Making trenchant observations on education, politics, and random topics since 1996.
SHUT UP, ALREADY!
when I was taking education classes at the University of Houston, one of the
things I picked up that is still useful today is “Don’t ever say something in
the classroom that you wouldn’t shout through the window.” I’ve said a lot of
stuff under my breath in my classroom that, thankfully, never got picked up by
a microphone. Facebook and Twitter and a host of other media megaphones were
everywhere by the time I retired, but I resisted the urge to mutter anything
that could be misconstrued, let alone be taken at face value, as offensive.
invaluable lesson seems to elude a lot of people. Lately, of course, Roseanne
Barr shot off her mouth straight into her foot with a tweet that destroyed her
career within hours. Sure, we can argue that there are many others deserving of
her fate. Karma is not always consistent. But the fact is she did it all by
herself. I never had any use for her or her show, but she also took down an
entire cast who had nothing to do with this.
can’t say something nice, figure out a way to say it anonymously without digital
or physical fingerprints. - June 2, 2018 WELL-AGED WITH REASON AND SEASON I’ve got a lot of sand in the bottom of my hourglass. Seems like just yesterday I was saying “40 is really old!” After I turned 40, I thought, well, maybe 50 is old. After that, I just quit saying anything about it. And now I’m turning 60. I’ve been getting reminders that I’m getting old in the mail for the past several years. The AARP send me invitations to join, funeral homes send me lovely brochures on planning for the inevitable, and I prefer not to mention the Viagra emails clogging my Hotmail account. Luby’s sent me a coupon for a free meal. I never pass up free food, so I showed up with an appetite. After several bites, I realized the reason so many old – I mean really old – people like to eat there is because the food is easy to chew. And bland. As long as I have to be this age, I might as well make it clear what I want to be called. Polite society calls them – I mean (sigh!) us – “Senior Citizens.” “Seasoned Citizens” reeks of raw onions and garlic. Personally, I’d just as soon be called a “beat-up old citizen.” Turning 60 has its privileges. Certainly, being mature is a matter of mind. There are just as many mature young people as there are idiotic older ones, although the more idiotic ones tend to remove themselves well before they can collect a pension. But as a rule, people pay more attention to you. There is more pressure to “act your age,” but by now it should come naturally. You don’t have to respond to every stupid comment you hear or read. You’re sixty, not sixteen.
Take it easy. Young pups need us to demonstrate the proper reaction to uncivilized behavior is a shrug, a deep sigh, and the restraint not to beat someone into a coma. I survived 32 years as a high school teacher without a single count of homicide. Surely you can overlook some perceived slight. I’m old enough to remember the Beatles, and young enough to enjoy them with my Bose headphones. I’m old enough to remember rotary phones, and young enough to adjust to cell phone technology. I’m old enough to remember when man first landed on the moon, and young enough to navigate the internet on my laptop. I’m a much better driver now than when I first left the DVM waving my new license in exultation. Good thing, because I have to drive across town to nearest Half-Price Books. I’m a little bit slower, but I’m still young enough to get around on two legs. Fact is I get impatient when people get in my way, and most of them are kids. Embrace the gray, I remind myself. What’s the hurry? Luby’s doesn’t close until eight. After I finally shuffle off this mortal coil, I can’t think of anything more appropriate for my marker than this epitaph for a Japanese philosopher named Togai: “He cared for nothing but books. His life was uneventful.” - January 28, 2017
LAST FLIGHT One the great highlights in my life occurred when I was a teenager. I was at a music venue helping a friend set up equipment for a dance when in walked someone who meant more to me than any performer – Alan Shepard, the first American to get shot into space in the Mercury mission. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and went back to plugging in speakers. Among the advantages to growing up in Houston was realizing that something of national importance was taking place right here. Although I was too young to truly appreciate the magnitude of what was going on, a sense of pride permeated everything. I knew men who worked at NASA. In fact, my oldest brother worked for NASA. I saved newspaper clippings of the exploits of our astronauts, and dreamed of becoming one. A fear of heights and claustrophobia is a bad combination for would-be space explorers, so I wisely set my sights a little “lower.” Just a few years before Alan Shepard “slipped the surly bonds of earth,” Charles Lindbergh audaciously flew across the Atlantic. In fact, the famed aviator actually met Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell. (But for a mishap, one of them would have walked on the moon.) Barely 70 years separated the legendary solo flight and the flight to the moon. Now consider the sheer magnitude of technological knowledge necessary to expedite this mission, and consider the primitive state of computers compared to their ubiquitous presence.
Just a couple of weeks ago Lisa and I listened to Walter Cunningham of Apollo 7 speak at the University of Houston Clear Lake campus. A month earlier, John Glenn died. I was almost finished reading (again) First on the Moon when news of Gene Cernan’s passing was broadcast. The very last man to leave the moon was also the last to leave earth. Another member of the Greatest Generation has come and gone. I’m grateful that I was here for the ride. -January 19, 2017
Bob Dylan's Simple Twist of Fate
Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman, after a half-century of representing
anti-establishment sensibilities, has done it again. First, he shocked the
world by plugging in a guitar and, unfortunately, a microphone. Then he
accepted the Nobel
Prize for Literature. Talk about a simple twist of fate. The times they are
a-changing. (I could go on and on. He made 37 albums.)
not? Obama got a Nobel Prize before he even took office. And look how
successful he has been, spreading peace all over the world in places like Syria,
Libya, Iraq, and Georgia – one of the original Red states, not the one between
Florida and South Carolina – and the Crimea, and . . . well, you get the idea.
recent years, it seems the only two considerations for the prize is obscurity
and unreadability. So, I think it’s great that someone got this award for
writing something that makes sense.
everyone in the artistic community agrees, however. Rabish Alameddine, a
previous winner, sniffed, “Bob Dylan winning a Nobel in literature is almost as
silly as Winston Churchill.” Oh, really? Churchill? The one who helped defeat
Nazi Germany and win World War II? Or the one who wrote The History of the
English-Speaking People and a dozen other widely-praised works? He also had no
use for the Bard: “I read Shakespeare when I was 14 . . . I think that’s a
problem, a remnant of colonialism.” Alameddine is a master of the non-linear
narrative, which is probably like reading William Faulkner on acid. One or the
other or both.
youth-oriented blog, Vice, opined that “Dylan’s win won’t tarnish the Nobel in
the eyes of the world . . . But maybe this help writers care less about awards
in general, and focus more their arbitrariness.” No kidding? I had already
reached that conclusion when Obama was awarded the Nobel. Let’s
take a deep breath. It’s not as if Dylan won the award for his singing. His Christmas
in the Heart album alone would have taken care of that. But now that musicians
are fair game, Paul Simon should definitely be next.- October 15, 2016
A BIG STICK OF MELTED BARBRA
In case you missed it, Barbra Streisand is coming to Houston. A blurb from an ad in the Houston Chronicle gushed “Barbra Streisand sounded like diamonds, and porcelain, and a freshly drawn bath and consommé. – The New York Times
Honestly, if I had turned in a paper with something like that in college my professor would have speared it to my chest with a red pen.
Diamonds, okay. She sounds like diamonds. Diamonds sparkle, and they retail for more than diamondoids, even diamondelles. What does porcelain sound like? My bathtub is made of porcelain, and I have to scrub it now and then. Maybe it’s like the porcelain with that freshly-drawn bath that leaves a ring. But not just any ring – a DIAMOND ring. The kind that sparkles like Barbra’s voice, even after I take a bath. I’m stumped with the consommé thing. It’s a broth that moms make for the kids when they can’t hold down anything else. So maybe Barbra’s like chicken soup for the soul. Or someone sick to his stomach.
I’m more astonished that the blurb didn’t end with an exclamation mark. I guess that would be too over-the-top.
Well, I guess we have to allow for some gushery when someone from the New York Times says it. I still say Linda Richman, the hostess of Coffee Talk (“Give us a call. We’ll talk. Drink coffee. No big whoop.”) did better: She’s like buttah. Like melted buttah!” - October 1, 2016
Venerable conservative pundit George Will touched off a
hailstorm of responses to a column denouncing denim. Yes, blue jeans are
verboten with this crotchety bow-tie-wearing columnist. “Sartorial good taste,”
he opines, “can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it,
don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.” Of course, Fred Astaire
never pushed a grocery cart in any of his movies. Nor did Grace Kelly. I just
hope she was properly attired when she drove her car off a mountain.
I’d be happy to dress like the Tapster, but the climate here on the Gulf Coast would kill a bull moose.
Unless I’m going to work when I leave the house, I wear
shorts, a t-shirt and sandals. Everything is clean, and I tuck my shirt in. A
belt holds up the goods, and I make a three-point check for wallet, cell phone, zipper. I don't want to frighten old ladies.
Other than that, I have two hard and fast rules. First,
blue jeans are not acceptable in church. Second, if my children ever see me in
public wearing bicycle shorts, they are under oath to shoot me through the back
of my head. – August 13, 2016
Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking believes humans are
capable of time travel. The Daily Mail
reported that Hawking also stated it was “entirely reasonable” to assume aliens
existed, and if he could go backwards he’d visit Marilyn Monroe in her prime or
drop in on Galileo. Earlier in his life as an armchair (wheelchair?) theorist,
he avoided such talk for fear of being labeled a crank. "These days I’m
not so cautious.”
Hm. Time travel. Aliens of the third kind we don't want
to meet. I think I liked Hawking better when he was the undisputed geek of the
At some point it becomes
obvious that college smarts ain't necessarily better than common-sense smarts.
A healthy balance is my aim, and I like to think I hit reasonably close to a
bull's-eye. - March 9, 2015
Maintaining Dignity in the Digital Age
one reaches a certain age, one is subjected to a new range of humiliations in the
privacy (one hopes) of the physician's office. One also resorts to a new range
of strategies to salvage one's self-esteem, such as referring to oneself in the
third person, as I already have six times.
There is a lot of time to reflect on
this new position in life while hunched over the examining table. Naturally,
the first thought which comes to mind is how to escape. As my pants were
hanging about my ankles at that moment, my mind cast about for something else.
All I could come up with was a face-saving, as it were, method of maintaining
my dignity and sanity. "When all else fails," as one wag in CENTCOM
put it, "simply revel in the absurdity of it all."
So I came up with a list of
THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR FROM THE DOCTOR GIVING
YOU A PROSTATE EXAM
1. There’s gold in them thar hills!
2. The latex glove is ribbed for your
3. How about a free sample of minty
suppositories to freshen up down here?
4. This month we’re offering an oil change
at no extra charge with your lube job.
5. Hey! Here’s that ring I lost a year ago!
6. You’re number 198 this year. Two more of
these and it’s Sweet Miami Beach, here I come!
7. Would you mind rubbing my eyes? I hate
to stop now to wash my hands.
8. You seem to have a lot of wiggle room
here. Got any friends I don’t know about?
9. Oh, great! I just lost my place and I
have to start all over.
10. Would you mind humming a few bars of “I
Feel Pretty”? I work better with music.
11. When I was in med school, we used to
call the guys who wouldn’t do this without gloves as a bunch of weenies.
12. I don’t know about you, but I find it
interesting that sausage is food that gets stuffed in an intestine twice. - July 11, 2009
GREAT LEAP FORWARD IN TRAFFIC CONTROL
Fuchao, a man heavily in debt, had been contemplating suicide on a bridge in
southern China for hours when a 66-year-old passerby came up, shook his hand -
and pushed him off the ledge. Apparently, the traffic-clearer was fed up with
what he called Chen's "selfish activity." Traffic around the bridge
had been backed up for five hours and police had cordoned off the area. Pushing
the poor unfortunate man wasn't bad enough. Then the geezer whipped out a
ghetto blaster packed with enough bass booster to blast holes in the concrete,
pushed the play button, and busted some Mao Moves to the tune Jump by
Van Halen. He was wearing a red scarf which added an element of danger as the
onlookers thought he was a Blood carrying out a hit.
He left the scene pumping his fist in the air yelling "Power to the
People!" Confusion spread among the crowd. Was this a new state direction
to denounce usurpers of peace and tranquility? Or was this simply an atavistic
resurgence of the sacred elderly exercising their prerogative to put those
bourgeois whiners in their place for usurping peace and tranquility?
The Feng Shit hit the fan when Jackie Chan catapulted on the scene and
whipped an unshod foot upside the head of some sassy, insouciant youth, and
screamed in his native Cantonese that Chinese are ill-equipped to handle
liberty, and motioned the Red Guard to restore order with tanks and automatic
weapons. - May 2009
ODE TO YOKO
Don’t Worry! Don’t Worry! Don’t Worry!
It’s Only a Theater
of the Absurd!
Fingernails on chalkboard.
Amazon warrior with left breast caught in wringer.
Most unfortunate bullfighter is gored.
Pull my finger [imitate sound of flatulence – can you smell
the wind?] –Now I’m a singer!
Have you heard enough?
I married to famous Beatle!
My talent in singing matched by talent in art and poetry.