Tuesday, October 31, 2023


 Yet another ugly scene unfolded in Lewiston, Maine last week. Colorado Representative Lauren "Hot Shot" Boebert issued a message sending prayers to Lewistown. I suppose she might have been so busy setting up her next Tinder rendezvous that she carelessly glossed over the correct spelling, or perhaps she was given a vision of an upcoming mass murder and the folks in Lewistown, Montana or the one in Pennsylvania had better be on the lookout. And if those don't come to pass, I'm sure she knows some obscenely armed individuals who would be willing to go out and make those dreams a reality. 

And the newly elected Speaker of the House, who correctly pointed out that he speaks for the House, had this to say about the carnage in Maine: "This is a dark time in America," he said. "We have a lot of problems and we're really, really hopeful and prayerful. Prayer is appropriate in a time like this, that the evil can end and this senseless violence can stop." He later went on Sean "Attaboy" Hannity's show on Faux News to declare, "The problem is the human heart, not guns."

To which I can only ask, "How many times has a human heart killed eighteen innocent victims and wounded a thirteen more?"

Maybe the problem is that while these folks are busy trying to figure out who gets to sit in the big chair they may have forgotten the "thoughts" part of "thoughts and prayers." This standard issue reply to mass shootings over the past decade or so has become a government issue panacea to those who prefer to do nothing about the bodies stacking up like cord wood because they are so mightily attached to a poorly written edict from the eighteenth century. Haters be hating and shooters be shooting. Sorry folks, nothing we can do here. Move along. 

To the next city where human beings are torn apart by assault type weapons. To the next city where families will forever mourn the passing of loved ones who just happened to be in the wrong bowling alley, church, school, movie theater, shopping mall, concert venue, or any other target-rich environment. 

Meanwhile, Sean "Attaboy" Hannity offered up his own prescription: “And then I always ask the question ― when something like this happens, what is your plan? What do you do? I have a personal security plan. I train in mixed martial arts.” 

Is it any wonder that these clowns can't spell the name of the most recent mass murder site? 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Not The Smartest Monkeys

 Hold the phone, folks. The new speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, has an explanation for mass shootings in the United States. But before I share this valuable insight with all of you, I feel the need to let you all know that writing that previous sentence, I flinched when I wrote "Representatives" and "United States." Thank you, and now we return to our regularly scheduled paragraph. In a sermon from 2016, Speaker Mike said this: “And people say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation, a couple generations now of Americans, that there’s no right or wrong, that it’s about survival of the fittest, and you evolve from the primordial slime. Why is that life of any sacred value? Because there’s nobody sacred to whom it’s owed. None of this should surprise us.”

Well. This certainly is an eye-opener, especially as the news of the election of a new Speaker of the House comes just before another killing spree in which a man opened fire in a Lewiston, Maine bowling alley. Even as officials were tallying up the dead and the injured, the suspect fled, leaving a trail of his past behind, including his time in the military and his job as a firearms instructor. And his stay in a mental health facility just this past summer. 

Blame the teacher who suggested to this person that Charles Darwin was right. Keen observers might argue at this point that apes don't have any history of mass murder in their species, so maybe evolution plays no part in this equation. Or maybe the gun laws that prohibit the sale of automatic weapons to primates have been doing their job all these years, and we might ask if even the smartest apes should be allowed to carry around weapons used in war.

But let's return to the other thread, the one about the new Speaker of the House. It seems more likely that this pointy of the pointiest head will focus his lawmaking capacities on stuffing more church into a state that is supposed to separate the two. Evangelically motivated legislation will not include more efforts to limit the sale and availability of killing machines like the AR-15. It is much more likely that this nimrod will work to limit the teaching of evolution in schools. 

I am much more concerned about what Speaker Nimrod will do in the next year than I am about chimpanzees getting their hands on machine guns. Unless the chimps in question are born-again. As The Lawgiver taught us, "Ape shall never kill ape." 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

(Not Much Of) An Explanation

 The email I got came with the header, "We’re updating our prices — here’s why." It came from Netflix, the streaming service that carried us through the lockdown phase of COVID. It has become quite the fixture in our house, especially for my wife who enjoys a good bodice ripper, of which there are many from from which to choose. We absorbed the monthly cost as our entertainment choices were limited by being shut-ins for a year. Since then, we have found ourselves considering and reconsidering our choice, specifically around the issues surrounding the writers' and actors' strikes. 

Lo and behold, when the writers were able to settle their contract with increases to the minimums scribes can be paid over the course of the new agreement, Netflix and their accountants decided to do the only rational thing: pass the costs on to consumers. I expected this might happen, and when the email showed up, I expected a bit of hat-in-hand shame. Not much. Just a little. 

I present to you here heir explanation in full: "This update will allow us to deliver even more value for your membership — with stories that lift you up, move you or simply make your day a little better.."

That's it. No discussion of the changing business model. No request for us all to pitch in to pay for those nutty writers and anticipating that their actor friends will be asking for more money too. I am not sure how paying more provides me with "more value," but the idea that they are providing me with stories that will lift me up and make my day better is certainly enticing. Are they referencing the Jeffery Dahmer series? Maybe the Martha Mitchell Effect? Or perhaps they are talking about yet another reality show in which people's pettiness and insecurities are paraded in front of us for weeks at a time? 

Netflix's twin CEOS Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos made $34.7 million and $40 million in 2022. I would certainly like to believe that Reed and Ted will be choosing to put a little of their salaries back into the business so that the value of Netflix's lifting up stories can only increase still further. Perhaps they will share some of their compensation with the creative folks in charge of supplying the company's "content," as they like to call the stories that move and make our days a little better. 

Or maybe, just maybe, this is all just a part of squeezing the customer until they've had enough. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Once Removed

 It pains me not to be there. This is the kind of thing that my mother lived for. This is the kind of thing that made her full: a gathering of the clan. 

We heard stories of how little Barbara grew up an only child. We listened to those stories about growing up behind the drug store in Granby. Her devoted parents doing all they could to take care of her and bring her those things that they believed she needed. 

She had those and more. She wasn't an only child. She was part of a family that was so big that it would fill a mountain cabin and the meadow below it. I know this because she took pictures of it all and each year the guest book for the Johnson Family Picnic ebbed and flowed, but Barbara was right there in the middle, telling stories and singing songs, and making sure everyone had a place. These were her people. This was her family. Aunts and uncles. In-laws and out-laws. And all those cousins. For so many years, I tried to track who the Reeds were, who the Millers were, and how all these different names connected to the family tree. 

My mother knew. She could recite them for me. Long before she was a Caven, she was a Johnson, and she knew the line. She was never happier than when she was in the midst of it all, part of a great expanse of connected a tribe. The ones she held so dear. 

It has been a long time since we all got together. Elda and Lloyd. May and Kenneth. Marv and Dorothy. It never occurred to me way back then that my mother's name would be part of the list of those remembered. 

But we will. And we do. Because that was the gift she gave us: a place to gather and to share our common bond. And our love for one another. Raise a glass, Cold Duck if you care to, and toast the memory of Barbara Caven, who lived a life that she shared with us all.

And we've got the pictures to prove it. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Winning Versus Whining

 Spectator sports fan here: Once again, I am trying to be a grownup about something that I should care little to nothing about. Did you guess spectator sports is that which I am trying to cultivate ambivalence? Then you too may know somebody afflicted with this affliction. If you have yelled at your television set, or spent more than ten dollars on a giant foam finger, you may be a victim of SSS: Spectator Sports Syndrome. 

A friend of mine with whom I watched several ill-fated Super Bowls that included the football franchise called The Denver Broncos began, after decades of rabid dedication, to doubt his commitment to the orange and blue. Years after leaving Colorado, he maintained his support of a team that he rightfully pointed out held little or no connection to him personally. The heroes that he had cheered back in the early eighties had moved on, retired, or became commentators. Coaches that won a Super Bowl were replaced by a number of less than stellar game managers. Those guys on the TV running around in orange and blue jerseys were being paid to do so. Some of them earned their paychecks. Others phoned it in. 

But we kept caring. 

So did my mother. When she and my father divorced, she was the one who kept the season tickets to the University of Colorado football games. And most every Sunday evening, even after I moved to California, I called her to check in on the latest weekend of struggle. I would have called in to check up on things around the homestead anyway, but this was a familiar and convenient starting place. 

And every October I asked her for her pick for the World Series. Not that she cared deeply about any particular major league team, but it seemed important for her to state her preference in the Fall Classic. Her willingness to be excited or disappointed by the performance of a group of young men continuing their season after the snows began to fly was notable because it gave us both something to discuss that wasn't the state of the world or the weather. 

All three of these topics were not something over which we had any control, but out continued discussion gave us the feeling of being wise and connected to the world in some fashion. The last time the Oakland Athletics were in the American League playoffs, my mother was quick to hop on the bandwagon, much in the same way she joined in my excitement about the Golden State Warriors chances to win an NBA championship. 

But the trouble with all this hope is that it necessarily has to be mixed in with all the despair of losing. I am reminded of how strenuously I remind kids at school how having fun is the most important part of the game, and whenever I can I bury the score in all the excitement we had playing. 

Winning isn't the only thing. There's always cat videos. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Season's Greetings

 I want to say something about Halloween decorations.

The first thing you need to know is that this is coming from someone who traditionally overdoes his own festival of lights. 

At Christmas. Each year, the day after Thanksgiving I haul out the big plastic tub with strings of lights and spend a few hours covering the front yard with my devotion to Pacific Gas and Electric. My hope is that my house will be visible from the International Space Station. 

That's Christmas. 

A month before that, you might find some pictures in the windows, and carved pumpkins on the porch. But the emphasis on Halloween decoration has always been on the inside of the house. As  kid, my mother would drag out the assemblage of ghosts and Jack-O-Lanterns and witches we stored in the basement and these became our reminders of that spooky time of year. The paper decorations were taped to the front door and the rest were candles that were created to convey the haunting that was taking place around us. These were displayed primarily on the window sill in the living room. 

And we were never allowed to light these candles. We needed to preserve them for next year. Each year we would go to the local Ben Franklin to buy a new one. Each of us got one. Three more for the pile. 

Not once did we consider buying orange twinkle lights to festoon the front porch. No inflatable spiders. No twelve foot tall inferno pumpkin animatronic skeleton. Another candle for the windowsill. 

Maybe this had something to do with the fact that the first snow of the season would inevitably roll in on or just before October 31. Living in a climate that supported seasons probably had everything to do with the indoor nature of our Halloween display. 

Especially that mess being marketed as "spider webs." My mother was a quilter. I know from cotton batting. Heaving wads of cotton batting around your yard only makes it look like the local sewing circle ended in a bit of a huff, not like a haunted house. When I roll past houses on my way to work, I can't help but thinking their yard would have made a nice quilt. 

The scariest houses were the ones with just a porch light on. If you were willing to go up on that porch for a fun-size Snickers, you earned it. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


 On a normal day at work, I can expect to be called fat, bald or both. Not by my coworkers, which I wll count as lucky. Instead, these observations come from my young charges. More often than not, they aren't made with any particular venom, but they aren't made with buckets full of respect either. Of course, if what I was looking for was buckets full of respect, teaching in an urban Oakland school might not be the place to find them. 

Being bald isn't really an issue. It's pretty solidly a statement of fact. On a pretty regular schedule I shave my head to remain hairless up there. It's a conscious choice.

The fat thing? Well that one kind of stings. Most of my life has been spent buying pants off the husky rack. I have been terribly self-conscious about my weight for all but a handful of the years I have spent on the planet. I have exercised and fiddled with my diet and made periodic inroads to losing the spare tire that has plagued me for so long. 

But it's as much a part of what I am as my bald head. So when an eight year old points out that I am folically challenged and/or weight advantaged, I try not to give a response that would give the impression that I care. 

I do. It brings back all the insecurities from my own youth, when I didn't have the comfort of my elevated age and position to slough off periodic attempts to assault my character via my appearance. It used to make me cry. Now it makes me more tired than sad. But it's still not a terrific combination. 

I bounce back. I move on. I come back the next day. 

And then there was there was Addie, a fifth grader who asked me, "How did you lose your hair?" Suddenly I was tensed for a little razz, but she continued. "Do you have cancer? My mom has a friend who lost all her hair because she had cancer." 

There was concern here. I could feel it. "No, I don't have cancer." My mind filled with all the ways my father described his receding hairline for all those years. I chose instead to play it straight. "I just stopped being able to to grow hair on the top of my head. It's easier to cut it all off than to try and make something out of nothing." Then I piled on, "I'm just a fat old man."

"You're not fat," she said.

Suddenly I felt young again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


 First of all, I want to say that the struggle is real. The recently settled writers' strike and the currently ongoing strike by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have raised a number of very important questions about the future of creative types working out there in the world. First and foremost, what is a fair and living wage for an artist? Who really deserves the spoils for their labor? Why should producers who never had an original thought in their lives after the one that said, "hey why don't I become a producer?" get all the cash?

For months, issues like these have kept us all in a protracted state of boredom, anxiously awaiting the return of those more clever than us, at least in the ways of telling stories. While discussions raged about artificial intelligence versus the more traditional use of "homage" and straight up stealing ideas for someone else, we in the audience kept digging deeper into our Netflix queue as "original programming" continued to be on hold. With great relief we welcomed late night hosts back from their union-restricted hiatus and the natural rhythms of the world began to bring normalcy back to a land crippled by the lack of jokes about current events. 

But even as scribes began to move past their contractually enforced writers block, thespians continued their holdout. The solution to the problems faced by the ones that write the words was not adequate for those who have to utter them. A settlement for actors is still in the works. Meanwhile, the powers that be in their union have insisted that their members adhere to guidelines when it comes to the upcoming holiday. The Screen Actors Guild encouraged its members to consider “generalized characters and figures” when picking out this year's Halloween costumes. Ghosts, zombies, spiders. That sort of thing. Please don't parade around your neighborhood dressed like J. Robert Oppenheimer, or some girl's action figure. Or anything that might inadvertently promote content for which residuals are currently being negotiated. 

"I look forward to screaming 'scab' at my 8 year old all night," notoriously cheeky actor Ryan Reynolds wrote on Twitter. "She's not in the union but she needs to learn." 

And so the struggle, which is real, continues. In a place where reality, and most everything else, is negotiable. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Now That's A Knife

 For three decades, the State of California has maintained a ban on assault weapons. Wags will no doubt point to the sadly frequent use of assault-type weapons in mass shootings over this same period. Their suggestion would be that banning such weapons does nothing to stem the tide of mass shootings. It is quite likely this line of reasoning will evolve into the reason why there should be no assault weapons ban since "good guys" need those guns to protect the innocent. 

Which is pretty much par for the course. Limits of any sort on the firepower real Americans can lug around with the intent to kill, especially when they are protecting their right to lug around that firepower, are met with a dull wall of what passes for impassioned speech. "From my cold, dead hands."

Now a federal judge has ruled that California's ban on military-style weapons used for cutting human beings to ribbons has no equivalent in early American history and is therefore unconstitutional. 

I pause here for a moment to point out that you are reading this opinion thanks to Al Gore's Internet, which also didn't exist in early American history, so what you're doing is therefore unconstitutional. 

"Guns and ammunition in the hands of criminals, tyrants and terrorists are dangerous; guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are necessary," Judge Roger Benitez wrote. "To give full life to the core right of self-defense, every law-abiding responsible individual citizen has a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear firearms commonly owned and kept for lawful purposes." Judge Roger's reasoning was summed up early in his argument: "Like the Bowie Knife which was commonly carried by citizens and soldiers in the 1800s,"'assault weapons' are dangerous, but useful."

My mind instantly searches for instances in which a Bowie Knife was used to kill dozens of innocents in seconds. Judge Roger wanted us all to remember that in spite of high profile killing sprees like those in Uvalde, Sandy Hook and Parkland, there have been plenty of instances in which assault weapons have been used to turn back invaders who meant to cause harm. 

But if I am following Judge Roger's reasoning, they could just as easily deter them with a Bowie Knife. 

This decision is on appeal. The weapons ban, not the ridiculousness of arguments against it. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

War Stories

 We came upon a pitched battle in a clearing. The part of the woods where small people were known to ramble and roam, but this was fierce, naked aggression. The participants were gathered in two bands, distinguished by their flags and the rags they wore on their arms. They had one thing in common, an angry determination to win the day. 

It was a Nerf battle, with participants between the ages of five and eight years old. They ducked and dodged between inflated pylons that towered over them, offering cover and a chance to catch their breath before the next assault. 

Until the whistle blew. A few stray foam darts flew as the Nerf Captain surveyed the damage. 

No one was hurt. The ordnance was collected and prepared for the next engagement. Juice boxes were passed out among the young recruits. For a moment, all was calm. All was bright. 

My wife and I happened upon this mildly apocalyptic scene as we strolled through the neighborhood park on Saturday morning. As veterans of several similar campaigns in a different time, we approached the parents who looked upon their little warriors with a swirl of emotions: pride, concern, wonder, and a dash of hypocrisy for letting their children run around the park shooting guns at one another. 

We understood this challenge. Our son had come up in an age of brightly colored, high powered Nerf weapons that quickly became an obsession. No trip to Target was complete without reconnaissance down the Nerf aisle. Was there something bigger, better in the offing? Something battery powered, assuring rapid fire? 

Eventually he began watching YouTube videos, learning to retrofit his own arsenal, making guns that shot farther. Faster. Foam darts, but deadly accurate from yards away. 

And all this time, my wife and I vacillated between wonder in the joy he took in the machinery of war and the fear that he might find his way to something more. Something with projectiles that wouldn't simply bounce off. 

That never happened. He graduated from Nerf guns to motor vehicles, and just this past week he sold one of his four cars for a modest profit after replacing the wheel bearing and getting it smog ready. He learned to do that on YouTube. 

And every so often, when I am mowing the lawn, I come across a little blue cylinder with an orange cap. A Nerf dart. A relic. From a time long ago when our yard was lit up with small arms fire. Just before the juice boxes were handed out. 

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Dare To Be Great

 There's a senator from Alabama who is holding up promotions in the United States' military, including the Navy's Fifth Fleet. I suppose there is a reality in which a peacenik got themselves elected to the Senate with the expressed intent of throwing a monkey wrench into the works of our nation's military-industrial complex, but this is Tommy Tuberville. No one is going to mistake Coach Tommy for a peacenik. But his continued insistence that the US Armed Forces reverse their of reimbursing service members for health care-related travel, which the senator has argued facilitates abortions.

The telescopic view suggests that Coach Tommy would prefer for all those children to be born, raised with indifference or worse until such age as they can be coerced into military service where they can fight and die for their country. 

Meanwhile, the United States is creeping toward being involved in yet another shooting war in the Middle East. The Persian Gulf is under the purvey of (checks notes) the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. 

Once again, if you could make me believe that Coach Tommy really had peace as his ultimate objective, I would sit back and watch passively as events took their surreal hippie turn. 

Then there's that guy who is running for president who describes his interactions with the military leaders he has worked with: “I don’t want to tell you what I had to go through with these people. Some of the dumbest people I’ve ever met in my life.” And the sheep wearing red baseball caps applauded. Contrast this opinion with comments he bleated earlier: “You know, Hezbollah is very smart. They’re all very smart.”

This coming from a guy who couldn't find Alabama on a map. 

All the while, of course, the House of Representatives keeps running their own version of The Bachelor, hoping to find someone with just the right mix of personal charisma and willingness to lick the boots of the former game show host who believes that Hezbollah is very smart. In a few more weeks, it won't matter because the government will be shut down because the work of the government will be shut down. All of which would be fine if it was a massive incursion of peaceniks, trying to gum up the works.

But I don't think we can count on that kind of fiction. We're stuck with the ugly reality of the attempts to Make America Great Again. 


Friday, October 20, 2023

Hate Kills

 Here's what The President of the United States said on Monday: "An attack on one group of us is an attack on all of us. In America, hate will not prevail. Venom and violence against any one community cannot – and will not – be the story of our time."

It was not immediately, to me, clear the specific hate to which Joe Biden was referring. I would imagine it was related to the murder of a six year old Palestinian-American boy. This child was stabbed twenty-six times, according to police reports, for being Muslim. His mother was unable to attend Wadea's funeral because she was still hospitalized with a dozen stab wounds of her own. 

The family's landlord, seventy-one year old Joseph M. Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. When first confronted by Czuba over the violence in the Holy Land, Wadea's mother told him, "Let's pray for peace." 

Those prayers went unanswered. Not just in the suburban Chicago home, but back in the Holy Land as well. 

Of course, it is just as likely that President Biden was referring to any of the current litany of cultural, religious, racial and ideological divides that exist in our nominally united states. The red and blue distinctions which have ruled over so much of what we have experienced for the past twenty-five years is only the beginning of a laundry list of reasons to hate one another. Even as we gather as a nation to support those killed in Israel by Hamas, we see how quickly anti-Muslim hate can be stirred on our own shores. 

The broad strokes that get painted by those who seek to spread the fear and hate is in full effect, with presidential candidates among them. Because unfortunately, venom and violence continues to be too much a part of the story of our time. 

An attack on one group of us is an attack on all of us. 

Full stop. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023


 To be completely honest, I should probably apologize to those closest to Suzanne Somers for my treatment of her over the years. I used her as a punchline for countless bits, playing heavily on her public persona, mostly focusing on the "dumb blond" she portrayed on countless television appearances. 

And then there was the Thighmaster. I can ask forgiveness in matters connected to certain stereotypes and taking the easiest possible path to the jokes concerning her onscreen portrayals, but I don't think I can be held accountable for making fun of Ms. Somers' affiliation with this fitness contraption that became a staple of infomercial watching during the nineties. 

Suzanne Somers passed away last weekend at the age of seventy-six just one day shy of her seventy-seventh birthday celebration. Instead, her family gathered to celebrate her life and accomplishments, perhaps most notably living with breast cancer for more than twenty years. She became famous during the heyday of "jiggle TV," as one of the stars of ABC's most obvious example of the genre Ms. Somers quickly rose to fame and what might have been fortune. Except that's not how contracts worked back then. After four seasons, Suzanne decided she should be making the same as her male co-star, John Ritter. She staged her own strike, appearing only in end-of-episode tags that were filmed separately from the rest of the cast. Eventually, tensions between her and the rest of the production led to her being fired. She never got the raise she had requested. Consequently, she missed out on the bonanza of spinoffs and additional buckets of money. She sued ABC for two million dollars, but was eventually awarded only thirty thousand dollars for the episode that she "missed." 

Which might have been the end of her career. Instead, she kept working during the eighties as an entertainer in Las Vegas, a stand that culminated in the fire that burned down the Hilton. Not her fault, but that left her free to pursue the lead role in the new syndicated series, She's The Sheriff. When that show finished its run, she moved back to ABC to star in Step By Step, a warm-hearted family comedy that had her starring with Patrick Duffy. Without a lot of discussion about their relative paychecks. 

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Ms. Somers had taken her act to the talk shows she hosted and wrote a pair of autobiographies, as well as becoming quite the entrepreneur. Health, beauty, and fitness, with the Thighmaster leading the way. After being set adrift by ABC so many years ago, she made quite a life for herself. She stomped on the Terra and helped make the world better in her own way. 

Oh, and she was in American Graffiti. For that alone she will be missed. Aloha, Suzanne. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023


 "The same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA through our totally open southern border at record numbers. These are the same people, many of them, that did a number in Israel, a sneak attack. Same people we have pouring into our country by the thousands. Are they planning to attack within our country. Crooked Joe Biden and his boss Barack Hussein Obama did this to us. We cannot let this happen. They may be planning something very very bad...people are pouring in from the Middle East into our country, largely males, strong young males. What's going on over here? Are we going to be raided like Israel was raided?"

This screed appeared on an outlet known ironically as "Truth Social." It is a bit of jabber that might float listlessly to the bottom of the sea of misinformation except for the fact (truth) that it was delivered by the presumptive Republican nominee for President in 2024. Contrast this with the statement from Jason M. Blazakis, director of the Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism: "There is no credible evidence of Hamas on the southern border of the United States."

Somebody's not telling the truth. 

Jason M. Blazakis is a professor of practice at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center. From 2008-18, he was the office director at the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, responsible for designating Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The other guy? He's currently facing ninety-one felony counts. And he used to be a game show host. 

That's the Truth. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Beginning Of The End

 At the end of a pretty typical week at school, I wound up having a discussion with my principal about retirement. It didn't start that way. We were initially just chatting about the day that was. Who had a good day. Who got into trouble at recess. What was going to happen in the coming week. Somewhere in there I mentioned the relative challenge of being over sixty and keeping up with the kids at PE. 

"How much longer do you think you'll want to keep doing that?" she asked. 

I took the opportunity to be glib: "Can I have the weekend to think about it?"

We both laughed, a little, but then settled in to what amounted to a more adult discussion. "Really. How long until you retire?"

And this is where I struggled a bit, since my stock answer has always been that they would have to eventually carry me out of the place kicking and screaming. And there have been so many times that for one reason or another I figured that my career path would be altered by forces outside my own control. I have alternately expected to teach forever and to have someone with a clipboard appear at my classroom door and lead me away to old teachers farm where I could live out my golden years grazing on donuts and telling stories about the time we had a five hour lockdown at our school. 

But to pick a time when I could feel good about the work that I have done and head off into whatever that sunset turns out to be? How could I imagine such a thing? 

So I made something up. "Three years?"

My principal made a worried face. "Three years?"

So I said, "How about four?"

She seemed to like that much better. "I want to do this another five, so that would work."

Work. That's the thing. I don't have a lot of experience not working. I worry that I would end up being one of those very ancient souls who continue to show up as a substitute long past their prime, just working to stay busy and bring in enough money for cat food. All that math that seems so incomprehensible to me and wondering how I could possibly fill the hours I spend at school currently gives me pause. 

But four years made my principal happy. And that's good enough for me to start thinking about ending. 

Monday, October 16, 2023


 the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

That is how the dictionary defines "rhetoric." They are the words that come pouring out of pundits and places like this blog that try to talk you into thinking and believing a certain way. I might try to convince you that bananas are bad just because I never cared for them myself. This would probably infuriate the International Banana Lobby, setting off a string of ugly incidents that would lead to chaos, rebellion, and the inevitable anarchy we always suspected existed within the peeled fruit community. 

I have used this space on numerous occasions to suggest that guns are bad. Maybe even worse than bananas. After all, while guns are not mushy and I cannot personally vouch for their taste, bananas are not the number one killer of children in the United States. Guns are. This is a substantially better argument than that whole mushy business. 

That was rhetoric. 

Here comes some more: I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that killing children is wrong. This statement alone can be interpreted in ways that don't make me completely comfortable, but let me return to some of my prior argument. I do not believe that children should be subjected to the slightest possibility of being shot, blown up or maimed by weapons of any kind. Being a kid is dangerous enough, what with all those people out there trying to shove bananas at you because "they're healthy." 

Taking half a step back from that stance, I'll just go ahead and make the wild claim that adults should generally steer clear of situations that could get them shot or blown up. Massacres of any sort tend to get folks riled up and cause them to suggest retaliation in kind. This is how we got nuclear weapons. No one seems to be satisfied with the idea that killing is wrong, so we try to reinforce this ideal by killing some more. 

Rhetoric helps in this regard. Load up heavy on the blame and shame, then find a Bible verse or some other high-minded out of context quote to bring it home. You can justify just about anything that way. 

Even the consumption of bananas. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Bark Versus Bite

 It's a wonder that she lasted as long as she did. 

Not because of the laundry list of maladies with which she was afflicted. 

Not because her husband left her in the moment that should have been their collective victory lap.

Not because she lived a peculiarly unhealthy lifestyle. 

It's a wonder that my mother lived so very long with the heaps of abuse that my brothers and I piled on her over the course of decades. To be clear, when I say "my brothers and I," I know that I am really just trying to be viewed as part of a gang, a ruthless troupe of pranksters who looked for opportunities to keep my mother's blood pressure high. 

But I am really just talking about me. 

Ours was a noisy household. My mother reveled in those quiet moments she could get when her husband, sons and dog were elsewhere and she could enjoy sitting back and listening to a little classical music or playing the piano before the herd returned to whoop it up. It was the tiniest measure of understanding which brought my father to make the only rule I can remember having in that house: Don't bark at your mother. Which only meant that we looked for those moments when we could sneak up behind her while she was at the kitchen sink, and bark. Seeing her jump out of her skin was a prime joy and I confess that it was one that I mined, knowing that I would get a bemused reminder from my dad about the one rule we had in the house. 

It wasn't until later that I learned that there was even more fun to be had with the long con. April Fool's Day was an annual event for my mother and I. My older brother whose job it became in the autumn years of my mother's life to keep her alive would see the calendar page turn and remind her not to believe anything that I told her. 

Like the time I called her up to let her know that her youngest son had decided to join a Buddhist monastery. Ever the patient good sport, she took the news as well as anyone might, but wondered how this had happened, and probably assumed that it was due to some deficit in her parenting. 

It wasn't. My younger brother wasn't even in on the gag. I was using the mild potential that it was something surprising that could worry my mother to bark at her. Long distance. 

Over the years there were plenty of permutations of this exchange, all engineered to get my mother's blood pressure to jump. Changing her Netflix queue was a good one. For a few weeks all she was getting were movies in Russian. And every so often, when I made a visit back to the homestead, and she was standing at the kitchen sink, I could not suppress the urge. 

A year ago, my mother went to her final reward: peace and quiet. She left with the knowledge that she had bested me by going on her own terms, not collapsing in a heap because of one of my clever hijinks. 

But now I find myself from time to time, standing at the kitchen sink. Waiting for the sound.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Bottom Of The Page

 I am certain that there are people who pass by this little corner of Al Gore's Internet and find themselves immediately put off by the words they read here. Little phrases like "Al Gore's Internet," for example. This little bit of conversational ephemera is a leftover bit of sarcasm that meant so very much a decade or two ago. Now it's just sitting out there for readers to stumble over, many of whom will raise an eyebrow and move on to the next thought-provoking anecdote. 

Or not. This is by design an optional experience. Nobody stuck a keyboard in front of me and demanded that I share my thoughts with you all. I chose to sit down and craft these sentence strings and phrase parcels for your infotainment. And imagine, as I typed that last word, how confounded I was to discover that "infotainment" does not need to be spell-checked. 

Which brings me to today's curiosity: South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace wore a T-shirt to work last Tuesday with a big capital A on it. She explained, “I’m wearing the ‘scarlet letter’ after the week that I just had, last week, being a woman up here and being demonized for my vote and for my voice.” She was telling reporters about her fashion choice in regard to her tough week in which she chose to vote Kevin McCarthy out of his position as Speaker of the House. She was one of seven Republicans who joined up with Matt Gaetz to remove Speaker Kevin. 

She was the only woman to do so, which may be the connection she believed she was making to Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel that tells the story of Hester Prynne who bears a child out of wedlock and must endure the stigma of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony of the 1600s. I have gone back to check the original text, but I didn't find any instances of Miss Prynne voting along America First Caucus lines. 

By contrast, I did find it interesting that after aligning with Representative Gaetz, who has been embroiled in numerous sex scandals since his arrival in Washington, she chose to don the Scarlet Letter. Is there more to be told? What about her backing of Jim Jordan for speaker? You may remember Mister Jordan from his own sex scandal with the Ohio State wrestling team. Perhaps Ms. Mace could have chosen a crimson O to make it easier to make that connection. 

Or maybe The Scarlet Letter is no longer required reading. At least not for members of Congress. Maybe reading isn't required. 

Which is why, once again, I would like to thank you for getting all the way to the bottom of this page. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Family

 Whose side are you on? 

Robert F. Kennedy Junior, of the (checks notes) Hyannis Port Kennedys, has decided to run as an "independent" candidate for president. You may remember that family name from the many and varied references to the Democratic Party over the past century. Robert F. Kennedy Senior, who served as Senator from New York and Attorney General in his brother's administration, also ran for president. Back in 1968.That was a run that was tragically cut short by an assassin's bullet. 

The Kennedy family is no stranger to tragedy. RFK Jr.'s cousin JFK Jr. was a prominent figure in both politics and publishing before he died at age thirty-eight in a plane crash. His uncle Teddy served in the United States Senate for forty-seven years. He ran for president several times, but his appeal was always diminished by the scandalous death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969. And all this time, the Kennedy's marched beneath the banner of the Democratic Party. 

Until now. 

The son of one of history's most famous political martyrs is swapping parties because he understands that he won't have an opportunity to run while Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner. So he announced on Saturday, "The Democrats are frightened that I'm going to spoil the election for President Biden. The Republicans are frightened that I'm going to spoil it for President Trump. The truth is, they're both right." He's running on the Spoiler Ticket. 

Which might be fine if things weren't already so spoiled. Then there's the matter of RFK Jr.'s less than mainstream thoughts on health care, pandemics and race. His Kennedy apple hasn't fallen far from the tree when it comes to scandal, either. He was an assistant district attorney for Manhattan just shortly before being arrested for heroin possession. This little kerfuffle kept him out of the family business of politics but on the left side of things by practicing mostly environmental law since the mid-eighties. 

Now he'd like to shake that reputation up a bit. His family has other ideas. His brothers and sisters felt this worth mentioning: “Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.” 

What a world we live in when having a Kennedy running for president would be considered "perilous for our country."

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023


 I am old enough that I remember posters that read, "War is not healthy for children and other living things." Were I grew up, these kind of antiwar sentiments were tossed around in a pot that included bumper stickers that read, "Footprint of the American Chicken" next to a peace sign. The search for a moral high road that would bring us all to world peace was a rocky one. I bore witness to a fair number of fistfights that had the Vietnam War in the center. We might think that all you need is love, but what good is that when the other side is bent on world domination through force? 

I am old enough to be the guy out on the playground who continues to counsel using our words instead of hitting. 

I am old enough to remember how I felt the day after the planes hit the World Trade Center. It was hard to imagine that there was another cheek to turn. 

I am old enough to remember when the bad guys I feared were communists. I remember meeting my first card-carrying communist when I enrolled in a teacher credential program and we ended up starting our teaching career together. He was my friend. Not my enemy. 

I am old enough to remember the stories my mother used to tell about World War II and the righteous anger and fear that they felt against the Japanese. I am old enough to remember this was the woman who taught me everything I know about tolerance. It was on her refrigerator that I first saw that poster about war being unhealthy for children and other living things. 

I am old enough to wish that I was old enough to vote for George McGovern. 

I am old enough to remember body counts being part of the nightly news. 

I am still not old enough to remember a time when we could all put down our guns and come together for the sake of the children. The ones who die without ever being old enough to know what they are dying for. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Olden Days

 I was in the sixth grade during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. That fall we had a student teacher in our class whose name was Jeff Franklin. It was his special project to have all of us kids do some research into the events happening in the Middle East. We read newspapers. We read magazines. We watched TV news for extra credit. And as a culmination of sorts, we were told we were going to interview key figures in the conflict. All of them were played by Mister Franklin. 

The first thing that occurs to me was that I was going to school in the liberal bastion of Boulder, Colorado. There was no ruckus stirred by having sixth graders investigating the how and the why of a war on the other side of the world. Parents didn't mind. Administrators didn't mind. The kids, myself included, were having the time of our young lives. Learning. Discovering. 

We learned about OPEC. We learned about things in that region so far away from us affected us all back home. People were fighting and dying over tiny strips of land. Tiny strips of land that just happened to be sitting on top of some of the planet's largest oil reserves. They weren't fighting over the oil. They were fighting over the same strips of land that they had been fighting over for thousands of years. 

Which is why I am not shocked that the conflict continued into this past weekend when Israel declared war on Hamas after a surprise attack left more than a thousand dead and thousands more wounded. I don't know if any sixth graders will be taking up the study of the war in the Middle East. I do not know if there is anything else to learn.

Quick note: Gas prices during the "Oil Crisis" of 1973 - the unbelievable fifty-three cents a gallon. Currently in the United States a gallon of gas costs just under four dollars. So, I guess some things really do change. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Some People Really Should Back Down

 A story about Tom Petty (the late): Way back in 1984, while he was pushing himself and his band through the completion of the album that would become Southern Accents, he became frustrated upon hearing yet another disappointing demo track. At which point, Tom hit the wall. Actually hit a wall in the studio. With his left hand. The one he used to play the guitar. In his words, he "completely shattered my hand. I shattered it. To powder.” Initial X-rays and doctor's prognosis suggested that he might not ever play the guitar again. There were wags, at the time including yours truly, who made jokes about "Tom Petty and the Handbreakers."

That story has a happy ending. Eight months later, after lots of physical therapy and plenty of practice, Tom Petty was playing the guitar again. He went right on doing so until 2017, when he stopped playing here on earth and took his act to play the great gig in the sky. 

I relate this story because the kind of passion that existed in this man would probably not have allowed someone to do a very poor cover of one of his songs. And promote it on Faux News and other right wing outlets. The song to which I refer is "I Won't Back Down," released in 1989 as the lead single from his solo album Full Moon Fever. It has been recorded by the wife of one of the Trump Spawn. Subsequently it has become an anthem of sorts for the poor, tormented family whose fortune is being reevaluated even as we speak. Lines like "You can stand me up at the gates of Hell, but I won't back down," take on a special sort of ring when they come slithering out of one of these folk's mouths. Doubling down on this pity party, Lara Trump insists that her version is being "shadowbanned" on outlets such as Spotify and iTunes. That's what is keeping it from becoming the monster hit that is should be. 

Way back when it was released, Tom's version peaked at number twelve on the Billboard Chart. Lara whine-tweeted"Why doesn't my song appear when you search 'I Won't Back Down'???" Perhaps because she, like so many of her clan, does not understand how things work. "They wouldn't put my song on the radio 'cause it was too political, and I think it's time we as conservatives start fighting back," she continued. 

Maybe she doesn't understand history. 

In 2000, Tom Petty sent a cease and desist letter to the Bush campaign, insisting that they stop using that song. He later played it for Al Gore at his home after Gore conceded the election to Bush. In 2020, his estate sent a letter to the former game show host's campaign that read, in part, “Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind. Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together.” After the election, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris played “I Won’t Back Down” at their victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware. Petty’s family later wrote on Instagram that they were “touched to see Tom included on such an important night in America.”

In short, Lara: The song is great. We like the song. We just don't like you. 

Monday, October 09, 2023

Necessary Roughness

 Back in the mid-seventies, a young struggling screenwriter was searching for just the right name for a dog in his script about a fighter who frequented a pet shop in order to woo the mousy young lady who worked there. He landed on "Butkus." 

It is quite possible that many people know of "Butkus" from this reference and this reference only. That young screenwriter who grew up to write several more screenplays, each with successive connections to reality, was paying homage to Dick Butkus, the Chicago Bears linebacker who was referred to as “The Most Feared Man in the Game.” The game was American football, and there was a reason Mister Butkus was feared. He was in a word, relentless. He was accused of biting offensive players on their fingers and legs and spitting on them. His nine years in the National Football League were marked by the intimidation he brought to the field each and every game. 

Dick Butkus passed away this past week at the age of eighty. One might imagine that he probably gave the Grim Reaper a couple good shots before being hauled off to the gridiron in the sky. 

It is also quite possible that your initial encounter with Dick Butkus was the series of commercials he did for Lite Beer. Or maybe you saw him appear in countless TV shows and films as himself or a facsimile of himself: The Robot of Destruction, The Maestro of Mayhem, The Enforcer, The Animal. Those last two became titles of a Dirty Harry movie and a regrettable comedy featuring Rob Schneider. Neither of which did any sort of remote justice to the legend that was Dick Butkus. 

So, this is the place where I confess that my initial peeks at professional football did not include any Chicago Bears games. But when I played football in the back yard of the kid who lived down the street, sometimes his older brother would come out "to play defense." And somewhere in the midst of tossing us much smaller kids around, he would eventually invoke the name "Butkus!" It was a war cry. It signaled triumph and pain. 

And I learned to fear it.

It wasn't until later that it occurred to me just how funny that name actually is: Dick Butkus. But I won't say that too loud, just in case Mister Butkus is lurking nearby, having faked his death as a strategy to sneak up on anyone who might disrespect him or his legacy. Dick Butkus stomped on the Midway and the Terra, and he will be missed every time someone is flagged for unnecessary roughness. That was the way he lived. Aloha. 

Sunday, October 08, 2023

It's Safe Somewhere

 Sorry folks, Republicans acting like Republicans captured the nation's interest as well as mine over the past few days. This caused me to miss bringing you this news: Five people were shot, ranging in age between eighteen and twenty-two, four of them students at Morgan State University near Baltimore.

The good news: No one died.

The bad news: The shooter is still at large.

The worse news: This was the third year in a row that a shooting has taken place during Morgan State's Homecoming Week. 

This is what administration referred to as "a worrisome trend." Furthermore, "This parade, homecoming concert and all other activities are canceled." Including the football game. 

Cancelling a college football game? How could this not have been front page news?

Well, Republicans. 

And another thing that creeped in on the side was all the lip service that conservatives would like to pay to the increase in crime across our nation's metropolitan areas. Recently podcaster and former game show host Joe Rogan referred to San Francisco as "a failed state." He was referring to the lawlessness and disorder that exists in The City Where Tony Bennett Left His Heart. 

But he didn't mention the other former game show host whose lawlessness and disorder is the focus of so much of our nation's attention these days. I can understand that shoplifting at Walgreens is a lot more interesting than tax fraud, but maybe what we are missing is all the decent behavior going on around the country. There will be plenty of colleges celebrating their homecoming weekends without gunfire over the next few weeks. A great many German Shepherds have not bitten Secret Service agents. 

I am suggesting that our haste to announce the disintegration of our great republic may be premature. I suggest we slow down just a bit and remember the good things about our planet while we wait for the guy who broke Twitter by purchasing it to get us all to Mars. 

Saturday, October 07, 2023


 The Speaker is dead. Long live the speaker.

Okay. The Speaker in this particular version of politics today is Kevin "Kev" McCarthy. And he's not dead. Not in the traditional, physical sense. Professionally? That's another matter. The man who bent and stretched and clawed his way through fifteen attempts at getting enough votes to become the (checks notes) third most powerful person in the United States government. Those four days of whining and begging his fellow GOP members to put him over the top are not, historically speaking, a record of any sort. That distinction belongs to Representative Nathaniel Prentice Banks of Massachusetts who was only elected speaker after one hundred thirty-three rounds and some two months of voting. That was back in 1855. Mister Banks served as speaker for just under two years. He resigned to become governor of Massachusetts. 

Kevin McCarthy did not resign. Members of his own party voted him out. By essentially the same slim margin that got him voted in. His reign clocked in at just about nine months. There's probably some joke to be made here about "full term," but I will let others choose their own punch line. He is the first Speaker of the House to be removed from that office. "Ousted" was the verb that many news outlets preferred. 

Kevin McCarthy will not be resigning to take over the governorship of his home state of California. He won't be running in the election for a new Speaker of the House. Which leaves the door open to all sorts of possibilities. Currently we were all given a tiny lesson in Latin when Representative Patrick "Pat" McHenry was installed as speaker pro tempore, or "temporary speaker." When it was time to call for recess, he nearly broke his gavel

As Representative McCarthy starts updating his LinkedIn profile, the United States Congress begins another torturous path toward finding new leadership. A year away from the next election. With the clock ticking on the forty-five day extension for the Federal Budget they gave themselves to avoid a government shutdown. The very same leadership meltdown that brought the ouster of Speaker Kev. 

If things haven't become bizarre enough for all of us, a resolution is being tossed around to bring the serially indicted former game show host out of the courtroom long enough to be named Speaker of the House. And just like the blank looks I get when people ask me if somebody can serve as President from jail, I will tell you that there is nothing in our current rule book that says this plan to make the orange sack of protoplasm Speaker of the House cannot happen. Check your House of Representatives Bingo Card now!

Friday, October 06, 2023


 I felt very embarrassed when I heard. Someone had made his way through the gauntlet of security that keeps the front gate of our school safe. My principal came around just after the kids had all gone inside with their teachers, asking me if I had seen a young man in a black hoodie. Since this describes a great many of our students and parents, I asked for clarification. She told me that this person had knocked on the door of our preschool class, and told the teacher there that he was "looking for his nephew." The same guy then showed up downstairs in the main classroom building, and when he ran into our fourth grade teacher, this fellow said he was "looking for my wife." This set off our internal text chain, and though we were shorthanded, our principal went out to see if she could track this mystery man down. 

I racked my brain to remember an unfamiliar face passing by. I had taken a third grade class downstairs for their breakfast, so there was a time when the front gate was not being watched. I kept sifting through the crowd that I had seen before I left. No one who didn't have a kid in tow. How did I miss that?

The rest of the day was spent doing bits and pieces, filling in where I could. And repairing, once again, the door to the playhouse on our playground. The doubt that I had about missing someone entering our campus with bad intent stayed with me, and when I opened the gate at the end of the day, there he was. 

Not only did he match the rough description I had been given, when he made eye contact with me, he started moving back down the front steps. "Can I help you?" I asked in my best public servant voice. 

"I'm looking for someone," he told me, moving back toward the curb. 

"Are you picking up a student?" Sometimes an uncle or a friend of the family is tasked with pickup duty without a real clue of where and what to do. "What grade?"

"I'm looking for an adult," he insisted while holding the bag he was carrying just a little closer.

"A teacher? Do you know what grade?" We kept moving back off of school grounds.

"I don't know that stuff," he was now back near the sidewalk as kids and parents streamed around him. 

"You don't know the name?"

He had now retreated back around the black Camaro convertible with vanity plates. He opened the driver's side door, tossed in the bag and got inside. 

I turned slightly to take down his license plate number. That got him back out of the car in a rush.

"What are you doing? Why are you harassing me?" He stepped forward, emboldened by his new ploy. "You're racially profiling me!"

I ducked the attempt to shame me for the color s my skin, and told him that I was making sure that all the kids were safe. That was my job. 

He took out his phone and pointed it at me, whether to record me or give the impression that he was doing so didn't make a difference to me, since at no time had he identified himself or the person to whom he was supposedly meeting. 

That's when my principal showed up. She had heard some of what had passed between me and this stranger so she went directly to, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm not talking to you!" he was now getting back into his car. He was trying to keep the strain of our interaction between himself and me. 

"I'm the principal here," said the proud black woman that is my boss. "We are trying to keep the kids safe. Are you here to pick someone up?"

At this point, he had the passenger side window open to keep the nominal dialogue going. "I paid for this car," he yelled apropos of nothing. And then he said to I can only assume me and my principal together, "I make more money than you!" 

Then he was gone. 

Inside, as she waited patiently on the police non-emergency number to answer, she scrolled through the day's security footage. She found him coming in the front gate just after eight thirty. Right about the time I was taking the third grade class downstairs. He was at the portables knocking while I was helping start the third grade day. When I came back upstairs, he headed downstairs to tell our fourth grade teacher that he was "looking for my wife." He left out the side door shortly after. 

I felt much better knowing that I hadn't missed this character while I had been there watching. The cameras caught him leaving, then he came back just before lunch and parked in front of the school where he stayed until dismissal. That's when we shared out little chat. My principal and I set about alerting our after school program lead and our head custodian of the incident, and eventually let the police know what had happened. They let us know to call if he came back. 

I remain vigilant. 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Waiting For Relief

 What do you suppose the folks in Congress will do with that forty-five day extension they gave themselves to stave off the closing of the federal government? I ask this on behalf of a concerned parent who approached me at the end of last week, asking if I was sure the school would be open on October 2nd, since she had been hearing a lot about the government shutdown coming. I reassured her, letting her know that the shutdown, if it happened, would affect federal government offices and employees and not state controlled entities like our school district. She left, feeling calmer about the state of affairs. 

I put my faith on the folks in Congress to do the right thing. 

Lo and behold, they managed to squeak out what amounts to a stay of execution for the budget. In a surprising show of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted three hundred fifty-five to ninety-one to pay for an additional month and a half while the whole thing could be hashed out before any National Park bears had to go without their snacks. As noted here before, these elected "representatives" were not working for their own interests. They were going to get paid regardless of the doors to the shop they watch over were closed.  Those that would be impacted would be the very people whom they claim to "represent." 

So we have some hope, right?

Here's another way to look at it: The House of Representatives had far more than forty-five days to prepare for this game of federal financial chicken. The self-proclaimed "America First Caucus" are bound and tied to their MAGAt talking points and holding any and all progress on the budget hostage to their demands. Pointy heads like Marge Greene and Matt Gaetz hold ideals that call for limiting legal immigration “to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation’s culture and rule of law.” It voices support for infrastructure “that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture.” If you are picking up a faint piquant of white nationalism, you're on the right track. 

This is the group that spent the months leading up to the budget deadline making up articles of impeachment and continuing the chicanery that their former game show host leader insists upon. What kind of mess can they create in a month and a half? Stay tuned. It's bound to be "interesting." Maybe they can work a deal to close the schools. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023


 A colleague of mine is the mother of three daughters, three year old twins and a five year old who has just started Kindergarten. She took a day off last week to chaperone the five year old's first field trip. The night before, her daughter looked a little sad. "What's the matter?" asked mom.

"I just wish my best friend could come along," she explained.

Mom didn't need to ask. She knew who her best friend was. Daddy was going to work. Her best friend. The chain of parental gut checks were set off. "I carried you in my body for nine months. I'm taking a day off my job to go on this field trip. I make lunches for you and your sisters every morning and tuck you into bed at night." And so on. She never said these things. She sighed and said, "I wish daddy could come along too." 

In a very different parental interaction, a fifth grader at our school was being sent home for a rage storm that flipped over desks and put several students in danger while cursing a blue streak. When his mother came to pick him up, our principal expressed her concern to the boy and his mother about the level of anger that streamed from this ten year old. "He gets it from his father," mom replied curtly. 

The fifth grade boy spun around and screamed at his mother, "I get it from you!" 

He stayed home on the same day that my colleague was off chaperoning her child's field trip. The boy's mom had to go to work, so he was left at home alone. 

And so the cycle continues. Love breeds more love. Anger breeds more anger. Finding a place to put adult burdens down to make room for children to discover their confusion and disappointments is not something everyone can do. The playing field has never been level. Being a parent is a full time job and then some. It takes an exceptional human being to make it work while looking after so many other lives. 

I am fortunate to work with so many exceptional human beings. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Through Mirrored Glasses Lightly

 Why would anyone think that what we really need to straighten out the border crisis is a South African billionaire who wastes more money than he makes? 

And yet, there was Elongated Mush, walking around with his "Smart Phone" at arm's length in Eagles Pass, Texas wearing a black cowboy hat and mirrored sunglasses with a couple days worth of stubble on his chin. Citizen Mush was there to give us all "an unfiltered look" at what was happening on the Texas-Mexico border. "What you see is what I see." 

As he wandered about, comments appeared under his feed, including such revelations as "Good to see Elon having to do the job of the MSM and of the politicians who are literally paid to do this but refuse." Mister Mush claimed to be pro-immigrant, since he is one, but also worried that the system should only allow hardworking and honest people to legally come to the U.S., but not allow immigrants who are going to break the law. It should be noted here that the CEO of Tesla and owner of a social media playground called (checks notes) Twitter broke federal labor laws by tweeting that employees would lose stock options if they joined a union. He also frequently breaks state and local laws by texting while driving. 

But we're pretty sure that these aren't the kind of laws about which Mister Mush is concerned. These are laws broken out of entitlement, not desperation. His concern about the plight of immigrants being bussed into New York from Texas, overwhelming the services there is admirable. I suppose. I suppose someone who can afford to buy a social media company in order to turn it into his own personal Faux News outlet could probably also afford to toss a percent of that amount at those overwhelmed services. This might allow for some of those immigrants to find a path to their own place in America. A nation of immigrants. 

After a few minutes, the live feed failed, leaving viewers to stare at the frozen image of the would-be cowboy. This was the unfiltered view of the border. When the connection was restored, there was thirteen more minutes of wandering about and suggesting that someone should build a wall down there before ending abruptly. 

Problem solved. The postscript was written later by Mister Mush, who felt the need to respond to his detractors regarding his fashion choices. "Just for the record, my boots are 20 years old and my hat is ten years old. And I have an arsenal of weapons, most of which I bought in California before they changed the law to make it impossible to do so. I’ve hip-fired a 50 cal while walking. Might have the video somewhere."

Because, in the end, it's really about the macho, right?

Monday, October 02, 2023

Di In The Sky

 Before there was Wi Fi, there was Di Fi.

Dianne Feinstein served in the United States Senate for thirty years. Her term ended last week when she passed away at the age of ninety. There were plans for her to retire in February, but her health had other ideas.

Three decades of being a dedicated voice for gun control, championing the assault weapons ban that then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994, and pushing for restrictive laws since the ban’s expiration in 2004.

President Joe Biden said, “I’ve served with more U.S. Senators than just about anyone. I can honestly say that Dianne Feinstein is one of the very best."

For me, Senator Feinstein was the no-brainer on my ballot. When I moved to California, if I needed a sure thing to pick up the interests of my adopted state as well as the nation, I picked her. She was also known for holding space in the center, willing to collaborate with her colleagues across the aisle, bringing Republicans along for the ride who were willing to have a conversation. This sometimes brought the ire of more progressive members of her party. Like the time she hugged Lindsey Graham at the end of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett back in 2020. Angry voices among her constituents and fellow Democrats eventually forced her out as a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The United States Senate was not Ms. Feinstein's first foray into politics. On Nov. 27, 1978, Feinstein, then-president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, became acting mayor following the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official in California. She later became the first woman elected mayor of San Francisco. In the past few years, endured calls for her to resign, to make way for younger politicians. Always a fan of decorum, Di Fi stuck around until she was through. She was the longest-serving woman in the Senate, and the longest serving senator from the state of California. 

She stomped on the Terra, and made more sense than she made trouble. She will be missed. 

Aloha, Di Fi. 

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Race To The Bottom

I was blissfully unaware that there was going to be a second Republican Presidential Debate. But by golly, even though there was a spot on the stage left, some of the Republican Presidential candidates chose not to attend. The stage was crowded, to be sure, and the space required to accommodate the ego of a former game show host is considerable, I'm sure the folks at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley could have found room. They have room for a pub and a decommissioned Air Force One in there.   

But the twice-impeached-multiple-indictment front runner chose to stay away. Instead, he used the occasion to drop in on a rally at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionized auto parts supplier in Clinton Township, about a half-hour outside Detroit. He spent his time railing against one of his biggest fears: Electricity. He claimed that electric cars are "much worse for the environment" and wondered about electric motors on boats, “Do you get electrocuted if the boat sinks?”

And then there was the matter of the ongoing United Auto Workers strike: “You’re all on the picket lines and everything, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what you get, because in two years you’re all going to be out of business." This statement was made a day after the duly elected President of the United States joined UAW members in Detroit walking the aforementioned picket lines. 

But, as I have mentioned, this rhetoric wasn't the only swirl of innocuous rhetoric that night. The assembled GOP Avengers spent Wednesday evening barking out their talking points in an attempt to be heard over the roar of the power vacuum in their party. Notable bits included former Vice President and noted criminal justice scholar Mike Pence called for the expedited death penalty for accused mass murderers. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie kept up his razzing of the absent former game show host by referring to him as "Donald Duck." Get it? And former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley unloading what often seemed like the entire field’s pent-up frustration with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.”

Oh, former Governor Nikki, we feel your pain. And while the former game show host seems to have gone into prevent defense, I do wonder what an election that takes place between any of the Simi Valley attendees and someone who believes in climate change will go down. 

I don't have to think about this long, mind you.