Saturday, December 31, 2011

You Know You Love It

Come on.  Who doesn't like Myron Floren and The Semonski Sisters?  Ring in the new year with the Beer Barrel Polka -- or any which way you can.

Happy New Year!

A Sign of Hope

I work in community mental health.  My Jeep is a familiar sight generally parked in the same parking space day after day after day.  My job is to help the severely mentally ill reclaim hope.  This message was left on my driver's side door yesterday.  I truly appreciate the sentiment though possibly not so much the fact that it was left with permanent marker.  On the other hand, perhaps hope shouldn't be something easily erased.

Here's to a new year filled with hope.

Lighting the Fires On Nani

On the imaginary island of Nani the ceremonial fires are about to be lit, the drums will sound and at the exact moment Mere and Ariki will stand and together sing "Pennies From Heaven" little knowing that in just hours their lives will take a completely new direction.
But This Is Different -- a novel.

How long will you wait to keep a promise?  Mere waited forty years.

A New Calendar - Shortened Version

I'm really not looking forward to an entire year of hype about the Mayan Calendar. Why is everyone so worried? Nationwide, there are thousands of Hannah Montana calendars that end in 14 hours, and I really doubt that we've seen the last of that gavel-voiced shrill-billy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Can't Always Be Frank, Apparently

I swear I would faint on the spot if one of these DA's ever displayed any sense of humor at all. He said, "Ok, can I be frank for a minute?" Obviously, my only possible response was, "Only if you're Zappa. I always get to be Sinatra." **cue the crickets** I could see the mental anguish he was going through trying to come up with a response. Offering to give him a hug may have been pushing it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why I'm Not A Cat Person

One of the advantages (well, just about the only advantage) of working for a newspaper is that you get to meet a lot of interesting people. For example, I once met a guy named Gordon Gordon, who with his wife Mildred wrote the novel, Undercover Cat, upon which the movie, "That Darn Cat," was based. Gordon (I never knew whether I was on a first-name basis with him or not) was extremely big on cats. In fact, he had a plaque beside his front door that said something along the lines of, "This house was bought and paid for by a cat."

I do not share his fondness for cats. Especially not now, after the encounter my wife Linda and I had Saturday afternoon with a crummy tabby named Pansy. This cat belongs to Linda's 90-year-old mother, Frances. A few days ago, Frances fell and broke her hip, and will be confined to a rehab center for some time. So something had to be done with Pansy.

Easier said than done.

First off, you have to visualize Pansy. If cats became sumo wrestlers, Pansy would be one of the champions. A big, whomping fat cat. And you would think, a slow-moving one at best. You, unfortunately, would be wrong. As long as only a short distance was involved -- from under the bed to back in the closet, and back under the bed, right in the center where no one could reach her -- Pansy was as elusive as a ferret.

We spent half an hour trying to catch that wretched feline. Once, we nearly had her. Linda coaxed her out from under the bed with a trail of cat treats, and I grabbed her, getting several good scratches in the process, and slammed her into the cage. But then we had problems closing the damned cage, and she got out again.

More chasing her around the bedroom, in and out of the closet, under and out from under the bed. We tore the bed apart, taking off the mattress and box springs so Pansy couldn't hide under there anymore.

Finally, Linda cornered her up against the dresser, and I think at that point Pansy just surrendered. "Okay, you bastards," she seemed to say. "Do with me as you will."

And finally we got her closed up in the cage. She meowed a few times, pathetically, but we were absolutely heartless. We traveled across town with Linda sitting in the back seat of the car making certain that cage didn't come open -- all the way to a friend of Linda's who agreed to take care of Pansy. This is an extremely nice lady named Marian Shultis, who has a lot of experience with dogs and cats, and whose dog recently died. So she was happy to take in the poor temporarily homeless cat.

Much better treatment than she deserves, if you ask me. But as I said, I'm not a cat person. The book, if I were writing it, would be called something much stronger than "That Darn Cat." Something like "That F**kin' Feline."

Gordon Gordon, incidentally, gave me a signed copy of his famous cat novel. This is what he wrote: "For Thom Walker (as I was then called, shortly before I changed my name to 'Walker Walker') -- With much admiration of a very talented writer and editor -- Gordon Gordon of 'The Gordons.'" And under that was a stamped print of a cat's paw. Kinda makes you sick.

Oh, and we heard today from Marian, the kindhearted rescuer of Pansy. She said Pansy has quickly settled into her new home, is venturing out and rubbing against Marian's ankles, purring and meowing happily. So there's a happy ending to this story -- at least, until Frances returns home and we have to capture Pansy again for another trip in her cage.

Bastards, the cat will be thinking. They won't get me this time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And Finally, This

And On Another Note

Friday, December 23, 2011

We Won't, Mary

And Celebrate Even More

In what is surely intended as a universal Christmas gift to snarky people like me, it was announced that Britney Spears is getting married for the third time, this time to her former agent. I can see no reason this marriage should not work, as long as you don't count the endless reasons this marriage will never work. (Attention headline writers: "Oops, She's Doing it Again" is neither clever nor original.)

So Celebrate

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From USA Today Of All Places

Seriously.  The following article appeared in USA Today.  I also heard it on the news while driving to work.  History and the move toward social justice are cause for celebration and it sounds like people celebrated this.
The world is changing.  Forget that this story has been passed to and fro from one source to another so that (possibly) no one has to take credit for reporting it.  The event happened.
So here's the story as told eventually by USA Today.

For the first time,  a lesbian couple today marked a time-honored Navy homecoming tradition in which a sailor is chosen to be the first off the ship to exchange a kiss with a loved one, The Virginian-Pilot reports.
The USS Oak Hill returned to the Navy base at Virginia Beach after almost three months at sea training in Central America.
As homecoming approached, the crew and the ship's family readiness group sold $1 raffle tickets to pick the sailor to be first off the ship to deliver the coveted first kiss on the dock.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta bought 50 tickets and won, the newspaper reports.
Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return, the Associated Press reports.
Here's how The Virginian-Pilot reported the precedent-shattering event of the post "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" era:
 Her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, was waiting. They kissed. The crowd cheered. And with that, another vestige of the policy that forced gays to serve in secrecy vanished.

And here's the couple:

Welcome home, sailor.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It Certainly Wasn't A Bick

An unidentified 76-year-old woman has had a pen inside her stomach for the past 25 years, according to a report in the British Medical Journal. Doctors at a hospital in Exeter, England, recently and surgically removed it.
The patient told her doctors that 25 years ago, she was using the pen to inspect a spot on her tonsils when she slipped, fell and accidentally swallowed the pen. Her husband, who was a doctor, didn’t believe her story, so he took an x-ray and then apparently believed her even less because nothing showed up in the x-ray.
Unable to prove her story, the woman went about her business with the pen in her stomach.  She had no symptoms that the pen was causing any trouble until recently when she started losing weight and experiencing other intestinal disturbances we need not mention.  Subsequent tests revealed the pen.
By the way, it was a felt tipped pen.
When surgeons got the pen out of the woman's stomach, they found that it still wrote clearly.  They said it was pretty amazing for a felt tipped pen to write after all of those years.
I'm not even going to try and guess why the surgeons tried writing with the pen.  Even more than the pen writing is the fact that they tried writing with it.
Here's what I find fascinating about this whole thing.
Pen Inside Woman's Stomach
I can't even keep a pen in my pocket or on my desk for more than five minutes.  They just disappear on me though, thankfully not in me.  I used to have a coffee cup on my desk full of pens but they just disappeared and those that remained in the cup wouldn't write.
So naturally I'm kind of bummed that this woman knew exactly -- for twenty-five-years -- the location of her pen.  And then, of course, it just doesn't seem fair that the thing still wrote perfectly once removed from the woman's stomach.
Of course, I don't envy the woman's ability to keep track of her writing implements enough to swallow a pen because, trust me, I'd never see the pen again.  It would somehow get lost.  And even if surgeons eventually found it, trust me more.  It wouldn't write.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Driving Distracted

Every day driving to and from work on the 210 freeway I twice pass the Miller brewery in Irwindale, California.  Just the thought of all that beer can sometimes be quite distracting.  And on a good day the smell of perhaps yeast can really cause a mind trip.  This morning, though, my distraction had nothing to do with the brewery.  On the other side of the freeway (I was headed east so the sign was on the west side of the freeway but facing east bound drivers) was a billboard about the size of an air craft carrier.  It was three dimensional so that sticking out practically across the west bound lanes and into my face was the key pad of a cell phone.  The message of billboard was 'Don't text while driving!'  Three dimensional with a major misspelling with the sole purpose of warning me to not become distracted while driving.

A Simple Parenting Tip

As an involved parent with an education background, I do my best to make life lessons more relatable for the boy. So, yesterday, at Whole Foods when the water misters in the produce aisle came on, and he asked what they were for, I told him they keep away wicked witches disguised as broccoli.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Free Fiona

I get it that these days we are bombarded with causes -- worthy causes but nevertheless they bombard us.
However, I must draw attention to a cause I've just started. I'm not asking for contributions - at least not yet. I just want you to become aware of the situation and then I will keep you posted. Keep on your toes because you may need to swing into action at any moment.
Here's the thing.
Fiona Glenanne of Burn Notice -- she's a fictional character mind you -- has surrendered to the authorities to keep Michael Weston -- the burned spy and love of her life -- from doing rotten stuff.
The season ends with Fiona being taking into custody staring into the far away eyes of the shocked and grief stricken Michael.
This can't be happening. Not in this day and age. Innocent, heroic, truly good heroes don't go off to prison.  Not even fictional ones.  Or do they?  At any rate, something must be done and we are the only ones who can do it. Okay, maybe the writers can do it during the hiatus but do I trust them to do it right? Absolutely not.
And so begins the Free Fiona movement.  To it I dedicate well certainly not my life but at least a couple minutes a day.
Won't you join me?
I will keep you posted.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Santa Is Apparently Really Serious

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don't Regret Regret - From

Kathryn Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker with a credible (if not necessarily enviable) claim to being the world's leading wrongologist. Her freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, TIME Magazine, the Boston Globe, the "Freakonomics" blog of The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. She is the former editor of the online environmental magazine Grist, and a former reporter and editor for The Santiago Times, of Santiago, Chile, where she covered environmental, labor, and human rights issues. She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East. A graduate of Brown University and a former Ohioan, Oregonian and Brooklynite, she currently lives in New York's Hudson Valley.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"What a delicious strawberry!!"

I was having a conversation with a dear friend about getting through the day and how things could always be worse, she remembered this "zen story" her version and the way she described was spectacular and although it only took a minute to recite, I got stuck in a moment (ok i'm neurotic and I looked it up) and I found this...

'There was once a man who was being chased by a ferocious tiger across a field. At the edge of the field there was a cliff. In order to escape the jaws of the tiger, the man caught hold of a vine and swung himself over the edge of the cliff. Dangling down, he saw, to his dismay, there were more tigers on the ground below him! And, furthermore, two little mice were gnawing on the vine to which he clung. He knew that at any moment he would fall to certain death. That's when he noticed a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other and put it in his mouth. He never before realized how sweet a strawberry could taste.'

His day would have been a lot worse without the strawberry. I made it 5 PM to end my shift fairly effortlessly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rain As Blessing Rain As Curse

Nothing is simple here in Southern California. Oh yeah, we're supposed to be the laid back not a care in the world post hippies run amok and rattled eventually into La La Land. Trust me. It's all a facade. For example, right now it is raining. We need the rain. Who doesn't need the rain? Except that just a few days ago winds blew down most of our trees and shrubs and power lines and not much of the debris has been cleaned up yet. A lot of it is right now blocking crucial drain areas. So where does the water go? I guess we'll find out later on tonight.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Having A Plan Is Essential

Before anybody complains, I evaluated the possibility that the boy will find himself in this particular scenario any time before he’s old enough to realize the peril involved, and I’m 70%-80% sure it’s safe. At breakfast, I convinced him that the plastic "honey bear" bottle was invented in “olden times” as a way to teach kids that if you grab a bear and squeeze it real hard, honey will shoot out of its head.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jacob as Role Model

A d'var Torah delivered at the Vitas Jewish Outreach Advisory Board Meeting:

Of all the lives chronicled in the book of Genesis, Jacob’s is writ large across its pages. Our first view of him is as a fetus in his mother’s womb, striving with his twin Esau, and our last is of him blessing his children on his deathbed. We see him evolve from a slick little trickster into the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Like Abraham and Isaac, he personally experiences God’s presence, but he also has many of the same life experiences that all of us do. He falls in love, works for a living, and becomes a father many times over.

Jacob lives his life largely. He makes some disastrous decisions, and pays for them. He deceives his brother Esau out of his birthright and then masquerades as Esau to trick his blind father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. He is then made the victim of deception as his uncle Laban—a much more accomplished trickster than Jacob—also substitutes one sibling for another, giving him Leah as his wife in place of his true love, Rachel. He loves one son above the others, causing hatred between his children. He comes to know love and fear and jealousy, anger and shame and awe and heartbreak. He has encounters, good ones and bad ones, human and divine.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob, returning to Canaan after his twenty years in Haran, has perhaps his most well-known encounter, with an unnamed divine being with whom he wrestles until daybreak, and over whom he finally prevails. He reconciles with his brother Esau, a meeting he anticipated with both dread and longing. Still later in the parashah, Jacob’s beloved Rachel dies giving birth to his last son, Benjamin, and only six verses later, we are told that Jacob went to his aged father Isaac at Hebron where, “Isaac was one hundred and eighty years old when he breathed his last and died”, and Jacob and Esau buried their father.

After the wrestling with the divine being, Jacob demands from him a blessing, and receives a new name, Israel, “for you have striven with beings divine and human and prevailed”. I believe that we could do far worse than to live life as our ancestor Jacob, who became Israel, lived it. Make mistakes and learn from them. Love and do not be afraid to be hurt by loving too well. Delve deeply and with passion into your relationships with God and with the people around you. In our work, we know all too well how short life can be and how much we cherish it when it is nearly gone. As we share Israel’s name, may we also share his legacy. Kein y’hi ratzon – so may it be God’s will.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From The Huffington Post

But This Is Different: Why I Created a Fictitious Love Affair Between Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead -- by Mary Walker Baron

In the push toward and pull away from cycles of social justice, same-sex relationships are closer than ever to becoming legally sanctioned on a national level. The pullback by religious and political conservatives across the land attest to the strength of those in the trenches of change steadfastly pushing toward that moment of ultimate equality. Despite all of our progress, though, teenagers are still bullied, often to the point of tragic death. And despite all of our progress, far too many men and women still grow old living secret lives on the margins of society. I am driven to give voice to those silenced by stigma.

With my novel, But This Is Different, I acknowledge and honor the struggle of any two women to find a place for their passion. While the story is fictional, the identities of my two women leap from history onto the pages of But This Is Different: Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead. Fiction is all about plumbing the question, "What if?" to all possible depths and directions. A decade ago, without any noticeable preamble, the question, "What if Margaret Mead and Amelia Earhart were lovers?" etched itself into the very core of my being. That question was followed almost immediately by another: "What if Earhart's disappearance was a ruse carefully orchestrated by both women so that they could live together away from the world's prying and judging eyes?"

History could hardly claim that either Earhart or Mead was without voice. Decades after her disappearance Amelia Earhart continues to captivate. Decades after her death, Margaret Mead still informs. The story's irony is that with public voices heard even now throughout the world, their private voices were as silent as those of any couple loving the love that even now struggles for a name. The "what if" joining of these two women, improbable though it seemed, haunted me until I finally had to step wholeheartedly into their world and write my book.

My initial research stunned me. From her brief tenure at Columbia University until her disappearance somewhere between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead were on a number of occasions in the same general locale at the same time. After the disappearance history documents in exacting detail Margaret Mead's many field trips to the South Pacific. During the final months of her life, Dr. Mead was visited frequently by a mysterious "healer" who disappeared when the iconic anthropologist died.

Even as I assured myself that But This Is Different was fiction born out of my imagination, I felt as though history was making room within itself for the story of two very famous women who just happened to, albeit fictionally, love each other. Of course, anyone who makes up a story must at least during the telling believe the story. And, of course, anyone witnessing the story must also, at least for the length of the story, believe it.

But This Is Different begins when Amelia Earhart is 80 years old. Amelia, or Mere, as she is known on the tiny, hidden island where she has lived in seclusion, is summoned to the bedside of the dying Margaret Mead and must decide whether or not to keep a promise made over 40 years earlier. By telling their story when both women are what society calls "old," I give voice to another all-too-often silent and silenced people. Moreover, because I am compelled to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised, But This Is Different also gives voice to our homeless, our veterans, and our mentally ill as its narrative guides us into a passion so intense that the oceans weep and the birds cease their singing.

Every compelling moment of But This Is Different takes place on an island. Islands, even the tropical paradises, separate us from the mainlands of our lives. Society's stigma can also exile us to emotional islands. A significant task individually and collectively should surely be bridging the oceans that separate us from each other and from ourselves.

I wrote But This Is Different not only to tell an amazing story but also to urge us all to dare to love and live with dignified courage, integrity, and commitment while honoring and discovering the very best humanity holds. Ultimately, then, we can, as did the Amelia Earhart of my imagination, sit in the cargo hold of a boat built from parts never intended to float and laugh because we know that all pure things the heart desires are ultimately possible.

My Pin Ball Machine Commute

Infrastructure is just one of those words we hear but have trouble getting. The infrastructure of what?
Here's a definition from Wikipedia: Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise,[1] or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function.[2] It can be generally defined as the set of interconnected structural elements that provide framework supporting an entire structure of development.
That helps.
So did this.
There are no longer any white lines separating the lanes on the 210 Freeway between Pasadena and Pomona. Well, there are a few here and there but not enough to make my commute any less bizarre and pin ball machine like. Seriously. For long stretches of the freeway there is absolutely no way to tell which lane you are in. I try to assume the vehicle in front of me is okay and so I follow it. So far this approach has worked.
This, in the scheme of things, shouldn't be that big of a deal to fix. And yet it's been going on for months and getting worse all the time.
Infrastructure = white paint.
Are we that broke?
And so tomorrow will be another pin ball machine commute to work and back.
Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No More Waiting

Whenever I go somewhere with my boy, and there are a bunch of other dads there with their sons, I feel sorry for their wives. Does the threat "Wait ‘til your father gets home!" even exist anymore? Looking at a bunch of men dressed like they’re in a teen hip hop video with their hats on backwards and wearing a cinched-up pair of enormously baggy, khaki shorts, I can hear the wives yelling, “When your father gets home, you’re both grounded for a week!”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hats Off To Hillary

The following is the address given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commemorating Human Rights Day, delivered today in Geneva.

Monday, December 5, 2011

When They Came For Me There Was No One Left

Just when we though the Republican clown car full of presidential hopefuls could not become any scarier, Stephen D. Foster Jr. reports this for

Here's the headline:

Three GOP Presidential Candidates Sign Pledge To Investigate LGBT Community
August 16, 2011 - By Stephen D. Foster Jr.

And here's the article:

Get ready for another round of McCarthyism. Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum have all signed a pledge to form a commission to investigate the LGBT community if elected President. This pledge was created by the National Organization For Marriage, and they have a history of extreme views against homosexuals and anyone who votes to extend marriage rights to them.

The pledge reads as follows.

I, [candidate name], pledge to the American people that if elected President, I will:

[...] establish a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage and to propose new protections, if needed.

In other words, the extreme right wing is going to persecute homosexuals on a whole new level if they have power after the 2012 Election. Homosexuals and supporters of marriage equality will be intimidated, interrogated, and stripped of their right to speak freely. The religious right wing has been allowed to push their un-American and unconstitutional agenda for far too long. Americans must push back. If we continue to do nothing, we could all be persecuted by this fanatical group.

When stuff like this is going on I think its essential to remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Whenever we first see injustice I believe we are duty bound to speak out and not be content to believe that someone else will do the talking for us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who Took The First Step To Solve This Problem?

If we follow the hearts of our children we might just get to where we need to be.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Super Hero Saturday

The boy and I decided we’re feeling super lazy this morning. Which is very much like normal lazy, but we’re also wearing capes. So, for the rest of the morning, please refer to us as, "Super Sloth, and his faithful ward, Lethargic Lad" (just don't ask us to solve any crimes or catch anybody beyond our reach).

Friday, December 2, 2011

We Were Graced

I went there as part of my work day.  A program I supervise was starting a support group on the premises.  I expected to check out a room and - if it was appropriate for the group - give it my okay and head back to my office.  I did not expect to be moved and inspired and motivated to do more and give more of myself and my own resources.
And so it was that early this morning I parked outside the Pomona Valley Christian Center on the corner of Garey and Ninth Streets in Pomona.  To get inside the church I had to wind my way through a crowd of the down and out -- men, women, dogs, shopping carts filled with worldly possessions, plastic trash bags containing the rest of the worldly possessions.  They were all waiting for breakfast.
Inside, I was introduced to Bishop Herbert S. Wilkins.  He was flipping pan cakes -- hundreds of pan cakes.  And he seemed so happy.
Last month this little church served one thousand six hundred eleven meals.  The month before, it served one thousand four hundred twenty-four meals.  On Thanksgiving day the church fed over one thousand people a sit down holiday meal.
On this day everyone got a plate of three pan cakes and a sausage.  Everyone.  When I was offered one of the last plates (everyone else had eaten), I sat down and ate.  I enjoyed every bite I took in large part because that meal symbolized more than hot cakes and syrup.  It symbolized the nourishment and the hope this little church provides every day proving that flour and milk and baking soda can become sacred.
Day in and day out anyone who is hungry can get a meal or two a day at this little church.  No questions asked.  "We were graced with a Muslim family on Thanksgiving day," a man holding a tray of plates told me.
We were graced.
The only place for our group was the sanctuary and it told the story of the church's mission.  On one wall there was a large cross.  On the other wall there was a large refrigerator.
I can't imagine a more appropriate place for people to gather for a group offering a different kind of support and nourishment.
We Were Graced.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Don't Forget That It's Still Here

Today is World AIDS Day.

 World AIDS Day this year is about “Getting to Zero.” Zero New HIV Infections.
Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.