Time For a Reality Check

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I was born in Houston, Texas during the depths of the Great Depression. It was a hard-scrabble life made somewhat bearable by the abiding love of our family and the support and friendship of our close-knit community. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It was really a small residential area outside of Houston proper, called Hunter’s Creek Village.

Okay, that’s not completely true either. It was actually the west Texas town of El Paso, where I fell in love with a Mexican girl.

Which is really not my life story but, in fact, the lyric to a big hit for cowboy-singer Marty Robbins. I wasn’t actually born in El Paso, or really anywhere in Texas, if you want to insist on factual accuracy, and have never, to my recollection, ever fallen in love with a young woman from Mexico.

As many of my friends and readers know, I was really born in San Francisco. And it wasn’t during the depths of the Great Depression but actually during the relative ease and prosperity of the second Eisenhower administration.

Sorry.

I studied computer science at MIT, then went on to lead development projects for large enterprise software companies. At least I did until I got laid off, then they hired an illegal immigrant who would do the work for, like, one-third of what they paid me. I wish that border wall were already built back then.

Sorry, again. None of that actually happened. (History major.)

I got married to a nice girl I met at the bait shop I used to run on Key West. She ran the creationism museum there, educating our kids that, after all, creationism is a theory every much as real and legitimate as the theory of evolution. And besides, it’s in the Bible. Things between my wife and I were really great until the gays arm-twisted liberal judges into giving them the right to marry each other, which is, of course, an abomination in the eyes of God and ruined our marriage because giving the gays equal rights erodes traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Okay, none of that happened either.

Most evenings, after coming home from working as a hard-charging corporate titan, I don my custom-designed and constructed costume, jump into my multi-terrain battle vehicle, and fight crime as a super hero. I’ve never admitted that publicly before but there, I’ve said it. I don’t have super powers but I compensate by using my billions to build high-tech crime-fighting gear, which creates fear among evil-doers everywhere.

Okay, look, in truth, I don’t get out much anymore. I’m too tired most nights. And I’m not really a corporate titan, or, to be totally honest, a crime-fighter of any type.

Sorry, that was just a lie.

In my blog, I’ve always tried to present my thoughts and feelings as directly and honestly as I’m able. Then why present this litany of lies? It seems, my fellow Americans, we’re having difficulty these days separating fact from fiction. I just wanted to provide you all a little calibration.

Now go forth in truth and light.

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A Reasonable Thought

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Imagine this:

You wake up on a typical Hump Day morning. Get yourself into a quick shower, grab a cup of coffee, maybe some toast. Put on your uniform. Say “See ya,” or something similar to your spouse and kids. You drive into work.

It isn’t a dream job but there is some measure of security and it comes with benefits. And you try to make it decent every day by being friendly with your customers, especially the ones you see most weekdays. There are some nice people on your route and you’ve gotten to know a few really well over the years.

Makes the day go by to share a few words with them as you make your deliveries.

When you get in on this Wednesday, there’s a meeting before you start out. You grab another cup of coffee from the break room. Should have stopped at Peet’s or Starbucks because break room coffee is crap but it would have made you late.

Shoot the breeze with a few co-corkers before the meeting starts. Jim went to the extra-innings Giants game last night and looks a little tired. Manuel’s daughter is having her quinceañera over the weekend. 

That’s a pretty typical start-of-shift scene at a lot of workplaces, right?

Now imagine:

One of your co-workers stands up in that completely routine meeting, pulls a gun out of his coat and starts shooting the people around you, dead.

That very thing happened here last week, at the local UPS facility, just a few short blocks away. And, as typically happens in the wake of incidents of mass violence in San Francisco, the gruesome results were visited upon our hospital.

I stood in a makeshift conference room as an emergency room doctor told the wife of one victim that her husband, who’d a few hours earlier left his home for what they both thought would be just another routine day at work delivering packages, had died.

Those who know me at all know my feelings about gun control. After this latest incident in too  a long string of them I am even more firmly dedicated to my beliefs; as a public safety necessity, we should regulate the civilian ownership of firearms at least as actively as we regulate the operation of motor vehicles.

Just imagine yourself going to work on a Wednesday and never coming home.

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Grief of the Gun

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I work at an urban public hospital and trauma center and, sadly, today was like too many others. I witnessed friends and family of a young man torn apart by a bottomless grief that was caused by a gun.

Today, it was a 15-year-old named Reajohn Jackson. Next time, the victim of gun violence will have a different name. Different friends and family members will be at our hospital sobbing and asking “Why?” to doctors and nurses, to kin, to no one in particular.

I have met the mothers and grandmothers and brothers and sisters and cousins of gun violence victims before today. And each, in their own ways, bear the unmistakable scars of shock and horror and anger and sadness.

I have met too many.

I suspect that, as long as I live, I will remember the human agony I witnessed today, as person after person rushed to our hospital only to be told of the passing of their friend, their classmate, their relative. One young man, in stunned disbelief, kept repeating, over and over as if to gain some measure of understanding, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”

I wish I knew, young man.

 

 

 

Oh, I Understand Plenty

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I honestly and sincerely swore I wouldn’t write about politics again this election season but conditions impress upon me the need, the obligation, the responsibility to speak.

This year, many commentators are wondering aloud how we could have gotten to the place we today occupy – an ignorant, narcissistic sociopath is a major party’s nominee for the presidency. And, let’s not be coy, I’m talking about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In the course of the period of my lifetime, barely one-fourth of the total period of American history, politics have devolved to the level of apes – no, this unfairly devalues ape society. When I was younger, Republicans stood for something understandable and American – main street sensibility, small central government, an ethic of hard work, economic opportunity. I may not have agreed with all of it but I understood and appreciated it as a coherent political philosophy.

What today’s Republican Party stands for isn’t beyond my comprehension exactly, more beneath my contempt. Today’s GOP is proudly bigoted, ignorant, racist, sexist and materialistic. It is anti-American, at least as I understand and use that term.

Let’s get concrete.

A man of color has occupied the White House for almost eight years. Republicans have never accepted him as the legitimate president of the United States. They have done everything possible to thwart his due exercise of office. Indeed, they have tried to de-legitimize him at every opportunity.

How? By supposing out loud that he was born in Africa, that he is a secret Muslim, that he is a sleeper agent of a terrorist cell, that his election and re-election were illegitimate.

He’s been made out to be foreign. We’ve been shown pictures of him with a bull’s eye on his chest, dressed as a witch doctor, as Adolph Hitler, in minstrel-show blackface. The entire media apparatus of News Corp (Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, et al.) was purposefully arrayed against him in vile and personal attacks.

And why?

Simply because of the color of his skin.

The same rough-justice mechanism is now being deployed against the Democratic Party’s next standard bearer for the unpardonable crime of being a woman.

Here is the truth: American demographics are our destiny.

Some years ago, Republicans made a pact with the devil – the Tea Party and other anti-American extremists – in the vain hope of remaining politically and socially relevant. It was a fool’s bargain. Our country is changing, has changed. Any party that caters to white male resentment as its backbone is doomed. The fact is, Republicans are already dead; they just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge it.

And yet, TV pundits feign confusion about what’s going on in the American political landscape. As if they didn’t know.

I beg you, in the deepest way I know how, to say it simply, plainly and out loud: the Republican Party has staked its life on appealing to the basest instincts of a declining portion of the American electorate and it will die as a result. And it will die very soon. And there is nothing the party hierarchy or its craven media whore can do to stop it.

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Terma (or τέρμα)

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Note dear reader: I will not come close to capturing the real essence of the subject of this post but I promise to do my absolute best. Simply, he is too large to get right on paper.

He was a force, that much is certain. He was with us often, always it seemed, on that trip to Greece several years ago. He filled the room with his sheer presence. Not overbearing exactly, like some boulder rolling down a hillside; he was more like a professional entertainer that was always on. Amusing but exhausting.

He was my uncle Taiki, now recently departed.

When we arrived in Athens after a very long day of flying and connecting, he whisked us to the family house in the city, where we settled in for a multi-hour feast. He sat, as I remember, between Erika and me and served as more or less constant, which is to say non-stop, translator.

He told me stories about the family and gave Erika a crash course in must-know Greek. The word for fork. The word for knife. The word for glass. And on. And on. And on, throughout dinner.

He told me how superior the Greek language was to the vulgarity of English. In English, we have one word for rock, he said; in Greek, there’s rock, and pebble, and stone, and boulder. And on. And on.

He called me something that sounded like “Brunt.”

One day, a few days later, he loaded us into the back of his van and took us all to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio, which turned out to be, as promised, among the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth.

When I pulled out my camera to get some photos, Taiki seemed genuinely offended. “Rocks,” he said. “You came all this way to take pictures of rocks?” I tried to laugh it off but he had none of it. “You like rocks?” he asked. I said I found the temple magnificent, or whatever word I had to express that feeling in Greek.

With that, he vaulted the barrier, walked to a column and broke a piece of marble off in his thick hand. He came back, jumped the chain again, shoved the piece of the ancient and glorious temple into my hand and said, “There. Now you’ve got your rock.”

Taiki looked much like his aunt, my grandmother. The fair hair, the piercing blue eyes, the rolling walk that so many have who’ve grown up in an agricultural life. We visited the family farm, on the Gulf of Corinth. Taiki showed me the family’s olive press, the fields where my grandmother played as a little girl, the boat the family used to catch the calamari we had for lunch that day.

And there were the stories. Some, frankly, just too good to be true, even when washed down with liberal amounts of the family’s homemade retsina. He was a general in the Greek army, politically connected, a lemon farmer, a raconteur, a lover of life and his family.

When, during our visit, he would get to be too much, Erika would tell him to stop by saying a word Taiki himself had taught her, terma. And, like the gentleman he was, he would smile and stop (for a few minutes, at any rate).

According to the Urban Dictionary, a Taiki is “…a male who is an oddball combination of an artist, a gentleman, and a ninja.” How very accurate.

And, as Erika can still tell you, the Greek word for fork is πιρούνι. Thank you for that, Taiki. 

Terma.

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He’s Simply Perfect

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Now, finally, several months into this dystopian circus, media pundits and Republican Party officials are wringing their bony hands, wondering how it happened. How, they ask in their pathetic and whiny columns and commentaries, could a person like Donald Trump be on the verge of gaining the presidential nomination of a major American political party?

As if they didn’t know a single thing about the real America.

In point of fact, Donald Trump is the absolutely perfect man to represent today’s America to the world. He is a more accurate mirror of our country’s character than any major candidate for the presidency.

  1. He is vulgar.
  2. He is impressed with all the external trappings of money. He is all surface and shuns substance at every opportunity.
  3. He is racist, sexist and bigoted.
  4. He embraces greed.
  5. He practices a faux Christianity, without any grounding in or awareness of the foundation of the real religious tradition behind it.
  6. He is full of phony man-bluster, a classic limp-dick, chickenshit bully. Never engaging in any actual fighting but consistently threatening something big and severe.
  7. He doesn’t read, doesn’t know history, doesn’t understand government, or how things work. He is proud to demonstrate his ignorance, as Sarah Palin did on the campaign trail before him. Her endorsement spoke volumes about his suitability for the presidency, his suitability to represent us.

He is, in short, the perfect man for the job of representing America.

 

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Phoenix Convention Center Saturday, July 11, 2015. (Cheryl Evans/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Losing It

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I found professional football a wondrous thing when I was first introduced to it, back in the 1960s.

Games between near-mythic gladiators were listened to on the radio, or read about in Monday’s newspaper, where reporters used the power of language to bring readers into the experience and atmosphere of the game. Home games weren’t broadcast on TV in that dark era, so it was either attend in person, listen on radio, or read about it. The networks only broadcast top-tier games on TV and our Forty-Niners weren’t in the top-tier in those days, not even close. When they played the NFL’s best teams (and weren’t home) we could have the pleasure of seeing them go down to ignominious defeat live.

When home in those days, the Forty-Niners played in Kezar Stadium, named for city benefactress Mary Kezar, which sat at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park and adjoined a quaint residential neighborhood of Victorian homes. It was just down the hill from the University of San Francisco, which supplied some of the team’s early stars, and was as close to the geographic center of town as was possible to find for construction of a football stadium. Regular attendees knew not to drive there – such was madness. They walked, or took a bus.

The turf, maintained by the city’s parks and recreation department, was often muddy and brown. All the seats were plain wooden benches. Food was modest. Beer was cheap and free-flowing. Fans were the local hoi polloi. But when you were at Kezar, you knew damn well you were in San Francisco, watching the local boys play some football.

Kezar wasn’t luxe in any sense of the word but it was intimate. Fans were on top of the field and each other. A community was created every home game day. Season ticket holders became family with one another and, by the end of any game, with more casual attendees as well.

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And, by God, the Forty-Niners, although never big winners at Kezar, were always quirky originals and fun to watch.  On the offensive side of the ball, John Brodie, Ted Kwalick, Gene Washington. On the defense, there was Dave Wilcox, Rosie Taylor, Jimmie Johnson, Mel Phillips. Most players, certainly those without marquee status and million-dollar contracts, had off-season employment or owned small local businesses.

The team of that era and the place they played football couldn’t be any more different than today’s Forty-Niners or their stadium, sitting as it does in the midst of low-rise corporate office buildings, the Santa Clara Convention Center, a moat-like parking expanse and a dull and aging amusement park. The setting is classic American suburban, therefore automobile-based. Parking lots of various sizes encircle the stadium like the camps of a besieging army.

The stadium itself was all I imagined it to be from reading about it and seeing it on television – plastic, generic, electronic, corporate. The slope of the stands make most seats feel farther from the field than they are. Openings on the northern and southern ends dissipated fan noise and connection to the game and each other. Big screens broadcasting field action live compensate for poor visibility. Corporate logos are everywhere.

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The architectural feature that dominates the stadium is the luxury suite/press box building, essentially a non-descript soulless high-rise of glass and metal, which could be any of the surrounding Santa Clara office buildings, or, really, any corporate campus building in Anywhere, USA.

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In short, there is no sense of particular place or setting.

The economics of professional sports have changed since the 1960s, to be sure. The NFL, itself a nonprofit institution that earns over $12 billion in revenue from ticket sales and merchandizing, takes in additional $billions in corporate sponsorships, in-kind contributions and underwriting – and that amount is expected to grow 5% in the coming year. The average NFL team is worth something like $2 billion.

Running that sort of business requires commitment to amenities for sponsors and fans: luxury boxes, gourmet food, (gasp) seats with backs. And it requires maximizing revenue through instruments like seat licenses, high season ticket prices and fees. So, in a perverse way, it is altogether fitting for an organization like that to do its business inside something like Levi’s Stadium.

In that narrow way, the place is perfection, unlike, of course, the team that plays there.

In every way, the San Francisco Forty-Niners football team I saw last weekend were the worst possible exemplars of American football. No quirkiness. No drama. No dash. No personality. No fun. Rudderless. Aimless. Passionless. Unsuccessful and unengaged.

The Forty-Niners are awash in logos but drifting away from the very characteristics that made them, and the game they play, so special.

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