Is One Worse?

Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, was banned for life from any activity involving his team and the NBA because of racist remarks he acknowledged to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, and Silver has urged NBA team owners to force Sterling to sell his team. Sterling’s remarks, were apparently recorded by his mistress, who gave the recording to someone in the media. Those remarks were highly offensive and very, very racist.

In this day and age, some 150 years after the Civil War, my first thoughts, upon hearing the news of Sterling’s comments, were twofold: (1) Isn’t it sad that as far as humankind has progressed on this planet, especially in the last 150 years — heck, even in the last 50 years — that there are still people who are horrendously bigoted, and (2) sadly, in another 150 years, there will still be people are horrendously bigoted living and making their biases known.

As I watched the ESPN reports on the Sterling situation last night (4/29/14), I read the many tweets the sports station had received from the many stars and former stars of the league. Retired NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal was one of those whose tweet scrolled across the bottom of the screen. He praised the commissioner for his action, and then voiced his view that the NBA was for everybody.

His words seem quite shallow considering another tweet the player-turned-NBA-broadcaster sent out to his 600,00+ followers. O’Neal shared side-by-side photos of a 23-year-old who lives with ectodermal dysplasias, a rare condition that causes reduced ability to sweat, missing teeth, and fine, sparse hair, and himself making a face that looks something like mockery of the other man’s photo. The cruel, taunting tweet was later pulled from O’Neal’s account.

But many O’Neal followers saw it and voiced negative opinions. No wait, let’s call it what it truly is — bullying. Cyber-bullying.

So I wonder: Is what Shaquille O’Neal did to that one man with a condition that afflicts one in 5,000-10,000 babies any different than what Donald Sterling said about black people? Sterling is banned from the NBA for his racist remarks and attitude. What kind of punishment should Shaquille O’Neal receive for being a cyber-bully?

Okay, O’Neal has since publicly apologized. Sterling’s not said a thing about his racist statements or his punishment — as of yet. His legal eagles have apparently said they are going to sue to have the punishment overturned.

But honestly, what makes Shaq’s offensive tweet any less-worse than Sterling’s comments? Why is it when someone does something that, in the view of the majority of folks, an apology seems to smooth it over? Isn’t it time to start levying harsh punishment against those who show their biases openly?

Shaquille O’Neal mocked a disabled person. The 23-year-old man shrugged it off by saying he is used to people making fun of him — something he’s had to deal with all his life. But that doesn’t excuse what Shaq did. And his apology doesn’t suddenly erase the piece of his brain that pushed him to make fun of the young man’s looks and disability. If it’s in him to mock someone who looks different than he, what will stop him from doing it again. Oh sure, some PR firm will try and teach Shaq how to act more responsibly when he’s in public, but will his mind still contain those biases?

Does Donald Sterling feel bad for having said those things he said about black people? Probably not. He probably feels bad that his remarks were recorded, or that he got caught having said them. But Sterling has shown a history of racial bias, and I doubt his banishment from the NBA will make him change his ways.

So what kind of punishment do I feel Shaq should be dealt because of his cyber-bullying? Do I feel his apology is true remorse for what he did? Do I feel he understands what his actions said to many others?

Obviously, Shaq will feel bad because he did such a hurtful thing on Twitter. But is he truly remorseful for being insensitive? Whether that young man was suffering from a condition that caused his physical deformities, or if he’d been born with those looks, doesn’t he deserve the respect of all human beings?

So is Shaquille O’Neal simply sorry that he got caught? Or did he learn a lesson in how we should treat others — with kindness and respect.

It will be interesting how Turner Broadcasting (TBS/TNT) handles this incident and Shaq. Will they remove him from their broadcast team? Golly, that would definitely hurt their ratings because folks are tuning in to listen to Shaq and Charles Barkley verbally spar during game breaks. Or will they have Shaq make an on-air apology? Or will they just let the firestorm calm down and go away? (I should note, I’ve not seen any NBA playoff broadcasts since Shaq’s incident, so if he did make an on-air statement or apology, I’ve not heard)

Racism was punished to the max. What’s cyber-bullying worth? As far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between the two. Racism is just as bad as bullying. Bullying is just as bad as racism.


My Lawn’s a Conundrum

My calendar says it’s springtime in Middle America.

Winter’s been an obstinate bitch,

refusing to let go, hanging around well beyond desire.

I stare out at a patchwork of green and brown.

“Is it time,” I wonder. “Is it lawn care season?”


April is noxiously nervy, an anxious time of year.

Taxes are due. Track meets are few. Sporadic dew.

Summer peeks, teasing with fleeting flecks of warmth.

And grass slips silently from its frosty coffin of dormancy.

I stare intently out my window and wonder, wishing, willing.


An agronomist I am not.

My lawn, like horses I have ridden, knows who’s in charge.

Demonizing me with those brown, deadened splotches.

I want to race forth and feverishly fertilize, fastidiously.

Like bears emerging from hibernation, my grass seeks food.


But I know little, understand less, of a lawn’s deepest desires.

What granular feed formulates a formula best fed?

When is the ideal time for its annual meal, what time of day?

Questions swirl in my head, answers find nowhere to rest.

I seek a solution to infuse my grass with a proper dilution.


I find my thoughts coursing with how little I know.

So I yank the shades shut, and turn from the dismal view.

A job best done by others, one I’ll not tackle today.

The lawn’s on its own, famine or feast, not from me.

My grass will revive, only if the region receives rain.

Angry Bird

Well actually, it’s two birds who are apparently angry with my car. And if I am going to be technically and specifically correct, they are not angry at my car as a whole, but with the passenger side rearview mirror. And in truth, I am guessing they are angry with that which they see in the mirror. They see themselves in the reflection of the mirror, and thus, are angry with themselves.

Only apparently they don’t know it’s them.Image

I have to assume these two sparrows, who I am fairly certain have anger management issues, have taken up residence somewhere  in our front yard, and most importantly, within eyesight of my car. My poor innocent Jeep Patriot has incited within these two sparrows, something akin to Hatfields and McCoys tension. Obviously, whenever my little silver Jeep is parked in the driveway (our two-car garage isn’t big enough for our family’s three vehicles, so I voluntarily park near the end of the driveway so my wife and step-daughter can park in the garage. It’s really not as noble as it sounds; I arrived to the household last, so the two stalls had already been claimed and I felt no urgency to park in the garage since I’d never parked in a garage at previous residences. Plus I just felt it was the right thing to do, letting the “fairer” sex of our family unit have the comfort of the garage — that’s the noble part. But I digress)

I’ve not noticed that it happens every time my vehicle is parked in its usual location near the end of the driveway (I park there to enable my wife to get out of her stall of the garage since she goes to work earlier than I do; she can maneuver around my car, therefore not having to wake me early just to get me to move my car). But on at least four occasions, I have seen these two pint-sized feathered fellows (well, it could be a male and female couple, or a gang of males — yeah, two is a rather sickly gang) making mean toward the passenger side rearview mirror.

And they aren’t shy about demonstrating their hate for that mirror. One time, I got into my car (on the driver’s side) and some action caught my peripheral vision, so I looked at that side of the car. There were those two sparrows going all … uhhh … Angry Birds … on the mirror. I sat there astounded that (1) my entrance into the car hadn’t frightened them away, and (2) that their attacks on that innocent mirror were quite vicious.

But as I watched from my car, and, as I watched three other times from my kitchen, it is pretty obvious those two birds are very, very angry. And their anger is directed toward that mirror. However, I have concluded that their anger is directed toward that which they see in the mirror. And that which they see is themselves.

Only they don’t know it.

At least I don’t think they do. It could be some bizarre ritualistic flagellation that exists within the sparrow species. Perhaps they feel the need to peck and scratch at themselves anytime they see their reflection. I guess it’s possible, I mean, who am I to profess to understand nature.

It is not a continual attacking by both birds. Rather, as one perches along the passenger side window, the other crashes itself at the mirror. The one launching the attack flutters fast and furiously, pecking its beak at the mirror. Sometimes its feet rise up in an attempt to claw at the mirror. But then, as quickly and intensely as an attack takes place, it stops. The attacking sparrow lights atop the mirror casing and rests.

But the rest only last seconds, as the anger-stoked bird bends forward, eyes the mirror, and then drops down, again fluttering madly, and repeats its attacking actions.

IMG_1138I also noticed that the car does not have to be parked at then end of the driveway in order to become a victim. Oh no. Twice now, the car has been parked up near the garage. Those pesky little birds swoop down from wherever they are stationed, and let loose with a fury matched only by Hell. And let me tell you, Hell hath no fury like a sparrow scorned — or at least a sparrow who thinks it is being scorned.

It has become my theory that the sparrow the attacking sparrows see in the mirror represents a threat. As it seems as though one of the two sparrows is the primary attacker, I am theorizing that the Jeep-jamming sparrows are a couple. And since one of this couple does most of the attacking — possibly all of it as, well, sparrows do tend to look alike or at least have differentiating differences so minute they are really difficult to tell apart — I am thinking the attacking sparrow is the male. And he is attacking the mirror sparrow as a show of machoism and to maintain his manly appearance. In other words, dude’s got a woman and he ain’t about to let her think he ain’t manly — in a bird sort of way.

So each time my Jeep is parked in our driveway, that male sparrow sees the mirror, and assumes his rival is sitting on the other side of the cover. So he dives out of the nesting locale, and proceeds to pummel the rival for his fair maiden’s affections.

But what make this whole aerial dance of maleocincrity take on an air of humor, is this little bird doesn’t realize he’s beating a reflective image of himself. He literally does not realize his rival is himself. He doesn’t know its him.

He’s beating himself up.

I fear this fine feathered fanatic is going to wear himself out, if not kill himself, with his tough guy act. I mean, my Jeep isn’t going anywhere. It will be parked there every day and every night. So if that little Arnold Sparrowennager keeps attacking my car’s mirror, he’s got a real long spring ahead of him. He will be too worn out from beating himself up that he won’t be able to go hunt food for his youngsters. He will be so tired, he will keep falling asleep in the nest each night, leading to a rather frustrated Mrs. Sparrow.

I confess, I am a bit worried about my Jeep’s attacker. Other than a few random droppings on the passenger door and mirror cover, courtesy of that poor pooped pecker, my car is showing no signs of damage. If the mirror could, I’d bet it would laugh at the little sparrow. I considered parking the Jeep out in the street, or in the alleyway behind our house, in hopes the mirror mixup would mildly melt away.

But I have decided to do nothing. It is nature. It is the nature of courtship, the statement-making, the billowing bravado of a bird-brained … ummmm … bird. If it is that sparrow’s lot in life to go around challenging car mirrors, just as Don Quixote challenged windmills, then I shall step back, clear the battlefield, and let the best man … errr … bird … or mirror … win. I actually imagined a day in the future, when the little sparrow might find himself lying on a bird psychologist’s couch, beating himself up over spending so much time beating himself up.

Like I said … it’s nature. And nature gets screwed up once in a while. I feel bad that I cannot do anything about this Angry Bird. I just hope someday soon, he realizes that getting angry solves nothing. Angry Birds just need to step back, recognize the futility of their actions, and become Happy Birds.

Yes indeed … let’s add some Happy Birds. Why don’t we give ourselves some Happy Birds. Happy, happy birds.


Old Man and a Three

If you ever want to feel old … teach math.

Actually, substitute teach for a math instructor. No wait! Substitute teach for a middle school math instructor. And to make it a totally fun experience, hope that “middle school” includes sixth graders.

Nothing wrong with sixth graders. I just completed a two-day stint doing the above, and I had two sections of sixth graders. In fact, I had two sections of seventh graders, and two sections of eighth graders. To be totally truthful, I enjoyed every single one of those emerging teenagers.

But trying to teach math made me feel old. Not because those youngsters ran me ragged, but because in one small instance, I was “schooled” on the fact that math education has passed me by.

Before I explain, let me give you some background. I was not a real go-getter in junior and senior high school. I wasn’t dumb. Hardly. In fact, I was actually pretty smart. Oh yeah, smart enough to know how to (a) use the system to get by, and (b) get grades that were good enough for me to move from grade to grade and eventually graduate with the rest of my class.

In truth, I didn’t mind going to school. There was a certain social element I enjoyed about school, and, by going to school, I could participate in athletics. However, while going to school to learn wasn’t my highest priority, I did like some subjects: history, music, reading, English, social studies, art, and science.

Notice … not one mention of math. Nor did you see algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, physics, or any of those other numerical subjects in that above “fave” list. I did not like working with numbers. I did not understand numbers. I didn’t want to understand numbers, nor their uses. I, pure and simple, hated math.

And thus, I did not try very hard in math classes. In fact, that was where I utilized the (a) I spoke of above — I worked the system to get by. And believe me, I barely got by.

But karma never fails to come rollin’ around. So when I had children of my own, I found myself having to help with homework on occasion, as they made their way through 12 grades of education. And some form of math haunted me for years.

But the ironic thing was, as I helped my three children with their math homework, wisps of my past lessons began curling through my brain. I began to remember formulas, basic rules of arithmetic, and even schematics of such things as long division and fractions. But once they reached algebra and geometry, my help was non-existent. I barely crawled my way to passing grades when I took those classes. I paid so little attention in those classes, nothing came back to me when my children needed help with their math homework.

But somehow, my children got through school with passing math grades. And math was essentially forgotten. Oh sure, I needed basic math skills to do the bookwork of my businesses. I needed to know addition and subtraction. Even the ability to count change back to people, that I learned in a college job, was a true help. But for me, most of my adult-life math was done by a calculator and computer.

Flash ahead about 20 years. Homework assignments have long faded into the far reaches of my memory. I sold my business. And other than keeping track of my checking account, I use math very little. Oh sure, on occasion I have to do some basic, as Jethro from the “Beverly Hillbillies” called it, cipherin’ — but overall, I rarely needed my meager math talents.

But I signed up to be a substitute teacher with my local school district. I said I was willing to sub in senior high and middle school classes. I okayed middle schoolers, even though I didn’t really want to and figured I could always cop out with a lame, “I’m busy,” excuse if called to spend a day with that age group of students. And in the first few months, I subbed in a variety of high school classrooms — from P.E. to home ec (errr, excuse me, “Family & Consumer Science” otherwise known as ‘FACS’), even agriculture and tech ed classes (“shop” to those from my era).

But then the dreaded call came. “Would you be able to sub for our middle school math teacher?” the principal inquired at a cheery 6:30 in the morning. My mind obviously had not engaged because despite the double whammy of middle school AND math subbing, I muttered, “Sure. No problem.”

Yeah … “no problem” cuz this fella won’t know the answers to those math problems!

The sick teacher had graciously emailed notes for each of her day’s classes. My first instinct was to bring on an acute case of stomach flu (I even wondered if I might be able to mentally cause myself to vomit). Sick sub goin’ home! Yep, there’s more than one way to avoid math and middle schoolers.

But I “mathed up” and made my way to the middle school office where I as presented with the teacher’s notes. First period: 7th grade math. Second period: 7th grade math. What the heck! Open the day with TWO classes of seventh graders?!?!? Aw c’mon! This is not happening.

Then the rest. Third period: 8th grade math. Fourth period: 8th grade Algebra 1. Fifth period: Lunch and planning period — thank goodness a 90-minute break, with which I could regroup my sanity, collect my marbles, and regain what was certainly going to be a total loss of my dignity. And it continued. Sixth period: study hall (8th graders). Seventh and eighth periods: 6th grade math — God help me …. two classes of sixth graders at the end of the day.

But something quite marvelous took place. Those seventh graders were calm, and they went right to work on the assignments I doled out via the teacher’s notes. Nary a question was asked, and not one time did I have to reprimand somebody for a smart remark or acting like a … a … a seventh grader. Both classes were really fun to be with.

The eighth graders were much the same. I’d experienced some eighth graders while subbing in FACS and an animal science class. A few individuals had tested my patience, but after a little verbal sparring, I’d managed to create in them a sense of responsibility and a reasonable level of quiet. So when most of those same eighth graders walked into the math room and saw me, well, I think they resigned themselves to maintaining a reasonable level of calm, rather than go another round with me.

They were … umm … active. Yeah, that’s a good word. They were an active bunch. But my three periods with them (study hall, remember?) went nicely. Honest! “Nicely” is a good word to use.

That brought me to the sixth grade classes. Here we were, stuck together in a room, mid-afternoon on a Monday, and we had to get through math. Each class had a couple “challenges” with which I had to deal. In each period, the students who’d deemed themselves up to the task of trying to take out the sub, were steadfast in their actions, loud, and had just a small dose of ADHD (or maybe it was sugar) to cause me heartburn and headache.

But I weathered the two classes. A short drive home, two aspirin, and my feet up in the recliner, and recognition that the day was finally over warmed me to my core. I reveled in a sense of pride, knowing I had survived a day of math and middle schoolers. Yeah! I did it and probably wouldn’t have to do it again.

6:15. Tuesday morning. Phone rings. “Hey, the math teacher is still sick, any chance you can sub today?”

I fought off the instinct to scream, “Are you kidding me?!?! You stuck me in a room full of middle schoolers yesterday. With math. The fact that we all came out alive should be declared a school holiday. And you want me to do it all over again today? Oh dude ….” Instead, I said, “You bet!”

But folks, as I sit here at my computer, recalling the second day of math and middle schoolers, I am pleased to report it went without incident, except …. except for those sixth graders.

I mean, the seventh and eighth graders were a bit more active. But it was a subdued active. The day seemed to fly by. Class after class just rolled along. Everyone understood what they were doing, got down to the task, and stayed on task. But I made that mistake any sub should never make.

I looked to the end of the day. Why oh why did I answer the swell of confidence and check the sheet that told what times those two final periods ended? Why did it enter my mind that I was nearly home free? Why didn’t the cold slap of reality that I still had two classes of sixth graders AND long division paint a red blemish on my cheek and brain?

I nearly broke into tears when reality teasingly kissed my temple and said, “You’re not done.”

But something completely unexpected happened. Those groups of sixth graders were happy. No, they were jovial. They accepted their assignment with no fanfare, and took to the task. They even pulled me into a lighter mood (not that I am a dark and damning person in the classroom, but I can project a certain level of seriousness).

The teacher’s instructions said the students had to do 20 problems of long (ie: ‘big numbers) division. And, she instructed, “Please do problems 13, 14 and 15 for them.” Huh! ME? Do long division? These problems had decimal points. You want Mr. Iwon’teverneedmathsoIwon’tbothertolearnit to show these students how to do division … with decimal points?

I opened what I was certain would be a weak effort, one that was certain to expose my lack of mathematical skills, by saying, “Well, this is how I would do it.” And added, “And I wasn’t all that good at math.” Yeah, and the Titanic wasn’t all that good with ice.

I proceeded to do the problem. Correctly, I might add. And I did a second problem … correctly. In fact, I was so darn proud of myself, I quit while I was ahead and told the students to tackle the rest of the assignment. I must have divided with an air of Vince Lombardi at Super Bowl 1 — those students excitedly tore into that set of problems with vim and vigor.

But they eventually their enthusiasm stalled out. Their spindly little arms began to raise, and questioning looks appeared on their faces. Instead of panicking, I waded into the bulwark of desks and began helping students divide. And conquer! I explained how to equal the decimal playing field. I showed how many times 16 goes into 108. I urged them into forging ahead, “Even when greeted with, “I don’t know how to do this.”

I convinced them they could divide! And divide they did.

After about 20 minutes of dashing from one end of the classroom to the other and back, helping dozens of stymied students, one little guy raised his hand and asked, “Are you coming back tomorrow?”

“I’ll bet your teacher will be okay. She’ll be back,” I answered.

And quick as you can find the answer to 18 divided by 3, that little Einstein muttered dejectedly, “Darn! I want you to teach us.”

My heart swelled. I just wanted to gather the whole bunch of them and hug them tightly. They want me! They really want me … to teach them division.

In a few quick minutes, the bell rang bringing a close to that glorious period of sixth grade math. As the students for my final class of the day — more sixth graders and more division — wandered in, my confidence continued to soar. I could teach, I told myself. I CAN teach!

After telling them of the assignment, I attacked my demonstration problems (since I had already done them once, my expertise and performance was flawless). I was rolling through the second problem, showing them how to do 8,482 divided by 19, confidently scrawling a 4 atop the line and then blasting into the multiplication of 4 times 19, when a tiny voice amongst my rapt and attentive group asked, “Why did you put that 3 above the 1 of 19”?

“Well, when I multiplied 4 time 9, I got 36, so I wrote the 6 down here under the 4 of 8,482, and then carry the 3. I wrote the 3 up by the 1 (of 19) so I would remember to add it to what I get when I multiple 4 times 1,” I deftly noted.

“We don’t do it that way,” the voice replied.

And that’s when I realized that all those years I was passing on math, math was passing me by. Suddenly I was haunted by things like “estimating” and other math terms my children had brought home as they worked to master “new” math their schools were teaching. It struck me that in the 50-plus years that had transpired since I had sat looking at a page full of long division problems thinking I could never grasp the concept, the methods of teaching math had moved forward, and changed. Probably changed often.

And that’s when I felt old. As I stood there staring at that lost and lonely 3, I felt age thrust itself deep into my bones. My mind began to dull. That swell of pride I’d just felt in my teaching abilities had become a monster wave of impotency.

Slowly I turned toward the class and confessed my sin, “Well that’s the way I did it, a long, long time ago, when I was your age. Tomorrow, just tell your teacher that some old guy showed you how to divide — she might understand.” In my heart I knew she wouldn’t. She’d probably curse me for trying to teach long division. She’d probably march into the principal’s office and demand I never be allowed to darken her classroom doors again.

The bell rang, and I dragged my worn out old body, and equally worn out old way of doing math, and went home. I sat for a spell and thought about the day, and said out loud to no one (since no one was home), “You have to carry the 3.” Yep … an old man … and a 3.