The Message in the Ads

Well, it was quite a Super Bowl. (Yes, I’m late to the party.)  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to watch because I needed to be studying, but I relented and headed home from the library in time for the game.

I’ll leave the actual football commentary to others more invested in the sport.  I was rooting for Atlanta for reasons that had little to do with football, but despite my political differences with Tom Brady, I have to tip my hat to him for leading that comeback.

Now, enough about football.  It’s the Super Bowl, after all, so it’s all about the commercials.

There was a clear leftward tilt to this year’s crop of commercials.  From the pro-immigrant Budweiser ad, to the pro-diversity Coke ad, to the (sort of) pro-environment Kia ad, to the pro-gender pay equity Audi ad…you get the picture.

Then there was the ad that got censored.  I know pretty much nothing about 84 Lumber, but I could not help but go to their website to see the end of their ad.  If you missed it, the ad depicts a mother and young daughter making their way through Mexico. The ad makes it pretty obvious that they are not planning to walk through a border check point and present a green card to legally enter the U.S.  They hitch rides, hop into box cars, and ford rivers.  They camp out without tents, and rely on the kindness of strangers to remain hydrated in the desert. Along they way, the little girl collects random scraps of material that she finds. The ad ends with the mother and daughter camping in the desert and an invitation to visit the company’s website to see the rest of the ad.

The video on the website states that the material was deemed too controversial for TV.  We pick up the story of the mother and daughter as they continue their northward trek, but it’s now interspersed with scenes of, presumably American, workers building something, something big.  We find out, along with the mother and daughter that the project is a huge wall.  They reach the barrier and break down in tears.  The girl reaches into her backpack to reveal the tattered American flag she’s made with the scraps she’d been collecting along the way.

After a moment, the mother hears a sound and follows it around a bend in the wall to reveal a huge door.  The two enter and the ad ends with a message about the will to succeed always being welcome.

Trump supporters immediately criticized the ad, which is interesting, because it is not inconsistent with Trump’s stated policy.  There’s a wall with a door, just like he said there would be.  The door in the ad could easily be intended to represent a legal path to entry into the US.

However, even if it could reasonably be interpreted to be pro-wall, the ad does undermine Trump’s narrative.  It depicts individuals who plan to enter the country illegally, not as rapists, or murderers, or “bad hombres,” but as a mother and daughter looking for a better life.  I don’t think the ad is clearly pro-wall or anti-wall.  I think it goes with the other ads, affirming our shared humanity and the value in our diversity as a nation.

A lot of large companies spent a lot of money to promote that diversity on the largest stage in the nation, if not the world.  They could have spent that money aligning themselves with the racism and extreme nationalism of the current administration.  They did not. They chose to align themselves with the people in the streets opposing the administration.  Trump should take notice because we all know the number one rule for understanding politics:

Follow the money.







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Why I Went to the Demonstration.

It was Sunday afternoon. I found a desk at the library and settled in to write up a couple of assignments that were due in the next couple of days.  I figured that I had two and half hours to work before meeting Alissa and the kids for the church bowling party.  Then I would have the evening to continue working.

It was not long before I got a text from Alissa asking to me check my email.  She had forwarded me a message about that evening’s demonstration at Westlake Park in opposition to Trump’s immigration policies.  I knew about the demonstration.  I am on far too many progressive mailing lists, and my inbox, as well as my social media feeds are lit up like so many Christmas trees.  The left is on red alert, as well we should be.

I am under no illusions that Trump is a legitimate president.  He is not, but I’m not going to argue that here.  That fight was one for the transition period, and it’s over.  He’s in office, and that is the dangerous reality we need to accept.

I had minimal hopes that the end of the campaign would moderate Trump, causing him to dial back the populism to reassure the country and the world that the crazy bigotry was just for show.  That did not happen.

I had minimal hopes that the weight of the office would moderate him, that actually being in the Oval Office and realizing that he had become the heir to Washington, Lincoln, and both Roosevelts would make him feel the respect the awesome responsibility that came with the title. That did not happen.

At this point, we must reach one and only one conclusion.  On the campaign trail, Trump meant what he said and said what he meant.

He’s going to (try to) build the wall.

He’s going to (try to) ban Muslims and refugees.

He’s going to (try to) remove actual science from national policy on science.

I could go on and on, but I don’t think I’m saying things that informed people don’t already know.

My point is that we Americans are facing a serious crisis about who we are as a people.  Donald Trump and his administration are dangerous.  The man has no respect for democratic institutions like our first amendment freedoms. He has no regard for the human rights of immigrants, minorities, and refugees. He can’t accept disagreement or resistance.  That is incredibly dangerous.

That’s why my family and I went down to protest.  Trump needs to meet a wall of resistance, right out of the gate.  He can have no grace period or honeymoon.  We can’t give him a chance to govern, not with the policies he’s promoting. Most of all, we can’t let him get a strong foothold on political power.  The man is disputing the popular vote even when he “won” the election.  Can you imagine him accepting defeat in four years?

I know we’re all busy.  I know we’re all tired of our media feeds being filled with “political stuff,” but when you have a newly elected president being advised by a neo-Nazi and running plays right out of a fascist playbook, it’s time for anyone who believes in American democracy to step up and get engaged.

Speak up.  Let your voice be heard.

I guess that’s why I’m here, writing this now when I should be studying.  Silence is agreement, and I can’t be silent. You shouldn’t be either.

So, I guess “Great” Thoughts is back.


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Early Morning Excitement

Greetings everyone.  I’m on Spring Break, so I actually have a little bit of time to do a post.  Imagine that.  Actually, I hadn’t planned on jumping back into the blogging game for the foreseeable future, but I was presented with a stand alone, amusing anecdote.  How could I ignore such a gift?

So, what do you get when you cross a retriever and a herding dog?  Apparently you get what happened this morning.  Sometime around 4 this morning, Jet, our 9 month old lab/cattle dog mix, started barking.  I wasn’t was about, but it stopped soon enough and I went back to sleep until my first alarm at 5:45.  As is normal, I shut that off to await for my 6:00 alarm.

However, before the appointed hour rolled around, I heard Jet barking and scratching at the door, so I got up to let him out.  I think I picked up on the fact that he was actually barking at something in our yard a split second too late, because just as he shot out the door, I had visions of raccoons and coyotes and vet bills.

But, I was too late.  Jet shot out the door and across the yard, clearly in pursuit of something.  He caught it.  It meowed.  As the action moved into the circle of light cast by the motion-activated floodlight, Jet’s quarry was revealed.  It was Merry, our indoor cat.  She must have snuck out hours earlier when we had left the back door open to let Jet do his business as Alissa and I watched an old Ally McBeal episode.  (Two points on that: 1) There was a specific reason for our viewing choice,  and 2) that was an odd little show.)

Anyway, back to the action.  Jet had quickly caught Merry and was dragging her back inside by the scruff of her neck, much to her disapproval.

The dog was herding the cat.

(Yes, I know that he actually retrieved her, but a dog herding a cat carries much more irony, so I’m going with that.)

This is Jet when he wasn’t big enough to herd or retrieve a cat.


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2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Next Great Adventure

It was a Monday night in early July.  The kids were in bed, and Alissa and I were talking.  The conversation rambled here and there.  We talked about our jobs a bit, and the kids, of course.  We were just settling into a summer that had started off in a manner that was anything but relaxing, owing to a nasty sewer problem, but that was all in the past.

The day before had been a little crazier than normal.  As is probably relatively common, our church asks people who don’t normally volunteer in children’s ministries to take a turn or two during the summer in order to give the regulars a break.   Alissa had taken a couple of turns in the preschool room in order to do her part.  That same Sunday, I had been taking my normal turn teaching tweens and middle schoolers.

At one point, in our meandering conversation, Alissa looked at me questioningly.  “Hey, why don’t you get a summer break?”

Given the gravity of my answer, I probably should have taken at least a little time to respond.  I didn’t.  In fact my answer was out of my mouth before I even thought about it.

“I don’t want one.”

Alissa sat up, shifting from relaxed to alert.  “Maybe we should do something about that.”

The conversation was no longer meandering across the plains of post bedtime debriefing.  Rather, it was suddenly rushing through a canyon of purposeful processing to rapidly climax in a cascade of decision.

By the time we went to bed, the decision was all but made.  I was going to be a teacher.

More accurately, I was going to seriously look into what needed to happen for me to become a teacher and,  barring the identification of some impossible barrier right at the outset, I was going to start taking the steps necessary to put myself in a classroom.  (There are quite a few of those, by the way.)

The idea of me becoming a teacher is not a new one.  Obviously, it has revolved about me teaching “secondary or college” history or social studies.  I would be doing something that has meaning and that I am passionate about.  Nobody I’ve told has even blinked at the idea of me as teacher. For some reason, the kids are excited at the prospect.

The next day, found me poking around the internet at lunch to see what I could find in terms of teaching programs, just to see what I was facing.  I found an information session scheduled for that very afternoon in West Seattle. Incidentally, I am terribly unfamiliar with West Seattle, as I found out after arranging for the kids to be picked up from camp by a friend.  But, I made it.

That particular session was for a very exciting looking UW program.  Unfortunately, it involved not getting paid for a year.  Clearly I was in need of something that would let me keep my job.  as long as possible.

Still, the ball was rolling.  Research led to an inquiry.  Inquiry led to a meeting.  The meeting led to an “Approved Plan of Study” for getting endorsements in History and English Language Arts.

Apparently, a lot of middle schools put English and History or Social Studies in a single block that you need both endorsements to teach. I was surprised by how excited I became at the prospect of teaching English.

It amazes me how much there is to do before even applying for admission to the program I’m seeking out.  There are about 9 undergrad classes I need for my endorsement, 7 of which are history and literature. They are not the easiest to find such classes that are a) not on weekdays and b) eligible for Finanicial Aid, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got most of a plan figured out.

There are tests to take and transcripts to retrieve.  Not all of it has gone smoothly, but the pieces have begun to fall together. .

I was told that some volunteer experience would strengthen my application.  I was surprised at how long it took to set that up, but once I began observing a junior high history class (as well as math, English and science classes), I knew that I was on on the right track.  I was impressed with the dedication of the teachers and the insightfulness of the students, and I find myself eagerly anticipating Thursdays when I can step back into the classroom.

As for those classes?  Well, those start next week.  I’ll be taking Pacific Northwest History, Intro to Communication, and 20th Century US History, and I’m chomping at the bit to get started.  I eagerly await the arrival of my books and keep checking the online class interface hoping for something…a syllabus,  a message from the professor, anything… to pop into the empty fields.

Of course I’m nervous.  Will I be able to pull all this off?  Will I be a better student now than I was in my undergraduate days?  Can I write well enough to pass a test? Is this the right journey for me?

Yes, I’m nervous, but in the best possible way.

Just a couple of weeks prior to that Monday night, it was my turn to share my story with our church small group.  One of my concluding remarks was that I was still unsure what I wanted to do when I grew up, even at 42.  Still, I’ve always known that there is something more in store for me than what I’m doing, something more meaningful.

I was right.  

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The Political Case for Bernie Sanders


You’re probably wondering why I titled this post the way I did.  It’s pretty simple, actually.  Please allow me to illustrate.

Back in 2008, the last time there was an open Democratic field running for the party’s presidential nomination, I took a couple of those quizzes on Facebook that purport to tell you which candidate most represents your views. I’m sure you’ve seen them, or even taken them.  Invariably, the candidate that I most agreed with would come up as Dennis Kucinich, and you know, that was probably accurate.  I never voted for Kucinich because I never considered him electable.  He was far left.  He had no record of success outside the liberal enclave that elected him, and some of his ideas, like the Department of Peace, sounded like nice ideas that had no practical weight behind them.  In short, the quiz only addressed policy and not politics, and as much as many people consider politics a dirty word, it is a critically important factor in elections.  Go figure.

This brings us to 2016.  I’m willing to stipulate that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both strong, if not identical, progressives.  I believe that either would make an excellent president, both objectively, and certainly in comparison to whoever is the last man (sorry…it’s not going to be Carly Fiorina) standing when the GOP Clown Bus pulls into Cleveland next summer.

So the case for Bernie is not about policy, although I do side with him in most areas where he and Hillary differ.  It’s all about political strategy.

First, we need to look at the big picture.  It’s not about the White House.  It’s about Congress.  A Democratic president needs a Democratic Congress. That much is obvious from the experience of the Obama administration.  If the Republicans have any power, even just to filibuster, they will use it to derail any policy that they do not support, and even some that they do because a Democrat can’t be allowed credit for a successful policy.  Don’t believe me? Look up the origins of the key points of Obamacare.  Their genesis was with the Heritage foundation and the individual mandate was first proposed by Nixon before being implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.

Without a Democratic Congress, a Clinton presidency or a Sanders presidency would meet with the same level of obstruction as Obama’s presidency. So Democrats need a wave, and big one.

Where are Democrats going to that kind of groundswell of support?  It’s not in the center among swing voters.  It’s in the Democratic base.  It’s in the large majorities that support progressive positions by margins north of sixty percent.

How do you mobilize that base?  Bernie.

It is quite conceivable that Hillary could win a low turnout general election.  In such a case, we’d find ourselves with a Republican Congress and a Democratic President that Republicans have been attacking incessantly for 23 years.  Can we really expect change in that scenario?  Can we really expect anything to get done?  She’d have to burn political capital just to get her cabinet confirmed.

On the other hand, in the face of the Koch Brothers and the Republican super PACs, the only way Bernie can hope to win a general election would be with a truly massive grassroots mobilization.  He cannot hope to compete on the same terms as the organized money on the right.  He needs to play to his strength which is organized people.  That’s why 100,000 of his supporters turned out at over 3500 gatherings in all 50 states last night to begin this organizing in earnest.  (I was helping to umpire Harry’s baseball game, so I couldn’t go to one.)

It sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  How hard would Bernie’s supporters have to work to overcome all the frustration and cynicism directed at our broken political system?  How can a guy who refuses to have a super PAC compete with the billion dollars the Koch brothers plan to use in 2016?

Well, the neat thing is that to go up against the Republicans, Bernie has to beat Hillary first.  She’s well-funded and has a tremendous political organization.  But she’s beatable, and the act of defeating her (and bringing her supporters into the fold) sets Bernie up to go up against the GOP with the full weight of the Democratic Party behind him.  If Bernie can beat Hillary, it means the wave is on its way.  It means that Bernie’s support will have national reach and the kind of depth that can reach down-ballot into the legislative races that Democrats need to win to take back Congress.

But what if Bernie doesn’t win?  What if Hillary gets the nomination?  Does a primary challenge hurt her?

Absolutely not.  Bernie’s already said that he will actively support the Democratic nominee.  That means, that if Bernie builds a movement that creates a big primary challenge to Hillary, that movement will still be there in support of Hillary.  That’s the beauty of a good primary season (as opposed to whatever is going on with the 17 Republicans).  It lets the party organize.  That’s what Hillary needs to get the kind of legislature she can work with.  So Hillary should be welcoming Bernie and should commit to a high-minded and robust primary campaign in support of progressive values.  It’s a win-win.

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Standing with Teachers

My dad retired when I was twelve, about 3 months before I finished 7th grade.  He and my mom both had full careers  working for the County of Los Angeles and represented by the Service Employees International Union.  It’s a pretty strong union, and I don’t recall any significant work actions, strikes or otherwise, while I was growing up.  I don’t recall my parents having to walk picket lines.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  I just don’t recall it happening.

But, for my dad, the concept of solidarity went beyond paying union dues and being ready to strike if called.  He fought the building of Dodger Stadium because it displaced a working class Latino community in Chavez Ravine.  We didn’t eat grapes for years as an act of solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  He taught me the word boycott, and with my mom, taught me the value of standing up for social justice.

During my secondary school years, my teachers, represented by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, engaged in several work actions.  I recall a couple of one day walk outs, and some informational pickets, and one major strike that went for 9 days while I was in 10th grade.

On days when the teachers were out, the union called on parents to send their kids to school anyway because the absence of the students would negatively impact some element of the school’s funding formula and cause it to lose much needed money.

So I went to school.  I’d see my teachers picketing, walking up and down the sidewalk.  An right there with them, I’d see my dad, and our dog, a bearded collie named Maggie.  Just as with those families in Chavez Ravine and the UFW, my dad, known as “the man with the dog,“ was demonstrating his solidarity with my teachers, and by extension, the whole school community.

That was 25 years ago. Now, I’m not a student, but a parent.  On Monday, May 11, the Shoreline Education Association,  my children’s teachers, staged a one day strike.  It was not against the district or the school. It was part of a series of rolling walkouts being staged by teachers’ unions across the State of Washington to insist that our state legislature listen to the will of the voters and the orders of our state Supreme Court and fully fund our Washington’s K-12 education system.

There are a number of issues at hand.  There are cost of living adjustments to teacher compensation. There is the voter-approved initiative 1351.  It calls for reduced class size.  It’s been ignored by the legislature.  And there’s the McCleary decision, a court order in which the Washington Supreme Court found that the state was failing in it’s primary purpose, as described in Article IX of the Washington Constitution.

SECTION 1 PREAMBLE. It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

The legislature has been so unresponsive to the court’s decision that it has been held in contempt of court.  Action on that contempt citation is pending based on the results of this year’s legislative session.

The House is controlled by the Democrats, while the Senate is controlled by Republicans.  Both have passed budgets that fund education.  The House finds money in an estate tax on millionaires and by closing a number of big business tax loopholes.  The Senate package finds money with cuts to the social safety net (which ultimately comes back to hurt schools) and by taking control of teacher health benefits out of the hands of local districts and consolidating them under a state-level bureaucracy that doesn’t enhance the benefits at all.  (I know.  I don’t get it either.)

So when we got the message that our district was going to participate in rolling walkouts, what was the son of “the man with the dog” to do?

Naturally, I took the day off.  I couldn’t quite get the kids out the door early enough to do sign waving, but there was time for Annie to make a sign and for us to join our teachers at their rally.

Making her sign.

Making her sign.

Off to the rally!

Off to the rally!

We pulled up to the park and joined the sea of red clad teachers.  Ultimately we found our school’s contingent and stood with the kids’ teachers.  We listened to various speakers: teacher, staff members, parents, students, and union leaders, united in the cause of education.

Teachers and supporters gather.

Teachers and supporters gather.


Listening to the speakers.

Listening to the speakers.

Harry and Annie with their teachers.

Harry and Annie with their teachers.

The kids listened.  Annie steadfastly held her sign, although I adjusted her grip a couple of times so she wouldn’t hit her teacher.  She wouldn’t lower her creation.  I was really proud of both of them.

She would not lower her sign!

She would not lower her sign!

What I did with my kids on Monday was not a grand gesture.  I wasn’t the only parent, although I wish there had been more of us.  They weren’t the only kids, and that’s okay.  They got a lesson that day.  It was a lesson, albeit a small one, in community, in solidarity, in civics, and in self-advocacy.  And they got outside to play in the park.

No, none of the three of us did anything grand on Monday.  We were just three voices among many speaking out for the future of education in our state  It’s easy to think that doesn’t make a difference.  But our voices, joined with the hundreds in that park and thousands in parks across the state, when married with purpose and commitment can and will make a difference.

I listen to a Pete Seeger station on Pandora, and occasionally, I’ll hear old union anthems.  One of them, Solidarity Forever, asks “What force on Earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”

It’s easy to stop there.  It’s easy to think one person, one voice doesn’t make a difference in modern politics and policy making, and there are some who want us to think that.  They’re not on your side, whatever side you may think you’re on.

But it’s not true. The greatest safeguard of democracy is the participation of the people.  We just need to show up, all of us, even in small ways, joining in small groups that get bigger and stronger with each addition, to make our voices heard.  That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids.  It’s what was taught to me by my mom and my dad, in words and in actions.

Like walking the dog on a picket line with my teachers.

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