Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Get It?

 I ran past a guy on Saturday morning, sitting on a stoop out in front of a closed business. He was smoking a cigarette, and a few thoughts came to mind: What is that doing to his lungs at nine thirty in the morning? I wonder if he notices that most people, including myself, passing by are not smoking. Is it okay for me to just run on past without stopping to try and stop this fellow from committing slow suicide? 

Then it came clear to me: There was a time, not so very long ago, when the streets were crowded with smokers. Restaurants, bookstores and even airplanes, same thing. Then some very brave people decided that public health was more important than RJ Reynolds' bottom line. There have been a couple generations that have grown up with "no smoking" as a norm. That doesn't mean there are no cigarettes. Nor does it mean that RJ Reynolds has gone out of business. In a fit of corporate pique, they bought Nabisco so that even if people stopped smoking, they could still sell them Oreos. 

Here's the turn: Gun violence is a public health issue. If everyone was a "law-abiding gun owner," this wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that second hand smoke can kill, but ricochets aren't exactly "second hand bullets." Interestingly, it has been illegal for quite some time to carry a gun on an airplane, but it is only recently that nuts have campaigned to make it legal to carry a gun into restaurants and book stores. It would seem that we are headed in the wrong direction. 

It's time to try and tape the lid back on Pandora's box. More guns have not turned out to be the solution. The focus continues to be on the rights of those with guns, rather than those without. If you want to smoke in the comfort and safety of your own home, go ahead an light up. If you're under eighteen and want to buy a pack of Marlboros, you're out of luck. If you're over eighteen, you're going to at least have to make a point to overlook those labels that remind you that using this product will make you and possibly those around you die. The Surgeon General would probably tell you, if you asked, that guns cause death and more death. It would be great to think that guns could be monitored with anything approaching the kind of attention that cigarettes get. 

That guy on the street? He might live a long an productive life, but it's a certainty that he would live longer without the cigarettes. Just like he will probably live longer away from guns. Now if we could just get Smith and Wesson to diversify into frozen yogurt. This works for me because I don't like yogurt either. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Full Stop

 In between the time that we celebrated our Kindergarten promotion and our Fifth Grade promotion, there was time for nineteen students and two teachers to be promoted to heaven. Not on our campus, but down in Uvalde, Texas. It pains me in my head and in my heart. Children at an elementary school should be observing their last days of school before summer, not their last days on earth. 

At this point, the details become redundant. Eighteen year old. AR-15. Purchased legally. Social media posts. Innocents murdered. Innocence killed. Shock. Thoughts. Prayers.


This should not be happening. Not a single one of those founding fathers so frequently referenced in Gun-Toter's Monthly imagined a weapon that could slaughter so many children. Meanwhile, the thoroughly predictable response from the tiny mind of a government official, this time offered up by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: Arm teachers. This was his "best answer." 

Never mind that the eighteen year old loon with a semi-automatic rifle. Purchased legally. Never mind the fact that there are already enough guns for every man woman and child to have their very own here in the United States of the Second Amendment. Every day, three hundred twenty-one people are shot in the United States. Among those one hundred eleven people are shot and killed. Two hundred ten survive gunshot injuries. These numbers were essentially the same before this past two week span when three high-profile mass shootings took center stage. 

And we all pretended to be shocked. How could this happen? 

It's not a shock. Every man, woman and child has a gun in America. Haven't you heard? 

Albert Einstein once said that you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for a war. This many guns is not preventing a war. And it won't bring back those kids in Texas. Or the one hundred eleven who will die by the end of the day. 

This is madness. It should have stopped long ago. 

It should stop now. Before someone else gets killed. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Who Do You Trust?

 There were too many doors on the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The shooter was a transgender leftist illegal alien.

Law enforcement was chasing the suspect when he crashed his car near the school.

The shooting was a staged event to draw resources away from protecting the border.

The shooter was on medication.

The shooter was addicted to video games.

The shooter was listening to Barry Manilow's greatest hits on repeat.

This was an orchestrated event intended to allow the government to take away our guns.

This never would have happened if teachers were armed.

The media is to blame.

Joe Biden is to blame.

Barack Obama is to blame.

Sugary breakfast cereals are to blame.

There just aren't enough guns in the state of Texas.

Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

Charles Lindbergh kidnapped his own baby.

The easier we make it for people to kill one another, the easier it is to do just that. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022


 That deep baritone. The hearty laugh. These sounds will always be at the root of my memories of my father-in-law. Long before I was dating his daughter, she came to a party I threw at my parents' house in high school. Two years behind us, she came with my friend. When the doorbell rang, my father answered the door and for a moment, the only sound in the world was that of this concerned dad. He was there to take his daughter home. To keep her safe. How could he have known then what would come to pass?

Before I was dating his daughter, he came to look in on me as I woke up from my knee surgery. Doctor Baumgardner had a very reassuring bedside manner and put my mother and father at ease. It was comforting to have someone we knew checking in on me as I started my long road to recovery. 

Thirty years ago on Father's Day, I attended a gathering of the Baumgardner tribe just prior to my departure from Boulder, Colorado. I was dating his daughter by now, and he made a point of checking my teeth to insure that I was healthy and a good prospect. And with this odd blessing, I moved to California to shack up with his little girl. 

It wasn't long after that when we returned to Boulder to get married. Now there was a legal bond between myself and "Doctor Daddy." He became my Father In Law. 

Then there was the birth of his grandson, with whom he shared a fascination with trains. The two of them had numerous adventures chasing locomotives and discussing all manner of rolling stock. They built tracks in the living room for various gauge toy trains. They rode up to Sacramento on the Coast Starlight to quiz the docents at the California State Railroad Museum. 

Over the years, we were treated to many lyrical interludes as he shared his love of barbershop music with us, in person and over the phone. He shared the family history, and made a pilgrimage with his little girl to his hometown of Tiffin, Ohio. At times, the connection between him and his own children was shaken by the things that life brings, but his wish for love and understanding was always front and center. 

In his last few years, trips to Boulder allowed us to connect with him in new ways. We witnessed the cruel ravages that time can take on a soul, but he kept his sense of humor, never lacking for a story to tell. Even if he had told it a dozen times before. 

When we received the news that he was gone, I told my wife that her father had stomped on the Terra. She laughed a little and wondered if that was really the case. I conceded that "stomping" might be a little extreme, but she agreed that he had definitely left his mark: Footsteps in which to walk.

Friday, May 27, 2022

It's All In The Numbers

 A majority of Trump voters believe "great replacement theory." Sixty-one percent of them. This of course makes sense, since fifty-three percent of Republicans believe that the twice-impeached former game show host won the 2020 election. If that first bit of muddled conspiracy though sounds familiar, it was at the core of the manifesto written by the loon with a gun who killed ten people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. If you're still stuck on the question of how other immigrants could "replace" the immigrants who claim European heritage, then you're probably not part of this demographic. Just like you understand that the number of votes both popular and electoral are the deciding factor in a presidential election. But perhaps to muddy the waters a little further with mathematics, more than seventy million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Sixty-one percent of that is forty-two million and change. For comparison's sake, that would put them in the ballpark of the population of Ukraine. 

Keeping in mind that, using the loon with a gun as an example, there are those who were not registered or did not vote in the 2020 election, so the number of "great replacement theory" believers is necessarily larger than the suggested sample here. I know. More math, but since the Buffalo shooter was not even eighteen years old when he got this dreck into his head, it stands to reason that there are plenty more young people scrambling around with these twisted thoughts in their heads. 

Some of them have cable TV shows. 

Tucker Carlson, a young man who happens to be old enough to vote and have his own highly rated Faux News show, has been insisting that Democrats are bringing in dark-skinned immigrants with the expressed intent of replacing the lily white electorate. Back in 2021, Tuck Everlasting exclaimed, “In political terms, this policy is called ‘the great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries. They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it's happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.” 

That's a little like the pot calling the kettle hysterical. 

This is where I leave you with another set of numbers: Two percent of the respondents to a Scientific American survey believed the earth is flat. Crazy, right? The number of those who have taken up arms to kill us round-earthers? Zero. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022


 Vladimir "Putsch" Putin survived an assassinations attempt two months ago. According to Ukrainian intelligence, the coup did not come off as planned, and the Russian President just kept rolling. And shelling. And killing. The thought behind the failed termination of Putin's administration was that by cutting off the head of the beast, the rest of the beast would die. Or at the very least stop the unlawful and imperialist invasion of their neighbor. 

Now the attention turns to the failing health of the former bear wrestler and regularly shirtless wonder, Vlad "The Bad" Putin. Reports have swirled about over the past few weeks about all the various cancers that are currently attacking his body. Not unlike the way the Russian Army has come storming across the border into Ukraine. It would seem that the hope is that disease will do the work that government sponsored attacks could not. Somehow, the idea of this man being eaten alive by his own cells seems like a fitting end, but still falls into that category that finds Adolph Hitler shooting himself in the head. Seems like justice won't exactly be served if the man who sent his army into Ukraine to butcher women and children gets to experience expensive and exclusive cures and therapies while his soldiers are being killed by the thousands in an attempt to achieve some latent imperial dream of their fearless leader. 

Dying a slow, painful death of cancer may seem like a nice spin of the karmic wheel, but I would rather imagine him living through Ukraine's return to its rightful free and democratic status. I would rather that he have to sit and listen to news reports of the surrender of Russian troops, despondent and collectively embarrassed by the mission upon which they were sent. I would rather that he watch while the families that he tried to exterminate grow and thrive. 

Eventually, all of his organs will turn against him, reflecting the way his minions have turned on him and ignored his pleas to return to the bad old days. The shriveled husk of what used to be Vladimir Putin will "live" long enough to see his reign of terror become just a memory. I want him to have a front row seat for the day when "old friends" like Belarus turn their backs on their old warlord and join in the celebration of democracy across the region. 

I don't want it to appear as though I wish someone ill, but in this guy's case, I'll make an exception. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

One More Time

 Since I returned from Spring Break this year, there has been a part of my mind devoted to "the last time." All the uncertainty facing our school currently has placed a net over all of us that feels like doom. First of all, I would like to say that I am very sensitive to the Last Day Of School vibe that exists and has existed for all the years I have worked in education, and all the years when I was on the receiving end of said education. The countdown borders on excruciating. And now I face the potential of having this tension spread over an entire school year. 

This is the last time I will be posting student lists on the first day of school. This is the last time I will be introducing myself to the kindergartners. This is the last time I will explain to a group of kids where the walking zones are, and where it's okay to run like crazy people. This is the last time I will staple border on a bulletin board that welcomes us all to a new autumn. 

And the list goes on and on. I confess to having some great resignation to the potential closing of our school. I want to be emotionally prepared for all those last times. There will still be time and energy to wrestle with the school district's decision, but I won't live in denial. There are a number of closures in Oakland's recent history. Four elementary schools were closed in 2012. A couple more in 2019 and 2020. It seems that part of the "strategic plan" is to narrow it down to the last few public schools, fill them to capacity, and then point to diminishing test scores as the reason to shutter them as well. 

The visions I have carried with me for all these years of being celebrated and ceremoniously carried out of the building by students, staff and community members on the occasion of my eventual retirement have dimmed over this past year. I understand that I am still effectively playing with house money. I have more than two years worth of sick leave stored up, and when this is all over I could slip quietly out the side door of some administrivia job downtown, provided to me as a tribute to my years of service. And to keep me from making a stink. 

So I'm not making a stink now. I'm just remarking on the bittersweetness of saying goodbye to fifth graders for what might be the next to last time. I'm cleaning out my room with the intent of coming back. At least one more time. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Cat Astrophe

 I am a cat owner.

Please don't ask why. These things just happen. One day you're a confirmed, died-in-the-wool dog person and the next you're a cat owner. It is a little like the way I became a married person. Around the occasion of my thirtieth birthday, I was planning a gala celebration of my singleness. A died-in-the-wool bachelor, I was committing the rest of my life to myself and ready to face eternity as a single. 

That didn't stick, by the way. 

Sort of like the cat thing. As insistent as I was for all those years about the antipathy that I had engendered over the course of my life toward the feline of the species, the holes in that particular rampart are somewhat glaringly apparent now. When my wife was out of town for a few days, the cat and I spent quality time on the couch, watching television. He found me early most mornings, sitting on my chest until I acknowledged him and his need for kibble. 

It would be easy enough to excuse this behavior as "I'm just doing this for my wife who is out of town currently," but there was dare I say a hint of connection between the cat and myself. I am not embarrassed to say that there was some mutual affection detected there. You might have needed scientific devices to capture the emotion on precisely tuned instruments, but we got along. The cat and I. 

Which is what got me thinking about cat toys. The bottom line for most of these strings, balls, and pads upon which they can sharpen their talons, is that they are intended to stimulate the urge to hunt and kill. To entice these beasts who spend so very much of their time in a blasé state into a blind fury, it is important to create a ruse in which the most primal part of their tiny brains is engaged and for a moment, there is a life and death struggle between the cat and a strip of fabric dangling from a plastic rod. These moments of fury are generally brief, and the instant that the cat becomes aware that they have been duped, the fun ceases. That fabric strip lives to fight another day.

But all this life and death struggle is only an illusion, and I became concerned about one of the things that I had always heard about the feline species: Curiosity killed the cat. If this is any way true, then the entire cat toy industry has blood on its hands.

Which is why Fluffy and I preferred to sit on the couch watching The Big Bang Theory. No mystery there.  

Monday, May 23, 2022

Too Tired To Be Apathetic

 The headline read, "COVID-19, shootings: Is mass death now tolerated in America?"

I stared at it for a few moments before going ahead and reading it. The underlying assertion being that a million Americans and counting have died since the pandemic began two years ago, and rarely does a week go by without some sort of shooting rampage within our borders. These grim bits of news are regularly pushed off the front page by the crisis du jour, or the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial. From the standpoint of this article, the idea that Americans are dying by the thousands every month from what are potentially avoidable causes and we just yawn and move on to the sports section. As a nation, we have become tolerant of mass extinction events. 

Back in the 1980s, we caught a whiff of this apathy when AIDS began to cut a swath through the gay community. "The Gay Plague" could be sensationalized and then set aside since it affected primarily homosexual men, a marginalized group whose losses were counted but that safe distance could be kept between us and the grim reaper. Gun violence is easy enough to ignore when the victims are black and brown, but once they start killing white kids in suburban high schools, we all take notice. 

Or that's how it used to be. Now it's just another episode of "America's Funniest Mass Shootings." Twenty weeks into 2022, there have been almost two hundred mass shootings“You expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again — over again, forgive and forget,” the son of one of the Buffalo supermarket shooting victims said. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.” Eight of the ten dead in Buffalo were African American. The initial wave of COVID deaths were people "of a certain age," and were easily enough pushed into the list marked for death. Then younger folks started to die. To date, more than fifteen hundred children have died from the disease. It's a number that may seem inconsequential to the million for whom we have briefly lowered our flags, and even smaller compared to the eighteen hundred children who die each year from gun violence, but these are children. We are letting this happen. 

And rather than do anything about it, we seem to be tuning it out. People should be able to go to the supermarket, to school, to church with a high level of certainty that they will be able to come home without being shot or getting sick. We lower the flag and give our weekly round of thoughts and prayers. 

Is mass death now tolerated in America? I guess they haven't read their history books, have they? 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Neighborhood Schools

 It's been a pretty dark spring around my house. Our schools are being closed. As documented here on many and several occasions, Horace Mann Elementary where I have been employed for lo this past quarter century, is on the list of proposed consolidation/closures. The Oakland Unified School District which has hemorrhaged money as long as I have worked here has decreed that all of that financial difficulty can be solved on the backs of the students, staff and families of these schools with declining enrollment. 

Meanwhile, just a mile and a half up the road from my desk at Horace Mann, lies Mills College. My wife's alma mater. The reason she moved to Oakland all those years ago and ostensibly the reason I followed her out to the left coast since her roots here included better furniture than mine. It was her connection to her school that brought her back to document the 1990 student strike protesting a move to make this historically women's college co-ed. Inside The Mills Revolution became a touchstone, a relic of a bygone age as Mills' administration changed course and chose to keep the college one of the very few remaining for women only. 

Now, all these years later, the powers that be at Mills are attempting to merge with Northeastern University to, in the words from their web site, "to create a bicoastal university powered by Northeastern’s global experiential learning." What does not appear on that page is the dire financial straits that purportedly drove Mills' administration to this brink. The reality is not as stark nor as bleak as President Elizabeth Hillman would have us all believe. Ultimately the plan is to turn over this rare bird of an institution to an east coast beast to be absorbed and consumed. 

It's all about money. Resolving the financial burdens of an institution by closing it down? Sounds like it would take a lot of community outreach and discussion first. For some reason, it seems that transparency is not currently a highly valued commodity in Oakland. Never mind how Oakland Unified School District or Mills College came to find themselves in such desperate financial shape, we can fix it by closing neighborhood school or selling out the students who chose to go to a college because of its distinct character and environment. Never mind those disappointments. This is a chance for Oakland to make money! The charm of closing a public school in favor of opening a charter school is a financial one. All those Mills women who came hoping to find their futures and dreams, but had their school engulfed and devoured and their majors disappeared in the name of progre$$. 

The privatization of a community's educational institutions is a crime against that community. This is not something that should be sold to the highest bidder. Budgets should not be balanced or enhanced on the backs of black, brown, low income, women or any other group. It belongs to all of us. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Bridges Of Madison Cawthorn

 The choice is often between the devil you know and the devil you don't. The unfortunate dilemma set by this distinction is they are both devils. 

There was celebration in many quarters on Tuesday evening when it was announced that Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, had lost his primary. Young Madison would no longer be spouting forth from the floor of the House of Representatives about tallywhackers and orgies. He will, in all likelihood, find his way to some alt-right podcast or streaming service to offer his particular slant on the news of the day.

News that no longer includes him as a member of the House of Representatives. 

Taking Madison's place on the Republican side of the ballot this November is North Carolina state senator Chuck Edwards. Mister Edwards' announced his priorities after Young Madison called to concede the primary: “(R)emoving the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand, and then taking the teleprompter from Joe Biden and restoring the policies that we enjoyed under the Trump administration, to help get this country back on track.” Which, compared to the conspiracy and confusion-laced rants of Young Madison come as a welcome relief to a section of the Tar Heel state that has a solidly red base. As "no-brainers" go, this one couldn't have been an easier call.

And yet, Young Madison still managed to poll thirty-two percent of the registered Republicans in his district. This suggests that the shenanigans of Young Madison were tolerated if not excused by a solid one third of his party. Which sets the bar extremely low for Chuck Edwards. Senator Thom Tillis endorsed Edwards by dismissing what he called a "consistent pattern of juvenile behavior, outlandish statements, and untruthfulness” from Young Madison. Instead, voters of the red persuasion preferred "not a celebrity" Chuck Edwards. Interestingly the endorsement by the biggest "celebrity" in politics, honorary Kardashian Donald "Jenner" Trump, could not save Young Madison. 

The dull, "mountain values" of Chuck Edwards play a lot easier in the big game of chess called national politics than the katzenjammer antics of Young Madison. Dull plays in the heartland after all. Even a dull devil. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Sense Of Loss

 Standing in the door to our kitchen, my son announced, "This isn't the place I grew up."

What brought on this pronouncement? Prior to this, he had made these kind of emphatic statements when The local Toys R Us closed. Or when they shut down the McDonald's up the street. Now, as the second quarter century of his life begins, he wasn't talking about the places from which he got his Legos and Happy Meals. But it was a restaurant at the end of the story. 

Lucky Three Seven, the Filipino place just a few blocks from our house is closed until further notice. This wasn't a corporate decision made from far away in hopes of maximizing profits. This was the family of the co-owner. They have decided that for the time being they will not be serving up their mix of lumpia, fire wings and chicken adobo. This unique spot in a sea of taquerias will remain closed until the family decides how to deal with the death of Artgel “Jun” Anabo who was shot and killed outside his restaurant this past Wednesday night.   

Jun was thirty-nine, and was looking forward to his fortieth birthday which he planned on celebrating with his eleven year old son who was about to mark his promotion from the fifth grade. That party will not be taking place. Instead, the family will be searching for answers during a time of terrible uncertainty. My son, who introduced us to Filipino cuisine from just down the street, had made a habit of dropping by Lucky Three Seven after his first order of Pork Longanisa. We were aware of Jun's commitment to his community each August when he and his family blocked off the street in front of his business and shared food and music as part of the National Night Out block parties across the city. He helped support other small business owners, getting other restaurants off the ground and putting out more tables on which we could all eat. 

My son wasn't missing Legos or a Happy Meal. He was missing his innocence. Like that eleven year old boy who watched as his father was taken away from him in an instant. It's not the town anyone wants to live in. 

This has to change. 

Buffalo Shooter

 I remember learning way back in the previous century that it was white men who came to the middle of what would become the United States on railroad trains on track built from the labor of Chinese and Irish and African immigrants, brought to their jobs for the minimal wages. These tracks cut across indigenous people's land, and the image that sticks out is that of those white men firing rifles out the windows of their luxury cars at the bison grazing on the prairie. It was made clear to this impressionable child of the sixties that this was in stark contrast to the native inhabitants who hunted with spears, bow and arrows, then using ever bit of their kill to feed, clothe and shelter their families. 

Europeans coming to another country to spoil the balance that had been in place for thousands of years. 

And maybe this was my own culturally responsive learning, but it wasn't as if I was unearthing secrets. These were matters of fact, corroborated by the stories of those who came before me. My ancestors who fled or were kicked out of some of the great nations of Europe just to come and create their own new systems of oppression here in The New World. 

I can remember feeling bad. I can remember feeling embarrassed that I was living the life of privilege in the vacuum created by my ancestors. But I also learned the lessons of those we oppressed. Not to waste anything. To do everything I could to restore balance with the earth and all the lives on it. If is sounds a little like I was a hippie, that would make sense: Boulder, Colorado circa 1970. I heard the talk back then of Zero Population Growth and the rumblings of ecological disaster. I grew up mourning the passing of Martin Luther King, and later discovering the words of Malcolm X. I had friends, adopted Navajo sons who struggled to adapt to their new white life. I met them in, of all places, Y Indian Guides. 

It did not occur to me until much later who impossibly culturally insensitive that was.

The loon with a gun who shot and killed ten people in Buffalo, New York felt none of this irony or ambiguity. He was afraid of being replaced. Replaced by those who he had "learned" had less of a right to live and breathe in the land made up almost entirely of immigrants. This is a mind formed in the new Millennium, rotted from the inside by culturally irresponsible teaching. The Hate Mandate

In the 1860s, the U.S. government created all-black regiments to fight on the frontier, protect the western expansion of the railroads, and to drive off any Native Americans who stood in the way. They called these infantry and cavalry groups "Buffalo Soldiers." Irony was not in short supply out on the plains. And this past weekend, there was plenty of irony to be found in upstate New York. 

It will take another lifetime to make sense of all this. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Closing Time

 A few weeks back, the school district dispatched a team of painters and electricians to cover up the bare spots on our numerous hand rails and replace the burned out light bulbs scattered about our site. They spent two weeks here. This is not a rap on the gentlemen who came to perform these services. They stayed busy with all the hand rails and light bulbs that had become tattered or burned out over the course of the past several years. Instead, I would like to point to the insistence on getting a fresh coat of varnish on the deck chairs of a ship they have designated as The Titanic. 

Our kids are walking past numerous cracked and broken windows. The drinking fountain outside of the boys' and girls' restrooms has been limited to a dribble on just one of two faucets. The playground, the one I have written about here several times, remains a pit of despair. The hole in the rubber mat that contributed to the fracture of one of our fifth graders' foot remains a hole, even though in the months since the accident our girl's foot has healed. 

On Monday morning, my principal called to me from the bottom of the stairs. She wanted me to come down and listen to what she thought she heard. She thought she heard water dripping inside the Mechanical Room. The Mechanical Room is where the boilers for the heaters that warm the school are located. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could hear it too. When I opened the door, I saw ladders standing below the large pipes that run across the ceiling of the concrete bunker of a room. From one of these pipes, water was falling. Something more than a trickle but not quite a rush. The bright spot of this malfunction was that the water was hitting the cement floor just a couple feet from the drain installed for just such an emergency. 

And this is what I thought, after I took a picture to send to Buildings and Grounds: They don't need to close our school. The school is closing itself. The years of neglect and the consistent avoidance of regular maintenance has finally brought us to the brink. The good news may lie in the fact that a leak in the boiler system won't affect kids during these warm spring days before we all head out for two months away. There are water fountains inside, and when the filtered water cooler outside our office works kids can fill their water bottles to stay hydrated. Our kids have become accustomed to dodging the cracks and holes on our playground. It's the adults who regularly find themselves twisting an ankle or tripping as they make their way across the blacktop. 

A number of parents have told us that the Student Assignment Center has called them to ask why they said they would be returning to Horace Mann. "It's closing, you know." 

I know. Better than most. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Record Collection

 Way back when, Bono introduced U2's cover of Helter Skelter by asserting "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. Tonight we're givin' it back." While this is fundamentally true, since Charlie appropriated  the songs on The White Album and mashed in some of the Book of Revelations from the Bible, stirred it around his drug-addled brain and came up with a rationale to kill a bunch of people. He had hoped that the violence would touch off a race war, and when it was all over he and his "Family" would be left to rule over what was left. 

I would like to note a couple of things: Manson's murderers misspelled it "Healter Skelter" when they wrote it in the blood of the LaBiancas on their refrigerator. Bono, despite his grand intentions, managed to muddle the lyrics to the song. Which seems pretty on brand, since "helter skelter" used to mean disordered or confused before it meant race war. 

Why all the history? Because there was more ugly history made this past weekend when a loon with a gun opened fire outside a Buffalo, New York supermarket. The eighteen year old loon with a gun shot and killed ten people, most of them African American. Not random or haphazard. This was a planned killing spree that had racial hatred at its core. The one hundred eighty page manifesto that the loon with a gun posted just prior to his murderous rampage "explained" the reasoning behind the chaos he was about to unleash. He showed up in the Tops Friendly Market parking lot dressed in tactical armor and helmet, with a camera affixed to it in hopes of capturing the whole bloody mess for posterity. 

He was taken into custody by officers responding to the scene, but not before the loon with a gun managed to kill a security guard whose several shots could not penetrate the loon's armor. Law enforcement was able to talk the loon out of shooting himself in the neck and was arrested. Later in the day he was arraigned on multiple counts of murder in the first degree. All of which was essentially laid out in the loon's manifesto, in which he described being locked away until the "real war" came to pass and he would be released by the whites who would celebrate him as a hero. 

How did an eighteen year old get all this hate? From the dark corners of Al Gore's Internet, of course. He had spent years digesting the regurgitated bile from dozens of neo-Nazis and their ilk, creating a patchwork of hate that put him in a place to carry out his "mission." It should be noted here that it was only a year ago that this same loon attracted attention from local authorities when he threatened to shoot up his  high school graduation. He was given a mental health evaluation and released. The gun used by the loon was purchased "legally." The powers that be at Twitch, the streaming service that the loon hoped to use to broadcast his murders, pulled the plug after the violence erupted. 

Charles Manson died in prison. John Lennon was murdered by a loon with a gun. If Bono decides to sing about this, I hope he gets the words right. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022


 Last weekend, I commented to my wife as we made our semi-regular walk around Oakland's Lake Merritt, that each time I make the run over the hill to meet up with her it takes me just a little longer. It is a natural progression that comes with time: aging. Certainly if I had been attempting this three mile trot back in my early teens, it might have taken me a little longer than it did when I was in my thirties, when I was starting to hit my stride, if you'll pardon the pun. And when I was in my twenties, in my salad days of youthful exuberance when I could get out and just run. For miles and miles. Back when I carried a cassette Walkman with me, even though the double A batteries would only last a couple days worth of that kind of use. 

When I was a new father, the folks at my previous employer pitched in and bought me a jogging stroller. There were plenty of times when I had my little boy tucked inside that conveyance and our dog on a leash to the side while I went about the business of staying fit. Those were some of the uber-moments. This was before the kidney stones. Before the need for glucosamine supplements. When I first started teaching PE, I would would lead a pack of elementary schoolers in laps around the playground. I readily accepted challenges from fourth and fifth graders who wanted to showcase their speed. That was back when I would let them win. Now it's a pretty well established fact that Mister Caven is as old as most of their grandparents and any such competition would now be considered elder abuse. 

As I creep toward this now inevitable sixty years old, I have a great deal of rationalization left to do. Even before I destroyed my left knee back in my twenties, I didn't harbor any fantasies of winning trophies. Just participation ribbons for me, thanks. Not that I don't continue to attempt to stave off the looming specter of all my factory issued parts no longer being covered under the original warranty. That reality took a double hit recently when I switched over to having my phone track the distance I run via GPS instead of just counting up steps. Those six and seven mile runs were really more like four and a half to five. I was now coming over the hill at somewhere above a ten minute mile when I was under the impression that I was moving at a much faster clip. Suddenly I find myself moving over less space in more time. 

Discouraging, but inexorable. 

Which, as it turns out, is actually okay. Because while my body continues to disintegrate, my ability to accept the terms of my own surrender increases. It's good to know that some muscles are actually getting stronger with age. I might be slowing down, but I'm not stopping. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Can You Feel It?

 I know I live in different places than the people about whom I read in the headlines. I am not currently suffering from a shortage of baby formula. But I can feel that. My neighborhood is not being pounded by an invading force's artillery. But I can feel that. My forty billion dollar deal for Twitter is currently "on hold." I can feel that. 

I just feel it in a different way. I believe the feeling for that last one is called "schadenfreude." If you have forty billion dollars to toss around, you might want to lob a few billion at the supply chain crisis that is impacting the baby formula market as well as many other staples. While you're at it, why not go ahead and send some love in the form of ammunition to Ukraine so that they can shoot back? I understand that I just recently suggested that Mister Musk might solve the world's problems by just buying us all a Coke and a smile. I could say that I'm not picking on Elon. 

But I am. 

It's the part of me that is always trying to figure out how to stretch a dollar, when he can simply stack them higher. A stack of one billion dollars would measure over sixty-seven miles high. The edge of the atmosphere, or where Elon and his billionaire buddies keep taking William Shatner, is sixty-two miles away. What I am suggesting here, without the aid of audio-visual aids, is that instead of spending all that money on rocket ships, Elon and his billionaire buddies could just stack up their cash, climb to the top of it, and drift off into space. 

But that's not how Elon thinks. Or anyone else who has the capital to purchase things that don't really exist. Twitter is, fundamentally, nothing but a place to put your thoughts, dreams, and snarky reviews of Marvel movies. While families struggle to find necessities like baby formula, Elon and his billionaire buddies are making up new ways to waste money. Sure, I would be as excited as anyone to ride in Elon's vacuum tube machine from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I like to imagine that someday we will have colonies on the moon, or Mars. Everyone on the planet driving electric vehicles, generated by energy from the sun? That is the sort of thing that forty billion dollars can do. Or it can be waved around like the twenty dollar bill your grandma tucked inside your birthday card. 

I can feel that. And I don't like it. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Bully Pulpit

 Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas insisted, "We can't be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want. The events from earlier this week are a symptom of that." Clarence was referring to the protests outside many of the Justices' homes. Protests about the leaked memo regarding the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade. So, the Judicial Branch since it's "Supreme" and all, is above being bullied. I'm an elementary school teacher, and I know when I hear that word "bullied" tossed around there's probably some more complex dynamics going on. 

Let's begin at home, where Clarence Thomas' wife Ginni was in direct text contact with Donald Trump's chief of staff on January 6, encouraging any and all efforts to dump the 2020 election results in favor of returning the twice impeached former game show host "president" to the Oval Office. She was there on the site of the "Stop The Steal" riot that sought to decertify the electoral college's vote. Texts like this one: “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.” Not so much her plan as a "wish" she was passing along to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Nothing truly terrify8ng there, if it were just the nonsensical ravings of a disappointed wearer of a red baseball cap, but since this is the wife of a Supreme Court Justice who will potentially find himself overseeing decisions on cases brought to the highest court in the land by the litigators who drank the same Kool-Aid, this might be a little more than a sticky sitcom type situation. 

"Honey, is it okay if I used your position to gain access to the White House inner circle in order to support insurrection?"

Face palm, "Oh, Ginnie!" Fade out. Roll credits.

Meanwhile, a group of Supreme Court Justices, most of whom were appointed by the aforementioned twice impeached game show host, have taken upon themselves to overturn a decision that has been in place for fifty years, and is supported by a majority of Americans. Confounded by this action, many of these Americans have chosen to exercise their First Amendment rights and assembling in front of Supreme Court Justices' homes so their free speech could be heard. Republicans, who seem to be most keen on this limitation of a woman's right to choose, are calling this "mob rule." The current and rightfully elected President of the United States, Joe Biden, discouraged those protesters from using "threats, violence, or vandalism." This comes from the guy who Ginni Thomas hoped to send to Guantanamo Bay. Six people died on January 6 when the Capitol was stormed. One hundred thirty-eight police officers were injured. 

Bullied? They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022


 It was the beginning of a great adventure. Twenty-five years ago we welcomed a new soul to the planet. To be honest, it is entirely possible that his was an old soul, just recycled. But since world population has done nothing but increase for all these millennia, I will amend that previous suggestion with the possibility that he had some old mixed in with the new. Our son, for whom we used a recycled name, is a mile-marker for my life. For him, we moved out of our one bedroom apartment, and for him I took a job that could turn into a career. 

Way back then, he could sleep in a basket. He could sleep in a drawer. A very comfy basket and drawer to be clear, but he now lives in our basement. He needs that kind of room to roam. As young parents, we started doing the math on our new addition's size, and became concerned that if he kept doubling as he did in those first months that we might need a separate house for him alone. Happily, this was not necessary, but over the years it did become apparent as we became parents that there would be a time for our little boy to go his own way. Here's the really terrific news: None of us involved ever wanted that to happen. Not outwardly, anyway. When the time came for him to go off to college, we weren't fully prepared for the void that would be created in our lives. 

And when he came back to our home, it wasn't a sacrifice. It was a gift. For all of us. It's an opportunity to have conversations with someone I find every bit as interesting and amusing as I find myself. Genetics, don'tcha know. Twenty-five years later, and there are still stories to be told, laughs to be had, jokes to be shared. I would love to tell you that his mother and I imagined that we would have this fascinating young man to keep us entertained and amused as we all age as gracefully as possible, but that would be an exaggeration. We never really knew where this path would lead us. Those late nights when he couldn't sleep because there was just too much going on outside in the world eventually gave way to a boy who like his mother could sleep through earthquakes. 

Certainly there have been nights when we have all lost sleep for one reason or another, usually because we were unsure about what might happen next. I could tell you that I have lost a lot of sleep over my son, but it wouldn't be true. More often than not, he is the quiet voice at the end of a day that tells me it's time to turn the page. Twenty-five years of that. Twenty-five years of the comfort of knowing that the adventure will continue. Triumphs and tragedies mix, but the connection does not fail. 

I love him like my own son. 

Because he is. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Voice Of Dissent

 It makes sense to me that my first encounter with an anti-masker would come at my elementary school. The fact that it came several weeks after the district quietly switched its messaging from requiring masks to be worn inside to "strongly recommending" that they be worn. The grown ups at my school chose to discuss the matter quickly and discretely among ourselves and then chose not to open it up for debate. We'll just go ahead and keep wearing masks and encouraging kids to do the same. 

Why so autocratic? Because I said so. Because I don't want any of our staff or students to get sick. Because I don't want any of them to die. It's probably worth mentioning again here that we continue to struggle with a pandemic that won't just go away. New mutations and strains continue to arrive on the scene even as we continue to find ways to ignore them. Each new surge in cases is connected to some response on our part. I am as happy as anyone that we can walk around in the outdoors without much fear of contracting the virus, but since I am part of a tiny sliver left on the staff who has yet to test positive, I am doing everything I can to maintain that streak. 

Which is why, when a fifth grader plopped himself down in his seat the other day, I asked if he would please pull his mask up from below his chin and over his nose and mouth. He started to comply, but something caught him in mid-surrender. "Didn't they just take a vote that says we don't have to wear masks anymore?"

I chose not to ask about who "they" were and what sort of vote he meant, choosing instead to focus on the policy as stated. "The school district strongly recommends that we all wear masks when we are inside." 

"But that doesn't mean we have to, right?" And now I was engaged in a battle of wits with the most aggravating of beasts, the literal fifth grader.

"No. You don't have to," I replied. Then I decided to take a chance. "How about the rest of you?" I made a sweeping gesture to the class as a whole, "How does everyone else feels about John going without his mask in the computer lab?"

"Put it on!" "Just wear it!" The shouts continued until John pulled his mask over his mouth. And nose. I saved the rest of my public safety lecture for another time. Still two weeks left of school. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bloated Sack Of Protoplasm Says What?

 In answer to the musical question, "How could it have been worse?" comes the refrain from the former game show host and twice impeached "president's" advisors. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper spent much of his last year in the Oval Office "swatting down" crazy ideas from his boss. Says the former secretary: “It’s important to our country, it’s important to the republic, the American people, that they understand what was going on in this very consequential period. The last year of the Trump administration. And to tell the story about things we prevented. Really bad things. Dangerous things that could have taken the country in a dark direction.”

A dark direction? Darker than the direction we were all dragged in 2019? How about military action against Venezuela, strikes in Iran and a potential blockade of Cuba? In Esper's new book, he writes that he had to press President Trump to send aid to Ukraine, and also walked the president back from ideas such as shooting protesters and missile strikes in Mexico. Secretary Esper, who was fired by number 45 just after the 2020 election, insists that his former boss suggested shooting Black Lives Matter protesters in the wake of protests about the murder of George Floyd. “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” This coming from a guy who once bragged that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters." 

When he insisted that the U.S. could launch missile strikes against drug labs in Mexico, he assured those around him that "No one would know it was us," and if somebody were to point a finger, he would deny it strenuously

Speaking of denying things strenuously, his bloated orangeness has denied all of these accusations, insisting that Esper was "weak and ineffective, and because of it, I had to run the military." He goes on to highlight his many accomplishments to that end, including the creation of Space Force, which was cancelled after two seasons on Netflix. 

You may be wondering why, since it's been two years since Trump's reign of indistinct terror has ended, why all of this should matter. Well, dear readers, it's important because he wants his old job back. Not the one where he tells Dee Snider he's fired, but the one where he attempts to fire missiles at our neighbors south of the border. 

A new season of Celebrity Apprentice would be a calamity, but it wouldn't be Armageddon. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

As Expected

 And just when things were going so well!

It is the firm belief of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell that the draft Supreme Court opinion that points to the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade was done intentionally to sabotage efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election. "What kind of timing is that, you follow me? So that gets the news instead of more and more evidence and more stuff piling on of what happened in the 2020 election."

What kind of timing indeed. A year and a half after the presidential election that many with little or nothing else to do but make pillows and get kicked off of Twitter (twice) have gone to jail or moved on from, Mike the Pillow King is trying to figure out who is trying to undercut his message. The announcement of the Supreme Court leak came just two hours before the debut of the "documentary" by Dinesh D'Souza, 2000 Mules. The premiere was attended by luminaries (looney-naries) like Marjorie Taylor Green and Kyle Rittenhouse. And yet somehow, that thunder was stolen from Mike and his fellow Pillow/Conspiracy fanatics by the news that the highest court in the land was considering the reversal of a decision that has stood for more than fifty years and affects every woman, every man, and every child in the country. 


Well, on May 5, 2022 bloody battles continued to be waged in Ukraine as the siege at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol continued. Evacuation of children and civilians continued to be hampered by nearly constant shelling by Russian forces. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by half a percentage point to help control rampant inflation. This is the first time in twenty-two years that the Reserve had hiked rates that much. Comedian Dave Chappelle released a statement regarding the audience member who attacked him on stage two nights earlier. He was able to continue the show, with help from friends, including Will Smith victim Chris Rock. An Alabama corrections officer who had been carrying on a romantic relationship with a murder suspect disappeared with her paramour after taking a detour on the way to the courthouse. The pair were still at large while Mister Mike's big reveal was going to take place. 


Everything is a conspiracy when you're Mike Lindell. Never mind that each of the promises he has made to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the 2020 election was stolen have settled into redundant shows of debunked theories and accusations of truth being suppressed. I will expect that in a couple of years Mikey Pillowhead will be outraged when the results of the 2024 presidential election "obscure" his most recent evidence of "the big steal." 

How does this guy find time to make pillows? Mike needs a new hobby. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Tender Trap

 The school is year is winding down. Spring is very much in the air as the looming specter of standardized testing is no longer hanging over students and teachers alike. Now is the time when young men and women's fancy turns to love, or something like that. Fourth and fifth graders who have not risked the dangers of cooties for the past eight months are suddenly fascinated by the idea of one another. Having punched out of in-person instruction in March of 2020, this is the first time in two years that we have all had to brave this territory. I suppose it is possible that there was some Zoom connections that flew under the radar during that time, but for the most part, this annual flurry of hormones was blessedly removed from the calendar for two years.

It's back now. With a vengeance. The pairings continue to be predominantly driven by girls who have to explain matters of the heart to boys who have only recently become comfortable with the idea that they can use simple tools like pencils and door latches. The idea that anyone, especially a girl, would look upon one of these slowly evolving creatures comes as a shock to most of them. Meanwhile, the dance that surrounds these couplings is a thing to behold. Crowds of children are swept up in the ritual as they all seek to play a part. And, as it turns out, the long ago and far away fear of Cooties seems to have some basis in fact as we see one couple after another emerge from the warm glow of young love. 

Not a single one of them fully understands what they are doing. They are mostly working from cribbed notes they have made from watching older siblings, TV and movies, and the occasional syrupy ballad. Meanwhile, the adults who are taking all this in watch in a state that vacillates mightily between fascination and terror. Isn't that cute but aren't they way too young for all of this? 

The answer to both questions is "yes." The good news is that their collective attention span turns out to be about as short for one another as it is for their teacher's lessons. If it seems like their love for one another has the same quality and duration as a video game, that should be no surprise. In the meantime, we try not to diminish their feelings but we try and keep the guardrails up. Their parents seem to be blissfully unaware of what is taking place in their hearts and minds. Here at school, we have front row seats for the heartbreak. Even the ones that last will most certainly crumble in three weeks as they go their separate ways for the summer. Out of sight, out of mind. 

But for some, three weeks can be a lifetime. 

Monday, May 09, 2022

A Jump To The Left

 Over the course of one week, I sat in the same movie theater twice to view different major theatrical releases about the existence of multiverses. For those of you who may have missed Everything Everywhere All At Once or Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the concept of "multiverse" is everywhere right now. All at once. Movie theaters, I believe, are portals for these kinds of excursions. A way to peer into other possible lives and events. 

But if you are a comic book fan, you have probably been familiar with this concept for some time by now. Alternative earths or similar realities have been plumbed for decades to push along stagnant storylines or characters. Imagine another world in which everything was exactly the way it is right now, except there was no cilantro. What a wonderful place that would seem to be. At first glance. That's before you take into account that all that energy used for loving or hating cilantro was actually an important factor in keeping homicide rates down across the globe. People's attention turned to the habits of their roommates, and that can never lead to any good. 

I often entertain myself with versions of other lives in other universes, most often when I have narrowly avoided some calamity or other. "On another plane of existence," I tell myself, "you just got splattered all over the front of that truck." It makes me feel as though I got away with something. On the flip side, I am certain that there dozens of parallel realities in which Donald Trump is in jail. Those would be the universes in which no one ever "discovered" reality TV. There's probably another world in which Florida and Texas never managed to wrest themselves from Spain's control, leaving the lower portion of the United States a nice smooth curve without any of those pendulous appendages. 

And there all kinds of ways that a multiverse could be much, much worse than the one in which we are currently ensconced. Besides being run down by a lot more trucks, I could be living in a version of the United States where the clowns who overran the Capitol on January 6 were better organized, with plans beyond stealing stationary from Nancy Pelosi's desk. If any of these paramilitary groups were as clever as their web sites claim they are, that reality would be a harsh awakening. 

Instead we live in a place and time in which we are more in love with the sound of our own voices than we are in substantive change. Even a brutish thug like Vlad "Bear Whisperer" Putin is only able to mount a limp attempt at world domination, one that has been put down by housewives with Molotov Cocktails and a Jewish comedian. Elections are won and lost with only a fraction of eligible voters casting ballots. Laws are passed, schools are closed, and people are dying while we continue to listen to impassioned rhetoric on cable news. What if all world leaders were as effective as the President of Ukraine? 

Maybe he could do something about this cilantro deal. 

Sunday, May 08, 2022

My Momma Done Told Me

 My mom has told me a lot of things. I have listened to them all. Admittedly, I have not always given the impression that I was listening, but somehow even those tough love sermons managed to permeate my crossed arms, frown, and eye rolling. Mom, if you're out there reading this: thank you for taking the time. Thank you for spending the energy. Thanks for caring. Not just that one time. Or all the others. And then there was the complication of having three of us boys to nurture and correct. 

And yet, I cannot say that I ever felt pushed in any particular direction. Somehow, even though I found myself periodically staring off into the abyss of a teenage wasteland, I managed to hear that voice in my ear when things got a little too hectic. I was given a set of tools with which I could make my way through the tundra of adolescence, and into the bright shining potential of adulthood. My mother had a way of describing the tough times She called them "turning a corner." That's a pretty good allegory for the maze of life. Always a corner to turn. 

And so there I was, having completed that particular tangle of paths that led me to the previously mentioned adulthood, suddenly burdened with the realization that there were whole new levels to navigate. Not the least of which was raising a kid of my own. I was very fortunate to have a similarly disposed middle child as my co-pilot on this adventure. My wife has raised a pretty amazing son. Many of those same low-pressure high expectations that we experienced as kids were  tried out on our lone offspring. Early on in this voyage, my wife spoke to me about being "The Cookie House." She wanted to make ours a home where kids would feel comfortable coming after school, or overnight, And magically, her wish came true. Our living room was regularly filled with friends. There were several of these wanderers who referred to my wife as "Mommy Kristen." This took me back to my own childhood, when my mother took in all manner of strays and lonely boys and girls. They were all happy to get a taste of some of that warm-hearted acceptance. 

I am hopeful that someday our son will have a Cookie House of his own. Today is a day to celebrate those mothers who brought us up with love, and fairness, and waited patiently for us to turn our corners and understood when it took a little extra time. Thank you for the continued interest in the unraveling maze of our lives. It was my mother who once informed me that "Sometimes lost isn't such a bad thing." 

She was so right. 

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Make The Loud Part Loud

 How is it, after all these years, that I can be shocked? How is it that anything done in the name of "conservatism" can still surprise me? 

The leaked memo from the Supreme Court regarding Roe v. Wade outraged a great swath of the United States. A quick peek at the demographics suggest that those who march under the banner of "pro-life" are still squarely in the minority. According to a report from Pew Research, fifty-nine percent of American adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only thirty-nine believe it should be illegal in all or most cases. And yet, here we are, sliding toward what seems like an inevitable slosh to the far right. The past three Supreme Court justices appointed before the Biden administration were all cagey and purposefully evasive when asked about abortion. So much so that all three of them were confirmed and the table was finally set for this history-defining run. 

For fifty years, Roe v. Wade has the law of the land without being a law. It was a decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court that ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. I believe the banning of all abortions under any circumstances would be considered "excessive." Except it was never a law. It helped strike down oppressive laws in states that decided to choose to attempt to control women's reproductive rights. But it was never a law. 

So now suddenly there is a call to codify Roe v. Wade, to make it a law and not just a good idea that most Americans agree with. Because Republicans in their many permutations have been angling for this for longer than Roe v. Wade has been on the books. The reason the Supreme Court took up that case was in response to the case of a pseudonymous woman who became pregnant in 1969 Texas, where at the time abortion was illegal except when necessary to save a woman's life. It was this case, where a woman chose to test her state's control over her constitutionally given rights, specifically the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides a "right to privacy" that protects a pregnant woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion. All the ensuing legal wrangling lasted four years.

And somehow, continues until today. In fits and spurts, a group of loud and persistent conservatives have kept moving their chess pieces into place, Supreme Court Justices, until they were at last ready to strike. Should we be surprised, considering thirteen states already have in place "trigger legislation" that will become active at the moment that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Just this past week, Ohio's governor signed his state's version which has no exception for rape or incest. In other words, the Right Wing of America isn't just looking to turn back the clock fifty years, they want to return us to the turn of the twenty-first century, when every state that was a state back then had legislation restricting abortion. 

I should like, at this point, to remind everyone reading this that abortion existed long before that. As stigmatized as that word has become, it has history back as far as 1550 BC in Egypt. Aristotle considered the embryo to gain a human soul at forty days if male and ninety days if female. Before that, it had vegetable and animal souls.

No word yet on Republican plans to go with the Aristotle Plan. But let's not wait for that, shall we? If you believe a woman should be in charge of her body, don't wait around. Let your voice be heard.


Friday, May 06, 2022

Appreciate It While It's Here

 I didn't want to get out of this week without appreciating teachers, since this has been Teacher Appreciation Week and all. I slid past Teacher Appreciation Day, which was celebrated on Tuesday. A lot of people would like us to set aside the first Tuesday of the first full week of May to recognize the contributions of educators across this great land of ours. Here are some of the suggestions a web site made about how to show our collective gratitude: 

  • Refill their supplies. Many teachers stock their classrooms with the supplies they need to effectively teach.
  • Write a letter showing your support. Your words may encourage a teacher to continue making a difference in a child’s life.
  • Ask them what they need the most. Sometimes just being asked is the most important part.
  • Volunteer in your schools. Every day, schools rely on parent support for many programs to succeed.

Seems easy enough. Drop off a couple boxes of tissue. Write a nice note thanking your child's teacher for encouraging and showing them the way toward eventually being passed along to yet another teacher in a seemingly endless stream of teachers. Oh yes ladies, gentlemen, and dreamers of all ages. Walking back down that path that takes you to those first days of preschool or kindergarten all the way to the professor in graduate school who gave your thesis a once over can be a heady experience. 

And every one of them could probably use a couple of boxes of tissue. 

And crayons. There are never enough crayons. 

But here's the thing: I wonder how far outside this little bubble in which I work if Teacher Appreciation Day, Week or Mid-Afternoon is really a thing. The setting in which I live does not allow me much perspective. I am completely aware of how companies market to me, seeing as how I clicked a box once upon a time that made me a self-described educator. I receive all kinds of offers for services and products that would further my career. Those and a couple boxes of tissue won't get me very far, but they do make me feel appreciated. 

Especially in a world that seems to undervalue its teachers. Every one of us has a dozen or more people in their lives who stopped and took the time to help us learn. Writing them a nice supportive note in recognition of all that they have done. It can get awfully lonely and discouraging sometimes, trapped in this bubble. 

Thursday, May 05, 2022


 “So when they say ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish." If you were wondering how the Russian government was selling their invasion of Ukraine, this statement from their foreign minister might give you a flavor. Go ahead and stack that up next to these facts: President Zelensky of Ukraine is Jewish. He lost his family in the Holocaust. 

Over here in the ostensibly United States, we have this thing called "The Big Lie." A great portion of Americans believe that the democratic election of 2020 was "rigged." Rigged in such a way that in spite of the prevailing audits and numbers and all the ways that votes can be counted, pillowmakers and other desperate types continue to cling to this alternative reality. The one with "alternative facts," an idea pushed by the U.S. Counselor to the President back in 2017. This was not the first time such a suggestion was made about these slippery things we are asked to take, well, as fact. 

Which brings me back around to the Russian foreign minister who chose to phrase his version of history with the introduction, "In my opinion." Hitler's origins are now a subjective thing, and we can expect more of this as we become more and more familiar with this multiverse of madness. The one in which windmills cause cancer and three plus three equals seventeen. I suppose it's a good thing to be kept on our collective toes. We should not take things for granted. The very earth on which we all find ourselves periodically standing could be a whole lot flatter than we had learned in school, and we certainly don't want to make anyone who believes that traveling too far to the east or west will send one plummeting off into the abyss feel bad about themselves or their beliefs. 

If, for example, you feel consumed by the notion that Hitler was a Jew and brought the Holocaust on his own people in order to rationalize some brutal dictator's whim of an invasion, then make something up. Lie. Joseph Goebbels, who was by most historical accounts the chief propaganda officer for Hitler's Third Reich. Also known as "Nazis." It was Goebbels who said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." 

Or at least that's what people have said. In my opinion, Goebbels was a dangerous character and his example is not one we should be following into this new century. Is it a fact? Oh, I wish it was. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The Sleeper Has Awakened

 My apologies for those of you who clicked here directly upon seeing the title, hoping for some dish or dissertation on Dune. Sorry for the confusion there. I probably should have called this one "Castro's Carrots," since a billion years or so ago I remember reading somewhere that the Central Intelligence Agency, as part of a program to diminish the Cuban dictator's power, attempted to slip female hormones into his carrots, his favorite dish. Well, years pass and now I have access to a wealth of additional information thanks to Al Gore's Internet, and now I realize that story may have been a leftover legend from World War II when a plan was hatched to sneak estrogen into Hitler's food. The plan the CIA had for Castro didn't call for hormones, but thallium salts on his shoes, hoping that it would make his beard fall out. Our tax dollars at work. 

So here we are once again faced with an oppressive dictator who needs to be taken down a peg or two. I wondered what sort of nefarious schemes were being suggested to get rid of Vlad "The Impaler" Putin. Any sort of assault on this guy's virility would probably lead to chaos in Russia. The mere suggestion that the bear he once wrestled was shot up with thorazine before the event was staged could bring about all manner of confusion and uproar in the former Soviet Union. This in turn brought me to the somewhat outdated idea of "sleeper cells." Groups of agents planted deep in the fabric of enemy territory, appearing as ordinary citizens until one day they spring into action and ZAP! 

Whatever zap is. Probably something to overthrow the government, handing control back to the people. Of course the other side probably has their own sleeper cells here in suburban enclaves. While we fret and stress over events happening across the seas, there are probably spies who are just pretending to standard issue Good Americans and biding their time. 

But wait. What if they didn't even need to hide? What if they were just hiding out there in plain sight? On Fox News? What if they were a group of angry klutzes incapable of carrying out a clever covert operation, preferring instead to straight up attack the United States Capitol, attempting to disrupt the democratic process? Like the slavering idiots of January 6th. All those folks out there who insist they want to be the opposite of "woke," those would be "sleepers," right? 

Just not very sound sleepers. The battle for the heart and soul of our own country will continue as soon as someone explains it to Lauren Boebert

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Getting Heard

 Getting a day off work shouldn't necessarily mean that I have to be at my place of employment earlier than I would if I were going to be spending the day teaching, but that was the case this past Friday. I showed up with the sun at six thirty, ready to carry a sign and chant up a storm. I was there to make my voice heard and my presence felt. After months of trying to put our collective point across at school board meetings, at town halls, at marches through various parts of the city, it was time for a strike. In my mind I could hear Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein declaring, "A riot is an ugly thing - und I think it's about time we had one!"

It was just three years ago that I was last on a picket line. I went out in support of all those newer teachers who hoped to make a living wage and be able to live and teach in Oakland for years to come. Seven days of standing outside the school where we all would much rather have been, we won a new contract. One of the agreements made at that time was that any future school closures would have to be accompanied by a year's worth of community engagement. 

This did not happen at the beginning of 2022. Suddenly we were all reminded that "Oakland is a union town," as we were joined by several others, including longshoremen, service employees, and teamsters from across the Bay Area. Faced with what the school district insisted was an "illegal" strike, the superintendent sent a message to families across the city: "Keep your kids at home." They sent an administrator from downtown to sit in our office "just in case." 

No one came across. Our staff met and marched and chanted alongside some of our students and parents and neighbors, but no one went inside. The school that they want to close sat empty. On our terms. We are all aware and grateful for the backing we have received from our community, and we want to return that support by keeping our neighborhood school open for years to come. 

Around ten that morning, we were packing up our signs and feeling confident in the show we had made, a UPS truck pulled up in front of the school. Our union rep grabbed her megaphone, and we fell into line in front of the entrance, chanting with renewed vigor. I stepped up to the curb where the driver was preparing to step off the truck to make his delivery. "We're striking here," I told him. He seemed frustrated by this reality. He sighed. Behind me, the picket line was picking up intensity. I asked him, "Do you really want to walk through that?" I gestured over my shoulder to the newly invigorated OEA members. 

"I'm just trying to do my job," he said.

"Me too," I replied. "You're union, aren't you?"

He sat back down in the driver's seat. He took some video of us doing our thing. Then he went to the back of the truck, perhaps to rearrange the freight, but probably to talk to his supervisor. A few minutes later, he started up the truck again and drove away. 

Oakland, I am reminded, is a union town. 

Monday, May 02, 2022

Playing The Numbers

 It's a numbers game. That's how it plays out. The powers that be, in this case a school board that has a great many ties to charter school funding has deemed our school unworthy of the support that other schools, charters, continue to get. The difference between our school and a charter school is that the charter school pays rent. You can make money off a charter school. 

And you don't have to hire teachers who belong to one of those high-falutin unions. If you don't want the kids, you don't have to keep them. Up the street at your average public school, we take them all. If we've got space, they are ours until we get them through the fifth grade. Sometimes it's a pleasure. Sometimes it's a chore. It's a very mixed bag, but that's the nature of public education. It's not supposed to be a profit center. It's supposed to be a part of the safety net that we tend to forget, like Social Security or Medicaid. It's there for those who need it. It's a service offered to the community in hopes of making education available to everyone. Not just the ones who have the awareness, get up and go or wish to try something different. 

These are public schools. They are paid for by tax dollars, and the way we run is that we get a certain number of dollars for every kid we can cram into the building. This is a formula called Average Daily Attendance. My school's attendance was profoundly affected by the eruption of charter schools here in Oakland. This impacted not only the number of kids in seats, but our academic performance as well. Those that had the get up and go to experiment with the newest charter flavor were generally the ones looking to get their children to the highest possible academic achievement got up and went. We have continued to do the best we can with the ones that come in our door. Thanks to a dedicated staff and a creed that says we are all scholars, we have made some magic happen.

Then came the global pandemic. Our neighborhood was hit particularly hard, as we lost many families to the harsh economic realities of trying to live in the Bay Area when one or two incomes are lost. When we came back to in-person instruction, how could it have been a surprise that our enrollment has taken yet another hit? 

Did the school board and the district work with us to try and move those numbers up? Was there a meeting in advance of the closure notices with families and staff to warn us, encourage us, support us? No. There was no such meeting. Just a leaked message that came out a few days before the hammer came down. Has a school board member come by to talk with us since then? Offered up a town hall meeting? One of them, who voted against the closures came to a town hall we organized, where he preached to the proverbial choir. Those who voted to close our school have been noticeably absent from our campus. A tragic reversal of how we began this school year, when the district and the state superintendent descended on us with a horde of media to laud us for surviving and making the most of the year we spent on Zoom. 

Hooray for us. Then, after decades of waiting for a new playground, we were finally given the go ahead for a place for our kids to run and play. It was only a few weeks after that when the news came down that we wouldn't be around to need all that fun. Again, no one from the district came by to give us the news. We found out about it because we were now so immersed in the school board meeting agendas that an observant staff member noticed our school's name on yet another list. This one was the insult list, having already made the one for injury. 

On Friday, for the third time in my tenure, I joined a work action. I walked out. I didn't go to work. Instead I walked around in front of the school, making my displeasure known. The school district's official position was that we were conducting an "illegal strike." They told parents to keep their kids at home. Just a dress rehearsal for a year from now.

Unless it's not a numbers game after all, and maybe the powers that be will recognize the lives of the community they are affecting. Human beings. The public. The ones that go to school. 


Sunday, May 01, 2022


 "It is a shame that it happens, but there's an opportunity for that woman, no matter how young or old she is, to make a determination about what she's going to do to help that life be a productive human being." Those were the words that an Ohio lawmaker used to describe the circumstance in which a woman becomes pregnant after being raped. If you guessed that the Ohio lawmaker in question happens to be a Republican, you guessed correctly. If you guessed that this was a white male, you receive only half credit. Jean Schmidt has had two stints in the Ohio House of Representatives and was very active in generating the state's "Trigger Law" that would ban abortion if the United States Supreme Court should strike down Roe v. Wade. The bill makes performing an abortion a fourth degree felony, and criminalizes the use of medication abortions. The proposed legislation also states that two doctors who don't work together must sign off on an abortion, unless it is determined that the mother is at risk of death and injury.

We can only assume that for Ms. Schmidt would see that death or injury as "an opportunity." 

Now here's an interesting thing: This is the same Jean Schmidt that mask mandates for children should be prohibited. This seems to be yet another "opportunity" in the eyes of this seasoned political veteran. Never mind that children could become sick and die, another opportunity, or perhaps become infected and pass along the virus to their parents. And maybe a pregnant mother or sister or cousin. The complications and implications seem to swirl in ways that only politics can stir. 

For Ms. Schmidt, and conservatives who share convoluted vision of the world, you might expect that you would find a believer in the death penalty at the end of that legislative rainbow. And once upon a time, that was true. Representative Schmidt used to be a supporter of capital punishment. Just recently, she has had a change of heart and come out for criminal justice reform, saying, “the death penalty is creating more victims than the crime itself.”

So now things become less black and white, more textured. More evolved. If she can change her views on capital punishment, maybe there's hope on this whole abortion issue? 

Don't count on it. Ms. Schmidt and her cronies have been busy preparing Ohio's own "Don't Say Gay" bill like the one currently causing such a stir in Florida. 

A tiger doesn't change its stripes. Not when they're red tigers.