Friday, January 20, 2012

The day the circus (finally) left town

First, a caveat: I’m reviewing last night’s final televised Republican debate from an entertainment perspective. Like an ancient Roman sports reporter who is reviewing a gladiatorial match and knows in advance that most of the participants will die, but understands that’s just the job description. So, assume I either don’t care or don’t trust or don’t understand the content of the debate, I’m just here to talk about the show-bidness aspects.
That said, Oh what a circus! Oh what a show!

Uncle Newtie really got things off to a wild start by turning the opening question about his new revelations about his sordid personal life—based on the latest political news that only broke a few hours earlier—back on the Media and served up the moderator to the, eh, typically enthusiastic GOP crowd.

On the one hand, starting the debate with that question could be reasonably considered a cheap shot in the cold hard light of day. But politics is a blood-sport, and nobody on that stage last night understood that better than Gingrich. The fact that his audience lapped up his stunningly false piety tells you more about the South Carolina Republican faithful than it does about the candidate.

Speaking of the crowd, they were better behaved than most of the previous debates’ crowds, but maybe that’s only because since Herman Cain dropped out, these distinguished South Carolinians didn’t have to look at a Black man on stage for two hours. Why, I declare, that would lift any decent gentleman’s spirits…

On the other hand, it’s the media’s job to stir up shit, for the audience-at-home to observe and evaluate how the politicos handle it. And the way Newt handled it spoke volumes. In a Newt administration, questions by the press will not only be ignored, but the questioners themselves will be attacked instead.

Can you say “Nixon’s Enemy List?”

The Nixon comparisons don’t stop there, either. Both famously petulant, with persecution complexes mixed with delusions of grandeur (to which Gingrich cheerfully admitted last night, even though the first definition of grandiose, according to Webster, is “characterized by affectation of grandeur or splendor or by absurd exaggeration”), a slicker-than-average deftness with disingenuity and obfuscation; Newt Gingrich is definitely the Richard Nixon of the 21st Century.

Credit to Newt though, he nailed that opening question’s answer—killed it—all the way down to the timing. Does he want to answer this goddamned question about the most recent dirt to come to light about his malodorous personal ethics? “No. [pregnant pause while crowd goes nuts, then] But I will.” And the crowd went even more nuts. That line will not be better-executed by any professional thespian in any of the TV-movies they will make about this primary season.

Plus it followed the current Republican playbook to the letter (something else of which the crowd wholly approved). Tough question? Throw the Media-Elite questioner on the barbie. It’s always a sure-fire way to divert attention from awkward, pesky facts at right-wing events.

Most of the night, former front-runner Mitt Romney looked like he’d just eaten bad cheese, as well he should have. Gingrich wiped the floor with him. He demonstrated that he can not only talk policy circles around Romney, but he’s smart enough to effortlessly BS his way through most tight rhetorical spots; see his feeding of John King to the GOP faithful last night, for example.

Gingrich is definitely the guy the GOP (and TV viewers) ought to want debating Cool Customer Obama later this year. When he doesn’t wander off-topic and start self-aggrandizing, he’s the second most solid debater in the group (more on Ron Paul soon—I like to save the best for the last).

The biggest gaffe of the night? Romney’s. When he again revealed that his money is his Achilles Heel. He’s trying to woo voters—90+% of whom won’t make in a lifetime what he brings home in investment returns last year alone—in a dismal economy, and every time his money comes up, he flounders like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. And only when his money comes up. That frozen, pained, rictus-like ‘smile’ on his face vanishes, his eyes goggle out and he begins to stammer. When prodded again yesterday about releasing his income tax returns, he was caught flat-footed by the moderator’s suggestion that he follow his father’s lead and release his last 12 years worth of records. Romney freaked! I’m sure PBS has added it to the montage they already have of Mitt stumbling over his wallet while on the stump. And as flubs go, what a fitting finale it was. It was Mitt Romney’s Rick Perry moment, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for his presidential aspirations.

Plus Gingrich played Romney like a Stradivarius all night, releasing his tax returns an hour into the debate, allowing him to claim the moral high ground while on TV, but before any of the actual details of said returns could come to light.

Rick Santorum, handicapped by lack of a sweater vest (debate rule?) and real-world command of the issues… Okay, full disclosure, I hate this guy. Mostly for political differences, but he seems like the kind of guy who would raise his hand and tell teacher if he saw somebody passing a note in class; the kind of guy if I saw him getting beat up on the schoolyard, I wouldn’t call for the safety monitor. He just rubs me the wrong way.

That said, he put in a great performance last night. I don’t give a shit what he was saying, but his delivery was beautiful. Unfortunately for Santorum, debating before a bipartisan crowd of non Bible-thumping independent, critical-thinking voters, Obama would eat him alive, a fact which Fox News makes sure to remind their viewers of every day (in the nicest possible way, of course).

And seriously, can it possibly be a coincidence that the most preening, sanctimonious asshole of the bunch is named Santorum? I’m thinking his name might hold some meaning in addition to the popular Google definition.

Finally, Ron Paul. The last honest man. The only man on the stage to take the “self” out of self-righteous. One thing the crowd got right last night was raising a ruckus when CNN tried to move on to another question before giving Paul a chance to respond to the current question—about medical coverage! As Paul was finally allowed to point out, as the only retired sawbones among them, perhaps he had some opinions on health care, too.

Then in the time allocated to him, he made the same whacko arguments he’s been making for his entire term as a Congressman, and doing it eloquently, forcefully and (mistake!) without speaking down to the audience.

Bless his heart, Ron Paul is both the craziest and most consistent guy in the bunch. The Boy was watching with me in my office for a while, and when Paul was allowed to speak, I said, “See that man? I don’t agree with what he says, but he’s honest, tells the truth as he believes it and his commitment never wavers.” Without missing a beat, the kid goes, “He’ll never be President.” “Nope,” I agreed.

And there you have it. The debate circus has finally pulled out of town and it seems the GOP are down to two choices: Romney and Gingrich. The Big Money Guys are backing Romney all the way, but this election cycle, for once it may not be the Big Money Guys who end up calling the shots.

Ironically, thanks to the gullibility of the majority of the Republican base, the GOP stands a chance of actually getting—as I like to believe the Founders intended—a major-party presidential nominee that will have been put into place by the people, not Citizens United and K Street power-brokers.

That may not be good for the Dems come November, but as an exercise in democracy, it would be invaluable for the country.

And additionally... Oh, what a show that would be!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day From Hell

I used to like the snow a lot more when The Missus was responsible for both dropping off and picking up The Boy...

Without further ado:

This one was taken before sunrise.

The Red Car was about as grateful for the snow as I was.

But it did make for cool snowy trees.

Click for the full-size image. Totally worth it.
The other snowy tree picture, too.

White snow = okay to eat.

La Casa Bastardson at a glance.

Future-Ninja Daddy

The Boy continues his maturity-spurt.

With the inciting playground traumas that drove him to seek extracurricular activities getting farther behind him, his motivation—and enthusiasm—looked like it was beginning to wane there for a few minutes.

Friday, we went on a blind playdate at an indoor mega-playground with one of his teacher’s sons, who also has issues of social reticence. They hit it off great. We stayed waaay longer than I wanted to, and The Boy conquered his fear his crazy tall, slick, enclosed slides. Kicked its ass completely and repeatedly. Another confidence glitch fallen by the wayside.

Then he came through his first gymnastics class with want-to intact Monday night, so it looks like that’s squared away.

But he was a little bit grumpy today about being rushed to Taikwondo class right after school, indicating it would be really fine with him if we stayed home instead.

I had to remind him why were doing this in the first place, and that he had agreed to see at least the initial 10-lesson plan through. We talked some more a few of the critical areas in the last lesson where he could improve this time and how he could do that. We practiced in the front room. He really seemed to take pleasure in pounding my open palms with his fists as hard as he could.

Then at class tonight, he just blossomed. Right from the start, his focus, seriousness and concentration had made a quantum leap since the previous lesson. And at this stage of the game—as I told him on the drive out—all he has to do is show up, follow instructions, and he’ll advance.

And I guess he heard me. You’ve either seen the video above or rolled your eyes and decided to skip it (perfectly understandable), but compared to the clip below, he’s a whole new Tiny Tiger.

Before class, it still took a little arm-twisting to get him into his Taikwondo uniform; afterwards, he didn’t want to take it off all night, even when nature called. He’s ready to drive through blizzard conditions—in the forecast—to make it to his next lesson on Thursday. He can’t wait.

Me either. Today was a good day to be Fang, Sr.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Craftslete sleeps tonight

The Boy woke up screaming last night.

It was 2 a.m. on the dot. I was in my office, watching Colombo on DVD and ruminating on mortality… you know, the usual.

I was thinking about how after The Boy’s brush with victimhood at school, that he and we were tackling the problem head-on. He’s exhibiting moxy that I knew always had to be there, but had been dormant before.

He’s tackling Taikwondo again, and he’s taking it seriously. He had his pledge memorized between the first lesson and the second. He’s taking part and following directions. I can hear his voice above the other kids’ from time to time. And he only begins to flag toward the end of the lesson, when he just plain gets tired. We need to work on his stamina.

Which is where gymnastics will come in. The Missus suggested it and I think it’s a great idea. There’s a place right down the street that The Boy and I reconned today, and he loved it. First lesson Monday. If he hits that as hard as he has the Martial Arts… man, is he gonna be tired. And strong.

And God willing, confident.

And I realized that with all these new activities, we were turning him into a Big Little Kid (maybe a Little Big Kid?) that much quicker. With every effort we make to better prepare him for the world, we’re just placing one more layer of the world between him and us.

I can’t emphasize how special this kid is. There is not a single other like him in his peer group at school, not even the girls. He thinks in three-dimensions and is fascinated by nature and numbers (but not reading), and wants to make crafts for a living when he grows up. I was managing a meltdown the other day—ie: he was fire-engine red and screaming and I was talking quietly while I restricted privileges, one by one—until he howled, “You won’t let me do crafts ever again, and that’s what I want to do when I grow up!!”

Well, I had no idea. I knew he loves to make crafts with The Missus (see photo of craft table, top), but this was the first time he had expressed a specific interest related to his future. The Mathlete who has thought in 3D since toddlerhood wants to grow up to make cool stuff from common household items for a living. A popsicle stick to him isn’t a potential hazard to the Simple Dog,* it’s a canvas for his next flight of fancy.

My Dad would be appalled.

But this is the kid I want! I don’t frankly give a single fuck if he’s a chimp on the monkey bars or a demon on the baseball field. I was nothing like that either. But I did have a very thick skin by his age—physically and metaphorically—and had already learned to fend for myself in almost any circumstance. The Boy, on the other hand, has been brought up in a hazy, warm glow of constant love and encouragement. He doesn’t have the mad self-defense chops I had at his age. I worry that as bad as the world fucked me up, it’ll do worse to him unless we toughen him up, pronto.

And drive another wedge between us and his childhood which we have held so dear.

He and I read every day now. We go for walks around the block and play with walkie-talkies. We play board games and word games. I’ve set up a laptop for him with internet access and everything, and am looking for a proper school desk I can put in my office.

I figure until kids wise up and start playing with him at school, I couldn’t deny him my friendship at home. I’ll back off as soon as his personal life picks up. I’m sure he’ll see to it.

Which brings me back to tonight. I’m trying to train him to sleep through the night without wetting his bed. Toward that end, I got him a kick-ass Darth Vader alarm clock. I thought he would use the regular alarm function, but instead he’s chosen the creepy theme music and breathing of Darth Vader as his alarm to wake him up in the middle of the night to lighten his bladder. And every once in a while, the scary alarm noise catches him in a bad place and he wakes up screaming like the devil himself is on his tail. And that happened again tonight.

Like I said, I was up watching the first of the final run of Colombo episodes—feeling sad that we lost Peter Falk last year, thus the musings on mortality—when the screaming began. I beat The Missus in there by about 5 seconds, and she started out from a sound sleep. She came up, comforted the boy, saw I was fixing to deal with it, and went back to bed. I sat on his bed with him in my arms, our temples pressed together. I called him a butt-knuckle. Then I placed our foreheads together and whispered, “Let’s go potty.”

I waited for him outside the bathroom door. (I usually let the alarm wake him, then appear by his bedside when he’s done his business and tuck him back in, delivering a kiss to the top of his head, the back of his neck and a fanny pat.) But tonight I sensed he’d need a little more. I took his hand and he leaned his head against my arm, still slightly trembling. I stroked the back of his hand with my thumb and led him again to bed. I silently tucked him in and then, uncharacteristically for me, climbed in beside him and spooned with him till his breathing evened out.

That’s what I’m giving up, shoving him out of the nest as hard as I am. I know it’s what is best for him so I will continue, but with every advance he makes, another layer of my heart floats away on the breeze like a shed skin. The day will come when he doesn’t need me at all. I will have succeeded at the most important objective in my life and it will finish off what is left of my heart.

As long as he’s happy, I’m happy.

* Thanks and a tip o the hat to the blogger from whom I snitched this term.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The World: 1, Sweetness: Zero

Our son is officially the sweetest kid I’ve ever known.

And no, that’s not working out well for him at school. Not at all. Not even in Kindergarten.

He might as well be the new Amish kid in Silicon Valley.

There is an innocent quality about him that has already made him a vector for schoolyard abuse. Worse, he hasn’t even started to draw the bullies’ attention yet, just his “friends.”

Friday, when I picked him up from school, he reported glumly that no one played with him all day. Usually he doesn’t have much to say on the ride home, but he volunteered this. With a little prodding, he went on to reveal that after a spat over lining-up with a female classmate, they got into a physical confrontation; he used the word “karate” to describe the fight. Worse, he reported that she was better at karate than he was. There was crying [him], there was adult intervention, and all the kids lining up must have seen it. During the next recess he got into another altercation, which reportedly began with a verbal exchange of unknown nature. He said the other boy, whom I also know to be a generally decent kid, hit and kicked him repeatedly, including punching him in the crotch with the expected result. We asked if the other kid could have thought they were engaging in roughhouse play, or whether he thought he was trying to make him sad [had malicious intent], and The Boy indicated the latter.

He’s normally a pretty happy kid. Over the past week he has been reluctant to go to school, and now The Missus and I understand why.

Of course, we’re only hearing one side of the story, but our kid embellishes less than most. And when he does, it’s usually the kind of wild flights of fancy that even his peers can see through (The Boy: “I can control people’s minds!” Bored friend: “Oh yeah? Control mine.”)… and cue the abuse.

But lying to deceive? Nope. The same innocence that is getting his ass handed to him on the playground also makes him a pretty reliable witness, even where his own interests are concerned.

We talked to him again tonight about why kids might be mean to him when he considers himself such a nice kid. We reminded him it’s not his fault, but said there are things he can do to diminish the possibility of verbal and physical altercations. Specifically, we talked about confidence, which is something he sorely lacks on the playground, and he expressed a proactive interest in taking another run at Taekwondo--not to gain any potential fighting skills, but [my paraphrase here and I may be embellishing] for confidence-building and to learn to deal assertively but non-violently with his peer group. To make the inevitable pack have to turn their attention to the next poor schmuck. And maybe be straight enough in his own head to befriend his unlucky successor, and give him or her a smoother ride than he got.

But between now and then, the rough ride is going to be his. Yet despite the fact that this has been suddenly brought to his attention, he continues to try to make nice with his tormenters.

For instance? One former “friend” who has been particularly mean to him lately walked with us for a way on the other side of the chain link fence as we left school Friday, then spun around and leaned his back against the fence and folded his arms when The Boy tried to say goodbye. Pretty dick-move, right? The Boy called out “Bye!” to him anyhow and blew him a kiss. A while later I asked why he did that if the kid was being mean to him, and he looked at me with sad, confused eyes, “I wanted to make him feel good.”

Before he told me this, my brain was filling in the likely answer… “I wanted him to like me” or “I wanted him to be my friend,” some variation of that. When he said what he said, it blew my mind. It’s gonna be tough keeping all that sweetness intact under the toughened outer layer he needs to develop.

But Taekwondo starts Tuesday and as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to find the information for the community gymnastics program that apparently I had a month ago and lost, and enroll him in it, too.

We are going to fix this. He is not going to repeat The Missus and my lifetime of playground ignominies. One particularly dodgy year, the biology teacher let me stay in his class during lunch for a semester and work on poster projects for his walls, in order to protect me from bullies.*

This will not be my son’s fate.

I was so worried when I let him bail on his first crack at martial arts, maybe a year-and-a-half ago. I knew he should have stuck with it, but didn’t want to make martial arts a “thing” between us the way Little League was with me and my Dad. Not having made a “thing” of it, now that he needs something like that, he’s happy to give it another try.


We’ve got our work cut out for us, but now that The Boy is on the same page as we are and is finally engaged, I expect big things. When he gets determined, things get done. Taught him to tie his shoelaces in ten or fifteen minutes this weekend. And there’s not much like getting karate-ed by a girl and punched in the nuts by a boy within an hour of each other to make even a six-year-old take a closer look at the path he’s on. He’s stubborn, but not intransigent.

Parent/teacher/kid conference coming up this week. Didn’t think it would start this soon, but in a way, I’m glad it did. It may still be early enough to repair his reputation, which will be important if he ends up going to this school for any length of time.

I remember being sensitive like him as a kid, and now I’m remembering why I stopped.


* In my defense, I had misguidedly antagonized the bullies first by portraying unfortunately dead-on caricatures of them demonstrating clearly effeminate mannerisms in the school newspaper’s comic strip, but at the time, I thought this was still America!