Sunday, August 31, 2014

Something You Can Count On

On this last day of August, it’s reassuring to be confronted with a few unchangeable truths of life. In a world filled to the brim with doubts and shifting narratives, it is quite comforting to be reminded that some things actually never change.

1.     The SEC remains dominant.
2.     Al Gore remains a bloviating idiot.

In the four marque match ups between SEC teams and top out of conference opponents, the conference once again proved its medal, Alabama beating West Virginia by 10, Georgia annihilating Clemson by 24, Ole Miss whipping Boise State by 22, and LSU spotting Wisconsin a 24-7 lead before storming back in the second half to win by 4. Just like death and taxes…

On the seventh anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize(?) acceptance speech in which he famously declared, “The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff.” The former Vice-President, doing his best imitation of a scientist continued, “It could be completely gone in summer in as little as seven ears…seven years from now.” For those of you doing the math at home, that would be the summer of 2014. Fortunately for the planet, Al was spectacularly wrong. Satellite photographs just released by the University of Illinois’ Cryosphere project, show that the North Polar ice cap sits at a whopping 5.2 million square kilometers, its largest mass since 2006 and an increase of 43%, or an area the size of the state of Alaska, in just the last two years. An actual scientist, Judith Curry from the Georgia Institute of Technology deadpanned, “It would appear that the Arctic sea ice death spiral seems to have been reversed.”

I’m not expecting any comment coming from the 10,000 square foot, 9 million dollar, Gore family compound. I’m sure that Al is flying somewhere in his private Gulfstream to make a $250,000 speech decrying the defilement of the planet by other people’s 10,000 square foot homes and private Gulfstreams. The only thing that has consistently been greened by Al Gore over the past ten years is his bank account. But God bless him, now that he is safely removed from the levers of power, he has finally discovered the wonders of capitalism.

Better late than never.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Offended? Move to Vermont.

I’m sure that by now, most of you have heard about the great bacon kerfuffle up in Vermont. It’s been all over the Internet, but just in case you missed it, I’ll recap:

The proprietors of Sneakers Bistro posted a sign outside their establishment that read, “Yield for Sneakers Bacon!”  

Soon, an Internet chat room called the “Winnoski Front Porch Forum” was visited by one single solitary complainer who stated her case that as a vegan who lived in a Muslim household, the sign personally offended her. Almost immediately, the owners of the Sneakers Bistro removed the sign. The City Manager of Winnoski practically broke her arm  patting herself on the back over this beautiful display of “inclusiveness” thusly,  “Winnoski is a diverse community and that’s the way we like it. It’s uncomfortable, but discomfort can be a source of growth, not just a source of anger and frustration.”

Ahh yes, growth. The fine folks in Vermont have now defined for the rest of us what it means to be a part of a “diverse community.” Apparently it means assuring the God-given right of every citizen to never be offended.

I’m not exactly sure what matrix the City Manager uses to measure Winnoski’s diversity since the town’s population is 87% white, but I will take her word for it. Regardless, it sounds like a great place to live since if you don’t like something, all you have to do is complain about it once and it will go away. Imagine the possibilities…

1.     As a well dressed Christian man, I find the sight of teenage boys with their pants hanging down below their asses personally offensive.

2.     As someone who is lactose-intolerant I find the presence of the ice cream truck in my neighborhood every day during the summer highly provocative and personally offensive.

3.     As a devotee of classical music I find the ear-blasting sound of rap music coming from the car next to me at the stop light personally offensive.

4.     As a faithful Catholic I find the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse particularly offensive on Fridays

5.     As a proud Arab I find the smell of bagels wafting out of Eintein’s every morning personally offensive.

6.     As a man who struggles with his weight I find the ripped abs on the bathing suit mannequins at Macy’s personally offensive.

7.     As an Irish-American I find the mascot of the Notre Dame football team personally offensive with it’s suggestion of drunken brawling and it’s stereotypical term, Fighting Irish, an affront against my ethnicity.

See how easy that was? Let’s all move to Vermont!

Thursday, August 28, 2014


I don’t know about you but I long for the days when the only thing called ISIS was the dog on Downton Abbey.

Practically every day for weeks now mornings have brought fresh images of some ghastly beheading or indiscriminate slaughter perpetrated by this band of black-garbed Muslim fighters. We are told that it is their intention to establish a worldwide caliphate and to one day raise their black flag over the White House. This is a group who executes Christians and anyone else they encounter who doesn’t prescribe to their brand of Islam, including fellow Muslims. They have no use for gays, and like their women barefoot, pregnant and young. In just a few short months they have stormed onto the scene and cut a swath of land from Syria to Iraq which they now “control” in much the same way as prison guards “control” a prison. Religion of peace, indeed.

We are reminded by tenured professors, secure in their ivory towers 5000 miles from the slaughter, that ISIS represents a small minority of Islamic thought. We are assured that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful folks just like us who just want to live in peace. Perhaps they are right. However, whenever I see these professors on television I am reminded that it was these same men and women who assured us three years ago that the “Arab Spring” was about to bloom all over the Middle East, ushering in a new era of democracy and pluralism.

I have no doubt that ISIS and other violent permutations of Islam do indeed represent a minority of thought in a religion as vast as Islam. However, they are the ones with the guns and they are the ones that always seem to grab the initiative. It is also true that the Nazi’s in Germany never won a majority of the German vote in their rise to power. But the majority of German thought had neither the energy nor the will to stand up to Hitler, so in the end it didn’t matter.

From the PLO, through Hamas, and Al Qaeda, now to ISIS, the only strain of thought that has ever mattered in the Muslim world has been the guys with the AK-47’s.
I eagerly await the day when the world is talking about the groundbreaking medical research being done in the great Islamic universities. I can’t wait to discover the Islamic Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Dante and Bach. I’m counting the days until some Islamic businessman dies and endows a peace prize to rival the Nobel.

But until that happy day, I’ll have to be reassured by all the smart people that Islam is in fact a religion of peace, and what I have witnessed for the past fifty years is all a big misunderstanding. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Marital Communication via Texts

I got a text from my wife yesterday morning at 9:45 which began as follows:


         “I’m toying with an idea…”


Perhaps never in the history of texts has there been typed a phrase more pregnant with possibilities than this one. These are five words that could mean anything, they hang there producing fear, dread, excitement, expectation. What on earth is she up to? Has she been overcome with a vision of how to redecorate our bedroom? Has she been surfing the internet and discovered some exotic locale for our next vacation? Has she decided to quit teaching and become a celebrity chef?


        “…what would YOU think of…”


Uh-oh, now she has placed the decision in my hands. Great! If I say, no, I’ll be the one responsible for crushing her dream. On the other hand, maybe she is just employing a figure of speech…what would YOU think…as in this is what we’re going to do, I hope you like it. Or maybe she really is seeking my permission. Calm down man, it’s just a text!!


        “…of having a fire this evening…”


Hmmmm. Very interesting.


        “...and inviting Mom and Dad and Sharon’s family to come have hot dogs and s’mores for dinner?”


So, last night there we all were sitting around the fire-pit and roasting hot dogs on a delightfully cool night in August. It’s probably the first time in my life any such thing had been done in Richmond, Virginia in August. I associate many things with this particular month, but sitting around a campfire isn’t one of them. It was a wonderful idea that sprang from the mind of my wife, perhaps the most hospitable person on the face of the Earth.

I think when or if I retire, we should buy some gorgeous house somewhere in Maine and run a Bed and Breakfast. That way Pam could get paid for doing what comes natural to her…having people over for snacks!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Top Ten Best Things About the Empty Nest

The empty nest is great. In the month of July Pam and I moved our daughter and her new husband into their new apartment in Columbia, South Carolina. Then a week later moved our son into his new rental house in Nashville, Tennessee. Finally, after several false starts and 26 years of kid-centric living, we are home, alone. Now that we have had an entire month of freedom under our belt, let me list for you the best parts of empty nest life:

1.     We never have to fuss at either of them about how messy their rooms are. Every time we pass by their doors, their beds are all made…just like the last time we checked. What a relief it is not to have to nag them about it. Now, if we get unexpected guests from out of town. We won’t have to scramble around making their rooms presentable. Of course, we’ve never actually had any unexpected guests show up on our doorstep recently…or ever, but if it happens, we’ve got a couple of immaculately clean guestrooms going for us.

2.     Since our kids aren’t here to constantly leave their bedroom lights on 24/7, our electricity consumption has been slashed by…3.5%

3.     Now that they have moved out, the street in front of our house doesn’t look like a used car lot. Their two cars aren’t there and neither are the cars of their friends. It’s just empty…and since Pam and I both park our cars inside the garage, you can hardly tell if anyone is home…kind of like an abandoned house. It’s great.

4.     Our grocery bill has been cut virtually in half. Finally, the cupboard isn’t stuffed full of chips and snacks. The freezer isn’t packed to the gills with ice cream and freezy pops and all the other delicious stuff that they used to inhale. As a consequence, we are eating healthier. Yes, no more calorie filled sweet treats for us, no sirree Bob.

5.     Did I mention the laundry? Did I mention how we only have to wash clothes once a week or so? That’s a good thing…right?

6.     Quiet, it’s so very quiet. Peace and quiet used to be an impossibility around here and now it’s like…all the time. Really great.

7.     We don’t have to clean the kids’ bathroom anymore. We don’t have to scrub Kaitlin’s hair products off of the tile floor with a toothbrush. It really wasn’t her fault. She had to use all kinds of stuff on her beautiful curls to keep them from getting out of control. Cleaning up after Kaitlin’s beautiful delicate curls are now the responsibility of Jon. Finally…a clean guest bedroom, and no beautiful curls. Great.

8.     Oh, and the music thing. When Patrick was here, he was always sitting down at the piano working something out in his mind, playing the same measure over and over trying to perfect it. It was always very difficult to read with that piano going all the time. Sometimes I would sit there at my desk and just listen to him play and the next thing I knew, thirty minutes had flown by. I am so much more efficient now that I don’t have beautiful, creative, soulful music being written all around me.

9.     It’s also quite refreshing not to have the violent crash and flash of video game noise pulsing out of the movie room. Now I don’t have to remember to not trip on all the chords laying all around the floor. Sooo much safer in there now.

10.  Where before we saw our kids all the time, now we get to decide when we would like to see them. And when we do, all we have to do is hop in the car and drive 7 hours to see Kaitlin and Jon and a mere 9 and a half to see Patrick. That way, we will arrive fresh and rested and truly enjoy our two days together before we have to drive 7 and 9 and a half hours back…to our quiet, clean, nearly abandoned-looking house.

Yes, the empty nest is…great.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

PC rules

The good news is, Harry Reid’s job is safe. Because he’s a Democrat, his career will survive.

While speaking to an Asian group the other day the Senate Majority leader threw out this gem: “One problem I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”

This is the same Harry Reid who referred to then candidate Barack Obama as that “light-skinned African American with no negro dialect.”

And yet…Harry Reid hasn’t been shamed into retirement by the PC police. He hasn’t been forced to endure a crying mea culpa with Oprah. He has the political equivalent of a get out of jail free card, a capital D next to his name.

After word of his ill-chosen words leaked out, the complete text of his “apology” is as follows: “My comments were in extremely poor taste and I apologize. Sometimes I say the Wong thing.”

Oh, wait, my bad. That should be wrong thing…sometimes I say the wrong thing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Put Your Name On It!!

Plato once asked the question, if people were granted invisibility would they behave more or less morally? In other words, does anonymity make us better or worse, more honest or less honest, better people or worse people? The fact that Plato even asked this question brings into doubt his reputation for intelligence. History is littered with overwhelming evidence that when human beings are granted anonymity, they become capable of practically anything. Without the judging eyes of our peers we become mean, hateful, brutish thugs for the most part. Need proof? Visit the message boards of your favorite social media site when the subject of race pops up.

My Mother never went to college. She never sat around eating pizza and ruminating on philosophy all night in a dorm. But that’s not to say that she didn’t have a philosophy, or at least philosophical insights. One of them was, “You’re only as good of a person as you are when nobody’s looking.” Mom used to hate it when people would only do their “good works” to the sound of trumpets. She would get all “up in the pictures” talking about the vanity of men and women who could only be counted on to do something decent when there was an audience.

But there is another side to this anonymity business. Yes, people do act artificially better in public but that redounds to the public good. Hypocritical good deeds are still good deeds. But anonymity gives the darkness of our character an outlet. When my Dad was the Pastor of Winns Baptist Church back in the 1970’s, the majority of the members were good people, honest, hard-working, salt of the earth types. But when you spend 16 years in the pulpit of a church, you will make your share of mistakes and Dad was no exception to that rule. When he did, he got called on the carpet usually face to face with someone who had taken exception to something he had said or done. But by far the worst treatment he ever got came in the form of the anonymous letter. Always typed, always without a return address, these screeds would attack him with ruthless vitriol and...unspeakably bad grammar.

With the advent of the Internet, anonymous communication is everywhere and most of it is poisoning us and our discourse. To read comments that people make about race, sexual orientation, and religion behind the cloak of anonymity is to peer into the dark night of the soul. Dad’s hate mail at least took some degree of forethought and planning. They had to get a piece of paper, find a typewriter, address an envelope, lick a stamp, and walk to the mailbox, all activities that allowed time to think things over before actually sending it. Today, anyone can spew forth the vilest thing and broadcast it instantaneously without filter. Technological advancements in communication have not made us better communicators. It has granted us a license for cruelty.

The readers of this blog don’t always agree with everything I write. But my name and my reputation is attached to everything you read. Consequently, I must exercise temperance. Some of the stuff floating around in my head needs to stay there, because to give them voice would be hurtful. So here’s my proposal of the day, how about instead of censoring the Internet, we insist on disclosure.

Put your name on it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Earned Income Puppy Credit

My search for a Golden Retriever puppy has been about as productive as a trip to the DMV. Buying illegal drugs would be easier than finding a purchasable puppy. There are waiting lists involved, not to mention down payments and background checks to be endured. I’ve seen prices ranging anywhere from $800 to $1800….for a dog.

Funny thing happens when you’re shopping for a dog. When you see this type of price range, you start turning your nose up at the $800 puppies. You wonder what is wrong with them that they are so cheap. Do you really want to purchase a dog from the bargain bin? This is capitalism at work at its notorious best. How much should a dog be worth? The answer is and always will be in a free economy, what the market will bear. Am I willing to pay $1800 for the perfect Golden that I can get at the perfect time? The answer is…yes. Is $1800 outrageous for a puppy? No, if someone if willing to pay. Would I or anyone out there be willing to pay $1800 for a flea-bitten, tick-infested Basset hound? Probably not.

Like everything else in life that I have wanted, it’s not that things are too expensive, the problem has always been that I can’t afford them. Luckily, this has given me sufficient motivation to change that equation. I can either rage against the high price of Golden Retrievers or make more money. Since I have no control over the price of the product, I must change what I do have control over…my income.

Of course, there is another option open to me. I could try and get the government involved. Why should only the 1% be able to afford Golden Retrievers? Does not the Declaration of Independence speak of the “pursuit of happiness?” I can’t think of anything that provides more happiness than a puppy. First, I would have to hire some high priced lobbyist. Then I could get some intrepid reporter from the NYT to write an expose on dog breeders and tag them with a sinister label, “Big Puppy.” Soon the headlines would read…Big Puppy Lands in Regulatory Doghouse. Then legislation would be submitted to impose strict price controls on dogs. Perhaps a tax-credit for low income families who buy a dog, a modification of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Sure, there might be a few negative consequences to these new laws, namely the creation of a black market. “Psssst…wanna buy a puppy? I know a guy who could hook you up.” Of course, if the past is any teacher, ultimately a shortage of Golden Retrievers would result, making them even more expensive, but in order to make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs. Besides, it would be the intentions of the legislation that mattered, not the results.
I hope nobody in Washington is reading this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Here and Now

Is it just me, or does the world look like it’s about to blow up?

Look, I’m a life-long believer in the old adage, this too shall pass, but it’s getting harder and harder to rely on adages. Another of my go to truths has always been, things are never as bad as they seem, but even that one has taken a beating lately. Every morning, my inspection of the overnight news sends me to the medicine box for a couple of Rolaids.

This morning, for example. I learn that a freak storm dumped two feet of hail somewhere in MEXICO. Flash floods wiped out scores of homes in the deserts of Arizona. A snowstorm was forecast for Scotland…in August. ISIS published a video of the beheading of an American photo-journalist with more to come. The rioting, looting and grandstanding continue unabated in Ferguson. With the ink on the latest cease fire barely dry, a barrage of rockets hit Tel Aviv overnight from Gaza. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues to double in size every three days. The Chinese army has crossed into India several times over the last few days for reasons unknown. The Cubs have won three games in a row. After a brief 36 hour trip to the office, the President is safely back at Martha’s Vineyard and his vacation.

Whenever the news gets like this, I think about the “wars and rumors of wars,” and the “groaning of nature” lines from the Bible, staples of end times prophesy. But then I remember what a fever swamp of nitwittery the whole “end times industry” is and I relax. Still, our world seems out of control most of the time, and resistant to easy cures or any cure, easy or not. No political movement has any workable solutions. Religions are everywhere in disrepute, even my Christianity seems bent on irrelevancy, more interested in slugging it out with each other over arcane theological disputes than bringing the love of Christ to the world.

So, I suppose it’s left to each of us to do the best we can in the here and now. I can’t fix Ferguson, but I can try to make someone’s day in Short Pump. I can’t bring peace to the Middle East but I can do a better job of loving my neighbor here in America.
I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The here and now is all I’ve got at the moment. I need to make the most of it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Dog Days


I hate to use this term because it seems awfully mean-spirited to dogs, but we have officially entered the “dog days of summer.” This is that mid-August through Labor Day time period when most people have already taken their vacations, and now there is nothing exciting to look forward to except soul-crushing humidity and back-to-school sales at Target. Even writing this blog is a chore, ‘Ok, what should I write about today…wait, I know, how about the scourge of ingrown toenails?”

What follows is a rambling, incoherent string of observations that have been on my mind recently:

My favorite game is in some serious trouble, sports fans. Sunday night, a Little League World Series game between teams from Philadelphia and Texas beat a Big League game between Atlanta and Oakland in the ratings. Yes, that’s right. Oakland, with the best record in baseball played the Atlanta Braves, another decent team on television and more Americans preferred to watch the 12 year olds play. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is…Little League baseball is AWESOME. The kids play with reckless abandon. They don’t stop to adjust their batting gloves after each pitch. They run the bases like their hair is on fire. When they get a hit or make a great catch their faces light up the screen with broad, unashamed glee. Their parents cry in the stands. In other words, they are having fun and they don’t care who knows it. Big league players look like they are at work. They play the game with unsurpassed skill, but take forever doing it, as if they are getting paid by the hour. The only expression on their faces is one of earnest determination, as if smiling…frowned upon. There might not be any crying in baseball, but whatever happened to laughter, joy, and fun?

There are two professions where you are allowed to be constantly wrong without fear of losing your job: politicians and weathermen.

I have been playing Words with Friends now for the better part of three years. I have finally found a group of seven letters out of which no English word can be formed, at least I can’t think of one. U U Z R R R I. I share this with you to see if any of you are smarter than I am (very likely).
Johnny Manziel played in his second preseason game last night and he has already shot the bird to an opponent. It takes some quarterbacks years before they master the refined skill of bad sportsmanship. I can name a list of hundreds of NFL quarterbacks who played in the league for years before perfecting the ability to completely lose their composure on the field, and Manziel has it figured out in week two. This kid is gonna go places!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Give Food a Chance

I saw a movie last night that affected me deeply in two ways. It gave me hope and made me hungry.

The One Hundred Foot Journey is an imperfect film in that although it is terrifically acted and beautiful to look at, it does suffer from idealistic overkill and at least one major plot defect that probably went unnoticed by most viewers.

First the plot defect. How does a family from India who has just lost everything in a tragic fire and who are now reduced to wandering the European continent with all of their meager belongings packed into a beat up bucket of bolts, whose brakes fail just outside a small town somewhere in France leaving them all wondering how they will be able to afford to pay for repairs, suddenly find the money to buy a large restaurant? A quibble, I know.

Now for the idealistic overkill. The town that the Kadams stumble into is in the French countryside. The restaurant that the family purchases is just outside of town, right across the street from the best restaurant within 50 miles, a beautiful, majestic building that has earned one Michelin star. The two establishments are one hundred feet apart in distance and a thousand miles apart culturally. It is hard for me to believe that a place like this exists anywhere in the world. The weather is perfect. Everyone dines al fresco 24 hours a day. Even when it rains, it’s romantic. In the entire movie, I never saw a car drive down the road that separates the restaurants. In town, an impossibly quaint sidewalk café features children playing hopscotch in the middle of the patrons while birds flutter above them. If there actually exists such a peaceful, unhurried place in France, then “Honey, where’s my passport?”

The story is simple enough. The Kadams owned a restaurant back in Mumbai, a true family business, all hands on deck sort of place. Hasan, the oldest has been taught the art of cooking by his mother, who tragically dies in the fire. All this family knows is cooking and serving food, so naturally they try to make a new start. First they try England, but in the best line of the film explain that they had to leave England because, "the vegetables had no soul." So, they finally decide to compete against the French. The culture clash is immediate and complete. Madame Mallory, the widowed proprietor objects to the loud music, the kitschy décor, the smell of curry and just about everything else she can think to bring to the local constable. What she really objects to is the competition and the amazing skill of Hasan who although lacking formal training, has “the gift.” Of course, romance is soon in the air along with the aroma of spices old and new. Hasan starts falling for Marguerite, the doe-eyed chef in training across the street, and Papa and Madame Mallory, against all odds, unbelievably fall for each other.

The appeal of this film is in the conflict of cultures. The French, representing the “classical” definition of high culture and the Kadams representing the immigrant “other.” Once the Indian cuisine starts to attract customers, and especially once the French chefs realize that Hasan has more talent than they do, the Kadams face some backlash in the form of Molotov cocktails and a racial slur painted across the wall in front of the place. When Madame Mallory fires the chef she suspects of instigating the vandalism and shows up at the wall, scrub-brush in hand to remove the slur, relations begin to thaw. Then she does something that successful countries do with immigrants…she co-opts them. She hires Hasan and paves the way for him to attend a French cooking school in Paris. He becomes famous because of his talent, but ultimately tires of Paris, returns to Marguerite and lives happily ever after.

One scene in particular stood out for me. At one point Madame Mallory tastes one of Hasan’s variations on one of the five classic sauces of French cuisine. She asks what the strange taste is and why he would want to change a sauce that has been around for 200 years. Hasan answers, “Maybe 200 years is long enough.”

When I look around the world I see nothing but violence and strife, most of it either religious or ethnic. Whether it’s in the Middle East, Africa, on our southern border or in Ferguson, Missouri, we have a hard time co-existing with “the other.” Maybe we can learn something from this heart-warming film. Maybe we can all sit down and eat good food together. There is precedent for peace through eating. While Americans are understandably concerned about the gusher of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, we have absolutely no problem with their food. Mexican restaurants are every where in Short Pump and they are all amazing. Americans might have some resentment at the number of Asain-Americans who win Valedictorian awards, but we love their food. Recent graduates in computer science might resent the stiff competition they get from new arrivals from India, but if they would sit down for a meal at Anokha they might fall in love with the Tandoori platter.

Call me crazy, but I believe in an America who welcomes all who come here (legally), and takes the best of what they bring to the great big American table. If we can sit down and eat with someone, it’s much more difficult to give in to fear and hatred. The more savory dishes, the better. I enjoy nothing more than a plate of mashed potatoes with gravy, string beans, and fried chicken, with a glass of sweet tea to wash it down. But I love living in a country where I can be welcomed into a Chinese restaurant for a helping of orange beef and honey shrimp.
Give food a chance, give peace a chance.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Peace, out.


I think that after 56 years on this earth, I have finally learned that when it comes to matters of race, it is best not to have an opinion.

Whether it’s the Trayvon Martin episode or the Ferguson, Missouri riots, there seems to me no middle ground upon which reasonable people can plant a flag of common sense. The emotions are too raw, the optics too explosive, the ancient resentments still too raw.

Criticize the policeman for using excessive force and poor judgment in the death of Michael Brown, and you are judged to be unsympathetic to the plight of besieged policemen and ignorant of the daily dangers they face for our protection.

Criticize the appearance of storm-trooper-like policemen wielding machine guns and armored vehicles as a dangerous militarization of law enforcement, and you will be judged as soft on law and order.

Communicate concern over the surge in gun sales in and around Ferguson as a potential dangerous escalation and you become an anti-second amendment liberal.

Offer an observation on the breakdown of the African-American family today as a possible contributor to the lawless destruction of property in Ferguson, and you become a “blame the victim” racist.

Use the term “African-American” and you are complicit in the balkanization of America.

Point out the fact that using the occasion of a tragic death of a teenager at the hands of a policeman to stock up on tennis shoes and Bud Lite might not be an appropriate expression of your anger, and you are just another privileged white guy who doesn’t understand life in the hood.

Lament the arrival of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on the scene and you are excused of trying to pick their leaders for them.

Point out the fact that since we are having so much trouble keeping the peace in the inner cities of America, perhaps we should stop trying to keep the peace in Iraq, and you are a dangerous isolationist.

Point out the fact that 6 years ago many liberals told us that the election of Obama was going to usher in a “post-racial America” and you are accused of hating him because he’s black.

Share your heartfelt opinion that the solution to the scourge of racial hatred in America can only be wiped out by a transformation of the heart which can only be accomplished by spiritual means and you are a religious fanatic bent on establishing a theocracy.

So, excuse me while I change the channel to ESPN and hunker down here in the suburbs. Engaging in this battle is a fight I am destined to lose.
Peace, out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Lost Puppy


This morning, I’m feeling a bit embarrassed. Although I am a grown man of reasonable intelligence and a passable resume of accomplishment, I have been reduced to bumbling incompetence because of the temporary absence of two women from my life.

My Administrative Assistant, Kristin Reihl, had the temerity to request time off for a vacation with her family at some lake estate in Minnesota. This has left me alone and vulnerable at my office. Since her departure, I have presented and closed five cases, all of which sit in a towering, forlorn pile on my credenza awaiting the completion of paperwork that must be done before they can be submitted. I can do it…I really can. However, words cannot possibly convey just how much I loathe each and every piece of paperwork involved in my chosen profession. Because of this unhealthy hatred, I hired Kristen, and upon completion of a case, I hand the entire mess to her and force her to endure it for money. It’s a great system…I give her what I hate and she takes my money. But this week, she’s up there in the Land of Lakes frolicking in the low eighties with no humidity, taking naps in hammocks and drinking wine all day while I sit staring at this pile of files.

To make matters much worse, this morning my wife left for three days in Columbia, South Carolina to visit my daughter and help her set up her new classroom. This means I will be alone until Saturday afternoon. When your children grow up and leave the house, it’s called the empty nest. When your wife leaves for three days after the kids have left, it’s more like large, empty, abandoned medieval castle.

Not that there aren’t some advantages to being alone in your home. I can walk around in my underwear while drinking cranberry juice directly out of the bottle. That’s always a good time. I can go out on the deck and fire up a fine cigar any time I want and not have to hear about how bad I smell when I come back inside. But, if a man smokes a cigar on his deck while his wife is away and she isn’t there to smell him, did it really even happen?

When Pam is gone, I am essentially a lost puppy. When you finish up the last thing at work, it hits you that she isn’t waiting for you at home. Something inside you deflates a little. When you get home you look around at the place and everything seems stale and boring. How could a home that was warm and inviting just 12 hours ago suddenly look like a dump?

So you head over to Q or Big Al’s for dinner. There will be no made from scratch crab cakes, no bruschetta, no caprese tarts for you for a while. You’ll have to make do with pizza and chicken wings and chicken fingers. You probably won’t shave for a couple of days either. What’s the point? It’s embarrassing to admit that after 30 years of marriage you still attempt to impress your wife by looking as good as possible, partly out of fear that if you let myself go, she would suddenly realize how much better she could do!
So, today will be filled with paperwork, and then I will go home and begin planning a welcome home celebration for Saturday night!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tony Stewart and Ferguson, Missouri



The death of Robin Williams had the effect of sweeping all other news out of the way yesterday, which I’m sure was a welcomed relief for Tony Stewart and the law abiding citizens of Ferguson, Missouri.

Stewart, the famously hot-headed race car driver had been the subject of intense scrutiny for his killing of another driver at a short track over the weekend. After being taken out by Stewart’s car, Kevin Ward, all of twenty years old, bolted out of his car and onto the middle of the track, determined to confront Stewart for his tactics. When next Stewart made his way around the track, instead of slowing down to avoid the lunatic in the middle of the road, Stewart appeared to accelerate, sending Ward flying and ultimately killing him. Bad news. The initial investigation by the local sheriff’s office has cleared Stewart of any wrongdoing, but many race fans suspect in their heart of hearts that Tony lashed out at the kid in a flash of rage, and gave in to his baser instincts.

Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, had been the scene of a recurring pattern of violence all too familiar to Americans. A black teenager gets killed by a police officer in a confrontation on the mean streets of some American city. The circumstances of the killing aren’t fully known, but enough details emerge that suggest that the kid was unarmed. Like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, a “peaceful” candlelight vigil erupts into mindless mayhem and destruction of property. Soon, videos surface showing baggy-pants boys with baseball caps askew on their heads happily smashing the glass fronts of sporting goods stores making off with pairs of Air-Jordans, convenience stores making off with cases of beer, and Best Buys making off with big screen TV’s. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton engage in a no holds barred race to be the first to arrive on the scene where one of them declares with not the slightest hint of remorse or irony, “There’s a Ferguson near you!”

I am not black. Therefore, I have never been the victim of racism. Consequently, any observation I may have about this sort of thing comes from my relative position of privilege. I can have a certain sympathy for the anger of a people who feel that one of their own might have been killed unjustly. But every time this happens, I watch the videos and read the descriptions of the violence and every time I ask myself, “Why aren’t those people attacking the police station, or the County Courthouse?” Isn’t their anger a result of injustice? If so, why not riot at the source of the perceived injustice? Why funnel all of your “anger” towards the destruction of businesses that had absolutely nothing to do with the killing? Why use the event of a tragedy to stock up on potato chips and tennis shoes?
We constantly hear the likes of Jackson and Sharpton decrying the fact that there aren’t enough businesses in the inner city to serve the needs of poor people. We hear them lament the fact that poor blacks in the inner city have to walk miles to find a grocery store that sells fresh produce. We are told that the reason that chain stores won’t locate in the inner city is because of their latent racism. But when I watch 16 year olds crashing trash cans into store front windows and then gleefully making off with thousands of dollars of inventory to the applause of everyone on the street, I wonder why any businessman would locate any business in the Ferguson, Missouri’s of the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams RIP



I heard the news from my son in a text, Robin Williams had killed himself. He was to my generation what Jonathan Winters and Lucille Ball were to my Dad’s generation, a comedic genius. This morning I read about the details, addiction, depression, and wonder how he managed to live to be 63. The fires of brilliance burn bright and hot, then vanish, leaving the world a colder place.

The first time I ever saw him was on an episode of Happy Days where he played the whacky alien “Mork.” Even though that small role earned him his own show, “Mork & Mindy,” I seldom watched. My true introduction to Robin Willams was in his multiple appearances on Johnnie Carson’s Tonight Show. He would come out and do his standup comedy routines, then sit down for some of the most hilarious unscripted interviews ever filmed. Do yourself a favor and look them up on YouTube. They are a feast of manic, rapid-fire wit and energy that leave you exhausted from laughter.

He could be profane. His HBO specials were heavy on “F” bombs when they didn’t need to be. He didn’t have much patience with Republicans or conservatives, not exactly a unique position in Hollywood. Some of his routines were heavy on religious themes. One of my favorites was his Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian, #10 No snake handling, #6 all the pageantry…none of the guilt.

Williams was an improvisational genius. He had a manic energy and lightening quick mental reflexes that made you think that he must certainly be on speed, which he probably was. Some say that his battles with depression began when his good friend John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982. Apparently the battle raged on for the rest of his life until he couldn’t cope with life any longer.

On the surface, it’s hard to comprehend how someone so talented, successful, well-respected and wealthy would ever kill themselves. It speaks to the debilitating power of depression, as deadly a disease as there is in this world.  

For the record, my favorite Williams movies are Dead Poet’s Society, and Moscow on the Hudson.
“Oh Captain, my captain” May he rest in peace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Great Weekend!



Observations from the weekend:

Saturday’s mailbox contained a 5x7 envelope addressed to me from Bliley’s funeral home. Inside was a picture of my Mom and Dad. It must have been left behind from the viewing.

I can’t tell what the occasion was, probably a birthday. The minute I saw it, I felt the sharp pain of loss. It’s so strange how one can go days without even giving it a thought, but one word, one fleeting memory, one photograph can bring it all back, fresh and powerful.

Mark Becton preached a whale of a sermon yesterday. I have often shared my frustrations and criticisms of my church in this space. What I haven’t been as good at is communicating the blessings I receive there. Yesterday, he totally nailed his sermon. It was relevant, well-researched, well-illustrated and challenging.

Pam and I are really getting into this empty nest thing. After our impromptu trip to Bear Creek Lake on Friday, we cooked pork tenderloin on the grill Saturday night and binge-watched several episodes of The Boss. After church Sunday, Pam and I did something we never, ever do together…we watched sports on television!! That’s right, after a dinner of BLT sandwiches made with tomatoes from my garden/deck, the PGA tournament was still on because of a rain delay and Pam showed a genuine interest in the proceedings. To my amazement, she watched for nearly an hour with me and seemed to enjoy it. It probably didn’t hurt that Rory McElroy and Ricky Fowler were “cute.” Still, I can count on one hand the number of sporting events that she has watched with me for over ten minutes over the entirety of our life together. It was so much fun.

But, today is Monday and back to work I go. However, in a mere 108 more hours, I get to spend another weekend alone in this big old house with Pam Dunnevant.
Can’t wait.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Suppose the Shoe Was on the Other Foot?



There is a terrible movement of very violent and blood thirsty men in the Middle East.

The above sentence could have been written and would have been true in practically every era of recorded history, so I suppose I should be more specific. This particular flavor of barbarism goes by the name of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They have come out of nowhere, multiplied like crabgrass, and now control large swaths of desert and cities formerly controlled by the two countries that now make up their name. Along the way, ISIS has demonstrated a blood thirst that rivals that of Sadam Hussein, a fondness for prepubescent girls that rivals Muammar Gaddafi, proving that old adage about being careful about what one wishes for. Perhaps before we decided to remove these two gentlemen from power, we should have had a clearer idea of who might replace them.

So now that ISIS has filled the leadership void in Iraq with 7th century Islam, calls have come for the United States to “do something” to help the people fleeing the terror and destruction, some of whom are Christians. My Facebook wall has been filled with accusations of a Christian genocide, with the accompanying accusation that Obama is indifferent to Christian suffering. Over the weekend the President made the decision to drop humanitarian supplies and authorized “limited air-strikes” against the advancing hordes. Here we go again.

Once again it falls to America to police the world. It is somehow our job to enforce the rules of civilization on the uncivilized. For this we will be mocked, ridiculed and hated by virtually everyone.

I am aware of the arguments on all sides of the “America as world policeman” debate and I have great respect for those who disagree with my conclusions. But shouldn’t the question of getting involved in every dust-up on the planet at the very least come down to protecting American interests? Shouldn’t actual Americans have to be attacked before we charge in with fighter jets? Shouldn’t some American somewhere have to be in clear and present danger before we pull the trigger? The reason I ask this is because there is a conflict raging out of control this very minute that involves the deaths of scores of Americans. The bloodshed is unrelenting. Over the past 36 months, over 1,100 Americans have perished, over 130 of them children under the age of 16. The conflict shows no signs of letting up. Despite the tragic loss of life, the United States government has done nothing to stop the slaughter of its own people. No delegation has been sent to negotiate a cease fire. President Obama has authorized no intervention, not even economic sanctions. As far I can see, no effort has been made to stop the indiscriminate killing of American citizens. Instead, the City of Chicago has been left to fend for itself.

How would we feel if Russia was the world’s policeman? Vladimir Putin, after long discussions with his generals decides that he can no longer stand idly by and watch innocent people gunned down in the streets of a great American city. He authorizes a daring commando raid on the Southside of Chicago to restore order. Crack Russian troops begin patrolling Chicago communities hunting down the ruthlessly violent drug dealers who have long terrorized the windy city. Putin assures the American people that his country is not interested in territorial gains, and promises to leave the city as soon as the Chicago police force is purged of graft and properly trained.

Would we resent the Russians for such a humanitarian intervention? If I know the citizens of Chicago, their resentment would take the form of guerilla warfare against the invading army of a foreign country who had the nerve to stick their big fat Russian noses in our business.
Now you know how the Iraqis feel.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Playing Hooky



I will be spending several hours at the office today, Saturday. Why? Because of my wife.

She sends me a text Thursday afternoon with this out of nowhere request:

“How about we go to Bear Creek Lake tomorrow? We can pack a picnic lunch and go swimming and make a day of it. It’s supposed to be beautiful weather.”

Although I had a load of paperwork to complete on Friday, I immediately punted it into Saturday. So, there we were yesterday leaving the house at 9:30. I had inflated two of those pool lounge chairs, and thrown a couple of beach chairs in the back of the car. My wife had filled the cooler with sandwiches, chips, watermelon, cantaloupe, scotcharoos, water bottles, and because she is Pam, a tablecloth and summer-themed plastic plates.

Bear Creek Lake is a place from my childhood. My Uncle Jim and Aunt Sylvia used to take me there to camp and fish. The last time I was there was with Pam when we were dating. She wore a pink one-piece and had the undivided attention of every male on the beach that day. On this day, she wore a bikini with the same result.

We paid a total of $9 for the privilege of entry into the park and a day of swimming, and the use of shower facilities. The place was beautiful, and extremely well maintained proving that of all the things that government does, preserving and maintaining our National and State parks is one of the few things it does well.

Don’t get me wrong, Bear Creek Lake is no Megunticook. It is a tiny little thing. By Maine standards it doesn’t even qualify as a lake, more like a pond. The water is murky and filled with debris of the natural variety, sticks, grass, and various slimy things. But, on the positive side, the water doesn’t give you a heart attack when you get in and you can stay in for longer than ten minutes without losing a toe to frostbite.

We spent nearly six hours there, floating on the calm water, talking, remembering. There were lots of families, three generations, Grandpa in the water with giggling grandchildren while Mom and Dad relaxed on the beach, a comforting and encouraging sight.

When we were done, we drove home in a mere 50 minutes, thanks to the greatest road to hit Richmond in 50 years…288. While it certainly is true that Bear Creek Lake is no Megunticook, a 50 minute drive is no 13 hours either!

So, as a result of my wife’s great idea, I am now off to work…on a Saturday.
Soooo worth it.