Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ist Quarter Observations...Trayvon, Ky.vs Louisville, and wedding showers

The first quarter of 2012 is now in the books.  A few observations follow concerning the state of things:

# The Trayvon Martin story gets more convoluted with each passing day. The more we learn, the more confused we get. However, two things are certain, and I believe I made this observation in my first blog on the subject. If Trayvon were white, an arrest would have been made by now, and if Trayvon's killer had been black, we wouldn't even be talking about this story because there would be no story. Oh, and what is a "white-hispanic"? I can honestly say I've never heard of such a designation before this case. I assume that because Zimmerman has a white father and an Hispanic mother, he is a "white-hispanic"? But by this logic, President Obama should be referred to as a "white-african-american", shouldn't he? The cynic in me thinks that the New York Times chose this new locution because the story wouldn't have had the same zing if the killer were "only" Hispanic. Then it would have been just another minority killing another minority which happens literally every day without comment. But, throw the "white" tag in front of Hispanic and've got yourself a full-throated front page screamer, complete with marches, boycotts, and bounties. One little 5 letter word. Now the most dangerous place in America to find yourself is between Al Sharpton and a TV camera.

# Tonight the University of Kentucky plays Louisville for a chance to play for the National Title. Two schools from the same state, both with rich basketball tradition, and both with seriously flawed head coaches. Just three years ago Rick Pitino was going through a sex scandal involving lots of lying, hypocrisy and extortion. Good old Rick, the devout Catholic family man caught having sex with a woman not his wife in a booth at a public restaurant. Then, there's John Calipari, he of the vacated wins at Memphis, he of multiple recruiting violations and phony SAT tests and a graduation rate of .087%. These two guys make it hard for Italian Americans to overcome Mob stereotypes. One of these two guys needs to make the other an offer he can't refuse. Don't be surprised if at halftime of tonight's game, a star player gets whacked.

#There's a huge thing at my house this afternoon. A wedding shower. The house is decorated in pastels and there's frilly stuff everywhere. It's for Meghan Kees. Her, Kaitlyn Burton, Arika Aker and my daughter were the four amigos all through high school. Now, Arika's married, and Meghan is having a wedding shower in my house. Watching these girls grow up has been a wondrous sight to behold. They are all so mature and adult-like. Hard to believe that what seems like a few months ago they were lounging around in their pajamas in my living room watching Dawson Creek marathons, trying to eat pop-corn in braces. Now look at them. Beautiful, smart, and getting serious about life. Well done.

# The new furniture is beautiful and the house looks great, but a bit like a house that should belong to someone else. I look at the new sofa, the rich dark wood, the grownup kitchen table and wonder what hotel suite we're in. Pam bought a shag rug to put under it all. Looks great. I'll feel better once I spill something and get that out of the way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Opening Day 2012..yeah baby!!!

On opening day last year I published a blog entry about the romance and grandeur of the game of baseball, MY game, the game I've been in love with since grade school. It was full of childhood memories and my early heroes and the sort of sentimentality that makes non-baseball people roll their eyes. Well, this year I will dispense with sentiment and just get right down to it. What follows is an expert break down of all the pennant races of 2012, based on my superior knowledge of the game and renowned prognostication talents. It is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be used as a cheat sheet in Vegas.

National League

The National League will be dominated by pitching as it has been for many years now. It is clearly the weaker of the two leagues. The American League has more power, more star players etc..and consequently has dominated inter league play recently. However, the senior circuit can pitch and that counts for alot. Here are my picks:

National League East will be won by the Phillies...again. But the Nationals will give them a run for their money. That's right, the Washington Nationals have the potential to be quite good. It will depend on a healthy Stephen Strasburg, whether or not Jayson Werth is better and Michael Morse wasn't a fluke, and whether or not Bryce Harper learns how not to be a jackass. That's a lot of maybes but something tells me that this is their year to break out.

National League Central will go to the Cardinals, even without Pujols. For one thing, the division sucks, and the biggest threat was the Reds a few days ago, until their closer got hurt and will probably be out for the year. The Astros might be the worst team in the league since the 1962 Mets. That should be fun to watch.

The National League West goes to the San Fransisco Giants. Too much pitching for for the rest of that woeful division to keep up with. They will win lots of 2-1 games, which will make them really tough in a short series against anyone.

This is the first year of two wild card teams and that contest will pit the Nationals against the Diamondbacks.and the team from Washington will actually win, disproving the adage that nobody from Washington knows how to do anything right.  Then the Phillies will eliminate the Nationals in the Division series as will the Giants eliminate the Cardinals, setting up a League Championship series between the Phillies and the Giants. The Giants go to the World Series for the second time in the past three years.

The American League seems to have all of the exciting and most overpaid players in the game. Plus they have the coolest ballparks and the big marquee teams and generally they are more fun to watch. Now, if they would get rid of the ghastly Designated hitter rule, they'd be set. Here are my picks:

American League East goes to the 208 million dollar New York Yankees. Although I hate them and would love to see them implode in an ugly rash of injury-ridden mayhem, I believe they have one more run in them..damn it. The Red Sox will do the imploding in this division. They miss Theo, and Bobby Valentine is no Terry Francona.

American League central will be won handily by the Detroit Tigers who will have an incredible lineup and that guy from Manakin-Sabot..whats his name? Verlander, yeah Justin Verlander. Second place in that division will be my sleeper pick..the (gulp) Kansas City Royals. You heard it here first.

American League West is the property of the Texas Rangers until somebody takes it from them and I don't think the Angles, even with the great Albert Pujols can win it this year, although they will take the Wild Card along with the Tampa Bay Devil rays.

So, The Angels beat the Rays in the Wild Card match up. The Angels then beat the Rangers in the Division series, something they had trouble doing in the regular season. Meanwhile the Tigers beat the Yankees (hallelujah) and play the Angels for all the marbles and win the Pennant.

The Giants prevail in six games over the Tigers.

American League MVP will go to Robinson Cano
Cy Young goes to Justin Verlander..again

National League MVP will be Matt Kemp
Cy Young goes to Roy Halladay

So, there you have it. Can't wait.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pat Robertson....Where's a Biblical Plague When You Need One??

This week, the cause of Christ and the advancement of his Gospel, took a severe body-blow when once again the Reverend Pat Robertson opened up his pie hole. What aspect of the human condition was he opining about, abortion, gay marriage, pornography, divorce? Nope. This time, the 700 Club founder was very angry about the evil ramifications of the Denver Broncos trade of Tim Tebow. Now, let that sentence peculate for a moment, let it sink in, contemplate the absurdity.

Pat was particularly upset that Tim was thrown overboard after such a remarkable run of games last season that took the Broncos to the playoffs. Even though Peyton Manning is an MVP, hall of fame quarterback, Pat adroitly pointed out that Peyton is one hard hit away from injury, and if that were to happen, the Broncos would find themselves without a quarterback. Then he added this nugget..."And if that happens, it would SERVE THE BRONCOS RIGHT!"

Pat Robertson has been making it harder for me to be an unashamed Christian for over 30 years now. He's got to be 90 by now. Whenever I see him on television now he looks like what Howdy Doody would look like by now if marionettes aged like humans do. Christianity soldiers on for months at a time, nobly striving to spread the Gospel and be salt and light in a dying world, and then...BAM!!!, this imbecile makes some stunningly ignorant statement, which the media then amplifies to the rafters. Then, Christians  spend weeks answering sneering questions from our friends(and enemies) like, "So, you're a Christian right? You like Pat Robertson?"

Pat is fond of attributing God's judgement to natural disasters, like his famous claim that hurricane Katrina was God's judgement on the sinful city of New Orleans. Well, I say, where is a good biblical plague when you need one? When a "Christian leader" starts openly wishing for a season-ending injury to befall an athlete as pay-back for trading Tim Tebow, I submit that its time for Pat to walk off into the sunset of his retirement. I mean, everyone and everything has a limited shelf life. There's no shame in growing old. Besides, if he leaves now, he will still have productive years left to devote to his other energy shakes that make it possible for 70 year olds to leg press 2000 pounds.

I'm aware that all religions have had imperfect representatives, but it seems that Christianity in the United States has had more than it's fair share. So, please Pat, for all of us who want to represent our savior in as authentic a way as possible, I beg you....shut the hell up!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Conversation About Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin. All of the chattering classes in America are constantly imploring us to have a "conversation about race".  What they really want is not a conversation, but rather a lecture. Any such conversation that doesn't result in a resounding guilty verdict of white America isn't what the chattering classes have in mind. Be that as it may, I do believe that the murder of this young man is as good a time as any to discuss race in America, and I will do so honestly. Most of you who read this blog know me so you can judge my views accordingly, measuring them against the full story of my life and work.

The facts of this story, as I know them raise only one serious question, why hasn't the shooter, Mr. George Zimmerman been taken into custody? A 17 year old, unarmed kid has been murdered by a 28 year old man, vaguely identified as a member of some neighborhood watch group, who had nothing better to do than roam around with a gun looking for trouble. Mr. Zimmerman's attorney is claiming self-defense, and since nobody knows precisely what happened in the 60 seconds prior to the shooting, perhaps it was. But, that's something for a jury to decide after a complete examination of the facts in a court of law. Since when does a police officer let a man walk free who just killed someone with a firearm on the shooters explanation that it was self-defense? I simply cannot imagine a similar outcome if the shooter was black and the dead teenager was white. And this contradiction is at the root of the anger felt among black Americans. For the first time in my lifetime I actually find myself agreeing with words flowing out of the mouth of Al Sharton. The fact that Zimmerman wasn't arrested on the spot is damning evidence of a cynical double standard that exists in our justice system. Black friends often tell me of the fear of being stopped by the police for the crime of "driving while black". I listen to them and a part of my heart breaks.

But this is where it gets tough. Crime statistics are stubborn things. The percentage of violent crimes committed by blacks is staggering. A study conducted and published in 1993(highlights of twenty years of surveying crime victims) stated that of the 1.3 million inter-racial violent crimes committed that year,75% involved white victims.  Why is it that nobody in their right mind would dare be caught walking around in any predominately black neighborhood in America after dark? If I am walking with my wife, from a restaurant to my car downtown after dark and I see a group of three black teenagers in baggy pants, hoodies, smoking cigarettes on the corner, is it racist of me to be scared? If I cross the street to avoid having to go near them, am I guilty of a hate crime? Actually, in my mind, if I saw three white teenagers similarly dressed on that same corner I would experience the same fear, however if the instinct for self-preservation means anything at all, it means that my fear isn't racist, but rational.

When I read the story of Trayvon Martin, I feel nothing but shame that the local police valued his life so little that they would let his killer go. But I also feel great confusion at how this particular case has been magnified beyond recognition, while everyday, black on black crime claims victim after victim and we hear not a word from Al Sharton, Jesse Jackson or any of the other racial saboteurs. Why is it that the black community glorifies the violent thug culture of Hip-Hop when the vast majority of victims of that pathology are black? Instead, in too many black neighborhoods and schools if a kid decides that he wants to rise above his circumstances by applying himself in school, he is derided as an Uncle Tom sell-out? Really? When is the black community, the majority of whom are hard working, law-abiding citizens going to reject the terrorists in their own ranks who are destroying the black family? Perhaps the local police in Sanford value Trayvon no less than his own community values the other Trayvons in their midst.

Do I believe that blacks get a fair shake in the legal system in this country? Absolutely not. Our criminal justice system too often favors the connected and wealthy at the expense of those who are neither. Do I believe that racism still exists in this country? Of course I do. The great sin of slavery and oppression in our nations legacy is not something easily overcome. But do I believe that the systematic destruction of many black communities can all be laid at the feet of white racism? Certainly not. At some point black Americans will need to exorcise their own demons, and take responsibility for years and years of self-inflicted wounds.

If I were King for a day, Mr. Zimmerman would be in police custody charged with first degree murder. He would be bound over for a jury trial and given the opportunity to prove his innocence. Further, every police officer involved in the decision to let him go free after shooting a 17 year old boy in cold blood would not only be fired immediately but persecuted to the full extent of the law. But even if I were King, nothing I could say or do would be enough for the parents of that young man. Today, that is where my heart is, praying for comfort in this the hour of every parents' worst nightmare.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dealing With Anger

I leave for Boston in the morning to hear several prominent speakers from my profession. The purpose of the 36 hour event is to bolster one's enthusiasm level for the business. It's promoters have given it the rather odd name of "The Coaching Forum". I have chosen to go for three reasons. First, my enthusiasm level for this business is in dire need of bolstering. Second, the list of speakers includes two that I actually want to hear, and third, all my expenses are being paid.

This has been an odd day. It started well.  I got a lot done at the office, set several appointments for next week, and although I did lose a case that I had worked on back in February, I also managed to open a new case during an annual review with an old client. Then I went home to eat some lunch and saw that the weather forecast for Saturday in Richmond was for a 70% chance of rain. Instead of lunch I decided to cut the grass and get it done before Boston. Afterwards, I took a shower and headed out to Mom and Dad's to pay some bills for them. Once there, I learned that their plans for breakfast at Debbie's with some church friends had been cancelled because Dad had fallen on his way to take out the trash. It seems that he was left laying on the ground for over twenty minutes since he could neither get up unassisted, nor get Mom's attention. Mom finally saw him through the window and immediately called a nearby friend to help. The friend arrived about the time as the church friends showed up to take them to breakfast. Thankfully Dad was not injured in the fall, but it was all a bit too much for one day, so the breakfast outing would have to be rescheduled.

Although Dad looked fine physically when he was telling me the story, I noticed a trace of embarrassment on his face. How awful it must have been for him to be found laying helpless in the yard in front of his friends, unable to get up under his own power. Mom had brought a blanket to wrap him in since the grass was heavy with dew and dad was cold. As he told me the details, I felt a familiar anger rising up in my heart. How could God allow my father to get to the point where  every other day brings some fresh visitation of physical decay. Why would God not spare his faithful servant the indignity of it all? Of course, I know the answer, I know what all of my spiritually mature friends would say to me, if I shared my anger and frustration. And, they would be right. I'm quite aware of the mysteriousness of God's ways. I know about Job. I have committed to memory all of the verses about how in our weakness he is made strong. Still, I look into my Dad's eyes and see the frustration, and because I love him, the anger rises.

When I left them, they seemed fine. I returned to the office and finished up a few things, then went home for the day. Pam had bought a two pound pork loin home for dinner. It was nice out so I cooked it on the grill, 35 minutes at 425 degrees. As I sat next to the grill listening to it pop and sizzle, the anger began to recede. Soon it was all gone, replaced by simple melancholy. Tomorrow in Boston even that will be gone, until the next time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Downton Abbey. Why Do I Love It?

I stumbled upon the British production of Downton Abbey about six months ago. Pam and I watched the second episode of season two first and were at first thoroughly confused. Being American, we didn't know the difference between a house maid and a lady's maid, hadn't a clue what a footman was, let alone a valet. Nevertheless we instantly were mesmerized by the stunning beauty and mystery of the estate house, and even more the richness of the story. Before long we were hooked. After the end of season two, I immediately went out and dropped $30 on the complete season one DVD collection with the bonus DVD about the making of Downton Abbey. Season three doesn't air until September so we have been reduced to watching reruns whenever we can. Its been quite awhile since I have been so invested in a television program. So, the question becomes, what's the attraction? Why do we love Downton Abbey so much?

First of all, even though the setting is grand, half of the show is actually filmed on location at the grand house itself, and it's a period piece, taking place in the years leading up to WWI, it is after all a glorified soap-opera. What American show can it be fairly compared with? Well, that's just it. There IS no American equivalent. Our soap-operas are things like Parenthood (very good) and 24 (awesome). But those shows are present day dramas which we can all identify with. Downton Abbey is about a time and place lost in dusty history books. It's pre-war Great Britain at it's peak of power. The Lord of Grantham presides over an inherited estate. He is a member in good standing of the aristocracy. The servants live in the big house but are employees, and in most every way that matters, are second class citizens. But, unlike Hollywood where all rich people are devious and all poor folks are virtuous, Downton Abbey presents all characters in all of their very human dimensions. Some of the "help" are indeed virtuous, but others are back-stabbing opportunists. The Grantham clan has a bit of everything from noble and dignified (Lord Grantham and Matthew Crawley) to petty and vicious (Ethel) to charmingly hilarious (the Dowager Countess). In other words, class and standing offer no guarantee of virtue. The servants in the house also run the gamut from treacherous and conniving( O'Brien and Thomas ) to sweet and noble(Anna) and everything in between. The producers of the show even present a gay character who isn't a 100%, gold-plated saint. In fact, this particular character is one of the biggest jerks in the entire cast, something that never happens in anything produced in Hollywood.

But there's something else. Downton Abbey exists in a time that didn't extend basic human rights to many of it's citizens. Women couldn't vote, workers had few of the protections of the modern welfare state, and the very rich had a far easier time navigating the justice system than did the working classes. I don't wax nostalgic for everything from Britain in 1914 by any means...and yet..There is something about the show that stirs in me a feeling of loss. In that day, there were a great deal of things that both classes shared, primary among them an understanding of the essential value of personal character. One's word, and one's honor were valued beyond price. There were clearly understood rules of conduct that if violated amounted to a indelible stain on one's character. To see such agreement of the importance of character throughout the many varied characters on the show is refreshing. The lack of any such agreement in today's culture is glaring by contrast.

I eagerly await season three and will soon become lost in the twists and turns that will surely buffet the great house. Even though its all about a past that is long gone, it does save me from the present nightmare of Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, and Celebrity Apprentice.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Ghostly Family Tree

My octogenarian parents no longer drive themselves around much anymore. So, on the weekends we kids try to plan things for them to do. Last night I called my Mom to invite her and Dad over to the house today for an Irish lunch of Soda Bread and Potato Soup. I added that it would give them a chance to see Kaitlin before she heads back to school, and I even offered to come pick them up. No sale. They had plans. Something about a visit from Bobby and Bill, Aunt Pinky's two surviving sons coming over to catch up. Not to be denied, I inquired as to what their plans might be for lunch after church on Sunday. Wouldn't it be nice to go out to O'Charleys with them and Kaitlin? I offered to pick them up and take them back home afterwards. Too late. Apparently, an earlier invitation from Dad's two sisters had been too good to pass up. They would be dining at Debbie's with Emma and Nancy. So much for their empty social calender.

My mother was disappointed that I had no earthly idea who "Bobby and Billy" were. Evidently, both men live here in Richmond and are actively involved in performing music in nursing homes. They called out of the blue the other day and sat a date with Mom and Dad to catch up. "Don't you remember them Douglas?" Mom pleaded."They were your Aunt Pinky's two sons." Ok, first of all, Aunt Pinky was not MY aunt. She was my Grandfather's sister, making her Mom's aunt. The last time I laid eyes on her was probably some time in the late sixties. However, I do remember her. Who could forget Pinky, her of the hot, florid face, wreaking of moth balls, and constantly pinching my cheeks with those white-gloved hands? She was a Dixon, one of many colorful members of that loud and dramatic clan.

I could regale you for hours with the fables of  Dixon family history. First of all, there were the marvelous names, from Aunt Pinky, and Aunt Rosalee to Bubby, Bootsie, Admire and Montague. With names like these, drama was sure to follow. Montague's story was the stuff of legend. He was a lawyer who practised in Charlottesville during the week and returned to his farm in Buckingham on the weekend. Montague had a soft spot for the downtrodden and was always hiring the saddest of his clients to work for him on his farm, until one of them shot him in cold blood upon his return one dark and stormy night. Although his loss caused quite a stir, his contribution to Dixon family lore did not end with his untimely death for it was the ghost of Montague who appeared at my Grandmothers bedside on June 6, 1944 to reassure her that her two sons, Harry and John, both involved in the fighting that day, were in fact alive and well. But this appearance wasn't the first, last, or even most bizarre ghostly tale associated with the Dixons. One day when my mother was very young, all the men in the family were away, leaving only Mom, my Grandmother and Mom's very sick brother Lloyd. As fate would have it, Lloyd passed away and Grandmother was reduced to tears on the steps of the back porch. As she held my mother tightly and let out her tears, suddenly there appeared a small white Scottish Terrier at the bottom of the steps. Then a man with a white suit and a panama boater hat appeared beside him. My mother remembers to this day the gentleness of his eyes as he asked Grandma what was wrong. He stayed and comforted her and then left right before the men returned. None of them recalled seeing any such man or dog before, and no one ever saw him again. Mom has no doubt that he was an angel sent to comfort Grandma in her hour of grief. Just another day in the rich history of the Dixons.

No wonder, I suppose, why Mom seems so put out with me when I don't remember some random distant cousin three times removed. To her, its all part of the wild story of her life. To me its just people with awesome names.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Once Again, Shocked by Washington

I was shocked to learn today that the Congressional Budget Office revised upward the cost projections for ObamaCare. Back when the legislation was passed, the President had assured us that the total cost of the bill would come in under the magic number of 1 trillion dollars. In his State of the Union speech he had told us that the total cost, all in, would be 940 billion over ten years, or about what we had spent fighting Iraq and Afghanistan. The bean-counting, green eye shade, penny pinchers in Congress had accused the administration of accounting gimmicks. They pointed out that the ten year projections conveniently counted only 6 years of actual spending, while counting ten years of tax receipts, made possible by delaying full implementation until 2014. Obama countered that there would be so much savings wrought by the genius of his reforms that any future costs would be offset by the brilliance of his cost reduction strategies. Today, the CBO begs to differ. The revised costs of ObamaCare is now estimated to be 1.74 trillion over the next ten years, or roughly double what we all were led to believe.

Imagine that. A government program coming in severely over budget. I'm stunned. These are, after all, the best and brightest minds that academia has to offer. The president famously stacked his governing team with professors, career government employees, community organizers, and public policy advocates of every size, creed and ethnicity. No more would we be held back by men and women from the fever-swamps of commerce, finance and business, especially businesses that exist to earn evil profits. No, this administration would be manned( and womanned?) with only the best minds in the public sector. Surely, there weren't any problems we faced as a nation that couldn't be solved if only we rid ourselves of the insidious influence of the merchant class.

Actually, who could blame them? The kind of business leaders that have helped shape public policy under previous administrations had been the type who were highly skilled at promoting their own interest instead of the nations' interest. The knuckleheads that gave us subsidies for ethanol, farming, green energy, were all businessmen. Maybe once you're successful enough in business to become interested enough in government, you're already too far gone. The new definition of Crony Capitalist should be any businessman who travels to Washington, without the aid of a subpoena. All the great businessmen I have ever known have never shown the slightest interest in getting tangled up in politics. Even the great Warren Buffet had the wisdom to wait until he had already made his bones before trying to become the Democratic party's favorite billionaire.

It occurs to me that the one era in American history that produced the greatest economic growth happens to be the era from which no one can name a President. Here's a quiz. Without resorting to Google, name any three Presidents from the period between 1870 and 1900. (Jeopardy music playing). Hint, there were a total of 7 and one of them actually got elected despite tipping the scales at a robust 310 pounds..clearly before television. ( More Jeopardy music). Times up. Yeah, I thought so. You know the reason you don't know those guys? Because back then all of the smartest, most gifted and capable men went into business, not politics. Ever heard of Andrew Carnigie? You know, the guy who started as an immigrant with less than nothing and became the richest man in the world since Solomon, then spent the last half of his life giving it all away, building not only the finest concert hall in the country but over 1400 libraries in city after city across the country...THAT Andrew Carnigie. He was the brightest light this coutry produced during those years, and I dare say, we as a nation are better for it.

I  am not distressed at the lack of great men and women in politics. I rather long for the day when great men and women are not required to be in politics. Sure, there are times when we need greatness, but most of the time we need mere competence, let the greats go elsewhere. We will all be better off when they do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Education of Andrew Hemby

Your Honor, I would like to submit as Exhibit A in my case against public education in the United States, Mr. Andrew Hemby. Andrew is a fine young man, bright, eager and capable, but has somehow managed to graduate from Virginia Tech with an appalling lack of even entry level knowledge of the history of his country. However, what young Hemby lacks in knowledge, he makes up for in energy and a keen desire to learn. Inasmuch, he has asked me to prepare a reading list for him to introduce him to the grand story of this great Republic. I submit the following list as Exhibit B. It is not meant to be a comprehensive, complete survey of all of our history, just the basics, to give him just enough information so that he can hold forth intelligently when in a crowd of his peers.( I believe he wants to enter politics. )

1. Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis                                     Revolutionary Period

2. American Lion, A Bigraphy of Andrew Jackson               Early 1800's

3.The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote                      Civil War

4. American Colossus by HW Brands                                     End of Civil War to 1900

5.The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales                                    Great Depression

6.The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill                         1930's, leading up to beginning of WWII

7. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer                                              "

8.Franklin & Winston by Jon Meacham                                  World War II to FDR's death

9 Witness by Whitaker Chambers                                             1950's and the Cold War

It is my hope that Mr. Hemby will actually read these books, not merely Google their reviews. I am confident that he will avail himself of this opportunity at self-improvement, and ultimately may one day mention me as a mentor in his first inaugural address.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Great Party

Patrick is heading back to Nashville this morning after a successful recital and graduation party. The recital program went very well, but then the audience demanded an encore and Patrick made the critical error of not having anything prepared. But after an awkward pause he sat down at the $150,000, 9 foot grand piano and started to play an old jazz standard,"If I Had You", singing the lyrics with the help of his smart phone, and the entire atmosphere of the hall was transformed. Patrick's soft touch and unique flair was in sharp contrast to the highly technical, pounding style of his hired accompanist, and suddenly he had the whole room in the palm of his hand. Unfortunately, Patrick doesn't have a repertoire of such songs readily available for performance. If he had, we all would have set there, mesmerized for another hour. Great stuff.

Then everyone came over to the house for the party that Pam had planned. There was a Chick-fila party platter of nuggets and scores of homemade pies and desserts. Soon the place was filled with family and friends eating and laughing and enjoying the occasion. There's a sound that fills the place when friends are gathered to celebrate. It's a unique sort of hum, much like music, that communicates something profound. It's the sound of comfort, the sound of life well-lived. In between serving coffee, and picking up half-empty paper cups, I would hear familiar laughs from other rooms and think of how many years now I have heard those voices. These are the sounds that life long friends make, sounds that are irreplaceable.

My parents were there. It's a labor for them to be a part of a night like this one anymore. It takes Bill and Linda to pick them up, accommodations to be made for their seating and care, but there they were on the front row soaking everything in. What thoughts must go through their heads watching their Grandson, in a tuxedo singing songs in French and German? What a life to have lived that has taken them from the tobacco farms of Buckingham county to a house filled with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, in the most uppity suburb of the state capital? I can't imagine what they must think of it all, but I suspect it's something between pride and astonishment, with a little exhaustion thrown in for good measure.

For the next week we will have Kaitlin home for spring break. Jon will be here with her. We will watch season two of Downton Abbey with them and Jessica and Katy. It will be great fun. Then spring break will be over and Kaitlin will head back to Wake, and Pam and I will resume our other life. That's the life that we live on the installment plan, two, three, four weeks without our kids. It's actually a great life. Just about the time I'm getting on Pam's last nerve, one of the kids comes home for a visit. Then, after a weekend of doing their laundry, cooking for them, and essentially waiting on them hand and foot, they leave, and we relax back into being with each other, astonished that we ever had the energy to be full-time parents. "Really?? We actually had two kids, full-time for twenty years??", we think as we collapse on the sofa.

We glance at the calender and notice that Easter is only four weeks away. Better buy Patch his plane ticket now before they get too expensive. We're already psyched.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Me, Molly, and Timing

Timing is everything. Bad timing is even more than everything, like when you were ten and caught a stomach virus on Christmas Eve. Bad timing is where bad luck becomes mysteriously connected with cosmic justice, like when you skip church to play golf only to throw out your back putting the clubs in the trunk.

So yesterday my kids are all home and everybody is getting all excited for the big wedding of a friend last night. Kaitlin is one of the bridesmaids and Patrick is singing a duet. All of our dearest friends will be there. We're all dressed up. Can't wait! Then on the way to the church I am visited by the same intestinal issue that has plagued me for months now, like that annoying person who always shows up at your door wanting to talk at the worst possible time. As we get closer and closer to the church it becomes clear that I will have to miss the way I can sit in a pew for an hour in my rapidly deteriorating condition. So I drop off the family at the blessed event and drive back home for a night of misery. Its ok though, Patrick's duet was captured on video by Pam's cell phone. Patrick was amazing, and I got to see Kaitlin in her beautiful dress and up-do in the background of the video. She was about a quarter of an inch tall and looked stunning.

This morning I feel better. Tonight Patrick performs his senior recital at Richmond Piano for family and friends and then his belated graduation party follows back at the house. As if on cue, Molly jumps up on our bed at 2:30 in the morning, then immediately jumps down and throws up the only food that she has put in her stomach for the last 24 hours. She is not well, won't eat, can hardly navigate the stairs, and has laid around completely listless for the past two days. So, this morning I will take her to the vet to see what's wrong. Many scenarios run through my mind. Everything from, she just has a bug and will be fine in a day or so, to maybe she has some sort of intestinal blockage that is life threatening unless we spend $2,000 for immediate, emergency surgery, payment required in cash, upfront. Timing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kids coming home and a new hire at Grove

I will be enjoying a full house this weekend. Tomorrow my son will be arriving, along with my daughter and her boyfriend. There will be a wedding to attend, and Patrick will recreate his senior recital for family and friends at Richmond Piano. Then there will be the graduation party he never had back in December. With all the blur of activity, there won't be much time to just crash on the sofa and chat for a few hours, which is really what I'd rather do. Nevertheless, it will be wonderful to have the whole family sleeping under the same roof for the first time this year.

Strange, unsettling news received last night. After the spring preview concert at Godwin, Sherri Matthews informed the audiance that this will be her last year as the choral director of the most decorated music program in the State of Virginia, perhaps on the east coast for all I know. It seems that God has called her to become the Music Ministry coordinator or some such thing at Grove Avenue Baptist Church, which happens to be the church I attend. Within minutes of her announcement, Facebook was abuzz with the news, and I got a breathless call from my sister who was at the concert and witnessed the whole thing. Honestly, the first thing that raced through my mind was...the only profession with more back-biting, small-mindedness and Glee-like drama than public education is church work!! Poor Sherri is going from the frying pan to the fire, I thought. Then a flood of emotions hit me, feelings of loss and regret. Sherri had such a profound impact on Kaitlin and Patrick, and countless other kids who have been in her choirs over the years. She taught them not only to appreciate fine music and to perfect the craft of singing, but she also taught them the greater lesson of the joy of striving to be the best, of not settling for good enough. All that will end for future students at Godwin and for a moment, sadness came over me. Then I thought of the impact she will have a chance to have on the members of Grove Avenue. All of us could benefit from lifting our sights a bit when it comes to worship. An infusion of the manifold talents of Sherri Matthews on the music program of any church could have an incalcuable impact. If, in fact, she feels called by God to make this move, who am I to disagree? Who knows, maybe the big shots at Grove will put her in charge of the Christmas Eve service. God knows that trainwreck could use a dose of excellence!

Change, all around me. Nothing is forever. But change can sometimes bring energy and excitement, and in this case I think it will. Actually looking forward to hearing what Ken and Sherri have planned Sunday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Obama Wins Reelection in 2012

       " To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry or skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

                                                                                                    Thomas Jefferson

" When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the Republic."

                                                                                                    Benjamin Franklin

 Tomorrow is Super Tuesday for the Republican Presidential race. As such, it is the day when some measure of clarity will come to that race and the probable nominee will be more certain. At this hour it still looks to be Romney's race to lose, as I predicted in a post from several months ago. But I am at the point now where I believe that absent some sort of catastrophic , unseen event, President Obama will win reelection in 2012, and there's virtually nothing that the Republican party can do about it. Let me explain...

I ran across a batch of statistics the other day from several different sources that reaffirmed one of my powerful gut instincts. I checked the figures to be sure that they weren't some slanted, agenda driven pseudo-statistic from some party think tank. They weren't. These were numbers derived by census bureau data and information from the IRS. Two statistics in particular made me see how hopeless is the cause of conservative, small-government politics.

First of all, back in 1968 when I was but a boy of ten, still dreaming of being a short stop for the New York Yankees, only 12% of the citizens of the United States of America paid no federal income tax. By the time the year 2000 rolled around, and I was an exhausted father of two adolescents, 34% of my fellow citizens paid no federal income tax. As I write this, that number has reached 49.5%, and I am a worn out 53 year old who reads everyday in the papers about how I need to pay more in taxes, not necessarily because raising my tax rates will bring more revenue to the treasury, but rather because of some Orwellian notion of "fairness".

The second set of numbers is I believe directly related to the first. In 1968, roughly 18% of the population was dependant on the federal government for at least some portion of their income. Today that number is 29.5% and growing more rapidly than ever owing to ageing baby-boomers who are now retiring in ever increasing numbers.

Lest you think this is just another rich guy "blaming the poor", think again. I acknowledge freely that we were placed in this mess by members of both parties and Presidents from both sides of the aisle. After all, the Earned Income Tax Credit that took so many people off the tax rolls was introduced by Nixon and enhanced by none other than Ronald Reagan. When I say dependant on government I'm not just talking about people on direct welfare assistance payments. I'm also referring to big shot bankers, insurance company and car company directors who mismanage their companies and then lobby the government for bailouts. I'm talking about public employee unions who have the sweet deal of negotiating with bought and paid for politicians for generous benefits where nobody in the room is representing the tax-payer. I'm also talking about anybody out there who believes that anything from the government is free simply because they're not paying for it themselves,  free health care, free contraceptives, free education, etc.

The bottom line is that this country has now crossed the Rubicon, statistically speaking. There are now officially more people who have a vested interest in a powerful leviathan government, than there are people who want the government to leave them alone. The Democratic party caters to that citizen, and there are much more of them, and will be in the future. There have always been fewer Peters to borrow from and more Pauls to pay.  Relaxation of immigration laws will admit more people more likely to vote for the party of government. Young people, freshly graduated from our institutions of higher learning, with notable exceptions, will generally buy in to the view of government as wealth-redistributor. An older and older citizenry will look askance at anyone in Washington dumb enough to want to reform Social Security. So, there you have it. People like me better get used to paying more and more. Additionally, I better get used to complaining about it less and less.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were so right all those years ago. But what do they know...just a couple of rich, dead white guys.