Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ratzinger flees sinking ship

And other shocking revelations that ought to come as no great surprise...

Maybe the pope really is quitting for health reasons. I mean, he’s looked like a sickly villain out of a Bond film from day one and hasn’t aged particularly gracefully since. Maybe what I took for nature taking its toll on his natural boyish glowering looks was actually evidence of a losing battle with ill-health.

But it still doesn’t pass the smell test because it’s the pope’s job to die in office. It’s like the last line of the Pope Contract. The job security on this gig makes Supreme Court justices look like migrant workers lined up outside a Home Depot.

The news reports all agree it’s been 600 years since a pope quit. Again, probably because all popes know that their last official act is supposed to be dying in office. Then with the mourning period, the conclave of cardinals, the white wisp of smoke… We’ve all read Dan Brown. We know how it works.

And popes milk their lifetime gigs. For 600 years now, not a one of them has said, “Gee, I’m getting a little long in the tooth. Maybe I should slow down and enjoy my golden years. Turn the store over to someone younger, with fresh ideas.”

So why did this pope break with tradition? The new plan still involves him dying on Vatican grounds, just at a cloistered nunnery within, instead of on the golden throne.

The question arises unbidden: What is the advantage of going from spiritual leader of umpteen million human beings and being one of the richest men in the world… to moving in with a bunch of sexually-repressed women who aren’t even allowed to speak? At a job where it’s part of your job description to get sick and die while in office anyhow?

I gotta think it’s the whole not-speaking part. The last thing I heard about this pope were allegations of his own first-hand complicity in shuffling suspect priests off to unsuspecting new communities in the pedophile scandal that I expect will ultimately financially destroy the Catholic church.

My suspicion is it’s more than Ratzinger not wanting to preside over the demise of the venerable institution; I think he doesn’t want to be the smoking gun that causes its extinction.

I can’t think of a better place to dodge both extradition and media attention than a cloistered nunnery on the grounds of the Vatican, officially its own country since 1929 when it was declared so by Benito Mussolini. (Yes, that Benito Mussolini.)

Out of the public eye, this pope is guaranteed to take any secrets he has with him to the grave. Out of the papacy, he won’t put a pope’s face on the public scandal that is convulsing the church.

Nicely played, sir.

But without trying to be unkind, if you absolutely had to put a face to a centuries-long pedophilia cover-up, you could do worse than this one:

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Gawking Dead

After the latest—ongoing now—spate of horrific acts of gun violence, people in power are finally talking about doing something about it. They’ve narrowed the problem down to three components: the Media (an omnibus category apparently composed mostly of Hollywood Job Creators who voted for Barack Obama), mental health and the reigning third rail of American politics, guns.

I’ve already looked at guns in this space and put them at the top of the to-do list.

I don’t know what to do about the mental health aspect of the problem. Fix crazy? Fix crazy and the problem goes away. But everyone has tried to fix crazy at some point, either in their own lives or that of a friend or loved one. How did that work out for you?

Alternatively, are doctors going to be required to report patients who meet a government-determined profile? Will there be anything like due process, a fair question in this, the golden age of unmanned drone strikes? How about camps? And how crazy, exactly, will be too crazy? Wearing tour t-shirts after May?

It’s crazy. The simple fact is, you just cannot crack down on future-crime. Without resorting to a dystopian police state utilizing technology that doesn’t yet exist, future-crime is going to remain darn near impossible to head off at the pass.

I’ve added an additional, separate class to the list of culpable parties: news/entertainment-news. Media outlets from CNN to Entertainment Tonight to NBC Nightly News could exercise responsible editorial restraint and cover that day’s spree killing without doing an entire package on the shooter, his life story and what drove him to do what he did. I can save you the time, ‘news’ people: The guy was nuts and he had access to a tool made for killing. That’s the common thing about all these shooters. Let’s talk about that instead of lionizing these clowns for posterity.

You’ll never see a shooter’s name in one my columns. Ever.

That leaves the entertainment media, and they’re the ones I’ve come to damn today. Because they’re the ones who could start doing something today.

Everybody cries, “Hands off the media! First Amendment, First Amendment!” And by everybody, I mean mostly the same people who are working feverishly to limit the reach of the Second Amendment.

(How come nobody ever complains about the Third Amendment, the one about citizens being required to house troops in times of war? I guess it’s true—everybody does like a man or woman in uniform.)

But all the conservative voices that are wrong on almost everything else—if one judges by recent national elections—are right about the media’s culpability in helping create a society desensitized to violence.

When Night Of The Living Dead came out in 1968, it was rated X. Its scenes of people eating people were considered too repulsive and over-the-top for anybody but adults high enough to want to see that sort of thing. Today, AMC’s wildly popular The Walking Dead equals or bests the worst of its forebear on a weekly basis, on basic cable.

I’ve been watching The Walking Dead since the first episode. It’s a smart TV show. Well-written and acted, thoughtful in its own way. But after Newtown, I really did reconsider the level of gore. I won’t even describe the ways they show human bodies being torn and chomped to offal shreds. Factoring in advances in technology, it’s actually worse than Night Of The Living Dead.

If I had seen that show as a kid, I would have freaked. The Wizard of Oz and the original Star Trek gave me nightmares. Now the Walking Dead’s animated corpses are on the cover of TV Guide and my 7-year-old son sees it and says, “Cool, zombies.”

Not cool with me. I pitched the magazine and then deleted the show from the DVR queue; if you don’t take a stand for something, you’ll stand for anything.

There’s a whole franchise of shows out there that starts with, “Crime Scene: [city name].” All kinds of TV pathologists are seen eviscerating ‘corpses’ on camera, in stomach-churning detail. Quincy did the same TV job in the ’70s, and never showed a single entrail or severed limb.

There’s a show starring Kevin Bacon that just started, with the promise of a new serial killer every week. First-person video games where the player gets to experience the thrill of actually mowing down an enemy in a spray of bullets are wildly popular. Some rap and metal music exists solely to extol the virtues of death and violence. And on and on.

The Right is right. Culturally, we are a cesspool.

And while I’m on a tear, let’s talk about a related beef.

I was at a movie last year, something rated R and loud and violent and dumb, and there was a mom next to me with her maybe 5-year-old kid. Even before the opening credits rolled, I thought it was an irresponsible parenting decision. As the movie unspooled, I observed that mom had no problem with all the death and graphic mutilation playing out in front of her child, but when it looked like a female breast was about to shown on camera, mom quickly covered the kid’s eyes.

Friends, that is a snapshot of a culture which is both upside down and backwards.

We owe it to ourselves, and more importantly to our children, to take a serious look at how we entertain ourselves at this ugly juncture in our history. It isn’t fascism or censorship for an industry to take a look at its impact on society—ie: their customer base—and decide, for the sake of that society, it needs to upgrade its business model.

It’s progress.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Taking my blessings where I find them

I haven’t written about The Boy in too long.

I shuttered the blog for most of last year, not because nothing was going on, just nothing good was going on. It was so not-good that I didn’t even have the heart to chronicle it. More than not wanting to remember it later, I didn’t want to remember it at the time.

Still don’t. 2012 was a fucking sinkhole of despair and hopelessness. I suspect the only reason 2013 is going better so far is we’ve upped my anti-melancholy meds considerably. It’s no kind of way to live a life, but the alternative leaves even less room for error.

With respect to The Missus, who is overbooked enough between Mommy duties and work responsibilities that she doesn’t have time to hold my hand 24/7, last year’s saving grace was The Boy. In the midst of some seriously unrelenting heartbreak and failure, he’s been the only light. I’ll eat all the misery and unhappiness in the world if it means getting to be there as The Boy grows to be a man. I’ll eat every sin in the global village, from the mayor to the idiot’s.

This last week has been particularly rewarding. He’s been in taekwondo for over a year now, with only slow, spotty improvement. The Boy rises to almost any challenge put before him, as long as it doesn’t tax him physically or push his at-risk button—a large red button about the size of a Stop sign he wears on a chain around his neck.

Happily, he began enjoying taekwondo before it started to tax him physically, or make him feel bodily threatened. Now that it’s doing both, he’s taking his first tentative steps to confronting those fears/disinclinations. The place we take him to is awesome, and it’s all about the staff. The instructor-to-kid ratio is usually about 3-5 to one, and if your kid’s got the goods, he/she gets promoted to the next class up, and if your kid doesn’t, they work with him individually until he does.

Just this last week, he’s gone from being Jerry Lewis on his nunchucks to Kwai Chang Caine with nothing in between. One year of reliably substandard weapons-freestyle, followed last week by unprecedented excellent form. Stunning. It was literally like watching a whole different kid.

The same day, I picked up a used punching/kicking bag, and he spent hours Saturday and Sunday sitting on the kitchen floor, filling up the huge base with one 12-oz cup of sand after another, which due to its moistness, had to be shaken out of the plastic funnel he is using, one cup at a time, two 50-pound bags so far with more to go.

And his reading is phenomenal. He is reading words most of the students at our second-tier local university would stumble over. “Geosynchronous orbit” was one that I remember from this weekend. We’re reading science fiction comics on the iPad—he on the gizmo, me following along on a hard copy—and I can’t swear to his comprehension, but he mounts these polysyllabic words with the fearlessness of Hillary assaulting Everest. And when we’re done, we stop and talk about the concepts (mostly involving time travel and alternate universes), with which his understanding is already remarkable fluid. I thank The Missus and Dr. Who for that.

And besides his paper accomplishments, the greatest thing about him is the young man he is growing up to be. Still so different from most of his peers, like his favorite martial arts instructor (pictured, above), he is destined to remain an outsider. Most of the other little boys his age seem cut from a similar reckless, rambunctious cloth, but ours wanders determinedly, distractedly to his own tempo.

Oh that reminds me! He’s also taking guitar classes now, and his progress there too has been amazing. Besides knowing a little bit on day one from watching me flail for years on my own guitar, he is picking up chords and concepts seemingly effortlessly. He is already getting bored with his practice assignments, so we are upping the complexity level at home, with the understanding that he also has to learn the simplified way to satisfy his instructor’s requirements.

We’re still struggling a bit on the social aspect of this experiment in dislocation, both he and I. Being cut from the same cloth, a similar social anxiety inhibits us both, although he already has more moxy about marching up to a group of unfamiliar peers and trying to join the play than I ever was or am yet.

He is already so much better than me. A low bar, admittedly, but it’s all I ever wanted for him other than health and happiness. Besides the election and The Boy, you can take your 2012 and stuff it into a deep deep pit where they’ve never even heard of the sun.

But where I take my pyrrhic political victory in stride, I’ll hang onto the memory of The Boy’s successes this last year—including learning to read and ride a bike over the summer—if I live to be a hundred (perish the thought).

And when memory fails, as it almost surely will, there will be this testament. I love you son, without reservation; I always have and always will. You were wanted in this world and loved to the fullest extent your Mommy and I possessed.

The rest is up to you.