Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Totally Confused

“PROGRAMS!! PROGRAMS!! Get your programs!! You can’t tell the players without a program!!”
This old line from ballpark venders seems especially appropriate now that we are entering another war on terror in Syria and Iraq. Now that our Noble Peace Prize winning President has authorized the bombing of the third Arab country of his presidency, I as a citizen am thoroughly confused. My confusion stems from two sources.

First of all, where in the name of Jane Fonda is the American Anti-War Movement? You remember them, right? They are the guys who spent the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency carrying signs calling for his arrest as a war criminal. They had those catchy chants, “BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED” and my personal favorite, “NO BLOOD FOR OIL.” With every stray bomb that killed even one Iraqi civilian, everyone from Code Pink to the New York Times would produce running counts of civilian deaths, insinuating that civilian deaths were proof positive of the darkness of Dick Cheney’s feeble heart. I could practically hear the drum beats from Pennsylvania Avenue all the way in Short Pump. But now that we are once again dropping stray bombs all over the place in Syria, hitting grain silos and killing Syrian civilians, suddenly the New York Times seems to have discovered the inevitability of collateral damage. I say this because I have yet to see any banner headlines decrying their deaths. As far as I can tell, the Anti-War people aren’t particularly incensed with President Obama’s unwillingness to obtain Congressional authority or even U.N. authority. I have spent most of my life listening to the Anti-War left prattle on about it being their duty to speak truth to power. Well, I’ve got a news flash for you guys…your guy IS the power. Speak to him!

Secondly, and just as mystifying to me. What’s with the talking heads on Fox News? Under normal circumstances, the projection of American military power in far flung places around the world is something to be celebrated no matter how dubious a connection there exists to our national security. When George W. Bush was President, his decisive, forceful interjection of our military into Iraq, especially during the famous surge was hailed from the rafters by the very same people who now project nothing but doubt and diffidence. It’s as if Charles Krauthammer has suddenly come down with a rare case of humility. In their defense, at least National Review has praised the President for doing the "right thing", but for the most part the usual war cheer-leaders have shown more passion in criticizing the President’s poor saluting skills than anything having to do with what looks to be an open-ended, multi-generational commitment of the United States military to war in the Middle East. It appears that their biggest problem seems to be that Barack Obama is the Commander In Chief.
So, I’m just totally confused.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hamstrings From Hell

I love yard work. I always have. When I was ten years old, my Dad gave me the job of cutting the grass of our rather large yard. The first time I cranked up that lawn mower, something clicked. When my own son turned ten, I wouldn’t let him near my Toro, something for which he must have been eternally grateful. The last time my wife cut the grass was from atop her Dad’s brand new John Deere riding mower, wearing a bikini, trying to jumpstart her tan back in high school. No, at the Dunnevant estate, the yard is my thing.

Part of the attraction is the simplicity of the work. I advise people about where and how to invest their money. I implore them to plan for the future, to protect their assets from the risks associated with life’s unknowable variables, like an unexpected disability, or untimely death. It’s all very complicated and the pressure of all that cajoling, and the inherent possibility of error combine for a high stress existence. Yard work, on the other hand is gloriously straight forward. See grass, cut grass. See weed, pull weed. The best part of it is that after a couple of hours you can stand back and admire the completion of the thing. There is a marvelous sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing something.

However, not all yard work is created equal. Recently I scheduled my annual aeration and over seeding with the good people at Virginia Green Lawn Care. They gave me the following instructions: “Prior to our arrival, please try to rake out any moss you find in the back yard. This will insure proper seed growth.” My back yard has quite a bit of shade so moss does have a tendency to accumulate back there. So, Saturday morning I stepped off of my deck at 8 am, rake in hand, to get the job done. Three hours later I had a hand full of blisters and 7 fifty gallon trash bags full of moss stacked against the back fence.

I consider myself an extremely fit 56 year old. I spend close to four hours a week on a tread mill. I do curls and bench presses. I sweat profusely on the hated abdominal crunch machine. Nevertheless, when I woke up Sunday morning, both of my hamstrings were on fire. The simple act of getting out of bed sent waves of pain through my legs. It was as if I had spent ten hours being tortured by a sadistic guard at Guantanamo. Apparently, the motion of bending over to scoop up armfuls of freshly raked piles of moss was just too much for my 56 year old hamstrings to endure.

It is now Monday morning, a full 48 hours has passed since all the moss raking and I’m still moving gingerly, sitting and rising very carefully, closely resembling a much older man. The last time the back of my thighs hurt this much was after I got paddled by the principal in junior high for flying a classmate’s pants up the flagpole.

So, I suppose this is how it’s going to be going forward. Routine physical labor will visit extreme discomfort upon me the older I get, is that how it’s going to be? Well, let me tell you something. I will never give up yard work. I don’t care if it sends me to the ER, no teenager is going to touch my yard…EVER.
I think I’ll buy some Advil stock.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Meeting Denise

An idea sprang forth out of the dark corners of my imagination a week or so ago to gather together all of the blog posts that I have written over the last two years about death and dying, and format them into a book, (tentative title, “Losing My Parents”). Having just read that sentence, it sounds like a terribly depressing project, but it actually isn’t. It’s more like family history. In the past two years, I’ve lost my mother, my father and my dog. My way of dealing with it all has been to write. Some of it was born of frustration and anger, but much of it was out of admiration for not only my dying father, but the resilience of my amazing family. Gathering it all together into a narrative form might serve two purposes: to preserve an informal history of my parents for our family, and to give aid and comfort to other families who might be struggling with their own dying parents.

To that end, I reached out to my biggest fan and proofreading Nazi from North Carolina for help in getting it all organized. It just so happened that she and her husband were going to be in town this weekend for a family celebration in Mechanicsville. We decided to finally meet, for lunch at Rock Bottom at the Short Pump mall. What a delight.

Denise and her husband Herb could not have been any nicer. Up until yesterday my conversations with her had been limited to emails and texts. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to meet someone in person with whom you have had an ongoing business relationship. I always worry what they will actually think of me. I have been told more than once that I am an acquired taste. Maybe she will discover that the quirky aspects of my personality she finds so endearing in writing will turn out to be annoying in person! And what about her? Maybe she will turn out to be a creeper/stalker type who thinks my writing is a portal to the mother ship of new consciousness! Turns out that the two of them were the nicest things ever and disturbingly similar to the two of us. We are all pretty much at the same place in life, with kids getting married and leaving the house. So we have officially made some new friends, not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.
So, I will let you all know how this project develops. I know how to write, but little else. The nuts and bolts of the publishing side of writing overwhelm me to the point of exasperation and dismay. Be in prayer for Denise!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Being There for the Kids

This morning my son sent me a text with a link to a story about some high-flying hedge fund manager who abruptly resigned his nine figure job after being presented with a list of twenty things he had failed to show up for by his ten year old daughter. Patrick went on to thank me for always being there for all of his games and concerts. I have been thinking about this all morning. I can’t get it out of my head. Did I really do the right thing?

It is easy to jump to the easy conclusion that, “Of course you did the right thing!! You were there for your kids!!” Part of me has no regrets since watching your kids play baseball or hearing them perform beautiful music is about as good as it gets as a parent. But, the truth is, I have always jumped at any chance to get away from the relentless pressure of my job. Having active children was a convenient and admirable excuse for walking away from the pursuit of my career periodically.

I have always fought an internal battle with myself over, for lack of a more descriptive term, success. I don’t know where it comes from, but being judged to be successful and relatively well-off has always brought with it a strange tinge of embarrassment. Growing up, I never much cared for rich people. They always seemed to be the ones who caused my Dad the most trouble at church. At school, especially college, I always resented the rich kids from New Jersey who all drove BMW’s around campus and threw their money around on the weekends while I was slaving away in a freezing cold warehouse building pallets 30 hours a week.

So, there grew up within me a raging battle between the guy who desperately wanted to make something of himself, and the guy who promised himself that he would never ever be like those New Jersey boys. The battle still rages.

So, yes, Pam and I never missed events in our kids’ lives, great and small. But I can come up with my own list of things I missed because of my choices. Had I been more committed to my job perhaps I could have:

1.     Had enough money to pay for my Son’s two year grad school degree, saving him that debt.

2.     Been able to have built that lake house in Maine by now, a place where my kids and one day their kids could gather for vacations.

3.     Been debt-free myself by now, giving me the freedom to devote more time to writing

4.     Taken my family to Europe over the summer to tour the great capitols of Western civilization.

5.     Given more money to charity

Decisions we make have consequences. For me, choosing to underachieve has had many up sides. But, these five consequences add up to a formidable down side. And they are just the first five that have come to mind. I’m sure that if I thought about it longer, the list would grow.
No matter, I made my choice. There are no do-overs. I got two great kids out of the bargain, and despite my ambivalence, having money is better than being poor. Just as being rich does not bestow goodness on the rich, there is also nothing noble about poverty. So, I suppose that if I had it to do all over again…I would.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hannah Graham

The horrible story of Hannah Graham took an ominous turn this morning with the arrest of a suspect in Galveston, Texas. The UVA girl is still missing. It doesn’t look good.

I have watched this sad story play itself out on the news and on social media over the past couple of weeks. As a father who nervously sent his daughter 7 hours away to attend college, I know a little of the anguish Ms. Graham’s parents must be feeling at this moment. But in my case, the anguish lasted only a few minutes after I received a telephone call from an Ohio State Trooper informing me that he was with my daughter at the hospital after she had slid off the road and crashed into a guard rail off of highway 35. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest, all the air rushed out of my lungs until the moment he told me that she was unhurt and that his call was merely to verify her ownership of the vehicle. I only had to endure 90 seconds of terror. I simply cannot imagine what Hannah Graham’s parents have endured for over two weeks now.

Unfortunately, I have seen more than once an opinion expressed by people on Facebook which I think is quite disturbing. It goes something like this, “Well, it’s horrible what happened to that girl, but, for goodness sakes, any 19 year old girl dressed like a slut who gets herself all liquored up is asking for trouble.”

Where to begin?

First, it is a fact that getting drunk impairs our ability to make clear judgments, getting stumbling around drunk, even more so. It is also true that how we dress does communicate to others what we expect from an evening out. Human beings generally dress in black when in mourning, we wear sports jerseys to signify allegiance to our favorite team, and when women want to be noticed by men, generally they dress accordingly, and I for one am so glad that they do. However, was in fact Hannah Graham asking for it when she got drunk and dressed in a skimpy top? To answer yes to this questions assumes several terrible things about men and women. It paints men as knuckle dragging apes unable to control sexual urges at the mere sight of cleavage. It serves to tacitly justify criminal assault based solely on visual stimulus. It also assumes that every girl who steps out in a low neck sweater does so because she wants to be attacked by a total stranger. My experience with women, even the ones back in my college days taught me that tons of 19 year old girls LOVE to flirt, but I never met one who longed to be sexually assaulted. To equate one with the other is insulting.
As far as the drinking goes, there is little doubt that if Ms. Graham had not been drunk, she would have made better decisions that fateful night. Still, a girl who gets drunk does not forfeit her rights as a human being not to be molested. I know of no legal defense for rape that starts with, “she was drunk, so…” Furthermore, all of these accusations of drunkenness and slutty attire tend to take the focus of what really happened that night which is that a girl, someone’s precious child, in all probability got abducted, raped and probably murdered by some lunatic. Let’s save our rage and indignation for the perpetrator, shall we?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Derek Jeter. Number 2.

Derek Jeter. Number 2.

For nearly half of my adult life, he has played shortstop for the New York Yankees, a team that I have grown to loathe over that time period. In fact, it is safe to say that there exists nowhere a sports franchise that I detest more than the New York Yankees. As a Red Sox fan, I suppose this is natural. Over the years I have developed an intense dislike for players in pinstripes. Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Andy Pettitte, Jaba Chamberlain, just the sight of them would raise my blood pressure. But with Jeter it was different.

Don’t get me wrong, I never cheered for him. There was no player in the game who I less wanted to see in the batter’s box with the game on the line. It didn’t matter if he was in the midst of a 0 for 30 slump, when the lights were the brightest, and the pressure at its highest peak, Jeter always seemed to come through.

Derek Jeter will play his last game this week, and that fact has caused me no small amount of sadness. The truth is, Derek Jeter represents everything that I love about the game of baseball. He is a throwback to an earlier era in the game. He’s the kind of player who never ran his mouth, never made news off the field. I never heard him say a negative thing about a teammate, never saw him try to show up an opponent. All the guy has ever done is play baseball at the highest level, while managing to save his best moments for the biggest stages when the pressure was the most intense.

He’s not even in the discussion of greatest player ever. There are many others with better power, more speed, a better arm, and better range. But there isn’t anyone to ever play the game with better instincts, no one who was more clutch.

A game as old as baseball experiences peaks and valleys and right now baseball is in a very deep valley. The game has gotten slow, its popularity is flagging with every demographic except mine…mid-fifties white guy. Losing Derek Jeter could not possibly have come at a worse time for the game that I love. But, father time waits for no man. So, number 2 will hang up the cleats for good after a game against the Red Sox on September 28, 2014.

He will probably hit an opposite field double with the bases loaded, top of the ninth to drive in the winning runs. Damn that guy!

Thanks Derek. Thank you for playing the game the right way, for never embarrassing it or yourself by beating up a woman or acting like a fool in public. Thank you for providing an example for young players to follow, an example of class, dignity and grace under pressure.
Derek Jeter. Number 2.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Peoples Climate March

So, yesterday in New York City, there was a protest called the “Peoples Climate March.” Whenever I see anything with the word “Peoples” in front of it, I always think of 60’s radicals, those mythical kids from Berkeley who thought Mao was groovy…but that’s just me. No, these marchers were protesting global warming and demanding that something be done about it right away. Judging from the signs held aloft along the march route, the villains of climate change are, in no particular order, capitalism, the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, oil companies, the Republican Party, and the United States. In other words, the usual suspects. These are the same villains in practically any protest march featuring folks fond of the word “Peoples.”

I studied the pictures from the event carefully. More than once I saw Styrofoam cups that had been embossed with the slogan “The Arctic Affects Us All” courtesy of Greenpeace, proving that in the war to save the Earth, irony is the first casualty.

There was Leonardo Dicaprio, looking dapper in beard and beret, whisked to the event no doubt by his private jet. Much was made of the many interviews conducted with participants by skeptical reporters inquiring as to whether or not these climate crusaders would be willing to give up their energy-sucking smart phones and automobiles. No one was, and most resented the questions. Mr. Dicaprio seemed truly astonished when asked about his fleet of private yachts, as if that had nothing whatsoever to do with his demands that the rest of us turn away from our planet-killing consumer culture.

But, this is America. We are the protest champions of the world, and I for one take much pride in this fact. I don’t fault anyone for their passion. I also have no doubt that yesterday’s marchers are sincerely convinced of their cause and its righteousness. Still, whenever this whole climate change subject comes up, my unanswered question hangs in the air like acid rain…what would you have us do? The proposed solutions offered by the true believers would cost unfathomable sums of money, cause unprecedented economic upheaval, with little effect on the actual…planet. Even the rosiest scenarios offered by proponents of this radical recasting of civilization admit as much. Let’s spend 500 gazillion dollars, reshape the relationship between governments and the governed, and take away personal freedoms so we can possibly lower the planet’s temperature by 2 degrees in 100 years? Oh, and if you don’t agree with us, you’re a war criminal.

Have we human beings been good stewards of the Earth? No. Should we as individuals and collectively as governments do more to clean the water and air? Yes. Should we be trying to discover and then develop new forms of energy that might replace fossil fuels? Absolutely
Should we give in to the unhinged demands of the People’s Climate March types and dismantle our entire economy? Slow down, Sparky.

Monday, September 22, 2014

One Dream-Free Night...that's all I ask

Big, crazy, jam-packed week ahead. I don’t have as many of them as I did twenty years ago, largely because I work a lot smarter now than I did then. But this week will be like the bad old days.

I’m not sleeping well lately. Those of you who know me well will recognize this complaint as it has been a lifelong problem. In the past it has been an inability to fall asleep. But now it’s just that I wake up several times during the night, and spend the rest of the time dreaming, not the good kind of dreams, but rather the exasperating ones. These are not nightmares. No one gets shot, there are no monsters. These are the kind of dreams where you’re trying to do the most mundane of tasks but can’t quite get it done. A few nights ago I dreamed that I had a tee-time with three other unrecognizable guys at Pebble Beach. They were standing on the 1st tee and there I was in the parking lot trying my best to get my act together. First, I couldn’t get my clubs out of the trunk, then, I couldn’t find my shoes. Once I finally found them, I naturally broke a shoelace putting them on. All the while, my friends were yelling for me to hurry or we were going to lose our spot. This went on seemingly all night. When you wake up at 5:15 with this sort of frustration, you’re not going back to sleep!

So, last night I dreamed that one of my best clients was sitting in the reception area of the office waiting to meet me for his annual review. Meanwhile, I was making the interminably endless two and a half mile journey from my house to my office, facing one supernatural obstacle after another, while constantly glancing at the clock, knowing that with each new five car pileup, each new flooded road and each new Biblical plague, I was falling further and further behind schedule. When I finally pull into the parking lot, the dead locusts that had encrusted my car had jammed the door shut. I woke up feeling like I had run a marathon in army boots.
I’m sure that a Psychiatrist would have a field day with all of this. I don’t have a lot of confidence in dream analysis, I rather believe that dreams have chemical origins, not sub-conscious ones. All I want is a dream-free night.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"If men were angels..."


         “That government is best which governs least.”

                                                                     Thomas Jefferson

Like much of the wisdom of the Founders, the above quote sounds quaint, almost silly to 21st century ears. At first reading, Jefferson’s notion seems self-evidently true. A well behaved citizenry would need little governing. As Jefferson’s neighbor and dear friend James Madison observed, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But, men are not angels. We build prisons not for criminals, but for us.

In our time, it has been the great project of Progressives to perfect mankind. From Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt, up through FDR and Barack Obama, the American people have voted for men who promised to unleash the power of the government to attempt a reshaping of man’s character. This activist vision has produced a leviathan with almost limitless power, which has managed to make Jefferson’s 200 year old observation seem charmingly naive.

The conservative idea of government is essentially government by negation. Ronald Reagan promised to get government “out of the way and off your back.” His famous line on the campaign trail was that the scariest ten words in the English language were, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” The American people responded to his words with two broad landslides. But, that was thirty years ago and very much the exception to the rule.

We have as a nation accepted the Progressive model of government. We now expect our President to do great things, our government to develop bold programs to fix this and that. We look to Washington for answers not just to the big perplexing questions that have plagued civilization for millennia, but increasingly to even the small irritants of life, resulting in a Federal government empowered to remove Snickers bars from high school vending machines.

This is all very bad news for the Republican Party, even worse news for any Libertarian impulse. With nearly 50 million of us receiving food stamps, any candidate proposing a dismantling of big government is fighting a losing battle. The battle between aggressive and limited government has been won by the Progressives. The best that the Republicans can hope for is better management.
If men were angels…” Madison was right, of course. But what happens when the men and women who run government aren’t angels either? When we gave them such power, we assumed, hoped and prayed that they would only exercise it for the public good. The corrupting tendencies of power have a long and storied history. A government granted so much of it might in the end be impossible to stop. When that day comes we will read Thomas Jefferson’s words and weep.

Friday, September 19, 2014

News Quiz for the Week of Sept. 15

The public humiliation and barbaric subjugation of women. The infliction of extreme violence on children. A ruthless hierarchy completely dominated by men.

The above statement best describes which organization?


B.   NFL


What are the criteria for inclusion in President Obama’s coalition to degrade and destroy ISIS?

A.   Commitment of ground troops

B.   Financial contributions

C.   Private, informal agreement NOT to shoot at our airplanes


What do the two choices on the Scottish Independence ballot actually mean?

A.   NO, I do not want to break away from the UK

B.   YES, I do want to remain part of the UK

C.   NO, I do not want Scotland to become an independent state

D.   YES, I do want the UK to stay together

Could the confusion over the ballot and the consumption of 25 metric tons of Scotch on election day have had any bearing on the outcome?


Who had a worse week?

A.   Roger Goodell

B.   John McCain

C.   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
      D. The staff sergeant 30 days shy of retirement who got deployed to Liberia to  fight the Ebola virus

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Superior Metabolism

Eleven years ago, I had emergency open heart surgery to repair the mitral valve in my heart which had rudely blown up due to a birth defect that had gone 45 years without detection. Thankfully, the repairs were done successfully and I have had no heart problems since. Besides the emotional upheaval that such a terrifying experience visits upon you, open heart surgery tends to focus the mind. Nothing makes you appreciate life more than the prospect of losing yours.

So, after the six weeks it took me to recover from having my chest opened, I joined American Family Fitness and quickly became a three days a week work out devotee. When I began, I was 199 pounds. Within a few months I dropped down to 187 and happily discovered that no matter what I ate, as long as I worked out three times a week, my weight stayed at 187. It was like magic.

The pre-surgery tests on my heart revealed wide opened arteries, no heart disease to be found. This despite a lifelong diet that consisted of food that would give your average dietician nightmares. Among my favorites are things like bacon, sausage, steak, pizza, ice cream, donuts, bread, butter, beer, pancakes, mashed potatoes and gravy, and anything else with tons of carbs and calories. My business associates would marvel at my diet. “Dunnevant, how come you don’t weigh 300 pounds? If I woofed down as much crap as you do they’d have to send me to a fat farm!”

“Superior metabolism,” I would reply with cocky flair.

Then I turned 56.

Suddenly, as if God had been distracted by the Middle East for the past 11 years and finally happened to notice me shoving two raspberry-filled donuts in my pie hole for breakfast, everything has changed. The scale in my bathroom has begun arguing with me. After a particularly delicious weekend a few months ago, the clearly defective scale declared that I was 194 pounds. What?? No worries, I thought. I’ll just increase the intensity of my workouts, go an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill. Still 194. Ok, well, I’ll just have to add an extra workout. Four days a week will do the trick. I enjoy working out anyway, it’s a great stress reliever.


Yesterday, I put myself through a wringer of a workout. Two miles on the treadmill, ten miles on the bike, an hour of cardio that left me dripping in sweat. I had burned 1100 calories. This morning? 194.

My buddies at the office are having a field day. “How’s that superior metabolism working out for ya there Porky?” In truth, I have been warned by friends for years that at some point in my future, my body furnace was going to change and I wouldn’t be able to get away with those double steak burritos with milkshake lunches. They all said that at some point, slathering butter over seven rolls at Bertucci’s before my entrée arrived wasn’t going to work anymore. Meanest of all, they would taunt me with, “Dunnevant, I see lite beer in your future.

Blast them! It’s all true.

But I made it to 56. It was a great run!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Regarding Christmas...VOTE NEEDED!

A mere three days ago, I stumbled upon an email with the foreboding tag line: “Regarding Christmas: VOTE NEEDED!” It was from my wife and had been sent to the 19 email addresses of the Dunnevant family. This particular email was in response to the prior week’s exchange of “Christmas emails” concerning the dreaded annual name draw controversy. That particular confab produced 14 “reply-all” communications to which my wife was now offering a plan of action.

She began thusly: “Here is the update on the Christmas name draw!” What followed were four bullet points summarizing the most popular ideas offered as to how Christmas should be handled this year. After explaining each idea, she ends her opening email with a new wrinkle…a vote. To facilitate this vote, Pam dropped THIS bombshell:

When you have given it some thought and decided what your own preference is, you can cast your anonymous vote by clicking here…www.surveymonkey.com.

Just so none of us had forgotten proper voting etiquette, she offered these tips:

Each person over 18 should vote independently, not as a couple or family.

Everyone is encouraged to vote, whether you are in the name draw or not.

Once you cast your vote, it cannot be changed, so vote thoughtfully!

If you have a comment you’d like to make before people start voting (if you would like to campaign for a certain option) do it soon.

 There probably exists nowhere on this planet a family that enjoys a spirited argument more than us, so encouraging us to actively campaign was like waving a red cape at a raging bull. At last count, there has been a 38 email barrage of campaigning, complete with exit-poll data provided by my wife:

With 55% of eligible voters having cast ballots, exit polls have revealed that only 1.36% of voters have actually purchased any gifts, while 0% have submitted the required Christmas lists.

Naturally, I actively campaigned for my choice (a dramatically scaled down, gift-free alternative), which was almost universally panned by my kinsman. The usual Scrooge accusations were thrown my way. What’s an election without mud-slinging?

It has occurred to me over the past three days just how superior this election is compared to the real ones our nation has every year.

1.     Each voter is completely up to speed with the specifics of the issues.

2.     We will have 100% of eligible voter participation.

3.     We get to rank the four options in the order of our reference, instead of deciding between the lesser of two evils.

4.     We don’t have to stand in line or get purple ink on our fingers.

5.     No annoying precinct workers.

6.     Absolutely zero tax-payer dollars were spent.

7.     If we’re not happy with the results, we don’t have to wait four years to correct our mistake.
Now, some of you who may not know us all that well might be thinking, “What kind of family spends this much time and effort agonizing over Christmas plans…in freaking September??!!” This is an entirely fair observation, the only satisfactory answer to which would be…an amazingly cool family, that’s who!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Bad Week For the NFL and...Men

This past week has been full of stories about domestic violence and the NFL. There was the whole Ray Rice video and more recently, the arrest of Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges. My observations, for all they are worth, follow.

So, Ray Rice is seen on video several months ago dragging his unresponsive fiancée by her hair out of an Atlantic City elevator. The powerful hammer of NFL justice comes down on him, suspending him for two games…two. The resulting tsunami of outrage by women’s groups and society at large caused the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell to have second thoughts, issue a mea culpa and pledge much tougher penalties in the future. Then a video leaks this week showing what happened inside the elevator, Ray Rice knocking the woman out with a vicious left hook. The graphic video, played over and over on ESPN prompts the NFL to suspend Mr. Rice “indefinitely.” Soon, the discussion became, “What did the NFL know and when did they know it?” Now, Goodell's job is in jeopardy. Lost in all of this public relations nightmare is an answer to my simple question…why isn’t Ray Rice in jail? It was my understanding that assault and battery is a crime punishable by serious jail time. Apparently there is a different justice system for professional athletes.

Now comes word that Adrian Peterson has been indicted for administering a “whooping” to his four year old son with a switch. The alleged punishment left the child with cuts and bruises on his legs, backside, and scrotum. Peterson has been fully cooperative with the police, seemingly unaware that he did anything wrong. Reaction to this incident has been all over the map from, “I got whippings when I was a kid, what’s the big deal ?” to “Adrian Peterson is a child molesting cave man who should be thrown under the jail.”

OK, yes, I received several “whippings” when I was an out of control knuckleheaded kid, and yes…on many occasions my Dad used tree branches to administer his justice. Although, I must say that back then Dad made me go to the woods and pick out the branch for him! Unlike Mr. Peterson, Dad never made me drop my pants and never struck me more than three times. Believe me…three was enough. Such punishments were rare for me, reserved for particularly grievous rebellions on my part. As such, they all stand out in my memory, which I suppose was the intent. I never doubted my Dad’s love for me, I always knew that he wanted the best for me, and each time I got a whipping, Dad would make his way to my room before I fell asleep to hug me and tell me he loved me.

When I became a parent, I did things differently than my Dad. Having two completely different kids forced Pam and I to devise different forms of discipline for each of them. Still, on very rare occasions we agreed that some form of corporal punishment was in order, always administered with our hands…no sticks.

I say all of this not to defend anything. It just is what it is…many people my age grew up with spankings and many of us turned out to be pretty decent people with a workable understanding of the difference between right and wrong, in no small part because of our parent’s example.

In Mr. Patterson’s case, he seems to be frankly, obsessed with corporal punishment. He has a “whoopin room” in his house, a collection of belts dedicated to the practice. In the incident in question, the man stuffed the leaves from the branch into his son’s mouth. In other words, Peterson is an unhinged idiot. The image of a 240 pound world class athlete flailing away at a four year old child conjures up all sorts of horrible emotions.

Generally speaking, I’m all for the State butting out of our business. The nanny state interfering at our every turn as parents is infuriating. Still, the State has an obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. I would say a four year old qualifies.
A very bad week for the National Football League, and an even worse week for men.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Is Golf a Sport?

Golf is not so much a game as it is a mystery. Most of the time it winds up being a four hour mind game, punctuated by casual bird watching and an occasional cigar. To call a stroll through the countryside a “sport” seems a stretch. It much more resembles a recreational activity like hiking or hunting, since some of us spend quite a bit of time hiking in the woods hunting for our ball.

So, this afternoon I’m meeting my niece’s husband Ruaridh and his sister-in-law, Lauren for a round out at Royal New Kent. I’ve got a full slate of appointments beforehand so it’s going to be one of those close calls. I’ll have to run from the parking lot to the first tee. But as is so often the case with this maddening game, sometimes, running late is a good thing. Let me explain.

Ten years ago I spent a weekend with my buddy Ron Rechenbach down at his place in Nags Head for some golf and relaxation. I was late leaving Richmond and the traffic was horrible. Our first tee time was for 1:15 and I pulled up into the parking lot at 1:10 in a fine mist. Ron pulled the cart up to my car, loaded my clubs and we made a bee-line for the first tee. No loosening up on the driving range, no practicing my putting, nothing. I had been in the car for three and a half hours and was stiff as a board. I had never played the course before and I detest playing in the rain. In other words, all the ingredients were in place for a truly awful round of golf.

I shot a 79.

It was my second best score. Ever. In fact, in all of my golfing life I have only broken 80 four times, three 76’s and that 79. Oh, and it was also the last time I’ve broken 80, never having come close since. My average score is probably somewhere around 88-91. Stupidest recreational activity ever.

But, it will be fun playing with Lauren. She has recently taken the game up and I’m anxious to see how she’s getting along. Poor girl has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

No Sale, Mr. President

I watched the speech. The President sounded like a Ronald “shining city on a hill” Reagan one minute and a George “for us or against us” Bush the next. Talk about a transformation, this guy has gone from “ISIS is a JV team” and “the Syrian rebels are just a bunch of pharmacists and doctors” to ISIS is a cancer that must be destroyed and the Syrian rebels are a fine fighting force in less than thirty days!

I said before the speech that I was “persuadable” and I was. I was waiting to hear information that would convince me that ISIS posed a clear and present danger to America and our interests. I’m still waiting.

What I heard instead was that we have no knowledge of any pending threats, but that in the President’s informed opinion, there “could” be threats “in the future.”

So, which is it? If ISIS is so uniquely dangerous and such an existential threat to us, then why was the President unwilling to commit ground troops? Quick, name for me one single war in the history of the planet that has ever been won by air power alone? Apparently, even though ISIS represents an unprecedented threat to hearth and home, the President is willing to rely on the ground troops of Iraq, and the untrained army of pharmacists in Syria? Something just doesn’t add up. Just four weeks ago the President was unwilling to arm the Syrian resistance. Now after a couple of videos surface showing American journalists getting their heads sawed off with dull box cutters, suddenly he’s George Patton?

Sorry, nothing I heard in the President’s speech convinced me that this conflict is worth even one drop of American blood.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Before the President's Speech...

President Obama will give a major foreign policy address to the nation tonight in which he hopes to convince the American people that A. he has a strategy to confront ISIS and B. it is a good one that we should support. To put his alleged gifts of public speaking to the test, I will state my opinion of the ISIS threat now, before his speech, then tomorrow I will revisit the issue to see if the President was able to change my mind.

Of course, you may well point out what a ridiculous exercise this is since I am essentially a nobody, and who the heck cares what I think? You would be right about the nobody part but wrong that it doesn’t matter. It very much matters that the President is able to move the needle of public opinion on such an important issue as foreign policy. In as much as I am a member of the public and consider myself persuadable, I am very much his target market in this speech.

Here’s my view. ISIS is a brutal collection of roughly 20,000 black-robed 7th century Islamists who, having noticed that their particular slice of the world doesn’t have a pot to piss in, have concluded that what is needed in the ARAB world is a revival of the Dark Ages. To this end, they all quit their day jobs as used camel salesmen and took up arms. This new “army” consists of small arms, machetes, lots of Toyota pickup trucks, rusty box-cutters and video cameras with which they film beheadings of various westerners to greatly exaggerate their power. The areas of the Middle East which they “control” consist primarily of vast stretches of…sand. ISIS has no air force, no mechanized armor and no camouflaged uniforms, (Seriously…who wears black in the dessert??). A 20,000 man army sitting around in the middle of a dessert with no air cover and no serviceable artillery seem like the very definition of “sitting ducks” for a modern air force. And speaking of air forces, there happen to be three very well equipped ones in the area belonging to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.

I agree with the premise that ISIS is a despicable organization, and their execution of American journalists in cold blooded fashion means that these murderers should be dealt with accordingly. But, I am at a loss to understand why this particular group of savages are suddenly some sort of existential threat to the Western World. Sure, there is always the threat that some nutjob will hijack a plane and fly it into a building, but this has been true ever since there were planes and nutjobs. ISIS didn’t invent brutality.

It would seem to me that the nations with the most to lose from ISIS are in the neighborhood. Something tells me that The House of Saud isn’t interested in being part of a Caliphate. I’m not sure the Kuwaits or the fine folks in Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates are anxious to give up their high rise luxury condos any time soon. In my opinion, it’s high time that these modern Arab states stepped up to the plate and policed their own back yards.

Besides, this nation-building business started by George Bush hasn’t been going very well. We get rid of the tyrant Sadam Hussein and we end up with a leaderless, ungovernable Iraq. We get rid of Muammar Gaddafi and we end up with a failed State and Benghazi. We draw a red line in Syria to try and get rid of Assad and now…

Enough already. The only reason ISIS is still in existence is because the neighboring ARAB states haven’t summoned the will to destroy it. Why have we armed them with the finest fighter aircraft in the world, the finest tanks and artillery, if not for a time such as this?

I will watch and listen to the President tonight, eagerly awaiting new information that might justify a change in my opinion. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Price of Things

“Price of milk reaches all-time high,” screamed the headline on my computer screen. At that moment it occurred to me that I couldn’t guess the price of a gallon of milk within 50 cents if my life depended upon it. It’s not that I haven’t bought a gallon of milk at the grocery store before, it’s just that I never pay any attention to the price. What am I going to do, shop around for the best deal on milk? No, when we need milk, we buy milk. The price is basically irrelevant. You can’t pour water on your cereal.

Be that as it may, it still bothers me that I am so unaware of the price of something so basic to my way of life. I know how much a gallon of gas costs. I’m completely up to speed on the costs of coffee and beer, other must-have life liquids. How did I get so out of touch with how much stuff costs?

So, I decided to give myself a little test. I wrote out a list of staples that we buy at the grocery store every week and made my best guess at their price as follows:

1.     Gallon of milk             My guess…$2.50……….actual price…$3.65

2.     Dozen eggs                  My guess…$1.75……….actual price…$1.82

3.     Box of cereal               My guess…$2.23……….actual price…$3.98

4.     Loaf of bread               My guess…$2.00……….actual price…$2.03

5.     Pound of bacon            My guess…$4.00……….actual price…$5.58

6.     Jar of peanut butter      My guess…$2.10……….actual price…$2.40

My Guess total...$14.58

Actual Price...$19.46

Pathetic. Stuff costs roughly 33% more than I think. I take away two lessons from this exercise. One, I am a terrible consumer, and two, when in God’s name did bacon become a delicacy? $5.58 a pound? Are you kidding me? What…did hogs go on strike or something? I don’t remember reading about a pig shortage down in Smithfield. Has the government slapped some kind of obesity surtax on the stuff? Is this some sort of politically correct punishment for our insensitivity to Muslims? What in the name of Porky Pig is going on?

I guess its simple supply and demand. In a country that serves up triple baconators for lunch you have to pay to play. Maybe if we didn’t love the stuff so much it would be cheaper. Still, I can’t help but be a little resentful of the big shots at Smithfield Foods for hogging all of the profits. The Chairman of Gwaltney gave a press conference the other day to try and explain the high prices. I’ve never seen a more HAMfisted performance. Total HOGwash, a complete boar.

I’ll stop now.

One more…who was Porky Pig’s favorite President?   AbraHAM Lincoln.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What is Happening to Me???

Regular readers of this blog know of my opinions about television. You know that in my house it’s Pam who does most of the watching. She sits downstairs on the sofa, busy on her laptop, while simultaneously watching everything from cooking shows to CSI. In her defense, most of the time the television provides nothing more than background noise while she is busy doing something else. But my uses for the thing are more targeted and less frequent…sports and old movies.

However, since the kids left we have developed a nice routine whereby the two of us sit down together during and after dinner and watch a show from Netflix. Almost exclusively these shows have one thing in common, they are all British.

Our latest discovery is a delightful mystery series called Foyle’s War. But before that there was Sherlock, Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise. So, what’s going on here?

For most of my life I have been decidedly snobbish about “foreign” things. My kids will attest to this with universal eye-rolling. “Dad, you’re so provincial! It’s OK to like Honda Dad…the war’s been over for 70 years!!” Generally, my taste for foreign things was limited to the dead…Beethoven, Churchill, etc. But I guess I’m having a mid-life crisis or something because not only have I developed a love of Indian cuisine, now I’ve become enamored with British television. What’s happening to me??

Take Foyle’s War for instance. Here we have a rather straight forward mystery series that takes place at the outbreak of WWII in the sleepy coastal town of Hastings. Foyle is a police detective who is too old to fight so must stay at home and investigate murders during war time. He has a son in the RAF. He is a widower. He has a spunky 20 year old girl for a driver and a recent amputee as an assistant. They go about the business of bringing murderers to justice amidst the backdrop of total war. Many of the crimes are related to the war effort and therefore present ethical conundrums to our team such as, should our top ace pilot be sent to prison for a circumstance-drenched murder depriving the country of perhaps it’s best aerial fighter?

Aside from the thought provoking story lines, there’s Foyle himself. Calm, unflappable, polite and measured, with kind eyes and a soft heart, he always seems in control of himself no matter how horrific a scene he encounters. He happens to be a dead ringer for my long dead Uncle, John Dixon. Watching him think things through, slowly, with methodical calm is fascinating.

The one thing that all of these British shows seem to have in common is something that is sadly missing in many American offerings…intelligence. The storytelling pulls you along, makes you think without the need for the profane or salacious. There is a certain sweetness to some of the characters that makes you care about what happens to them. Even though each episode of these shows is generally 15 minutes too long, afterwards, you don’t feel as if you’ve just wasted 90 minutes, in fact you come away thinking you just might be a bit smarter for the experience.

Try saying THAT after an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. For sure American television does have its share of triumphs (Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Parenthood come to mind), but lately, it has been the Brits who have drawn me back to television.

How many days until Downton Abbey??