Friday, September 28, 2012

A Useful Idiot

Nothing is more valuable to the New York Times than a conservative opinion writer who constantly rags on conservatives. For this purpose, David Brooks is ideally suited. The “conservative voice” at the Times is constantly distancing himself from the rubes from his side of the ideological aisle, when he’s not displaying his man-crush on the President. This works beautifully for the Times and David Brooks. The Times gets to respond to people who complain about their liberal bias by pointing to Brooks and saying, “Look, there. We have a conservative opinion writer on our staff!!” Brooks on the other hand gets to enjoy the celebrity that comes with being every liberal’s favorite conservative, and the cocktail party invitations that come with that distinction.

The other day, Brooks was in full-throated, hand-wringing mode about the latest shortcomings of his conservative brethren, when he came up with this jewel:

“There are very few Republicans willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40% of American kids are born out of wedlock”

 

Can I ask you a question David? Why, when you see destitute inner city neighborhoods where 40% of all births are to unwed mothers, do you instantly look to the federal government as the fount of all solutions? Does it ever occur to you, that this scandal might be the result OF 40 years of government policy? Does not the well intentioned welfare regime of the Great Society bear SOME of the responsibility for what has become of these neighborhoods? From food stamps to aid to mothers with dependant children programs, these neighborhoods are already the victims of active government intervention. Instead of instinctively assuming that the only possible solutions to poverty come from Washington, does it ever occur to you that maybe we should look to institutions that are a bit closer to the problem? What role might the churches in these neighborhoods play in combating the problem of out of wedlock births? And what about the governments that are closer to the problem: city councils, and State governments. Would giving the parents of kids in these neighborhoods the opportunity to remove their kids from the failing government run schools help turn the tide?

No, David, for you, the only possible remedy for societies ills is to double down on the 40 year strategy of throwing money at the problem with programs conceived and run by the federal government, regardless of the record of failure they have wracked up. Since 1964 and the onset of the War On Poverty, this nation has thrown 15 TRILLION dollars at the inner cities. Today, the poverty rate is virtually unchanged from what it was then. But despite that dismal record, you chastise your fellow republicans for being unwilling to promote yet more “active intervention”.

Enjoy your status and those lovely Manhattan cocktail parties David, but sorry, you’re a tool.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How About THIS Idea??

   " The Mystery of Government is not how Washington works, but how to make it stop."
                                 
                                                                                                     P.J. O'Rourke
 

 

When our founding fathers wrote our constitution, they identified only three federal crimes: treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the total number of federal crimes numbered in the dozens. Today, there is literally no reliable, definitive number, since the federal code is over 27,000 pages long. In 2011 alone, 40,000 additional federal laws were placed on the books by our elected officials. Ignorance of the law may not be an excuse, but it sure ought to be a mitigating factor! The best guess that I could find while researching this business was 1,298,000 federal laws…give or take a million.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai all those years ago, he brought with him the Ten Commandments. Soon, the Levitical laws and rules had ballooned the original ten to over 600. By the time Jesus came along, that number had been blown up by a torrent of rules and regulations handed down by the Pharisees, prompting our Savior to say this:

…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
                       
                                                                                Matthew 22:37-40

It is claimed by apologists for the present system that our politicians are simply responding to the demands of the citizenry for protection against bad men with bad intent. We are to blame for the ponderous size of our federal code. We the people have demanded rules and rules we now have, rules that cover every possible activity of daily living from the size of our toilet paper to the size of our Big Gulps. So how come the existence of over a million rules has not brought with it safety, consensus, and the pursuit of happiness?

Here’s an idea. How about we declare a one year moratorium on the passage of any more laws? How about we give every elected official a year off, with pay? They all work so hard. I know because every one of their commercials tell me so: “ Eric Cantor. Working hard for working families.” “ Tim Kaine has been working for Virginia for years, creating well-paying jobs for Virginia families.” It sounds exhausting! Why don’t we give all of them some well-deserved R&R? Let’s see what would happen if we went 12 months without passing any more laws. Could the Republic survive 12 months if our Senators and Congressmen, Assemblymen and City Council members stayed home? We could put everything on auto-pilot. Keep funding levels where they are. Of course the bureaucrats would still have to come to work to keep the government functioning, but how about we give our law-makers a year off from all that law making?

It would be weird hearing no speeches on C-SPAN. Meet The Press would probably have to shut down. Fox News and MSNBC would have to find something else to scream about. Poor lobbyists would be out of work too, since there wouldn’t be anyone to lobby. Imagine. Maybe after a whole year apart, our elected officials might actually miss each other. Republicans and Democrats might discover that the other guys weren’t all that bad after all. Maybe absence would make the political heart grow fonder and perhaps less rude and obnoxious. And maybe after a year without our government trying to pass laws to help us, we will all relearn how to help ourselves, and each other. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the cooling off period will do us all some good. Harry Reid will finally have time to work on his stamp collection. Mitch McConnell can devote some time to his passion for oil painting. Hillary Clinton will have the time to hit up the gym to lose that fifty pounds she’s packed on traveling the world. A year without campaign commercials might just be the tonic America needs.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Are All Replacement Refs



Awesome photograph. This picture perfectly encapsulates where we are as a nation in 2012. Two overwhelmed people looking at the same event, the same set of facts, and coming to wildly different conclusions.

Last night, the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game came down to this photograph. The splendid rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, lofted a last second, Hail Mary towards the corner of the end zone with no time on the clock and his team down 12-7. The intended receiver, Golden Tate shoves a defender in the back just before leaping in the air to catch the ball. However, the football lands in the waiting hands not of Tate, but of Packers safety M.D. Jennings. They tumble to the ground and these two replacement officials, standing directly over the pile of players make their calls simultaneously...one ref signals touchdown, the other a touch back. Replays seemed to show rather conclusively that Jennings had, in fact, intercepted Wilson's pass. But after a 10 minute delay, the terrified referee touched the button on his microphone and told a deliriously happy home crowd that the horrible call he had just made would stand. End of game, but not the end  of story.

The twitter universe that I am contemplating joining went apoplectic with rage and indignation. The replacement officials were making a mockery of the game, Roger Goddell should be executed, this was the biggest miscarriage of justice since the acquittal of OJ Simpson, these Division II referees were totally overwhelmed by the speed of the professional game, completely out of their depth and had lost control of the game. Actually, I feel for these guys...because everyday that I wake up and go to work and try to live my modern life, I feel an awful lot like a replacement ref.

I often feel overwhelmed with the speed of life in 2012. I too, feel completely out of my depth, and everyday it's a struggle to maintain control of my slice of the world. Replacement officials...I feel your pain. One minute, you're a perfectly happy and contented Division II referee getting psyched up for the big Randolph Macon v. Hampden Sydney tilt coming up in Ashland next Saturday. Suddenly, you get a call from some really nice man from the NFL asking you if you would be interested in becoming a referee at the highest level of the game. It would be great and you would be doing the NFL a big favor, says the nice man. Plus, they promise to pay you ten grand per game! It's a dream come true, the opportunity of a life time. The next thing you know, you're standing over a pile of yellow and blue uniforms with 65,000 intoxicated, fanatical lunatics screaming their lungs out at you with the outcome of a game hanging on your decision. For a slow-motion instant, silent and dreamlike, you're back in Ashland throwing a flag on the Yellow Jackets for having too many men on the field. You wonder what you possibly could have been thinking when you said "yes" to that nice man from the NFL.

Did the refs blow the call last night? Yes. Did they call too many penalties during the game? Yes. Will the fiasco at the end of the game distract from the amazing grit and determination of a rookie QB driving his team to victory in just his third NFL start? Unfortunately, yes. Do these replacements deserve all the blame for the horrible situation in which they find themselves? No, no...a thousand times ..NO! Mr. Goddell, pay the real refs, and stop being the story. The players, and the fans deserve better.



Monday, September 24, 2012

My Great Day At The Ballpark

In a fit of generosity, my brother decided a while back to buy me a ticket to see a Nationals game. We are both stubborn, rabid baseball fans, the kind who illicit lots of eye-rolling from our friends and family when we get started quoting the starting lineup on opening day for the 1955 Yankees, or when we hold forth on the various theories concerning the philosophical underpinnings of the sacrifice bunt. So, I have been totally geeked up about this game for weeks now. The plan was for my best friend, my brother-in-law and me to meet Donnie at the centerfield gate around noon yesterday. This would involve us riding the infamous D.C. Metro from Franconia to the Pentagon, switching from the blue line to the yellow line, then switching once again to the green line at some place called “L’enfant Plaza” and then cruising into the Navy yard station that drops you off a mere 200 yards from the center field fence. To my amazement this potentially disastrous trek came off without incident, so at roughly 12:15 I spotted Donnie’s waving hand amongst the sea of red curly W’s. The sky was bright blue, the sun was out and it was 65 degrees.

We spent an hour or so enjoying the beautiful ballpark. Not only is National’s Park gorgeous, the atmosphere was buzzing with the enthusiasm that only comes with being a contender. The Nats have the best record in the big leagues. I’ve watched at least parts of all of their games on MASN and now I was finally getting the opportunity to see them in person. The magic number was 6 at start of play on September 23. All year I have watched the dominant pitching staff make National League hitters look silly. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzales, Jordan Zimmerman, And Edwin Jackson make up a rotation that has been the envy of baseball. So who do we get to see towing the rubber on this beautiful day??? Some guy named Chien-Ming Wang. I should have viewed it as an omen of things to come, but, lost in the moment, I celebrated the diversity that is big league baseball in 2012. It was time for lunch.

We settled on Hebrew National hot dogs, a side of nachos and a Sam Adams Oktoberfest draft. Then it was time to go find our seats. Donnie had told me that we would be sitting on the second level between home plate and first base. I naturally conjured up images of myself catching numerous fowl balls off the bats of fooled Brewer right handed hitters. What I hadn’t counted on was A. the inability of Chien-Ming Wang to fool hitters, and B. the physical impossibility for a baseball to travel from the field of play to the location of our seats. See, my brother is not able to buy baseball tickets or anything else on-line. He says that this is because he is afraid someone will steal his identity. What that actually means is…he doesn’t know how. If he did he could have gotten on the Nationals’ fine, easy-to-use website and picked out a seat that in fact WAS on the second level between home plate and first base. No, Donnie prefers talking to a real person, the human interaction crucial to our well-being. So, he bought our tickets from “Flo” in promotions.

We began our climb at roughly 12:55. We were in section 321. The signs were confusing. There were rumors of an escalator, but we couldn’t find it. Instead, we took the winding switchback walkways and followed the arrows pointed upward. After twenty minutes or so, and after passing the disturbing skeletal remains of a long dead Senators fan, we finally arrived at our seats. We were on the front rail of the nose-bleed section roughly a thousand feet from the first base bag. Bob Uecker was making fun of our seats. But, it didn’t matter. We were at a big league baseball game, and I was having a blast. Then it got ….weird.

Suddenly for no apparent reason a whole section of fans in section 450 burst into hysterically raucous applause. The four of us immediately began to squint down at the field to see what we had missed, but there was no one on base and nothing of import had transpired. However, two batters later the Nationals turned one of the most amazing, exciting double plays in the history of the game that ignited the crowd into a frenzy. Later, from an usher, we learned that the fans in section 450 were a group in town for the National Association of Psychic Mediums convention ( NAPM ). A couple of innings later, the NAPM crowd let out an ominously deflated groan. We watched Bryce Harper lose a ball in the sun two batters later. These people were spoiling the game for us! It should be against the law for the clairvoyant to attend baseball games Meanwhile, our man Wang, displaying the most laborious windup in history, did not impress. During the long delays between him getting the sign and actually pitching the ball, I found time to Google this mysterious man from Taiwan. I discovered that late in 2006 Wang revealed that he had discovered that he was the biological son of a man who he had always thought was his uncle. The Taiwanese press apparently had a field day with this revelation. Mysteriously, Wang has struggled to get hitters out ever since.

By the fifth inning I was ready for more food. I laid down $20 for a chili covered bratwurst with cheese and onions drizzled over the top just because. As I was settling back into my seat, the psychics were exasperated by some soon to be revealed catastrophy. Sure enough, Jayson Werth proceeds to lose a ball in the sun and two more runs score for the Brewers. The good news was, Donnie was slowly but surely getting over his altitude sickness, and was reporting that feeling had returned to his extremities.

Yes, the Nationals lost the game 6-2. And yes, our four seats just happened to be the only seats in the stadium that remained in the shade the entire game, and yes, the high winds whipping off of the Anacosta river did enter into the stadium through section 321, and said winds were responsible for most of our nose bleeds and head aches, the bottom line was simple…we had a great day at the ballpark.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weekend Ramblings

Here are my very unscientific college football picks for the week.

1. South Carolina will beat Missouri. Why? Despite the fact that South Carolina has the worst nickname in all of college sports, the “gamecocks”, “cocks” for short ( cringe ) are a better team. In addition, this will be Missouri’s first road SEC game, after which, the Missouri coaching staff will be demanding an explanation from someone as to why anyone thought joining the SEC was a good idea.

2. TCU will beat UVA. Why? Because it’s UVA.

3. Florida State will beat Clemson. Why? Because when a team gives up over 70 points in a bowl game, I never take them seriously again.

4.Oklahoma will beat Kansas State. Why? Because Kansas State is essentially the Virginia Tech of the Midwest, a nice little program who never beats anyone important.

5. Oregon will beat Arizona. Why? I have no idea. They play football in Oregon?

6. Notre Dame will beat Michigan. Why? Because God is on their side.

                                                                             #

Ok, moving on to other topics, I did go fishing yesterday. It was fun and relaxing. I caught three fish. None of them seemed too terribly annoyed. Maybe because I let them all go. I feel pretty good about myself for that $23 I sent to the government for the privilege, I don’t mind telling you. Paying my fair share to help Richmond provide “fishing programs” for my state brings an awful lot of self esteem with it.

                                                                             #

Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return yesterday. Dude had 13.7 million in income and paid 1.9 million in federal income taxes. That’s a 14.1% rate, if you’re keeping score at home. But the two things that I found most shocking were A. that this release did NOT satisfy the democratic party. And B. that Mitt gave over 4 million bucks to his church. Whoa. That’s like 30% of his income. Yet another reason I’m glad I’m not a member of the Mormon church!

                                                                             #

My daughter came home last night for the weekend. She arrived around 10 and brought her new roommate, Jess, with her. It’s been a month since I last saw her. She is just as beautiful as I remembered, only a bit smarter. One day soon she’s going to walk through my door after another month in grad school, and it’s going to dawn on her that she is sooo much smarter than me. Who am I kidding, she probably already has. Maybe it happened last night.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Going Fishing...

Modern life can be a complicated mess. Mysteries and contradictions are everywhere. Devoted free market men like myself are frustrated to the point of cynicism when we find crony-capitalists in positions of influence in our political party of convenience. Devoted followers of Christ spend half our time appalled at the narrow-mindedness and irrelevance of the churches we attend. Small business owners are stunned at the level of contempt with which we are held by the current president. Lifelong sports fans carry around with them the unspoken intuition that our favorite sports are being destroyed right before our eyes by the influence of money and the overexposure that it brings. Nobody fixes their own cars anymore because they’re all just big computers on wheels. Every time we go to the grocery store, that tube of toothpaste or that box of maccaroni & cheese is just an ounce or two smaller than it was last month, but the price is the same. Our newspaper just got an inch skinnier, on the same day that it’s price went up 33%. A complicated mess.

But you know what’s not complicated? Fishing. I say “not complicated” when what I mean is “less” complicated. I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods the other day to buy a license, and to replenish my tackle box, and discovered that capitalism has turned fishing into a bizarre avocation involving many brightly colored accessories of dubious purpose. I resisted the urge to become a high tech, cutting age modern angler, preferring to remain a guy who just wants to take an afternoon once in a while to get away from everything and everyone and fish. The State charges $23.00 for the privilege. I was told by the enthusiastic cashier that the money from these licensing fees went towards, “ fishery and hatchery management, habitat development and protection, fishing and conservation programs, and many other valuable programs.” And here I thought that this was just another government money grab. Maybe I’ll write for a list of those “other valuable programs”. But if I do it will just hurdle me further down the dead end road of cynicism when I discover that my fishing license fee was helping to fund Planned Parenthood or something. No, I’ll pass on digging deeper into the reasons why I just paid 23 bucks for the right to fish for one year in the state of my birth.

Sometime soon, maybe tomorrow, I’m going to drive out into the countryside somewhere and find a place to fish. I will not use my cell phone. I will not use any artificial lures. My rig will be the same one I’ve always used, night crawlers and a red and white bobber. I will stare at that bobber and contemplate the meaning of my existence. I will pack a sandwich and maybe a beer or two. If I catch anything, I will enjoy the slimy feel of it’s scales as I hold it in my hand and stare into the depths of it’s glassy eye. Then I will place it gently back into the water and watch it disappear. So simple. So clear. So unambiguous.

At the end of the day I will be refreshed. I will feel whole. On the drive back into town I will try not to think about my complicity in funding those “other valuable programs”.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Game Over.

Poor Mitt. You gotta feel for the guy. For the first time in his entire campaign, he finally tells the unvarnished truth about something and BAMM...game over. Not to say I told you so, but go here for proof that I warned all of you Romney fans about the political facts of life months ago. Although he spoke the truth, there are a few quibble-worthy points to make.

It is a fact that roughly 47% of Americans pay no income tax. This is the result of 40 years of pandering by BOTH parties. This fact has indeed created a huge constituency for whom tax cuts offer no benefit. To respond, as most liberals do when confronted with this reality, along the lines of ,"Yeah, but all Americans pay payroll taxes!!" is nonsensical. Of course we all pay payroll taxes. The reason we all pay is because the law provides no escape, no deduction or qualifying dodge to get us off the hook. In addition, payroll taxes are payments we all make for a future benefit ( Social Security ). Herein lies a quibble. When Romney calculates the 47% of Americans who are "dependant" on the government, he includes retirees whose only claim against that government is the Social Security check they earned through a lifetime of paying into the system. These people are merely collecting on a promise, and can hardly be described as "dependant".

 Mitt's serendipitously recorded words were correct about the electoral landscape. Any Democrat running for the Presidency starts out with a huge base of support that in large part consists of those citizens with a vested interest in government spending. That percentage has been growing each year since LBJ's Great Society was launched over 45 years ago. But to be heard writing off nearly half the country as hopelessly dependant and helpless is never a good thing for one's electoral prospects. The fact that his statement is mostly true doesn't change the facts on the ground. Just because something might be true does not mean that it should be said. Any husband who has been asked by his wife if a particular pair of pants makes her look fat knows this instinctively.

If I was Mitt's speech writer, here's what I would have him say....

     " The fact that we have a social safety net in this country is something that we should all be proud of, it speaks well of our national character. As Americans we all believe in providing for those who have fallen on hard times, because we know that in America, bad luck and bad fortune are often temporary setbacks. Government plays a vital role in helping men and women recover from the unexpected, unplanned setbacks of life. But our safety net has over time been transformed into a hammock and government "help" has become a way of life for too many of our people, at precisely the same time as too many of us have been taken off the tax rolls. This is an untenable reality. Our tax system has become a tool of manipulation that government and business use against the rest of us. When you're in line at the grocery store and watch a twenty-something man wearing $200 sneakers buying beer and lottery tickets with food stamps, it should upset you because something is wrong with a system that allows that. But you should be equally upset when huge agri-business corporations receive billions in tax preferences to not grow things, or when politically connected businesses get subsidies written into our Byzantine tax code by their own lobbyists. Many of us complain about how complicated our tax code is, but it's complexity is by design. The more convoluted the tax code, the more power the code writers have. On day one of my administration, our 73,608 page tax code will be  replaced with a one page flat tax with no deductions for anything. For our country to be able to provide adequately for the weakest among us, everyone needs to have skin in the game. For some of you the new system will mean higher taxes, for others your bill will be lower...but all of you will be treated equally, and none of you will be able to game the system to avoid paying."

Poor Mitt doesn't have it in him to offer a transformative alternative to the cradle to grave welfare state. We can only hope against hope that President Obama, once he is no longer running for office will have the guts to confront the deniers in his own party and face the deteriorating mathematics of socialism

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Very Worst Day



This day. This bloody day. One hundred and fifty years ago, today. Near the obscure Maryland village of Sharpsburg 26,000 Americans dead, wounded or missing. This time the pools of blood dried and caked on Union soil. Body parts were stacked in piles outside of the German Baptist church. By nightfall, Miller's cornfield was mowed down, clean shaven by the artillery fire. The bloody lane was paved with the dead and dying. Mothers and Grandmothers from Louisiana to New York felt a horrified chill, a cold premonition that interrupted their work. Fathers and Grandfathers would soon descend into a lifetime of silence about this day, September 17, 1862.

This death, this carnage, would be the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Still, no one celebrates. It's all just too much. The numbers are too daunting, the savagery too unthinkable. We did this to each other up close, hand to hand. The artillery pieces were hauled into place by horses and mules, communication accomplished by couriers, intelligence gathered from mostly unreliable informants. There were no drone attacks, no ground assets conveying coordinates to killing machines in the air, no machine guns to facilitate the destruction. This was no second hand slaughter, this was one on one brutality. These were teenagers choking the last breath out of other teenagers with their bare hands. These were grown men slashing throats with glistening bayonets. Abraham Lincoln would come to inspect the field and not long after issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He had been waiting for a Union victory so as not to appear desperate. His generals told him that Antietam was a victory. He would have to take their word for it.

One hundred and fifty summers have baked those fields since that awful day. The snows of one hundred winters have  washed away the stains of war. We don't think about it much anymore. It was so long ago, before electric lights, before Gershwin tunes and television. We would move on to new wars with more awesome weaponry. But we would never manage to experience so great a day's loss as that September day. It trumps 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day. We've forgotten most of the names...Hooker, Burnside, Hill. Lincoln didn't give the Antietam Address, so it has fallen from our national memory. But today, one hundred and fifty years later I marvel at man's inhumanity to man, and my heart trembles when I consider how high a price God asked us to pay for the sin of slavery.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The SEC...and the rest of college football

The SEC. Love them or hate them, there is no middle ground. Either you think that they are the most dominant force in college football with a death grip on the National Title, or you're convinced that they are the most over-hyped collection of genetically modified monsters in the history of sports. Everyone knows about the six consecutive national champions. I spent 3 years of my life living in Louisiana and Alabama and can tell you without hesitation that college football means more to those people than life itself. There is a fanaticism there that borders on madness. After three weeks of the 2012 season it's clear that all of you SEC haters out there are going to suffer through another year nursing that well-deserved inferiority complex.

Most of the pre-season pretenders have already crashed back down to Earth. USC, and Virginia Tech have fallen out of the competition to see who gets to be the latest team to be mauled in the title game by virtue of their losses yesterday. But there are still some teams out there with high hopes. Oregon, Texas, Florida State and Oklahoma will all take turns as the great white hope, the flavor of the month, the team upon which all SEC-hating college football fans will pin their hopes. To my eyes, however, it looks like in order to get to the best team in the country not located in the Confederacy, you first have to wade through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and LSU.

A strange and eerie silence has fallen over the Internet in the State of Virginia since yesterday. This was finally going to be the year that Virginia Tech was going to take that final step and win it all. With their Heisman trophy candidate QB Logan Thomas leading the way, Hokie faithful were sure that this year the magic would come. Frank Beamer would finally have a trophy to put in that famously empty box in Blacksburg. Tech fans would finally see their team win a game against a quality opponent in January.

Maybe next year.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

If I Were Secretary of State....

Going for an MRI on my shoulder this morning. That's right, on a Saturday morning. Who ever heard of having medical procedures on the weekend? Aren't the weekends supposed to be MRI-free? Stupid shoulder. Stupid rotator cuff tear. Psshhtt...and get this, it's my left shoulder. How does a right-hander tear his left rotator cuff? I've done no heavy lifting, I've not been overworked by my manager by being asked to throw 130 pitches in two consecutive starts. "So, Doc, how could this have happened", I asked my doctor incredulously. "Doug, you're 54 and active. Normal wear and tear my friend. If you were a fat slob who sat around on the sofa eating cheese-puffs all day this would never have happened."  I stared blankly at him, at a loss for words. Then he offered this, " Yeah, I know. Pretty ironic, huh?"

After my "procedure", I intend to give my dog a rigorous bath, maybe go for a run, do a little yard work. Then after lunch, I'll settle in front of the TV and watch the unraveling of United States power and prestige in the Middle East. The spectacle will be bitter sweet. On the one hand, no patriotic American can possibly enjoy seeing their flag and name literally dragged ablaze through the streets. And yet if the ultimate end of this results in America withdrawing all financial aid and military encumbrances from that hell-hole, we will be much better for it. If the Arab world thinks that America is their problem, let them learn of the wonders and benefits of Soviet or Chinese hegemony. I'm sure the Arab street will be thrilled with the atheistic inclinations of their new sugar daddies. Personally I can't think of a greater example of cosmic justice than to have the middle east overrun with communist party apparatchiks. Let them deal with the honor/shame culture oddities, the 2000 year old hatreds. Let them pour billions of their national treasures down the sink hole of grievance that is the Middle East.

But Doug, you say, what about Israel? OK, what about them? They are an independent nation that has proven to be more than capable of defending themselves against their barbarian neighbors. We can still give them military hardware. They are an ally after all. But the days of us being led around by the nose by every wind of hatred that blows through Jerusalem are and should be over. But Doug, what about the oil? We've got plenty of oil right here and it's high time we developed it. Let's once and for all remove the only weapon the Arab world has ever had against the west. Let them sell their oil to the Chinese and learn to run and maintain their refineries by themselves. If we need to import some oil, I prefer the Canadians since they have no history of flying planes into our buildings. Plus, they gave the world those awesome round slabs of bacon. Why not buy oil from neighbors like that?

I will now take a shower and head over to St. Marys, and brace myself for a deluge of responses to this blog pointing out how any nation that isn't a friend of Israel is forever doomed by God.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Freedom of Speech vs. Muslim Hurt Feelings

Something terrible and exceedingly rare happened this week. In the 236 year history of our nation, we have lost only 6 ambassadors in the line of duty.  Number 6 came earlier this week when a mob of angry Muslims stormed the American consulate in Benghazi, killing Chris Stevens and 3 others. Although the most recent information suggests a more complicated narrative, the original reason given for the violence was the wounded feelings of the Muslim faithful over an Internet movie deemed blasphemous to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. One of the promoters of the film was the notorious Muslim-hating Florida preacher Terry Jones, the same guy who caused a furor awhile ago with the staged burning of the Koran. Some thoughts...

I'm not going to lie, every time I see this Jones knucklehead on television, my humanity goes into the fetal position. Only in America can such an uncredentialed hack rise to such a position of influence and notoriety. Any idiot with an Internet connection has the potential for out sized mischief, and 15 minutes of fame. The fact that Jones styles himself as a "Christian minister" is what causes me the most embarrassment, proving once again that the biggest enemy of Christianity are and have always been...Christians. The true heroes of my faith are the men and women who daily take up their crosses and follow the commands of Jesus to be salt and light in the world, doing so in complete anonymity, far away from cameras and accolades. But let some Dog The Bounty Hunter look-a-like with an IQ of 50 stage a Koran burning, and every news organization on the planet practically kill each other trying to get an exclusive.

But this is America. We have a constitution, and in it there is a Bill Of Rights which guarantees us, among other things, freedom of speech. It not only protects important, uplifting, intelligent speech, but also protects the bloviating ramblings of idiots. It is part of the mixed blessing of democracy. Although Jones has a constitutionally protected right to his ignorant ravings, the rest of us have an equal right to shame him back into the cave that he crawled out of. WE have that right, but not the state. Freedom of Speech is one of the things that define who we are as Americans, and yet, in the wake of the murder of Ambassador Stevens, I'm hearing disturbing talk from some of the talking heads in Washington, talk about whether or not an exception should be made in this case. Do we as Americans really, in fact, have a right to "hurt the feelings" of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world?

Yes. We do. We have the right essentially because to carve out an exception for Muslim feelings, would render our constitution meaningless. What is it about Muslims that make their feelings more valuable than say the feelings of Hindus or Buddhists? If we as a nation go down this road, then there are an awful lot of writers, directors and producers in Hollywood who have a lot of explaining to do about their depictions of Christianity over the past 30 years. When Christians are daily portrayed as knuckle-dragging simpletons and slack-jawed bigots in movies and television, the reaction of Christians has largely been limited to letter-writing campaigns, ill-conceived boycotts, and resigned indifference. Can't recall the last time a mob  of angry Baptists stormed Warner Brothers studio looking to murder a couple of executive producers. Seems to me that if Islam wants to be considered a great religion, it needs to put on some big-boy pants and learn how to deal with criticism. Our Bill of Rights doesn't need to be tweaked to accommodate any one's hurt feelings, let alone the religion whose adherents flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Do those terrorists represent all of Islam? Certainly not. Neither does Terry Jones represent Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Memories

Time is a strange thing. When I sat staring at the clock in my 7th grade math class it seemed to stand still. But when summer finally came, the days would race by like a series of comets blazing out across the sky. So it is with 9/11. It's been 11 years since the towers fell.  On that day my children were middle schoolers, my wife was still in her thirties and my mother had 11 years to live. It doesn't seem possible.

I remember exactly where I was when I saw the first images...my office on Glen Forest Drive. There was a small television on my desk. At first we watched in horror and mostly silence except for whispered prayers of "God help us...". By the time the second tower came down our mood had changed. Anger and righteous indignation replaced fear and helplessness the minute we realized that this was no accident, that we were under attack. It seems like an eternity since that day, that feeling.

Back then we were all sure that this was only the first wave, that there would be many more equally devastating attacks. We all gathered our families close, but a second wave never came. Now the legacy of that day is the annoyance we feel in line at the airport watching grandmothers and 6 year olds getting patted down by grim TSA people in cheap uniforms.

There's finally something at ground zero. After years of enviornmental impact studies and turf wars and bureaucratic incompetence there's a memorial that cost $700 million to build and will cost $60 million a year to operate. In 1972 it cost $400 million to build the towers, now it cost almost twice that to build a hole in the ground. Such is progress.

On this day I will say a prayer for the families who lost loved ones. I will remember what it felt like. I will once again watch that horrible footage. But luckily for me I will also think about my big sister Linda, who was born on 9/11. The blessing of her life and her powerful presence in the life of my family will always redeem this day. The celebration of her life will for all time balance the scales and brighten the dark sky that history has placed on September 11th.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How To Survive The Election

Now that the country has endured two political conventions, the campaign has officially begun. Everything that has happened over the past 18 months of primaries, caucuses and debates was all prelude and doesn't matter now. Thirty percent of the American people probably couldn't tell you who the candidates are, and probably at least twenty percent of them couldn't pick Joe Biden out of a lineup. Luckily for our Republic, most of these people won't bother to vote. This is a very good thing.

From the days of Plato through the imaginations of Jefferson and Madison runs one common theme. For democracy to function properly there must be an informed and enlightened citizenry. If the "man on the street" interviews conducted outside the two convention sites these past few weeks are any indication, we are doomed. Earnest men and women eagerly offered opinions on what ails the country. "The President needs to pass a law that outlaws corporate profits." one woman suggested. Put aside the fact that the President doesn't "pass laws" since that's the job of Congress, what would this woman have the President offer in the place of corporate profits,...corporate losses?

For those of you who consider yourself conservative, who have a generally negative view of government and long for the days of Calvin Coolidge, these next two months are going to be long and frustrating. I offer the following tips for surviving the 2012 Presidential Election with your sanity intact.


1. Stop complaining about media bias. It has always been so. The press loved FDR, Kennedy, and Clinton every bit as much as they love Obama. Even though they hated Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes, those guys won seven elections despite a hostile press. Journalists are inherently liberal and they always will be. Get over it.

2. Even though there are a percentage of democrats who are genuinely Marxists and many who are socialists, most of them are neither. They just disagree with you about the role of government in society. That doesn't make them horrible people. Don't define an entire political party by their extremes. Remember that among the republicans there are a percentage who are unrepentant bigots. Recall how outraged you feel when you are lumped in with those people by media types. Please, a little good faith goes a long way.

3. Stop trying to make the case that if you're a real Christian you can't possibly vote for a democrat. This is foolishness on steroids. Yes, the democratic party embraces positions that go against biblical teaching like abortion and gay-marriage. But there are many democrats who don't believe in either of those things and still vote for the democratic candidate, many of them faithful Christians. I see on Facebook all the time posts that talk about how they can't possibly understand how any Christian could vote for a democrat. Really? I can easily understand how a Christian with a deeply held commitment to the downtrodden of this world might vote for a democrat. Frankly, it would be quite natural for a Christian concerned with the fate of the poor, sick, disabled, widowed and orphaned might be drawn to a political party known for policies that provide government subsidies for such people.I personally can make the case that those very same programs do more harm than good to the people they are intending to help, but to suggest that Christians who support democrats are somehow apostates is ridiculous and insulting. I'm against capital punishment on the grounds that giving the power of life and death to something as corruptible as our justice system is a usurpation of vengeance belonging to God alone. Does that make me a bad Christian because I support a political party that is in favor of capital punishment? No, it makes me a pragmatic citizen trying to make the best I can of a bad and flawed choice. I take the good with the bad, just like my fellow believers on the other side of the aisle.

4. Enjoy Joe Biden. What a Godsend. That this fool of a man could rise to such a place is exhibit A in the argument against career politicians. If Obama wins, all Christians should place the president's continued good health at the top of our prayer list.

5. As the election nears and it appears that Obama will win reelection, let not your heart be troubled. During an election, the power and importance of politics gets blown out of proportion. On November 7th, my life will go on it's merry way no matter who wins. I will not quit my job, sell all my worldly possessions and move to Montana...and neither will you. We will all survive, yes, even four more years of Obama. I am the captain of my own ship, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue does not set my course.

 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The NFL And Me

I have a weird relationship with professional football. I have been a fan all of my life, although baseball has always been my favorite sport. I have always been interested in the NFL and reasonably fond of the game. But I've never been all in for a particular team. Sometimes I secretly envy those die-hard Redskins or Cowboys fans their zeal and passion. I've always had favorite players but never a favorite team. In the early days I was crazy about Roman Gabriel which meant that I followed his team, the Rams. After that it was Joe Namath and the Jets. Weird thing was, although I really loved Walter Peyton, I never cared for the Bears. Well, its 2012 and nothing has really changed. There are several players I really like and want to see do well but I could care less about the fortunes of their respective teams. The players I like and root for are as follows in no particular order:

Tim Tebow

Russell Wilson

Robert Griffin III


I love Tebow because he's the most exciting, unpredictable player in the game. I love how almost all of the "smart people " in the game think he's a terrible QB. I love that he has a crappy throwing motion. I love that his statistics are awful. But what I really love is his uncanny ability to elevate his game in crunch time, his will to win, and his unfailing great attitude.

Russell Wilson is the local kid who made good. Everywhere he has ever played he's been a winner and a terrific leader. It's about time that great men who just happen to be great athletes get some attention. Russell Wilson is a gentleman and a roll model for just about anyone. He also has the distinction of being the only current NFL player to ever bean my son in a little league game! True story!

My fondness and respect for Robert Griffin III stems from the fact that he seems like another stellar citizen. I know that he's a Christian and a guy who plays the game the right way. But I must confess to mixed feelings on this guy. While I wish him nothing but the best, I truly detest his team. I have no idea why, but I have always loathed the Skins. It makes no sense. They are my local team. Growing up, all of my friends were in the tank for the burgundy and gold. Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but I've always rooted against them, from Billy Kilmer to Rex Grossman. So, the best possible outcome I can hope for is the Skins going 6-10 and RGIII winning rookie of the year!

OK, week one predictions..your winners are...

Bears
Eagles
Patriots
Rams
Falcons
Vikings
Saints
Bills
Texans
Packers
Seahawks
Panthers
Steelers





 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fascinated By Forgiveness

Forgiveness fascinates me. I consider it evidence for the existence of God. It is the divine spark that sets humans apart from the rest of creation. Forgiveness is the thing, not opposable thumbs. I believe this because I find forgiveness nowhere else in the natural world. Dogs don't forgive cats. Squirrels don't forgive dogs. Sharks never forgive sharks. On the vast plains of the Serengeti you will find not one scintilla of forgiveness. Never will the wildebeest and the lion sit down over a beer and let bygones be bygones.

Despite a thousand sermons extolling the virtues of forgiveness, we all find two things to be true . . .we do not forgive easily, and we do not find ourselves easily forgiven.

Forgiveness is not without it's problems. Maybe the great philosopher Immanuel Kant had it right when he said that a person should be forgiven only if he or she deserves to be. Some people feel insulted when victims of violence or horrific crimes forgive their tormentors in court because it cheapens their sense of justice. Maybe some sins are not ours to forgive. Besides, I can think of a hundred reasons not to forgive. He needs to be taught a lesson. If I offer easy forgiveness to her it will only encourage more irresponsible behavior. Why should I forgive them when they're not even sorry? Shakespeare said it best in the Merchant of Venice when the guilty Shylock is asked in court. . . "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?"

And yet, this unique human ability, if we could warm to it, could sure solve a lot of our problems. Can you imagine what the world would be like if Red Sox fans could just forgive Yankee fans for that whole Babe Ruth thing? Or how about the Jews and the Palestinians sitting down over coffee and forgiving each other for all the land stealing and terrorism? Maybe it would even be possible for Democrats and Republicans to forgive each other for all of the dirty tricks and campaign commercials that have been aired over the last fifty years. On a more personal level and of much greater importance, how different would our lives be if we were able to forgive those we love for the daily annoyances, the emotional scar tissue that builds up over slights and harsh words. If we could find it within us to forgive that stuff as it happens, a daily wiping clean of the slate...."forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"...

Most of us prefer the Serengeti.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thursday Observations

Misc. observations on this Thursday morning.


# My dad is amazing. In the last two months he has suffered the loss of his wife of 65 years and his second oldest grandchild. He has had to make the adjustment to living alone for the first time in his life. He has had to deal with a balky and very painful hip, and an assortment of other ailments common to 87 year- olds. And yet, every time I walk through his door, he greets me with a big smile. He has good days and bad days, but his spirit is always positive, always grateful. His legendary patience has been on display, as he demonstrates for us all how to take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with grace and humor. If I live to 87 I can only hope to be half the man that he is.

# My tried and true method of ignoring aches and pains in the hope that they eventually will go away on their own has finally failed me. For about two months now my left shoulder has been hurting, a nagging pain two months ago that has steadily grown into a throbbing, stabbing sort of thing that's making it difficult to sleep sort of pain. Perhaps I should go get it checked. I'm popping Advil like Skittles to no effect. Grrrrr...

# The Washington Nationals just finished a two game stretch in which they hit 12 home runs. Granted, it was against the Cubs, but still...wow. The Washington Nationals are 32 games over .500 on September 6th. I'm meeting Donnie up there on the 23rd to see them play. Can't wait.

# I religiously avoid watching political conventions on television. Life is too short to introduce that much frustration into one's life on purpose. I read about the proceedings the next day and watch selected highlights. The biggest takeaway from the GOP version was Clint Eastwood, the biggest takeaway from the DEMS will be God getting booed. It's as if I'm living in a terribly bad dream, that at a time such as this, when the country is in such peril, our two political parties have been taken over by the writers at Saturday Night Live.



 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Heard A Sermon Today

Today being Sunday, I heard a sermon. The speaker chose as his topic . . . "The Meaning Of Life". He started out quoting Camus, Sartre, and Hemingway, and ended with a story about Buckingham Palace. This particular speaker was an octogenarian. And I, along with a thousand others were hanging on every word.

Everyone knows that there are some things that get better with age . . . like cheese, and wine, and your favorite pair of jeans. I haven't usually thought to add preachers to that list. In fact, my experience has often been the opposite, older preachers often being insufferable scolds constantly whining about the good old days, starting every other sentence with, "Why, in my day..", and generally boring me to death. But this guy today was different.

At my church, we are lucky enough to hear him several times a year since he was the pastor here for 25 years, and virtually put Grove Avenue Baptist on the map, when he led the move from the Fan to the West End all those years ago. He is still a member, and amazingly, delights in playing the role of a back-bencher after being the biggest headliner this church has ever had. Most men have too large an ego, too inflated a view of their own worth to accept so low a profile at a church after such a distinguished tenure. But he is not most men.

When I hear him speak, I always marvel at the experience. What is it that is so captivating? Why does the mood of the room seem so heightened? He is a good speaker, no doubt, but I've heard better. He tells interesting stories, but he's no entertainer. He's not a screamer, doesn't stride about on the stage. It helps that he's easy to listen to, having no annoying verbal ticks, like the preacher's whispering voice. He doesn't use arcane religious lingo, and he has the good sense to not go on too long. But until today I didn't realize what made him so effective.

This man is an authentic spiritual survivor. He has been a warrior for Christ for longer than I've been alive. He has taken a machete to the thickets of life and has the scars to prove it. He has fought the hard fights of life and come through the battles without even a hint of cynicism or bitterness. Instead, there is still joy in his heart, and a face alive with passion for the Gospel. The reason we hang on the words is because we believe them, because we believe..him. He has earned our trust and respect by a life well lived, free of scandal, free of pettiness and unencumbered with ego. So we sit and listen, eager for the truth we know will come before he's through. He will make it easy for us to understand, because he knows that if it's not real for us on Monday, what's the point of Sunday?

Thank you, Vander Warner Jr.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bertha, The Window Fan Of Death

When I returned from my run this morning I walked into a perfectly air conditioned house. I don't know why, but it sparked a memory from my childhood when it was not always so. Having all the family here for Ashley's funeral today maybe has me thinking of the early days, so maybe something light is in order.

I grew up living in a "parsonage", which I later learned was code for " condemned housing". It was a house owned and ..er..maintained by the church where my Dad was the pastor. This "maintaining" was done by a shadow organization called the "buildings and grounds committee", which I soon learned was code for "couple of old guys who show up two weeks after you've replaced the carpet caused by the exploding toilet". Anyway, I lived there from the age of 10 until I graduated from college in 1981. In all that time we had no air conditioning. I say "no air conditioning" when actually that isn't quite fair. We did have a window unit in our dining room conveniently placed three inches from the back of the heads of those unlucky enough to sit on the north side of the table. This explains the family pictures from Julys gone by when Mom and Linda would be wearing parkas, trying to twirl spaghetti onto a fork wearing mittens. Dad would only run it when we sat down to eat to save on the power bill. However, after months of complaining, Dad responded to our pleas for relief by designing and constructing...the Window Fan of Death.

You see, those fancy air conditioners were a rip-off, and unreliable. No, no, Dad had a better idea. He believed that the key to maintaining maximum indoor comfort was the constant circulation of the air. If only we could find a way to continuously rotate the air from inside to out, we could all live in sweatless bliss. So instead of buying a window fan at Western Auto like most other people would do, Dad decided to build his own.  "Those store bought fans are too cheaply made and not powerful enough for our needs", he explained in ominously foreshadowing tones. He then bought what looked like a small turbine engine, heavy as led, along with what looked like the propeller from a P-47 Thunderbolt. After that he went to the lumber yard and bought some 2x12's and some 1 inch chicken wire. My 12 year old brain was alive with wonder at what he could possibly be thinking. Soon it was all revealed. After construction was complete his full evil plan was made known. Donnie and I shared the smallest bedroom in the house. It was upstairs, and only slightly larger than the bathroom. But our room was chosen as the new home of "Bertha" as she became known. The plan was simple. Every window in the house was to be cracked open 6 inches. Then the fan, firmly ensconced in my bedroom window,pointing out, would be turned on sucking air from outside, inside. This refreshing breeze would insure that all of the stale air in the house would be replenished with God's air from the great big outdoors.  Ok.

There were some set backs. When Dad excitedly threw the switch for the first time, it triggered a county wide power outage that baffled government officials for years. After a few modifications we were ready for Bertha's maiden voyage. Dad threw the switch. For a scary few seconds all the lights dimmed and hissed, but then old Bertha came to life and the fun started. Within thirty seconds, a tornado of wild wind was sucking up everything in it's path. Pictures on the wall were shaking, loose paper was flying, toilet paper spinning off their racks, and soon our dog Zack was plastered wide-eyed to the chicken mesh. "Shut it down Emmett!! Shut it down!!!", Mom screamed, but no one could hear her. Finally our bunk beds began to slide across the floor, snapping Bertha's plug from the wall. Zack fell to the ground with a thud along with the  science homework I had been looking for for days. Dad was exultant. "Now, THAT'S a window fan!!"

After several more tweaks, Bertha was a permanent fixture in my bedroom. The noise and rumble was deafening, but I must admit that after awhile you got used to it. Before long it was even comforting. Of course, it did absolutely nothing for us in the cooling department. Dad would often brag.."Feel that breeze kids..feel that breeze", to which we would respond.."Yeah Dad, its like a hurricane from the Sahara desert just blew into our house".

To this day, I can't fall asleep without a fan in the room.