Cinco de Mayo is Quinto maggio to me

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel like celebrating today. Not only is it a dreary day in Cincinnati, but 5/5 was my mom’s birthday. As most of you know, she died when I was quite young. Three years old, to be exact. Leukemia stole her away from her husband and 4 young kids, at the age of 33 (a.k.a. the “Jesus year”).

Let’s get the easy answers out of the way first:

  1. No
  2. No

Sorry, I forgot this isn’t Jeopardy. The questions are:

  1. Do you remember her?
  2. Did your father ever remarry?

Those two questions are usually the ones I get when I tell someone about my mom’s untimely departure from this world. #1 is a lot tougher to wrap my head around. Trust me, I’ve tried my best to remember her, but to no avail. So how do you miss someone that you didn’t really know? It’s a weird feeling, for sure.

I know the time from birth to age three is a crucial period, and so my mom was my first/best teacher. But when I try to conjure up some sort of happy memory, a warm glow from those halcyon days… nothin’.

I’ll tell you what I do know. My mom was a first generation Italian-American.

She too lost her mom young… and a sister as well. She played basketball in high school. (We had her b-ball jersey at our house in Arkansas… long after we moved from Jersey City, where my mom and dad met and married. I studied that jersey like it was the Shroud of Turin.)

When she went into labor with her third child (yours truly), my dad took a route to the hospital that featured a few cobblestone streets… and my mom gave my dad some good-natured grief about that. (The extra bouncing might also help explain why I’m wired differently.) When she was trying to teach me how to tie my shoes, I got mad and kicked off one shoe, and it flew up and cracked one of the window panes in our front door… or at least that’s what my older siblings told me… or something like that. It’s been too long.


There’s a Superchunk song call “Void” that expresses my feelings very well:

I look for you
And all I see, all I say
Is a void
All I see, all I say
Is a void
“Pity? Party of one? You’re table’s ready.”
OK, I’ll stop wallowing now. Cinco de Mayo’s for celebrating, right? So rather than focus on the negative space, I’ll celebrate the fact that my mother laid such a strong foundation in our short time together that I do miss her to this day, even if my “miss” is different from most. Diamonds are forever, but so are DNA and “imprinting.”
I’m far from a masterpiece, but my siblings and I are her masterpieces.  Superchunk, bring it home:
Don’t go wait for me,
No, don’t go Wait for me
Because I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see
No, I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see

Happy Earth Day to You

Hey, it’s Earth Day, the one day out of 365 (or 366) that we actually give a damn about the planet we all share. Each year is the hottest on record. Smog is getting smoggier. Rains are turning to floods. Earthquakes are a fracking nightmare. A 94-year-old engineer may be our last hope.

OK, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. But I’m also being overly Dramarama…

What Are We Gonna Do? – Dramarama from Damian John Spooner – Upton on Vimeo.

What are we gonna do? Here are some ideas.

Happy Birthday, Planet Earth!

Trying to make sense of the senseless

I usually like to keep the ol’ dubbatrubba blog rather light and fluffy. But when the largest mass shooting in the U.S. this year takes place a few miles from your house, it’s hard to ignore it.

Cameo nightclub. My kids used to play soccer games in the fields next to it.

The typical NRA response to a mass shooting is “make sure more people have guns.” Shootings in a movie theater (see: Aurora, CO)? Arm the movie-goers. Shootings in a community center (see: San Bernadino)? Arm the workers. Shootings in a school (see: a school in almost every state in the country)? Arm the teachers.

Map of school shootings since 2013. Source:


But isn’t the Cameo nightclub a prime example of what happens when more folks have guns? Here are a couple of quotes worth pondering, from Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley:

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? If you have a dispute, and you have guns, you might wind up with a Wild West gun battle inside a crowded nightclub that leaves 2 dead and 15 wounded. And these sort of shots-fired altercations are much more prevalent than terrorist attacks. Just ask Chicago. Or look at this tracker of the last 72 hours.

I grew up in rural Arkansas with friends who went deer hunting, duck hunting, rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, and gun racks were pretty much standard equipment on pickup trucks. I’m not a “take all the guns away” person. But I also feel very strongly that it should not be easier for someone to get a gun than it is for them to vote, or drive a car… or even buy Sudafed.

If you are a responsible gun owner, this nightclub incident (and all the other ones like it) should sicken you. You should want to work to prevent atrocities like this in the future. There has to be some rational middle ground between “all sorts of guns for any sort of person” and “no guns for anyone.” Between “no regulations” and “outright ban.” Can we have a respectful, responsible adult discussion, please? Lives are at stake.




Sunshine is the best disinfectant

Straight from the “We Couldn’t Make This Up If We Tried” Department comes a report from the Louisville Courier-Journal that the Kentucky Coal Museum has a very interesting new installation: solar panels. Yes, a museum that showcases all aspects of the coal mining industry, in an old coal camp town in Harlan County, in the heart of coal country in southeast Kentucky, has put solar panels on the roof to cut their energy costs.

The coal museum’s electric bill typically costs about $2,100 per month, but this initiative is expected to save between $8,000 and $10,000 a year.

Trump can talk all he wants about a “war on coal” and “job-killing regulations” but really it’s a war of attrition. Coal’s contribution to climate change (it’s real) and environmental and health issues, along with increasing competition from both natural gas and renewable energy sources, are digging coal’s grave.

If DT really wants to create more jobs (with less pollution, btw), he should consider the following facty-facts (not alternative facts) from this article:

In 2016 alone, the US solar industry created more new jobs (51,000) than there are coal miners still working in the US (50,200). There are now 260,000 solar workers in the US — five times the number of coal miners.

“Follow the day and reach for the sun…”




Hot. Water.

Yesterday was the warmest winter day ever in Cincinnati. 78 degrees.

Most of last week was unseasonably warm, with highs in the 60s. And here’s today’s temp:

These sort of rapid swings are happening far too often to be called flukes. Not just in Ohio, but all over (e.g. California going from drought to flooding). It’s global climate change, plain and simple. And it’s not going away if we ignore it.

The New York Times has a great article about how climate change is affecting Mexico City. Read it and you’ll start to realize that the next world war may not be over political or religious ideologies, but over access to water and food.


Instead of building yet another oil pipeline, we should be hanging solar panels. Instead of watering the lawn, we should be installing rain barrels. Heck, for $5 you can install a shower interrupter valve – push a button and the shower flow slows to a trickle while you lather up, saving a lot of water from being wasted every day.


It’s a small price to pay today… to help avoid paying a much steeper price in the future:


1 + 16 > 45




Happy President’s Day!

Ljubjana is lovely

The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper carries Peanuts reruns in their Sunday comics section, because Peanuts is a timeless classic. Of course, they also run Marmaduke, which is a single-joke strip (giant dog acts like a human) that was never really funny and should’ve been cut about 30 years ago… but we’ll save my love/hate relationship with comic strips for another blog post.

One week ago, they ran a Peanuts strip from 1970, back when there still was a Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia is long gone, but Snoopy also mentions the city of Ljubljana, which is very near and dear to my heart. Many moons ago (1990 to be exact), I quit my job working as the overnight DJ at a country music station in Gettysburg, PA (for obvious reasons – I don’t like country music, had no friends there and struggled to make new connections with my vampire schedule) to visit my younger sister in Ireland for a month, then travel with her through Europe for another month. I cashed in a 401K from a previous job to fund my junket, and while any financial consultant worth his/her fee will tell you that’s foolish, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because the experiences I had on that trip were priceless.

My younger sister was living in Dublin, but I made a few solo forays to different parts of the Emerald Isle. When I was staying at a youth hostel in Kinsale, I met two wonderful young ladies from Ljubljana (which the capital and largest city in Slovenia, in case you stink at geography like I do). Mija and Damjana. I mentioned that my younger sister and I would be traveling through Europe shortly, and they said we should come visit them in Ljubljana. Which we did, a month later. Mija and Damjana and their families were so kind to us. You’d think we were relatives, not some Yankee strangers. They showed us around the wonderful city of Ljubljana, opened up their homes to us, and offered us great meals and comfy beds, which were sorely needed after three weeks of youth hostel roulette (room full of partiers? room full of snorers? yes and yes).

I remained “pen pals” with both Mija and Damjana (back when “pen pals” was a thing). 27 years later, we still stay in touch via occasional emails and annual Christmas cards. Both are married, both have two kids, both are still the same kind and gracious people they were back in 1990.  (And they like to point out that they are even more beautiful than Slovenia’s own Melania Trump… and have better husbands.) Mija still lives in Slovenia, and teaches English to kids. Damjana lives in France and is a crafter/designer/artist (you can see/buy her unique designs on Etsy, read her blog here and check out her photography on Instagram).

Obviously reading the Peanuts comic strip made me think of my dear old (but not old-old) friends. Ever the promoters of their home country, they suggested that everyone should get a glimpse of all its majesty and natural beauty on the official Slovenia Instagram.

So if you’re keeping score at home, a comic strip from 1970 made me think of 1990, and a city 4,716 miles away. Because friends far away are still close to my heart.




The media’s a circus, but we don’t have to be the clowns

Marketing guru Seth Godin really nailed it in his recent post about the growth of commercial media. And “growth” in this case means it’s spreading like a cancer. You should read the entire thing, and subscribe to Seth’s daily blog because he always offers some tasty food for thought.

But here (in italics) are a few excerpts I found particularly insightful:

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that’s primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It’s possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don’t have enough.

Hence a new iPhone release every year.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

Hence the stories about shark attacks every summer, even though you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.

And now they’re being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don’t align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It’s sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Hence “click bait” headlines, fake news and trolling. In the 60’s Timothy Leary encouraged us to “turn on, tune in, drop out” but now it should be “turn off, tune out, drop back into the real world.”


Groundhog Day all over again

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, but the day before that, there was a Groundhog Day sighting in Cincinnati.

Yes, THE Bill Murray was at the Xavier-Seton Hall men’s basketball game (his son Luke is an assistant coach for Xavier). Everyone knows Bill. Everyone loves Bill. But how about a little love for his good friend, writing partner and sometimes co-star, Harold Ramis.


Harold’s star never did shine as brightly as Bill’s, but his fingerprints are all over so many of the most memorable comedies of my generation:

  • he wrote Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and the screenplay for Back to School and Groundhog Day
  • he was the head writer for SCTV for a couple of years
  • he co-starred with Bill Murray in Stripes and Ghostbusters, and also was an actor in SCTV, Knocked Up and As Good as It Gets
  • he directed Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day… and 4 episodes of The Office. (He also directed Stuart Saves His Family but still, not a bad batting average.)

Beyond the IMDb stats, though, from all reports Mr. Ramis (who passed away in 2014) was a really good guy… and that doesn’t happen often in Hollywood. Here’s Groundhog Day actress Andie McDowell talking about him:

Raised Jewish, Harold gravitated toward Buddhism, and even created a pocket-sized “5 Minute Buddhist” cheat sheet, which he kept with him at all times.

He described his belief system as “Budd-ish.” The influence of Buddhism shows up in Caddyshack:

And it’s all over Groundhog Day. So on the day after, which is like the day before, and the day before that, let’s practice a little gratitude for Mr. Harold Ramis.

And check out these fun facts about the Groundhog Day from Harold’s director’s commentary.





What’s past is prologue

Just a few nuggets from the news and the history archive. I’ll let you connect the dots. First from the news:

And then there’s this fact:

First, according to an analysis by the Cato Institute, between 1975 and 2015, foreign nationals from the seven banned countries killed exactly zero Americans on U.S. soil. Yet none of the four countries from which the 9/11 terrorists originated – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon – are subjected to travel ban.

And now from the history folder:  Today’ is the birth date of Fred Korematsu (he’s today’s “Google Doodle”… never would’ve heard of him otherwise).

Fred Korematsu died of respiratory failure at his daughter’s home in Marin County, California, on March 30, 2005. One of the last things Korematsu said was, “I’ll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country.” He also urged others to “protest, but not with violence, and don’t be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years.”