Friday, May 31, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

When the bag boy at the checkout line asks if you want paper or plastic, why on God’s green earth would anyone say “plastic”? This is the question of the day. But before I answer it, I must point out that my use of the term “bag boy” in no way was meant as a slight to the many fine bag GIRLS out there. The use of bag boy was simple an all-inclusive term, gender neutral, meant to refer to all the hard-working bag persons employed in the grocery business. Perhaps I should just say bag person, since if I said bag girl, it might be misunderstood as bag lady, an entirely different thing……..(see what political correctness has done to the English language?)

Anyway, about this paper vs. plastic deal, the mere existence of those wispy-thin litter-makers is proof that sometimes, “progress” is too clever by half. What imbecile decided that paper grocery bags needed to be replaced? Probably some tree-hugging enviro-idiot. “”We need to save the trees from the greedy capitalist logging industry, so let’s create grocery bags out of thin plastic that will clog landfills the world over for the thousand years it will take for them to biodegrade!”  Pin-headed idiots!

Not only are plastic bags an environmental hazard, they are practically worthless for their intended purpose since if one bag contains anything heavier than a roll of paper towels and a bag of chips, a hole will rip the bottom wide open. The worse part is, when you get them home, the bags don’t stand up when you place them on the floor. You let go of the thing and suddenly cans of soup and apples are rolling across the kitchen floor every which way.

Contrast that with the sturdy versatility and ruggedness of the conventional paper grocery bag. They stand up straight and tall when full, they double as trash bag liners, book covers, head gear for embarrassed sports fans, even present wrapping paper for men. A question to all you dog owners out there, when it’s time to clear the back yard of dog poop, what do you want in your hand, a double strength paper grocery bag, or some pathetic plastic thing that won’t even stay open at the slightest suggestion of a breeze? You throw one of Fido’s fresh ones in one of those plastic bags and it would melt right through the bottom like throwing a plastic cup in a bonfire.

Paper or plastic? They might as well ask a kid on Halloween, “you want candy or rocks?” The bank might as well ask me, “you want a hand full of twenties or some nickels?”

Come on, people! Stop the madness! Just say "NO" to plastic bags.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem

As the month of May draws to a close, I for one will be glad to see it go. It has been a tough slog for the Dunnevant  household. A recap:

May 2: I drop $850 bucks on a CPAP machine, forever changing how I sleep.

May 9: My faithful, irreplaceable dog Molly, dies in my arms at 6 am. Two hours later I receive my second cortisone shot from Dr. Beech in my ailing left shoulder which he assures me will get me through the summer.

May 12: My first Mother’s Day without my Mom so soon after losing Molly puts me into a major league funk, made much worse by news that my mother-in-law has been taken to the hospital in the wee hours with pains in her stomach.

May 14: Mother-in-law has first of two operations, with Pam at her side 8 hours a day while I wait patiently for therapeutic effects of cortisone shot to kick in.

May 15: Learn that friend has cancer.

May 17: In rare highlight, Pam and I head to North Carolina for two graduation ceremonies. We have great few days with both of our amazing children, all the while my shoulder feels like some sort of mixed martial arts death match is being waged inside the rotator cuff.

May 21: Visit Dr. Beech who informs me that my shoulder has digressed beyond remedy, short of surgery. He prescribes pain meds to get me through until the earliest date available on his schedule…June 5. Pain meds only partially effective.

May 28: Start wearing sling for left arm in effort to prevent me from doing stupid, instinctive things with arm that end up sending shooting pains through shoulder. Discover that it is difficult to go to the bathroom wearing sling.


So, there you have it, a beautiful month. However, in the spirit of hope that comes with springtime, I feel an obligation to you, my readers, to end this blog post on a positive note. All was not lost in the month of May as a review of the month’s positives will reveal:

# Mother-in-law is finally recovering, making steady progress

# A dear friend gave me a gift card to Maggiano’s which I used to celebrate my 29th wedding anniversary with the most amazing woman in the world.

# Business remained strong despite all the distractions.

# A very good friend received some sensational news that was a long time coming and a huge answer to prayer.

# Both my son and my daughter got jobs, Patrick for the summer, and Kaitlin, her first full time teaching job in Henrico county!

# The neighbors across the street got an adorable new Golden-Doddle puppy, which has helped me dealing with Molly’s loss.

# May was vomit-free.

 All of this just proves something I have always instinctively known; things are never as bad as they seem when you take the time to think it through. There is always something to be thankful for, always a blessing out there hiding in the weeds. I just thought of another one…no car accidents in the Dunnevant family in the month of May. See how easy that was?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Unsolicited Marital Advice

 Several months ago I was asked to prepare some remarks for a young man who was about to get married to a young woman who I have known for years. We had gathered for a huge meal and afterwards several men in this all-male affair were tasked with dispensing marital advice to the groom. Well I found this the other day and decided to dust it off in preparation for the big event in the Dunnevant family coming up in 60 short days. Any of my married friends out there who have additional insights that I can add to this list, feel free to make suggestions. Please, no cracks about how much trouble Jon is going to have dealing with so opinionated a father-in-law, since he already knows that!

“ It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

                                                                 1 Corinthians 13:5


Congratulations on your upcoming wedding, _________.  Since I just celebrated my 29th wedding anniversary, I feel at least partially qualified to dispense marriage advice, primarily…marry the right woman. It certainly worked for me.

But even if you do marry the right woman, it is no guarantee of success, just as your mutual faith in Christ is no guarantee. Pam and I joined Grove Avenue 26 years ago and immediately got involved in a fabulous Sunday school class of young married couples. These were 15 of the most devoted Christian couples we had ever known, committed not only to each other, but to the church as well. 26 years later, 7 of the 15 are divorced. I share this with you as proof that what you are about to embark upon will be the hardest thing you ever do, but done right will enrich your life in amazing ways.

I have prepared a list of suggestions for your consideration. These are principles that Pam and I have found extraordinarily helpful in our 29 years together. Now, just because something appears on this list doesn’t mean that I am always in full compliance. It just means that when I am, things go very well. Some days are better than others.

1.     Have a short memory. The verse I quoted above might be the single best verse in the Bible for married couples. “Keep no record of wrongs” is simply golden advice. If I had written this letter to the Corinthians I would have added, “ while you’re at it, keep no record of ANYTHING”. Being married isn’t about keeping score. You don’t do nice things for her so you will earn something nice in return. There is no marriage bank into which you make deposits, no safe deposit box that contains brownie points. You do nice things for her because you love her. Period.

2.     The quality of your married life will rise and fall in direct relationship to how well you’re able to banish selfishness from your life.

3.     You can either be “right” or you can be “happy”, but seldom at the same time. Winning an argument with your wife is never truly winning.

4.      Never criticize your wife in public, even and especially in jest. Trust me young man, there are home wreckers out there, yes even at your church, who are listening to every word you say, waiting for an opportunity.

5.     Even though God calls you to be the leader of your home, listen to your wife, and value her council. She is so much smarter than you in so many areas, it’s not even funny. Don’t be a stubborn jerk, listen and obey.

6.     Never stop going out on dates.

7.     When children come, pay special attention to #6. You married your wife, not your children.

8.     Don’t become predictable. Surprise her with gifts, flowers, cards, racy love letters, inappropriate e-mails etc. Take charge of the romantic planning in your relationship. Guard against boredom.

9.     Do all the vacuuming, always clean the bathrooms, and always do the dishes after dinner. That way when she tells her friends that she has never vacuumed, cleaned a bathroom, or done dishes after dinner in all the time she’s been married, they will all tell her what you’ve been telling her forever, that you’re a GOD!!

10. Anything worth having in this life is worth fighting for. Your marriage is worth your very best effort. Take nothing for granted.


Pam and I wish you and __________ all the best.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Son Turned 24

My youngest child turned 24 over the weekend, a sobering mathematical fact, which makes it increasingly difficult to claim that I am still in my forties. Actually, I’m not one of those guys who lies about his age. Whenever anyone asks me, I proudly proclaim the truth of my 55 years, since they have been hard earned and come with big benefits, chief among them, a head full of memories. Some of my best ones involve my Son.

We knew there was something strange about Patrick, when he walked out of his first Disney movie talking about nothing but the musical score. Before he was 12 he had demonstrated untaught skill in every musical instrument we ever placed in his hands. The first choir he was a member of was directed by my sister, The Praise Kids, and from her he learned that music was our gift to God, not to mention more fun than a barrel of monkeys. By the time he was introduced to Sherri Matthews at Godwin high school, it was all over and there was to be no turning back. Patrick was a musician, and that was that. He blazed through Belmont University and now Westminster Choir College, doing what he loves, making music and trying to figure out a way to get paid doing it.

But, on the occasion of his 24th birthday, I would like to brag on his non-musical gifts. Patrick has managed to develop in an industry famous for huge egos, without much of one. He has never felt intimidated by others with great talent, in fact, they inspire him. Patrick simply loves good music, regardless of who is making it. I have never heard him say a bad word about any of his classmates, never heard him denigrate anyone’s talent or lack thereof, an amazing gift.

The thing I’m most proud of in my boy is his ability to think for himself. Patrick will never be bullied into group-think. He thinks things through and comes to his own conclusions about difficult problems. He doesn’t believe a certain way just because his father does. He thinks. He researches things, listens to others and makes his own informed judgment. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but I’m always proud of how he arrives at his views, through careful thought, without lazy reliance on  dogma. When his views aren’t popular, he has the courage to defend them. A father can’t ask for much more than that.

Patrick isn’t perfect. He is an unrepentant slob, maddeningly unorganized, and thinks that undershirts are appropriate attire for practically any occasion. But he’s 24 and still very much a work in progress. My son is a freakishly talented human being with a huge heart and boundless capacity for love and loyalty. Can’t wait to see what becomes of him.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Missionary Friends

Over the past ten years or so, it has been my good fortune to meet and become friends with many missionaries. These are people who served for years in foreign lands, having children and raising them all over the world from Thailand to Zimbabwe. After a fifteen-twenty year run, they have retired into the administrative end of the business here in Richmond at the International Mission Board. Through this happy accident of geography, many of them have joined our church and provided us with much needed injections of legitimate righteousness over the years. As a bonus, I had the privilege of getting to know their kids when I worked in the Youth department of our church.

These ex-missionaries have formed a unique community. All of them, all of their families seem connected. Although they served in different countries and none of them are related by blood, the bond of their shared mission has turned them all into an extended family. Their children refer to all of the men and women as “aunts” and “uncles”. It’s really quite charming and enviable. Because Pam and I have become close friends with many of them we often get invited to social events and get-togethers, and they are always great fun, although Pam and I often joke that we feel like the token heathens. The reason I say that is that when it comes to the business end of the Gospel, ie, the actual spreading of it, these people have been front line troupes; they are all grizzled veterans in the work of evangelism and have made huge sacrifices to bring the message of Christ to hurting people. Around them I feel like a civilian, one of those annoying guys sitting in his padded pew on Sunday, writing the occasional check, but never actually doing anything dangerous or important. Listening to their war stories, as inspiring as they are, always reminds me of how cushy and uninspired my spiritual life has been.

One of their neat traditions concerns a ritual of sorts that occurs when one of their sons is about to get married. All of the men get together at someone’s house. There’s a big cookout with steaks and chicken, and all manner of delicious food, all prepared by the men. There are no women around. After dinner, everyone gets together in the living room. Each man takes turns saying a few words to the prospective groom. Much of it is typical guy stuff, complete with gag gifts, and terrible advice, lots of laughter and teasing. But then each man is expected to offer a word of scripture and some serious words about the awesome responsibility of being a husband and father. The words of advice must be in writing so they can be given to the groom to keep. I’ve been invited to another such event this week. This time, the groom will be in Atlanta, and our advice will be broadcast to him via Skype.

I always leave these events feeling that surely this is how the body of Christ was designed to work. The bond and commitment between brothers and sisters in Christ should be every bit as strong and serious as the ones in our own families. If this was actually how churches worked, there would be lines forming at the doors every Sunday morning.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Give Me A Break!!!

Friday morning at 9:30 am, President Obama made the long walk across the White House lawn to the Presidential helicopter. He was headed to Annapolis Maryland to give a speech to the National Defense University, and he was alone. A lone marine stood at the base of the helicopter steps in his impeccable dress blue uniform, and as the President got close, snapped off a perfectly executed salute. The President rushed past him without returning the salute and continued up the steps and into Marine One. Realizing the lapse in protocol, The President hurried back down the steps, shook the marine’s hand and engaged in a brief conversation.

The above event became headline news when a pool reporter sent out a dismissive tweet. Then it popped up on the Drudge Report. The breathless banner declared, “Obama Fails To Salute Marine”. Soon CNN ran with the story of the President’s ghastly protocol breech, as if it carried with it some sinister subtext.

Give me a freaking break!

The morons at CNN probably hadn’t noticed, but the President was probably quite distracted Friday, what with his administration hip-deep in three ethics scandals. That he might walk past a saluting marine or two in the midst of perhaps the most disastrous week of his presidency would come as a surprise to practically no one …except the news media.

Immediately after the story broke, the internet erupted with instant analysis from a million political observers, dressed in pajamas and living in their parents’ basements, who offered this incident as irrefutable proof that Obama is a military-hating communist. And this, my fellow Americans is what is wrong with our politics. People with whom we disagree politically cannot simply be mistaken; they must be demon possessed swine. I can’t take it anymore.

President Obama doesn’t hate the military. Even Bill Clinton, who famously wrote that he “loathed the military” as a stupid college student, didn’t hate the military. No President in the history of this Republic has hated the military. In fact, every President we have ever had has lost sleep worrying about the military, mourning their losses in battle. The national archives are full of angst-filled photographs of our Presidents agonizing over such losses. None of us have ever known what it’s like to order young men and women into harms’ way, and to be held responsible for their deaths. It is the most awesome power on earth, and the heaviest burden. I refuse to accuse my President of hating the military, and I have lost all patience with those who do. He walked past that marine because he was lost in thought, and as soon as he realized his mistake he made it right, end of story. Shame on the reporter who sought to create a story by tweeting about it, shame on Drudge for printing it, and shame on CNN for running it on television. Morons!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Weiner Campaign,

Now that Anthony Weiner, the awkwardly-named former congressman, has declared his intentions to run for mayor of New York, joke writers in Hollywood have been seen dancing in the streets. Even I, your fearless blogger, couldn’t resist getting in on the fun yesterday with several headline suggestions for this morning’s New York Times, the best of which was…ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION.

But on a serious note, Weiner’s candidacy won’t exactly go down as one of democracy’s finer moments. It says something depressing about our culture when someone caught sending photographs of his manhood to young women, not his wife, then lying about it, would imagine himself fit for the honor of leading one of America’s greatest cities. Then again, it IS New York. Imagine the death blow that this sort of thing would have been to a Ronald Reagan, or Jimmy Carter? Try to imagine Franklin Roosevelt running for President after something like this?

I suppose that this slippery slope was greased by Bubba Clinton and the blue dress. That Bill Clinton, a mere 15 years after receiving oral sex from a 21 year old intern in the Oval Office would win an award for father-of-the-year, stands as testimony to the American people’s capacity for forgiveness. But in Weiner’s case, it’s only been a couple of years. But, it IS New York. Still, what does it say about the size of Weiner’s massive... er...ego that he would think himself so terribly indispensable, so valuable a public talent, that even fondling himself on the internet isn’t enough of a personal failing to keep him from public office. Somewhere, old Wilbur Mills is turning over in his grave. You remember Wilbur, right? He was the powerful Democratic congressman from Arkansas( what’s the deal with Arkansas?), chairman of the Ways and Means committee, who was caught cavorting with an Argentine stripper named Fannie Foxe, who upon being pulled over by a cop for drunk driving, jumped into the tidal pool, leaving poor Wilbur alone behind the wheel. It was quite the scandal at the time, eventually forcing Wilbur from office and into AA. Today, this sort of thing would be a resume enhancement. I miss politicians with names like “Wilbur”.

So, the Weiner campaign will be fun to watch, summer entertainment, as it were. I will try to resist double-entendre-ing you to death between now and November, but not today…..

After yesterday’s Facebook fun at Mr. Weiner’s expense, I received an e-mail from an old friend of mine who lives in New York. He’s actually working with the Weiner campaign, and was very upset with my posts. My friend, Dick Johnson, wrote to remind me that the congressman has already made a pubic apology. He has put the thing behind him, and has every intention of becoming the next mayor of New York. He plans to make an aggressive push to penetrate the female demographic. One of his themes will be reform of the penal code. Although Weiner has the fighting personality of a boxer, he has no brief against the legitimate back and forth of politics; however, he will refuse to answer questions about his personal life, determined as he is to prevent things getting… out of hand.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Silver Lining of This Dark Cloud

They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining, and after watching the big shots at the IRS testifying before Congress yesterday, I’m starting to believe it.

As a small business owner I live in fear and trembling of only one thing, an IRS audit. I pay my taxes, file my returns on time, and pay my accountant lots of money to make sure it’s done right. So on paper, I have nothing to fear. Yet, I still fear the IRS for one simple reason; they have the power to destroy me, and my ability to fight back is extremely limited. Despite the best efforts of my highly paid accountant, the chances that I am in full and complete compliance with our 74,000 page tax code are slim if not impossible. Eventually, my number will come up, and I will be hauled in front of the most powerful agency of the federal government where I will be considered guilty until I prove my innocence.

But, after watching the three stooges yesterday, Douglas Shulman, Lois Lerner, and J. Russell George, I have been greatly relieved. Using their testimony as a guide, I now have much less reason to fear an audit. I have taken extensive notes from their testimonies and if I’m ever audited, I’ll know exactly what to say. It might go something like this:


Soulless IRS Apparatchik:  Mr. Dunnevant, do you know why you’ve been asked to appear here today?

Me: Yes, I believe that you guys want to audit my 2010 tax return.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: Actually we already have. It’s actually quite impressive, 24 pages long, all the appropriate schedules attached. Unfortunately, you neglected to properly account for the carried interest multiplier on your accelerated depreciation form for the month of February, and I’m afraid that will prove to be an extremely costly mistake.

Me: Well, let me be the first to publically apologize to the IRS for my accountant’s error. I am truly sorry.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: I’m afraid you can’t simply blame this on your accountant. How do we know that this wasn’t your idea to avoid paying your fair share, and not some accounting error?

Me: Well, there’s no way you’ll ever know, because…I can’t recall. Again, sorry about that.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: Wait a minute, according to our records, you met with your accountant no less than 13 times in the months leading up to the filing deadline. Do you expect me to believe that in all those meetings this issue never came up?

Me: Look, just because I met with Carl 13 times doesn’t mean we talked about taxes.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: What DID you talk about…with an accountant…who does your taxes??

Me: Mostly just about every day stuff, how are the wife and kids, the weather, the Red Sox bull pen…

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: Mr. Dunnevant, I find that very hard to believe.

Me: I know, right?!

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: Mr. Dunnevant, defrauding the United States Treasury is a very serious offense.

Me: And I am really, really bummed about it, so once again…I’m sorry.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: I’m afraid that an apology isn’t good enough, we will need more information.

Me: Well, you’re not gonna get it, because I can’t remember anything, and even though I didn’t do anything wrong or break any laws, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to invoke my 5th amendment right against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer any of your questions.

Soulless IRS Apparatchik: In that case, I have no choice but to drop the audit against you. You are free to go.

Me: Saweeet!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Where Is God In Moore, Oklahoma?

“ If you are waiting for the federal government to help it’s going to be a while, but the Baptist men will get it done tomorrow.”

                                                                              Brian Williams, NBC news


I so want for this quote to be true. I ran across it on Facebook this morning. Several of my friends reporting that Mr. Williams had said it while reporting from Moore, OK. I have not been able to find a clip to confirm it, so I’m just going to hope that it’s true. Too many times in my life I have seen terrible human tragedies followed up by some Christian leader saying something idiotic about God’s judgment on homosexuals, or some such thing. Now, to see a group of thirty local churches rushing to the scene of such devastation with meals and comfort, to see men and women of faith volunteering their time, money and resources to minister to the hurting, and to see that effort acknowledged by the national media might be something close to a miracle in its own right. Yesterday I followed the activities of my friend and former youth pastor Jeremy Welborn, who now lives in Oklahoma, as he and his son went into a devastated community to offer whatever help they could provide to the hurting. To now learn that they were just two of many who had rallied to give comfort, and that so many of the helpers were men and women of faith is a huge comfort and encouragement to me.

Ultimately, the rebuilding of Moore will require some level of government assistance and support, which after all is one of the legitimate functions of centralized governments, but long before the machinery of government even gets cranked up, it will be the good people of Oklahoma, believers and unbelievers alike who will save the day. That Baptist organizations and volunteers are playing so visible and valuable a roll is gratifying, and has helped restore some of my confidence in the institutional church.

Where is God in Oklahoma? He is covered with mud and sweat carrying bags of sandwiches and serving up hot coffee among the rubble that used to be Moore, that’s where.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Idiots on Parade

Apple CEO, Tim Cook will be hauled in front of cameras today in Washington DC to answer accusations that he and his company have ruthlessly taken advantage of loopholes in the tax laws of both the United States and Ireland, and paid no corporate income taxes on over 74 billion in profit over the past four years.
Something hilariously called the “U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations” will publish the findings of their lengthy study into Apple’s tax avoidance strategies in a hearing chaired by two fossils, D- Carl Levin and R-John McCain, making this a bi-partisan circus.

OK, So Apple Inc, a company that makes products that make our lives more efficient and fun, a company that has created over 80,000 permanent jobs worldwide, a company that in 2012 earned 156 billion in profit will be accused of breaking zero laws. That's right, the fine folks on the USPSI will declare that in cleverly avoiding the payment of the 35% corporate tax rate on 74 billion over four years, Apple not only broke no US tax laws, but also broke no Irish laws. In other words, Apple is guilty of doing what any person or company in their right mind does, minimize, or in this case eliminate taxes in every legal way possible.

But Doug, you say, isn't it Apple's duty to pay their fair share in taxes? No. It is Apple's "duty" to make great, world class products, providing value to it's customers and shareholders. In doing so, it has completely fulfilled the purpose and reason for its very existence. Is it Apple's fault that our tax system was written by idiots? Is it Apple's fault that said tax code is 74,000 pages long? Listen, if our politicians are stupid enough to create a system that says that if you create a foreign subsidiary and earn money overseas, you don't have to pay taxes on that profit until you bring that money back into the country, they shouldn't be shocked to discover American companies taking them up on their offer!

What I would like to see at today's hearing would be Tim Cook sitting behind the Senator's panel, and Senators McCain and Levin being called as witnesses. First question would be something like this:

Cook: Senators, could you tell me why you wrote the tax law in such a way that makes it easy for me to move profits overseas to avoid them? Oh, and as a follow up, if you guys ran Apple, would you have just forked over the 25 billion in taxes that we avoided by moving that office to Ireland? And if you did, how would you explain that decision to our shareholders?


Monday, May 20, 2013

My Weekend Adventure

So, Doug, how was your weekend?

Left the house at 6:30 Friday morning heading for a Kohl’s parking lot in Wake Forest, NC, not to be confused with the university of Wake Forest which is actually in Winston-Salem, NC, but used to be in the actual town of Wake Forest until 1950, when for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the school decided to pull up stakes and move 2 hours away, confusing the hell out of everybody ever since. We arrived at the Kohl’s parking lot without incident whereupon Pam and I along with my sister Paula, her husband Ron and my nephew Ryan begin a casual stroll through the sparking clean store trying to look like eager shoppers looking for a bargain, when in fact we are desperately looking for a working bathroom. We escaped this excursion without falling prey to the impressive sales all around us and the siren song of  $100 worth of Kohl’s Cash burning a hole in Pam’s purse.

Right on time, my daughter arrived, having made the drive from Winston-Salem where the new Wake Forest resides. We all pile into Ron’s battle tank of a Buick and make the short drive to a gravel parking lot, a convenient two mile walk from the graduation festivities for our sweet Jessica Stroup, who cheerfully received her Master’s degree from Southeastern Theological Seminary, the happy beneficiary of Wake Forest University’s bizarre decision 61 years ago to leave town. After a marathon session of picture taking, we drive back to Kohl’s, exit the tank, hop in our own vehicles and make the drive to downtown Raleigh for lunch at a fabulous BBQ restaurant called, “The Pit”. An awesome meal was enjoyed by all. After Rick and Linda graciously paid the bill for our feast, we all gather outside to say our goodbyes, but Pam, Kaitlin and Jessica are nowhere to be found. Naturally I assumed they were all in the bathroom, but after ten minutes, which is a long bathroom stay even for Jessica, I began to worry, unnecessarily as it turned out since they were across the street, taking ironic pictures of the girls standing in front of the scruffy brick walls of abandoned tobacco warehouses. Well, of course they were. Who could resist that?

This is where it gets complicated. Pam and I, Ron, Paula and Ryan then leave Raleigh, along with Kaitlin, to make the 2 hour drive to Winston-Salem, leaving Rick and Linda in Wake Forest for the night. The next day Kaitlin will be getting her Master’s hood from Wake Forest University. Her boyfriend Jon will be arriving along with Rick & Linda who will be picking up my son Patrick at the Raleigh airport where we have flown him from Princeton NJ, where we tell all of our friends he is attending grad school, which is a delicious half-truth since he does in fact attend grad school in that famous town, but at Westminster Choir College, NOT Princeton University, but why quibble with details?

Thus began a 36 hour adventure in cat-herding; four cars, three families, five different GPS devices, strange town, and schizophrenic weather conditions, combining to give the proceedings a spastic Keystone Kop quality. The centerpiece of the chaos was provided by this infamous 4AM text message from my son to his mother, “OK, I’m running a little bit late. I had to stop and get gas”, never a good thing to hear. Of course he misses his flight by two minutes, potentially sending the enter weekend down in flames, until he was miraculously rerouted to another flight which arrived in Raleigh a mere five minutes later than his original flight, praise be to Almighty God!

Somehow, all of us managed to be united at a Panera Bread right up the street from Kaitlin’s rental house for lunch at noon. Rick, Linda and Patrick, Ron, Paula and Ryan, Kaitlin and Jon, and Pam and I all got to witness Rick’s very first trip to Panera Bread. Who knew?

From there it was all relatively easy. The ceremony was lovely, the rain held off long enough afterwards for all the pictures to be taken. There was a lovely dinner together at the West End CafĂ©, where they serve a world class pot roast. Then we all went to see The Great Gatsby, since the great Fitzgerald novel was a major theme of Kaitlin’s dissertation. The Roops hated it; everyone else loved it, proving for the millionth time that there truly is no accounting for taste.

Sunday morning saw the Roops head back to Richmond. We stayed to attend Kaitlin’s church, have lunch together and take a walking tour of the campus that has been Kaitlin’s home for the past two years. Then we said our goodbyes and drove back to Richmond, our 72 hour journey over.

I spent the entire weekend with tears in my eyes, partially a result of the pride I felt in the accomplishments of my girls, and the importance of the moment, and partially from the searing pains shooting through my rapidly deteriorating left shoulder. The pain was such that I found myself going long stretches without saying anything, for fear that if I did open my mouth, out would fly an embarrassing string of salty epitaphs, inappropriate for the occasion. So I observed the proceedings mostly in proud silence, but proud I was. Next year this time, we will be in Princeton doing it all over again. My kids are at that stage where they provide me with an endless source of proud moments, moments when I am so thankful to be their father.

So, that’s what I did for my weekend. How about you?   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Thursday Thought Experiment

Here’s a little thought experiment for your Thursday morning:

If you worked for a bakery, if your livelihood depended on the sale of delicious pastries packed with fat and calories that are terrible for you but nonetheless scrumptious, then you would have a vested interest in promoting the increased popularity of said pastries, wouldn’t you?

If your ability to feed your family depended on the survival of the newspaper business, you would most likely not be a huge fan of the new media of internet news sites that are killing your industry. You would quite naturally be a rather passionate defender of the good old fashioned “dead tree” media.

Similarly, if you ran a large energy company whose fortunes were made extracting oil and natural gas from the ground, your biggest nightmare would be to discover that some teenager in a garage in Buffalo had just discovered how to power a car engine for 500 miles on a single drop of some substance he invented by accident one day while fooling around with some junk he found behind a storage shed out back. For although the world would be a far better, cleaner place because of this kid’s discovery, your energy company, and its fortunes would be thrown in the dust bin of history.

I say all of this to illustrate a point about the IRS scandal now consuming Washington. Why should any of us be surprised to learn that the Internal Revenue Service, the most powerful and feared agency of our government has been harassing organizations who are ideologically opposed to big government? Why should we be shocked that the one agency of government charged with the relentless collection of taxes, the unquenchable pursuit of the fuel that powers the mechanism of the State would be hostile to groups whose goal it is to reduce the size of said government?

This quaint notion that government employees are completely apolitical, evenhanded administrators of the public trust is a delusion and always has been. By and large, the great hordes of public employees who run the bureaucracy have an unavoidable bias towards keeping their jobs. Like all other workers in this country, they have a vested interest in their own prosperity, and why shouldn’t they? When I hear about survey after survey after survey that finds that 60 or 70%, or whatever the latest number is, of public employees vote Democrat I always think, “well…DUH!” I know very few conservatives or libertarians who sat around as kids thinking, “Boy, when I grow up I want to go to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development!!”

Here’s the truth. The Democratic Party in this country is the party of government. People who are invested in government tend to work FOR government. It is an irrefutable, undeniable fact of life. Since conservatives and libertarians generally support some form of rolling back of State power and all its accoutrements, few of them go to work for the State. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule. I’m sure there is come cadre of conservative, low-tax, low-regulation types huddled secretly at the water cooler somewhere in the bowels of the Justice Department, but as a rule, displaying a Tea-Party flag in the cafeteria of any agency of the federal government would probably be a bad career move.
I'm sure that there are some very fine people who work for government, and God bless them everyone, but, the next time you hear any politician describing a government agency as “independent”, just remember, that’s not how the people running the place vote.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Barack Obama vs. Thomas Jefferson

This week’s newspapers are being dominated by three stories:

1.     The IRS targeting of “conservative” groups for harassment, particularly groups with the words “tea party”, “government debt”, and “constitution” in their names.

2.     The 12 separate revisions and re-writings of the infamous talking points on Benghazi.

3.     The Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of over 40 reporters from the Associated Press.

The Left in this country constantly accuses their enemies, especially we Libertarians, of political paranoia. We are told by the party of government that those who distrust the State are simply rubes and anarchists. Indeed, those who cast aspersions on State power secretly loathe the concept of self-rule, and long I suppose for the salad days of nomadic tribes scouring the fruited plain for food and shelter unhindered by taxes. The President said as much in a commencement address at Ohio State University:

     Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

The headlines this week seem to suggest that our “brave, creative and unique” experiment in self-rule could use a few grown-ups. To equate, as the President does, self-rule with a gargantuan, bloated beyond recognition, bureaucratic leviathan that is involved in every area of its citizen’s lives from the size of our Big-Gulps to the size of our paychecks is a rhetorical reach of epic proportion. So, if we observe a government racking up over a trillion dollars a year in debt, watch it harass unfriendly reporters, then discover that its tax collecting agency is singling out dissident groups for special harassment, we are to simply rejoice in the miracle of self-rule?

For me, suggesting the very real possibility of tyranny in our future is not a repudiation of self rule, but an acknowledgment of the record of history. The previous century was a blood-soaked nightmare brought about by governments convinced of their infallibility, and endowed with great power over their citizens. To warn of mankind’s awful tendency towards the totalitarian impulse is not to “gum up the works” as our President so eloquently described it, but rather, the faithful tradition of the wise skepticism of our Founders, one of whom, Thomas Jefferson, said this:

 “Even under the best form of government, those entrusted with power, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

With all due respect to the current occupant of the White House, human nature in 2013 is unchanged from the 1776 variety. I’ll take Jefferson’s skepticism over Obama’s Pollyannaish optimism any day of the week, especially a week like this one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Thank You to Frank and The Count

This morning I was in the mood for some music when I arrived at the office. No one had arrived yet, so I could play it as loud as I wanted. I have an iPod with several hundred songs on it attached to a Bose sound dock thing sitting on the top of a filing cabinet. I pressed “shuffle” and sat down to start on some paperwork.

I have a rather eclectic musical collection since there are very few styles of music that have no appeal for me. The first tune that popped up was “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles, then came a Lenny Kravitz tune, followed by a Felix Mendelssohn piece capped off by “When the House is a-Rockin’, Don’t Bother Knockin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Then a song played that stopped me in my tracks. Considering everything I’ve been through recently, the lyrics of this song seemed meant for me and me alone. Frank Sinatra teamed up with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1962 to record an album of American standards. Among them was the Johnny Burke classic, “Pennies from Heaven”.

I didn’t have to “google” the lyrics for this blog, because Frank’s diction is perfect. It’s a song about looking on the bright side of life, turning lemons into lemonade, the sort of lyric that no one writes anymore because it’s considered too corny. We would rather hear tales of woe from which the writer is a hopeless victim. Frank sings,

         “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.

           Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?

           You’ll find your fortune falling all over the town.

           Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

           Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers

            If you want the things you love you’ve got to have showers.

            So, if you hear it thunder don’t run under a tree,

            There’ll be pennies from heaven for you and me.”

Then the Count’s amazing band rips through a tight riff, with Basie’s slick, understated piano keeping rhythm. This 51 year old virtuoso performance was just for me this morning. Thanks guys.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"To everything there is a season..."

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Then it goes on to list some examples where we find this, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” After the last few days, I’m ready for a little more laughing and dancing, and a lot less weeping and mourning.

Over this past weekend, losing Molly combined with Mother’s Day without my children or my mother combined to produce in me a heavy sadness, which I couldn’t shake. Then, to add insult to injury, my sainted mother-in-law was hospitalized with a serious health issue Saturday night. It was a perfect storm of melancholy.

My Mom passed away on the last day of June so this was my first Mother’s Day without her. All I could think about were the times I would go to Strange’s and buy her a Rose bush or something, then take it out to her on Saturday so I could beat my brother and sisters to the punch. Last year, she was in a great mood already, before I showed up, and was thrilled with my gift. She made a huge fuss over it and gave me one of her famous hugs. I still remember the smell of her hair. Now, every rose bush I see brings a knot to my throat, especially this past weekend.

Ever since we lost Molly on Thursday morning, my house has become a shrine to her memory. Every square inch of the place carries with it a memory. I walk in my house and immediately feel the pain of her absence. She doesn’t meet me at the door. She’s isn’t there to pester me for treats, she doesn’t need to be let out, or fed. We eat our dinner with her nowhere in sight. Every routine of my day has an enormous hole in it where Molly used to be. I wonder how long it will be before I stop feeling like crying when I enter my house.

It has only been since Molly left us that I have truly understood what my father is going through. Since Molly lived with us, her memory is everywhere, and her loss is felt most severely at home. How must my father feel when someone with whom he was inseparable for 65 is no longer there? That he bears up with such grace and dignity under so heavy a burden is beyond my understanding.

“To everything there is a season…” Like every season before it, I will need to learn to deal with this new one. For so many years, I never experienced loss of any kind. In this, I have been extraordinarily lucky. But the scales balance with time, and the older I get the more of it I will see. Death is every bit as much a part of our world as is life. I will get better at handling it with experience, I suppose, and hopefully I will learn how to be a blessing to others as a result.

Still, after the last three days, I’ve had my fill. Today begins a new week, one filled with glorious possibility. This coming weekend, I will be together with my incredible family celebrating Kaitlin’s graduation from Wake Forest University with a Master’s degree in English Literature. We will all be together with Patrick flying in, our dear friends the Stroups, Paula, Ron and Ryan, and Jon. We will enjoy great food, the beautiful campus, and even take in the Great Gatsby together. Maybe there will even be some laughing and dancing. There is a season for it after all.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What I Learned From Molly

In the early morning hours of Thursday, May the 9th, we lost our sweet Golden Retriever, Molly. Three weeks ago she had been diagnosed with cancer and given two weeks to live. She lived three weeks and two days before passing away at the age of 11 years, 7 months. Her last three weeks were largely spent doing all of her favorite things. Pam created a “bucket list” and took pictures of all of her adventures. Most of the time these past weeks she has been pain free, happy, and close to her old self, but the last 24 hours were quite terrible. Even so, when the end came Pam and I were both holding her and reminding her of how much she was loved and just what an indescribable blessing she had been to our lives. When we think of her, we will forget this last day and be grateful for all the many wonderful days of joy that she brought to all of us.

Like anyone lucky enough to own a dog, I have learned many things from mine over the years. But, Molly took me to school all of her life. From Molly I learned that I should accept anyone, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how old they are. Molly believed that everyone she ever met was a potential scratcher and that if she loved them enough and they ever got invited over to dinner, they would probably love her back by slipping her some food. From Molly I learned to take my medicine, every day, without whining. From Molly I learned that a house full of teenagers was possibly the best thing ever, and I was crazy for not having a house full every night.

 From Molly I learned to never bother my neighbors, and stay in my own yard unless invited over. From Molly I learned that I should always be extra nice to young children, even if they were annoying, and loud, and pulled on your ears, because they were just kids and didn’t mean any harm. From Molly I learned that you always feel better about yourself after a bath. From Molly I learned that if you haven’t seen someone you love for a while, you should show them how much you missed them by bringing them a gift and making a big fuss. From Molly I learned to turn the other cheek, to forgive everyone for every stupid thing they ever did, because surely they didn’t mean it. 

From Molly I learned that the only two things on the face of the earth that weren’t any good to eat were uncooked celery, and uncooked carrots, everything else was nothing short of awesome. From Molly I learned that if someone leaves you alone, if you love them enough, they will always come back. From Molly I learned that the world is chocked full of millions upon millions of potential friends, those who you know, and those you haven’t met yet. From Molly I learned the value of a good nap, and that the best way to ride in a car is with your smiling face hanging out of the window.

Someone asked me once whether or not I thought that dogs go to heaven when they die. I replied, “If not dogs…who?” If our lives are judged solely on the merits, the streets of gold will be teeming with dogs with only a few humans to clean up the mess. But just to prevent some insufferable spiritual snob out there from writing me a theological dissertation of the doctrine of salvation, let me close this tribute to Molly with the lyrics of a song my brother taught me over forty years ago when my dog, Roman, had died:

                        “When I was a lad and old Shep was a pup,

                         Over fields and meadows we’d stray.

                        Just a boy and his dog, we were both full of fun,

                       We grew up together that way.

                      I remember the time by the old swimming hole

                     When I would have drown beyond doubt.

                     But old Shep, there he was, to my rescue he came.

                    He jumped in and helped pull me out.

                   Now old Shep he has gone where the good doggies go,

                  No more with old Shep will I roam.

                 But if dogs have a heaven, then there’s one thing I know,

                 Old Shep has a beautiful home.”