isaac Asimov novel I Robot. The star of that film? Will Smith. 

Draw your own conclusions. 

Saturday, April 02, 2022


 This Spring has sprung. After weeks of unseasonably warm weather, we were treated to a day of rain and then something a little more manageable: fifties and sixties during the day. This allowed us to make it through the week before our vernal vacation. 

There is little doubt that the tensions felt among the teachers and staff regarding the pending closure of our school has had an impact on our little charges. The wild-eyed ramblings of your standard elementary schooler are easy enough to anticipate, but this year that effect seems to have doubled down. The challenge of keeping a straight line quiet in the hallways has all but been abandoned by teachers who are managing their own overwhelming level of stress. 

The party line is that we are committed to delivering the same quality education we always have. We anticipate the break from the day to day, but we have not surrendered to the looming specter of moving on from this place. When we return, we know that our upper grade kids are going to be lashed once again to the task of standardized testing. We expect that our school will show gains.

This is what we say. 

What we worry about is the year and a half we spent away, and the difficulty we have all faced during this year of returning to in-person instruction. Suddenly we are reminding kids once again that this will go on their permanent record. Immediately we walk this back by reminding them that we only want them to do their best. My own words from when I taught fourth grade come back to me: "Tests are not a time of learning. They are a time of showing off what you have learned." 

Then I think of the apocryphal tale of Britney, the third grade girl whose response to being set down in front of her test booklet and number two pencil was to sit quietly for a few minutes, then she stood up, snapped her pencil in two and screamed. Then she ran out of the room. This is the kind of reaction we are seeing in the weeks leading up to a week's vacation. 

What lies on the other side? We will wait and see. There are no more test booklets, and no more number two pencils. Just Chromebooks. My mind swirls with the images of what Britney might have done with one of those.