The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

FoxTrot-ALSA flood of Internet videos have shown celebrities pouring buckets of iced water over their heads to raise money and awareness for the ALS Foundation. My favorite videos were writer Stephen King challenging writer John Grisham, actor Patrick Stewart taking ice cubes from a champagne bucket, and actor Vin Diesel’s challenge to plant a tree for Groot from “Guardians of The Galaxy.” Even Jason from the “Foxtrot” web comic made an ice bucket video (sort of). This is a worthy cause. I took care of a roommate, Bruce Schalamon, for five years until he died shortly after his 39th birthday in April 2000 from ALS.

Bruce and I first met at a church workshop in August 1992, where we paired up for a prayer walk around the neighborhood. I was a newly baptized baby Christian in the college ministry; Bruce was a grizzled veteran of the singles ministry. We had very little in common. I didn’t get to know him until I ended up in the singles ministry and moved into his household in 1996, where we both passed kidney stones a month apart from each other and bonded over our shared misery. He told me about being diagnosed with ALS, how he would die within five years, and wanted to die with his spiritual brothers surrounding him.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles throughout the body to stop working. Bruce lost his ability to walk with his weakened legs and play videos games with his weakened arms. He never lost his ability to speak. Otherwise, he couldn’t angrily curse God for taking away his enjoyment of life. As spiritual brothers taking care of him, this was a difficult time for us. He left God in anger as things got worse, returned to God in repentance as he accepted his fate. On the night before he died, he confessed his sins for four hours straight. You really don’t know someone until you hear their deathbed confession.

The heart is always the last muscle to go. Bruce had a cardiac arrest the following morning. My roommates and I asked him if he wanted us to call 911. He shook his head. We called 911 anyway, feeling helpless that we couldn’t do more. The ambulance crew started working on him for the next 45 minutes. Since we couldn’t produce the Do No Rusticate paperwork, they worked on him for another 45 minutes before declaring him dead. Being on the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, which wasn’t legal in Silicon Valley at that time, I flushed his stash of marijuana down the toilet in the back bathroom while a sheriff deputy waited in the living room for the medical examiner to remove the body.

Bruce had his prayers answered, dying among his spiritual brothers and being right with God.

I’m not planning to take the ice bucket challenge, but I will donate money to the ALS Foundation in the near future. First, I’m not a well-known celebrity. Second, I live in drought-stricken California. Third, the ice-cube maker in my freezer doesn’t work. Hence, writing a check and maybe having a drink on the rocks is easier. The ALS ice bucket challenge has raised $70+ million USD so far this summer.

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs a young child growing up in the 1970’s, I loved watching “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV about a band of misfit POW’s running a resistance operation from inside a German concentration camp during World War II. Bob Crane, who starred as U.S. Air Force Colonel Hogan in the TV series, died in 1978 under mysterious circumstances. My mother proclaimed his death a S-U-I-C-I-D-E by hanging in guarded whispers to my father. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, someone murdered Crane and tied an electrical cord around his neck.) S-U-I-C-I-D-E was a taboo word in my family, as my paternal grandfather committed suicide years before I was born. I didn’t understand how Crane died, but I knew he was gone. That saddened me greatly. When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide, the same level of sadness overwhelmed me.

A new TV show, “Mork & Mindy,” starring Williams and Pam Dawber, premiered a few months after Crane’s death. I immediately fell in love with the first episode. Mork (Williams) arrives from a different planet in a business suit worn backwards, giving him the appearance of being a minister to innocent human, Mindy (Dawber), who discovers his extraterrestrial origins and takes him in like a lost puppy. This was the first TV series that I ever watched from beginning to end over four years. I was surprised to learn that his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones,” got cancelled after one season, which I haven’t seen except for the opening scene of Williams and Dawber being reunited for the first time in 30 years.

My mother committed suicide by breast cancer in 2004. She refused to seek treatment despite knowing that the disease would kill her. My father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, that summer, to bury her ashes with her parents. He gave me a grand tour of the land. We went up to Lucky Peak Dam, where my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, committed suicide after falling off a roof and injuring his back on a wooden stake (back surgery in the 1950’s was remarkably crude), and, surprisingly, my father explained to me how his father died. I was always under the impression that my grandfather drove off the roadway and tumbled down the earthen dam to crash in a fireball, as some relatives claimed that it was an accident. Not so. My grandfather drove his car down the boat landing at full speed to drown in the reservoir. That’s no accident.

I found out about William’s death after I got off work and took my iPhone out of airport mode. An email from the Huffington Post made the announcement. I felt that intense sadness overcoming me as the death of Bob Crane once did, thinking that 63-years-old was too young to die. His picture got plastered on the front page of the Palo Alto Daily the next morning. News that he committed suicide and had early stage Parkinson’s Disease came out over the next several days. The world didn’t lose a talented comedian, but a truly great human being who showed us our humanity.

Pre-Internet Newspapers Go Online (Circa 1981)

Channel 4 KRON TV news report from 1981 details how the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner newspapers were adopting news articles for online delivery. You have to stop and think about what that meant back then. The Apple II home computer ruled the classrooms. The IBM PC was still several years off. Hobbyist computer systems that connected electronic keyboards to black-and-white TV’s were available to anyone with a soldering iron. CompuServe and America Online (AOL) were emerging online services. What would become the modern Internet was accessible only through military and university computer networks.

The first commercial Hayes modem came out that year to set the communication standard for a computer to connect to another computer over the plain old telephone at a lighting fast speed of 300-bits-per-second. (Today’s 30-megabits-per-second cable modem is 100,000 times faster in comparison.) As the anchorwoman pointed out in the YouTube video, it would take over two hours to download the daily $0.20 USD newspaper and the phone company charging $5.00 USD per hour.

Newspapers back then weren’t worry about losing money to an online news service. Flash forward 30 years into the future, the dead tree edition of the daily newspaper is declining as readers read mostly free news from the Internet over their cellphones and tablets. Like many industries that embraced computer technology, newspaper publisher never looked far enough down the road to see how their existing business model must change from the physical to the virtual. I stopped subscribing to the dead tree edition years ago, mostly because the neighbors kept stealing the newspapers off my apartment doorstep before I left for work in the morning.

The Return of Morpheus

I was browsing through a business magazine when I noticed a Kia K900 car ad that featured Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) from “The Matrix” movie that came out 15 years ago. I did a double take. Bad enough that Samuel Jackson wears a T-shirt that says, “I’m not Laurence Fishburne,” because, well, they both look like an aging Morpheus. There are even rumors of a new “Matrix” trilogy in the works. Now we got the return of Morpheus as a car salesman in this Kia Super Bowl commercial that I didn’t hear about. Doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m already missing the Kia hamsters.

The Thing About Emma Watson’s Thong

Emma Watson At The OscarsWhen I heard the news that Emma Watson sported a see-through dress and a thong on the red carpet at the Oscars, I had to groan and shake my head. But, being the huge Hermione Granger fan that I am, I did check out the pictures. The back of the dress was a see-through from top to bottom, the top being more so than the bottom. I don’t think I would have noticed that the bottom was a see-through unless someone told me. I was quite relieved not to see the triangle of the thong peeking out from underneath.

As a young computer technician many years ago, I had a woman co-worker who was always flashing her thong at me. I could not look away from my computer screen without noticing that her T-shirt and jeans had parted ways as she bent over to do something near my cube. A tiny triangle of cloth rested above her bare ass cheeks. Everyday she wore a different thong. I don’t think I ever saw the same thong twice. That went on for a year.

One day we had lunch together in the cafeteria when most of our coworkers who would normally join us were out sick. Somehow we started talking about her collection of thongs. Somehow I mentioned that I wasn’t a thong kind of guy. Somehow things remained awkward between us for the rest of the day.

The thong has no appeal to me. I’m a big fan of the well-defined bikini tan with a full bikini covering front and rear with enough fabric for four or five thongs. (Bikini top, underarm hair and being French were optional.) Since I grew up in the 1970’s with the Coppertone Girl appearing on numerous billboards and reading my father’s Playboy magazines from underneath the bathroom sink, the sexist media of my formative years may have influenced my tastes in young women’s behind.

You can guess what happened after my co-worker and I had that conversation.

She started wearing low-cut panties that covered her bare ass cheeks from side to side while revealing her plumber’s crack. Everyday she wore different panties. I don’t think I ever saw the same panties twice. That went on for another year. After we were both lay off from that particular job, I never had to worry about thongs and panties ever again. Sexual harassment and political correctness seminars eliminated such flirtatious behavior in the corporate work environment.

I always wondered what her motives were for flashing her underwear at me. I doubted she wanted a quick fling in the office supply closet. Maybe I was a special challenge because I didn’t respond to her flirting like the other guys did, and acted like a professional by ignoring her outrageous behavior. Although I could have taken advantage of her (and she might have let me), I didn’t want to have that kind of trouble at work. If she had a well-defined bikini tan, things might have been different.

The Boss Sings Governor Christie’s Traffic Jam

On “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” this week, Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen sung about the traffic jam scandal from last September that gotten New Jersey Governor Chris Christie into a bit of hot water. So far no smoking traffic cone has turned up that the governor orchestrated a four-day closure of two lanes on the three-lane George Washington Bridge to snarl traffic as political payback against a Democratic mayor in Fort Lee who decline to endorse the governor in the recent election.

Unlike the endless parade of manufactured scandals against President Barack Obama, this is real scandal that will send people to prison. If a smoking traffic cone does implicates Governor Christie, his impeachment and removal from office will also remove him as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2016. That would be a shame.

With the Tea Party extremists chasing moderate conservatives out of office, the Republican Party doesn’t have an experienced heir apparent for the presidential nomination. Governor Christie came close to filling that role. The Tea Party, however, hates him because he hugged President Obama rather than give him the middle finger and for accepting federal aid—the handling of which is also being investigated—in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As one commentator wrote in response to a political article about the song, you don’t see liberals denouncing Bruce Springsteen for shaking hands with the governor for the Hurricane Sandy telethon event.

What the Republican Party has left are third-rate candidates who will implode from saying something stupid while pandering to old angry white people who no longer represents America in the primary elections, and the eventual nominee who does emerge can’t pivot to the center that does represent America to win the general election. As we saw in the 2012 presidential election, Governor Mitt Romney got tied up and delivered like a pretzel when he went against President Obama. I expect more of the same in 2016.

It doesn’t help Governor Christie that the scandal happened in the backyard of the New York City media market and New Jersey’s most prominent citizen sung about the scandal on national TV. But that’s the East Coast. On the West Coast, we have to settle for renaming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a possible bridge scandal.

Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus Is Black As Hell

As a child growing up in the 1970’s, I heard evangelical Christians on the religious TV channels complain about the commercialization of Christmas as mass-market retailers emphasized the importance of giving—and receiving—gifts to the extent that God was often forgotten during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Unlike the Puritans who actually cancelled Christmas for two decades in the 17th century, these Christians wanted people to slow down, consider the birth of Christ and their relationship with God.

Never mind that Christmas was a Roman pagan festival called Saturnalia that celebrated a weeklong period of lawless, as the courts weren’t open and no crime committed during that time was punishable. Some communities even designated an unfortunate soul to become the “Lord of Misrule,” encouraging that person to indulge in all kinds of pleasure, and then brutally killing that person at the end of the holiday. Which, ironically, is what Black Friday has become these days with all the mayhem over getting the best holiday deal.

Fast forward a generation, evangelical Christians on Fox News are complaining the mass-market retailers are removing Christmas from the holidays by changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” in their greetings. There’s a “war on Christmas” to prevent evangelical Christians from shoving the spirit of Christmas down everyone else’s throat.

Did that make your head spin like the little girl’s in “The Exorcist” movie? Mine did too.

Now it didn’t help that Fox News host, Megyn Kelly, proclaimed that both Santa and Jesus were white and tough luck for anyone who wanted to believe otherwise. Saturday Night Live has a great skit about Santa Claus being black as hell. I wrote a tanka poem about Santa Claus being black from climbing down so many chimneys that his old lady called the cops because he forgot his keys.

Of course, this nonsense had to spill over into the real world. A white teacher told a black student that he couldn’t play Santa. A black Santa was shot in the back with a pellet gun at a toy drive. The famed Macy’s of “Miracle on 34th Street” has a white Santa in front for everyone to see, and a black Santa hidden away in the back, where you need to ask an elf inside the Santaland maze for to find his secret location. Seriously. I even wrote a tanka poem about that.

Did anyone noticed that the controversy of a white Jesus was quietly dropped by the news media? No one wanted to open that particular can of worms. Most evangelical Christians haven’t read the whole bible and memorized only certain scriptures on sin to hurl into someone’s face. That Jesus was a Jewish carpenter might unsettle some folks. Fox News published an article that the race of Jesus is unknown.

As a white Christian who read the bible from cover-to-cover six times, I’m going to have a very Jewish Christmas by seeing “47 Ronin” at the movie theater and eating orange chicken from Panda Express. On that note, happy holidays!

Has Koch Brothers Infiltrated The Huffington Post?

Commenting On Huffington Post ArticleAs a long-time political junkie since I watched Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on live TV in 1974 as a toddler, I subscribed to a number of political emails. A few days ago I received an email that the Sierra Club was endorsing Congressman Mike Honda for his 2014 re-election bid in the California 17th congressional district. That’s odd, I thought. Congressman Honda has a safe seat. Since the California GOP has more in common with the spotted owl than one-sixth of the U.S. population, they’re not mounting a challenger.

I later read on the Huffington Post about the Sierra Club endorsement. Congressman Honda has a Democratic primary challenger, Ro Khanna. Now that’s really odd. Democrats don’t challenge veteran incumbents unless their districts get merged or a scandal blows up. Neither has happened to Congressman Honda. Although some people think the Democrats need a tea party to push it further to the left (oh hell no, we need more moderates than extremists in politics), I don’t think that’s what happening here.

Khanna has a more pro-business agenda than the progressive agenda that California Democrats support, raising more money than Congressman Honda from the top CEOs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. If Khanna ran as a Republican, this would make sense. Being a Democratic challenger is something of a head scratcher.

If you look at the political leanings of the CEOs supporting Khanna, you might think that the Koch brothers—the billionaires behind the tea party—might be trying to undermine the Democrat Party from within. The Republican Party had run fake Democratic primary challengers in California and across the country to confuse the voters. With President Barack Obama enacting much of the Republican agenda over the fierce objections of extremists on the left and the right, the Republicans can no longer run on ideas and must resort to electoral trickery to stay in power.

Which is why I’m a Democrat again.

As for the Huffington Post article, I tried to leave a comment that this particular House race was a head scratcher and maybe the Democratic challenger had indirect support by the Koch brothers. The comment got deleted before being posted. I tried again, deleted again. As a computer programmer, I recognized that an automatic word filter didn’t like what I wrote. No moderator can humanely delete my post the moment I submitted it.

I changed “Koch brothers” to “K-o-c-h b-r-o-t-h-e-r-s” in the comment, where it appeared for a few hours before a moderator manually deleted it. Tried a few variations, same result. If I toss in “brown shirts” and “jackboots” (an indirect reference to far right extremism in the 1930’s), those comments were automatically deleted. I’ve seen other people use “Koch brothers” in their comments, but for some reason it was taboo on this particular post.

This begs the question: Has the Koch brothers infiltrated the Huffington Post?

Probably not. While the Huffington Post is a liberal bastion for news, it’s also a corporate entity with close ties to the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley. God forbid if any unwashed commentator links the uber-rich Silicon Valley CEOs to the political underbelly of the tea party movement. Especially on a post that no one else is reading.

No Funemployment For Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants Gets FiredSpongebob Squarepants gets fired because his boss figured out that he could make an extra nickel without him. Although his friend explains to him the benefits of “glorious unemployment,” Spongebob wants a new job and not a “funemployment” vacation (i.e., living off of unemployment benefits before looking for a new job). A self-sufficient view that transforms the environmental/gay/liberal-friendly sponge into a new conservative darling. With the economy still in the crapper, getting a new job sooner is more important for a different set of reasons.

Before the Great Recession in 2008, I would apply for unemployment benefits, post my resume on the job search websites, have three job interviews, and get a new job within six weeks. That happened three times over a five-year period. I never got stressed out from being laid off. My monthly expenses were modest and collapsible enough to live off of my unemployment benefits for a short while.

Despite following my previous unemployment routine after being laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009, I didn’t get a new job within six weeks. The Great Recession was different. I was out of work for two years, underemployed for six months (i.e., working 20 hours a month), and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. After going through all that, I didn’t qualify for food stamps because I still made more money than someone working at Wal-Mart.

I had three jobs in the last three years since then. After my contract ended the first two times, I got a new job within three weeks and drew only one week of unemployment benefits. I’m hoping for a third time in a row. I don’t know if my unemployment benefit will be on my old claim ($293 per week) or a new claim ($456 per week). If I get a new claim, I can probably relax a bit and take my time in finding a new job during the holidays. If it’s my old claim, I’m screwed. I still haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession.

After my last job officially declared a layoff of “permanent” employees, my coworkers bombard me with questions about being a contractor as they been with the company for five or more years. They all thought they could take a six-month vacation, look for a new job before exhausting their unemployment benefits, and get hired immediately. I warned them against doing that. I had several roommates who did that during a normal economy (i.e., between the Dot Com Bust in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008), couldn’t find another tech job because their programming skills were obsolete, got cashier jobs at a drug store, and are still toiling at minimum wage jobs. My coworkers didn’t get laid off this time, but my contract came up for renewal and that was that for that job.

A Truly Tasteless French Ad About JFK Assassination

You can always trust the French to come up with something truly tasteless about American culture, say, a new TV ad for a gambling company with the JFK assassination as a backdrop. Two Dallas cops are standing along the parade route when one bets the other that he can spin his gun like a cowboy, accidentally discharges the gun, and the bullet ricochet all over the place until hitting someone inside a passing open-air limousine, where a Jackie-O look-alike scrambles over the backseat as a Secret Service agent jumps the back of the limousine, and the bumbling cops points to a nearby building.

An interesting reinterpretation of an iconic moment from American history that still prompts raw emotion in people, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination is on November 22, 2013. I wouldn’t be born for another six years, but the assassination deeply impacted my parents as their first wedding anniversary took place time. Like many significant events witnessed on TV, they remembered where they were when it happened. For my father in particular, and many older white Americans in general, this was the moment when the American dream got flushed down the toilet and the country went straight to hell.

Here are my favorite pop culture reinterpretations of the JFK assassination.

Red Dwarf

This British science fiction comedy TV series, “Red Dwarf,” has the intrepid crew going back into time to accidentally prevent the JFK assassination from happening. Most Americans remember JFK as being a great president because he got assassinated. If he had survived to complete his term, people might have remembered his administration as being no better or worse than the Jimmy Carter administration. The Red Dwarf crew takes an older, washed-up and jaded JFK back in time for him to pull the trigger to assassinate himself from behind the fence to restore his place in history.

The Watchmen

I was at WonderCon 2009 when the opening montage for “The Watchmen” movie, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, got revealed for the first time, where a series of reinterpreted American scenes from the 1940’s to the 1980’s included the superheroes with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” playing in the background. The JFK assassination takes place with The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) pulling the trigger from behind the fence. The visual effects and the music made for a stunning montage.

The X-Files

From “The X-Files” TV series came the episode, “Musings of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” which explains how the Smoking Man as a young man became a key player in so many conspiracy theories about aliens and UFOs. His role in the JFK assassination was setting up Lee Harvey Oswald to take the fall by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and firing the fateful shot from a storm drain. As the older Smoking Man once told Agent Fox Mulder, he had watched presidents die.