Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Headlines of the Day

The Drudge Report is on fire today. These headlines are crazy! So I've decided to highlight some of the more provocative ones and offer my snide, snarky observations as a bonus.

1. War against feral hogs on in Texas.
    
Don't #FERALLIVESMATTER?

2. Styrofoam ban begins in DC.

Question: What causes more lasting damage to the environment? Styrofoam or Congressmen?

3. Lucas says he sold Star Wars to Disney "white slavers."

Apparently because the "Muslim slavers" couldn't come up with the cash.

4. 20 percent of Americans not alive during Monica Lewinski affair.

And the other 80% wish they weren't.

5. Pakistanis with terror connections caught crossing US border.

But were later released when it was discovered that they fully intended to vote for Hillary Clinton.

6. Sweden turning its back on refugees.

A rare black mark for Bernie Sanders favorite country.

7. Trump bimbo blitz puts Hill on heels.

Wait...what??

8. Bernie flies coach

First class passengers rejoice!

9. HOLIDAY HORROR: Waterfall of blood pours from elevator after crushes cruise ship worker.

"In the mornin', in the evenin', ain't we got fun?"

10. Map of Middle East being redrawn in ways that could lead to new conflicts.

...because EVERYONE is an art critic!

11. Bill Cosby arrested for 2004 sexual assault.

Bill Clinton still at large.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

The week between Christmas and New Years is a week for planning. I take a long, final look at 2015 and make note of what went well and what didn't. I then turn my attention to 2016 and begin plotting and scheming improvements. I set goals. I devise strategies designed to reach them. Then I try to imagine all of the unseen, unpredictable obstacles out there hiding in the weeds that might foil my plans. Some are real, some a product of an overactive imagination. Nonetheless, I consider them and graph out worst case scenarios. This process repeats itself every year during the last week on the calendar. It is quite therapeutic...and almost entirely worthless.

My experience has been that, while making plans is a perfectly worthwhile endeavor, ultimately its value   is highly suspect. It's primary benefit is the false sense of security it brings, endowing us with the notion that we are somehow masters of our fate and in control of events...when nothing could be further from the truth. I could spend an entire week mapping out a flawless blueprint for making 2016 the year I make a million bucks and publish the great American novel...then get in my car, drive home, and get t-boned by a Mack truck at the corner of Cox and Broad.

One of the Mack trucks of life is health problems. Nearly 13 years ago I was t-boned by an out of the blue emergency open heart surgery. One minute you're indestructible, the next you're laying on a stretcher in a freezing cold room counting to ten backwards for an anesthesiologist from Thailand. Such are the vagaries of life. Today, I go back to my cardiac doctor for a checkup after a week of troubling symptoms. It's been a while. I'm supposed to go every couple of years...it's probably been four years since I've seen him. Hopefully, all is well. Hopefully he doesn't throw a monkey wrench in my impeccably air-tight, fool proof plans for 2016.

The last week of the year, a time for reflection and analysis. But each time I do it, I'm reminded of that famous John Lennon quote..." Life is what happens to us while we are busy making plans..."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Weird Christmas

This was a weird Christmas. The festivities started poorly when I became ill the afternoon that Kaitlin, Jon and Jackson arrived. I became lightheaded after rising too quickly and found myself on the floor after a lost minute of unconsciousness. For the rest of the week I felt funny...sweaty and lightheaded. I am just now coming out of it.

Christmas Eve was nice. There was a marvelous moment after the service at church when many of the best and brightest kids from our life of ten years ago gathered on the stage for a group picture. These young people are now husbands and wives, many of them parents. Twenty five kids hugging each other and catching up was a beautiful thing to watch. I look at the pictures of them from that night and feel better about the future of this planet. We will one day hand them the reigns of this world, and be better for it.

After the service, we had a wonderful meal at Brio's. Christmas morning began around 8 am, not an  incidental fact, since the starting time had to be calculated due to the demands of the day. I always enjoy watching the kids open their presents. This year was no different, only now we had two dogs to shred the spent wrapping paper. But everything seemed rushed. We had to keep an eye on the clock. Breakfast had to be made, then stockings had to be opened,(a completely separate enterprise at my house!), then preparations made for the two o'clock arrival of the White clan for round two. Incidentally, the "White clan" sounds very much like a racially charged micro aggression, when in fact it simply refers to my in-laws, surname...White, and their extended family, not the famous sheet-wearing bigots. Just thought I should clear that up in case anyone from Loretta Lynch's Justice Department is scanning this blog.

Anyway, by the time the entire day was over, we were all totally exhausted. Things had gone well. The family meal was delicious. Having Pam's family over was a privaledge. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't felt so hot and dizzy. Of course, 75 degrees and 85% humidity certainly didn't help! The best part of the day may have been later that evening after we all had gotten into our jammies. We decided to open up a game that Kaitlin had gotten for Christmas called, Loaded Questions, whereby a question is asked of all players and then one player must guess which answer was made by which player. An example of the hilarity...

Question: What should you never do in a public restroom?

Answers: Lick the toilet. Hold a bible study. 

The day after Christmas found all of us sleeping in. Another wonderful breakfast was eventually served. It was misting rain outside and miserably humid. We had invited a dear friend over to have a lite lunch. Again, everything felt rushed since we had to all load up the car for round three of Christmas...at my sister Linda's house, this time for the Dunnevant extended family celebration. Linda and Bill did an amazing job hosted such an event, especially considering she had worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! We arrived around three in the afternoon, had another lite meal, then opened presents for over twenty people, all the while I felt about twenty minutes away from passing out. So very weird.

We finally headed back to the house around 8 o'clock, let the dogs out for a bathroom break, then piled into the car again for the 10:30 showing of Star Wars at Cinebistro. We got in bed around one in the morning. Christmas is not for the lightheaded or feint of heart!

It all seems like a blur to me now. Did it even happen? The kids are back in their home states. The house is as quiet as a morgue. It's still misty raining outside and as humid as Key West in July. Suddenly our calendar is empty...and it feels like a relief. It will, no doubt, fill up quickly. 





Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reunions.

Everybody's home, despite the best efforts of El Niño. Jon and Kaitlin had to pull over to the side of interstate 95 at one point since the rain was coming down in such a deluge that further progress was impossible. Patrick's flights were delayed several times because of tornado warnings in and around Nashville. But despite it all, around 1:00 am this morning, everyone was safely in their beds.

Yes, I know that this photograph is blurry. But, there exists no camera in the world that could possibly catch these two still enough for a decent picture. Suffice it to say that both Lucy and Jackson are ecstatic at each other's presence. Their preferred form of interaction seems to be Greco-Roman wrestling with an emphasis on nibbling each other's ears. Tonight's yearly family photo of all of us in our Christmas pajamas sitting around the tree is going to be hilarious.

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the Christmas week. Great food. The kids are home. The Christmas Eve service at church and dinner out afterwards. It's the lovely calm before the storm of presents that follow. 

If you want to cheer yourself up out of a funk, I have just the thing. Go to the arrival terminal at any airport in the country the week of Christmas. Get yourself a gingerbread latte and a comfortable chair and just watch the series of reunions unfold before you. Last night Pam and I watched at least a hundred of them while waiting for Patrick's late arrival. Grandfathers with hands over their mouths seeing their grandchildren, perhaps for the first time. A servicewoman in fatigues being greeted by her husband carrying a hand made welcome home poster. Their embrace was wordless and seemed to go on forever. Mothers running towards their grown sons and daughters. Sisters embracing their brothers. Old school dads stoically shaking hands. Newer dads shamelessly gushing. Tears and laughter. I glanced at Pam and noticed that she was crying. We knew none of these people, had no idea of their back story's, and it didn't matter. These were people who love each other. They had been apart and now they were together again. The joy was irrepressible. It was quite beautiful and uplifting.
Perhaps this world has hope after all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Are Men Still Welcomed at Church?

Every Sunday I sit on an aisle seat, almost never in the same pew, but it has to be on an aisle. I'm not one of those idiots who think they have some sort of divine right to a particular pew in church, but I need to be on an aisle just in case I am overcome either by a genetic inability to stay seated, or some egregiously embarrassing part of the proceedings that I just can't take for another minute.

I listen to the music. I stand when told to by the leader of the small ensemble on the stage. The words to the songs are emblazoned on large screens throughout the auditorium. Sometimes the songs are familiar hymns from my youth. I always like that since I know the words, and sometimes a particular hymn will bring with it a vivid memory from the past. Just about the time I become entranced in a memory, suddenly the tune veers over a cliff into some strange incongruous chorus full of upbeat baselines and lyrics that I've never heard before. Then, just as quickly as this rude departure was made, suddenly we are back at the second, familiar verse. It's a little like musical whiplash.

More often than not, the songs are newer, more contemporary offerings. The singers try desperately to encourage a building full of middle aged white people to clap their hands, preferably in rhythm, but their efforts are largely ignored. Some of these newer songs are very nice and all of them are very well executed by the ensemble, the choir and the instrumentalists, who have clearly worked hard to prepare the music. Oddly, I am seldom moved. Part of the reason is that many of the newer songs, when stripped of their religious surroundings, could very well have been written by a love sick teenager about their one true love. There are a lot of strange passages which speak of pseudo-romantic encounters, "...the first time I was embraced in his arms..." It's all too much for this 57 year old man who longs for..."A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing..." Which brings me to the point of this particular blog post, which is not church music, but rather...church and what it has become.

As a man, and I am not ashamed to say so, I long for adventure in life, always have. There's something inside me that longs to be a part of some heroic thing. Yes, I know, that this particular male instinct is probably at the root of most of history's wars, and I'm really sorry about all that, but it won't go away. I want to be heroic, or at least to feel heroic. From the moment that my children were born, I felt that way every day. I had brought two beautiful people into the world and now it was going to be my job...my quest even, to provide for them, to protect them, to see to it that they grew up strong and healthy and that they became good people. It felt like a daunting task most days, grueling work. But it provided me with a heroic mission for over twenty years. But now they are both all grown up and being heroic in their own right. I need another quest, another adventure.

Business used to provide that for me. But that was during the years when I was struggling to build the thing. Now that it's built and self sustaining, it's not much of a challenge.

So, I've been hoping to discover the next big challenge in life, the next battle to fight, the next heroic adventure. What better place to look than...church.

Only, something weird has happened, not just at my church but countless others. Church has become an entirely feminine enterprise. Sure the leaders are all still mostly male, at least at my church, but make no mistake, it's a completely feminine project now. From the love song lyrics of the praise choruses to the breathy incantations of the speakers, I feel like I'm at a book club discussion group instead of church half the time. Even the vocabulary of church has gone feminine. You want to find a place of service? Volunteer in one of our encounter teams. Even traditionally male jobs at church like working the parking lot has been transformed into something called...first touch. We are all about touching and sharing life, and being sensitive. If you want to "man" the phones during our televised service, you can sign up as a caring listener. Not that there is anything at all wrong with being sensitive and caring, you understand, but if your life was on the line and there was incoming mortars landing all around you, who would you honestly want in your foxhole...your sensitive, caring preacher, or your mechanic? If you're trying to gin up your courage for a difficult encounter, who do you want on your iPod...David Crowder or a little Martin Freaking Luther??

Listen, I have nothing against things feminine. I have been surrounded by strong women all of my life. I'm married to one and have raised another. But, the feminization of the Christian faith has rendered it incomprehensible to me. It has been stripped of its heroism, robbed of its adventurous spirit, and replaced by an encounter group vibe that has me glancing at my cell phone every Sunday morning.

And sitting on the aisle.

Friday, December 18, 2015

This Surreal World

Congress will vote on a budget today that comes in at 2009 pages, spends 1.8 trillion dollars, and adds to both the yearly accounts deficit and the national debt. It also has the advantage of not having been read by anyone voting for or against it. This will come in handy later since our congress-persons can claim to have been hood-winked when it is discovered that money is being spent to study the mating habits of feral cats. 

No matter what your political beliefs, no thinking person can possibly be in favor of this process. How can anyone make an intelligent vote for something that A. They had no part in writing, B. They haven't read? Make no mistake...this budget was written by lobbyists which explains many of the arcane, stealthy tax breaks for everything from racehorse owners to NASCAR bigwigs. In other words, shameless giveaways that no sane person would publically support get rammed through at the eleventh hour, buried somewhere on page 1267, paragraph C. 

If you are one of the millions of Americans who are still baffled as to why 35% of primary voters support Donald Trump, you need look no further than yesterday's joint press conference featuring Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan, each positively radiant in a sea of self-congratulatory claptrap about bipartisanship. If by bipartisanship they mean, "self dealing orgy of fiscal malfeasance that makes a mockery of the democratic process," then this country can't afford much more bipartisanship. Into this cauldron of dysfunction comes an egomaniacal billionaire with zero political experience promising to "Make America Great Again," and a large number of Americans are willing to overlook his blowhard tomfoolery and that hair, in exchange for someone who has actually been successful at something and can't be bought. These people know one thing...America, as currently configured, is most definitely not great, and expecting anyone who is currently a member of the governing class to fix it would be like throwing the car keys to your brand new Mercedes along with a six-pack to your teenaged son and saying, "have some fun, kid!"

My personal favorite provision of this budget monstrosity is the one that triples the issuing of H-2B work visas. This will allow for the importation of foreign workers to do non-agricultural, seasonal work at ski-resorts, hotels, landscaping companies etc. This particular outrage has a Republican Party pedigree and is desperately needed because of an alleged "worker shortage." This, despite the 94 million Americans who are no longer in the work force. This despite the fact that as recently as the second quarter of this year nearly 7 million Americans were working part time and stated that they would be willing to take second jobs, if they could find one. When I hear things like this I ask myself, what possible purpose does the Republican Party serve, if not to root out this sort of insanity? Then to discover that it was inserted BY REPUBLICANS??? 

Add to this budget fiasco the news that Vladimir Putin really admires Donald Trump. I now live in a world where the autocratic leader of the old Soviet Union has a man-crush on the leading Republican candidate for the American Presidency. This is not the world in which I grew up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2016 Christmas List

Christmas is nine days away. The business year has pretty much ground to a halt. The house looks great. I still havn't done any shopping, but I have at least formulated a plan to shop...any day now. My only credit card is positively glowing in red-hot fury, wracking up points like a boss! I've gotten two emails from Capital One over the past weeks enquiring about "unusually high purchase volume." Each time I have assured them that all is well, it's just my wife doing her part to stimulate the economy. Lucy's second Christmas is going much better than her first. This time the presence of five lighted trees in the house isn't the source of abject horror it was last year. She doesn't cower in fear at the sight of stockings hanging from the mantle of the fireplace. Of course, we haven't yet put any presents under the tree, so we still have that hurdle to jump. But so far Crazy Aunt Lucy is actually pretty chill!

So, it's finally time for me to publish this year's Christmas List. I know that hundreds of you have been patiently waiting for this list so that you can overwhelm me with presents as appreciation for all of the free entertainment I have provided through The Tempest this year...so here goes...

1. Life-sized Donald Trump action figure.
2. An actual high horse that I can get on after the next terrorist attack.
3. A power hitting third baseman for the Washington Nationals.
4. Invention of powerful new drug that I can take that will make soccer interesting.
5. That Al Coleman will finally see the light and start serving pancakes and bacon at the bar.
6. That Christians on Facebook would stop embarrassing me.
7. That I would stop embarrassing other Christians on Facebook.
8. A year without any health issues.
9. That I will survive the coming year of political commercials.
10. A grandchild. Just one, for starters.
11. That 2016 will be vomit-free.
12. That 2016 will prove to be a breakthrough year in the field of teleportation.
13. That President-elect Hillary Clinton will be able to resist her desire to kill all of us.
14. A robust, dark red beer that promotes weight loss.

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment. You've got nine days left startinnnnnnnnnnnng, now!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Which Coast Blows First?

At 10:30 am on Tuesday the 15th of December, 2015 the big question is, which coastal city is about to descend into violence and chaos...Los Angeles or Baltimore?

In LA, every public school has been closed as a result of a bomb threat called in to a member of the local school board. In Baltimore, the trial of officer William Porter in the death of Freddie Gray, has gone to the jury. Blatimore's mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has opened an emergency operations center, and cancelled all leave for her city's police force, two moves that don't exactly inspire confidence.

"... whether you agree or whether you disagree with the jury's ultimate verdict, our reaction has to be one of respect in Baltimore's neighborhoods," was part of the mayor's official statement, along with a plea for calm...the sort of statements public officials make when they know they are screwed.

Apparently, the fact that this particular officer is also black doesn't seem to comfort those inside the mayor's office. One might hope that a certain percentage of the citizens most likely to riot would applaud anytime a black man beats the system. But the fact that the victim, whose family has already been paid 6.4 million dollars by the city in a civil settlement, was also black seems to be the overriding driver of emotions in Baltimore.

So, the city nervously awaits the decision. The rest of the country might be about to witness that rarest of events,...riots set off by the aquittal of a black man.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Saved By the Wackos

Unless you have spent the last few months living in the worst sort of cave...one without Internet, you are no doubt aware that a new Star Wars movie is about to hit theaters. I believe that this is number ten in the prodigious franchise. I lost interest after Revenge of the Sith, figuring that any sequel with the word "revenge" in it marked the beginning of a purely money-making downward spiral. But, I am clearly in the minority.

I have read stories of people camped outside cineplexes two full weeks before the first show to get tickets. Let that sink in for a moment. There are people willing to endure sleeping on concrete pavement in abandoned parking lots for two weeks just so they can be among the first to see a movie which they could see after only a ten minute wait if they bought their tickets on Fandango two weeks after opening night. Clearly, these people are among the 94 million of my fellow Americans who do not have jobs, but mere unemployment is not enough to curb their enthusiasm for escapist science fiction. Neither, apparently, is the threat of being attacked by Islamic terrorists, who would find an unprotected gaggle of geeks sound asleep in pup tents at 3 in the morning an inviting target for Jihadi mayhem. Wait, I wrote "unprotected" without mentioning the obvious fact that these intrepid Star Warriors wouldn't be caught dead in public without their light sabers.

It's easy to make fun of these people. After all, fan is the root word of fanatic. But, while some will point to these movie house tent cities as a sign of our cultural silliness, an indication of our chronic lack of seriousness for a deadly serious time, I disagree. I celebrate this sort of thing as quintessential American defiance. We don't curl up in sleeping bags outside of museums to be the first to enter an exhibit of French Impressionist painters. There are no long lines of crazy people in powdered wigs competing to be the first to score tickets to Beethoven's Ninth at the concert hall. Nobody paints their face and throws a tail gate party four hours before the freaking NutCracker. This is America and we only celebrate the low brow. And while this fact embarrasses the hell out of the John Kerry's of the world, I'm ok with it. I'm just not sure why.

Fine art and culture is wonderful. A quick glance at my iPod playlist will reveal a ton of Bach and Beethoven. But there's something endearing about living in a country where you can dial up a country Christmas music playlist on Pandora and be treated to a tune entitled, Thinkin' About Drinkin' for Christmas that features these fine lyrics...

 .......Christmas time is drawing near, soon the family will gather near. Sure hope I don't run out of beer."

This is a country that will never be overrun by Russian or Chinese armies. How do you subjugate a nation full of people who collect Chewbacca coffee mugs? How could you possibly govern a population that includes a sizable contingent who never leave the house without setting their fazers to stun? How could even the most ruthless dictator hope to subdue a people who are willing to spend small fortunes to build life size replicas of the Millennium Falcon in their garages? The answer is...you don't!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Love and Kindness Agenda

In what started out as an off the cuff remark to a voter at a town hall meeting in Iowa, has now become a standard feature of her stump speech. Hillary Clinton is apparently running on a love and kindness agenda. Perhaps as a counter to the bombast of Republican candidates, especially Donald Trump, Clinton is now suggesting that the only way to defeat ISIS is with generously applied love and kindness. 

"We Americans have got to fight the rise of hate around the world and here at home with more love and kindness," the candidate said softly at a recent campaign event. When later pressed for details by reporters, Clinton was true to her Progressive roots and Democrat Party tradition.

"Within the first 100 days of my administration, I will submit legislation to Congress to create a new cabinet-level agency, the Federal Bureau of Love and Kindness, to oversee this broad and bold new government initiative of spreading love and kindness to every community in America. I will assemble the brightest and best people in the love and kindness world from both inside and outside of government, creating a task force with sweeping powers to get this thing done. No more excuses! If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can efficiently administer the manufacture and distribution of a little love and kindness!"

Her new campaign theme came under immediate withering fire from Republicans, who accused her of "staggering naïveté." Donald Trump released a statement on Twitter...

"Hillary Clinton preaching about love and kindness is like me preaching about humility! This woman would be a really bad President. I will destroy her...and her ankles are fat."

Still, even some Democrats have raised questions about how precisely a love and kindness strategy will actually work against terrorist who generally bring much more tangible weapons to the fight. Taking cues from another hugely successful effort, Clinton campaign aides spoke of the possibility of posting large signs out front of office buildings, libraries, shopping malls, etc., declaring them hate-free zones.

"I've already begun the vetting process for several possible candidates for the position of Love Czar. After all, to run our new Federal Bureau of Love and Kindness, we will need the right leadership," Clinton explained when asked for more details. Rumors have recently swirled around two candidates purported to be on the short list, Oprah Winfrey and The Barefoot Contessa.

Of course, Clinton expects an uphill battle in Congress to any proposal which might be perceived as expanding government. Questions will be raised as to whether such a huge new federal agency, F.L.A.K., is even needed when in the past things like love and kindness have been handled at the State and local level. However she has signaled that she is willing to work out compromises with various constituencies within her own party as well as Republicans. For example, she recently floated the idea of a carve-out for members of unions, a group known for their hostility towards previous efforts on the love and kindness front. In addition, small business owners might also be considered for some sort of waiver, since they are already burdened with mountains of paperwork for other Federal mandates, and through a spokesman have made it clear that there simply aren't enough hours in the day to gin up anything approaching kindness, much less love.

It remains to be seen whether or not this new agenda will catch on as a campaign theme for the struggling Clinton candidacy. Noted Beltway pundit Chris Matthews has his doubts,  "It may end up being something she uses to simply win the nomination, then she will be forced to shift back to more traditional tactics like hate, spite, and demogoguery for the general election."



The Difference Between Men and Women...Christmas Edition.

T-minus two weeks and counting. Fourteen days left until go time and I have purchased exactly one present. That's right, I said ONE! But, am I worried, am I vexed? Absolutely not. Why? Because I'm not Pam, that's why not!

Because I'm not my wife, I don't have any baking to do. I don't have to send out fifty Christmas cards. More importantly, I essentially only have two people to buy presents for...my name draw and my wife. Also, because I am not a woman, I am not plagued with guilt, which allows me to live my life without the burden of outsized expectations. Additionally, as a man, I am generally free of worry. The only thing I actually worry about, if it can even be called worry, is what I'm going to have for lunch. Do I go lite with some soup and salad at Big Al's or do I throw caution to the wind and get the Montezuma's revenge burrito grande at Chuy's?

Herein lies the essential difference between men and women. If it were up to us men, Christmas would be very different. First of all, the decorations wouldn't go up until, I don't know...the week before? As far as shopping goes, we would make a competition out of it. The wife and I would both be given a couple thousand bucks and turned loose at the mall at the crack of dawn on Christmas Eve morning. Whoever gets finished first gets to go to Florida for Spring Training! 

Discerning readers might wonder whether it would kill me to actually help with the Christmas baking. I have zero baking skills. Why don't I volunteer to be in charge of the Christmas cards? Have you actually seen my handwriting? But even if I were suddenly transformed into the male version of Martha Stewart, Pam wouldn't let me within an inch of any of the really important Christmas stuff. It's just too important to be left to anyone else besides her. The establishment of and continual survival of tradition is an entirely feminine project, at least in my house. A few years back I offered the off hand suggestion that we should scrap all the presents and go on a family cruise instead. You would have thought I had grown two heads, the looks I got!

Is all the agonizing attention to detail, the gut-wrenching anxiety and late nights worth it? Well, in the days leading up to Christmas the answer is an unequivocal "NO!!" But when the big day arrives, everything is breathtakingly beautiful, every detail perfect, and the family is laughing and happy, I'm thankful for Pam's mysterious gifts of hospitality.

Still, I control one aspect of the season. I still get to decide when I'm going to do my shopping. More often than not, I choose the last couple of days before Christmas. It's just more fun to get all geeked up, put on my Santa hat and hit the mall with all of the other procrastinating men in Short Pump. There's great comraderie. These last minute folks are my people.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Rebellious Dog


Miss Lucy has a rebellious streak. Several weeks ago Pam bought one of those harness things for Lucy to keep her from pulling so hard during walks. The thing is a miracle. When she's wearing it she never pulls, never tries to chase after other dogs or people, it's a beautiful thing. Although it's clear that Lucy isn't thrilled with it, we hadn't noticed the defiance until the last couple of days. Lucy has decided that if we are going to insist on her wearing that ridiculous red harness, well...she's going to have to refuse to pee in the mulch, so there! In addition, she will limit herself to one poop per walk and not her usual three. Furthermore, she's just not going to care so much about going on walks at all, insisting on returning home after a just a few cul-de-sacs. Two can play this game, apparently. 

To test our rebellion theory, this morning Pam took her for her morning walk without the harness. Lucy was thrilled, peeing in the mulch, back to healthy, robust pooping, happy as a clam! While this type of manipulative defiance will be familiar to all of you cat owners out there and even many dog owners of more dubious breeds, it has not been our experiences with Goldens, whose soul objective in life is trying to please their humans. Well, with this particular Golden, there seems to be a limit to her people-pleasing activity. She's not digging the harness. Maybe it's uncomfortable, she does walk kind of side saddle-ish with the thing. Maybe she doesn't like the color...she is female after all. 

Whatever the reason, we can now add, hates harnesses to the growing list of Lucy's strange idiosyncrasies, right up there with, hates the color black, afraid of pillows, and won't eat until everyone in the room is still and quiet.

What an awesome dog!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Donald Trump is an Idiot. Part II

Ok, ok, ok...now I finally get it!! At first I thought it was too far fetched to be true, but it has finally wormed its way into my thick skull...Donald Trump really and truly has made a deal with Hillary Clinton to insure her election as President. The thing is, what on earth could she have possibly had to offer him as compensation? What do you give a man who has his own line of cologne?

How else does one explain the Donald's latest regurgitation? "Let's ban all Muslims from entering the country," he crowed. Since many different races of people call themselves Muslims, this isn't a racial ban, but a religious one. And how would our intrepid custom agents inforce this airtight dragnet? Why, by simply asking them straight up..."are you now or have you ever been a Muslim." Of course, everyone knows that radical Jihadists intent on destroying the great satan wouldn't ever dream of telling a lie to a representative of that great satan's government, so that should work very well. Someone else has suggested that perhaps as a follow up we also force especially suspicious candidates to eat a ham sandwich! 

Of course, this bigoted, and unconstitutional proposal had the effect of sending every other Republican candidate scrambling to the nearest microphone to denounce Trump's views, which had the effect of taking Obama's pathetic Oval Office speech off of the front pages, and tarring the entire Republican Party as unhinged. Meanwhile, the world's smartest woman and worst Presidential candidate ever, not named Donald Trump, gets to look positively angelic for no other reason than she is NOT Donald Trump.

Listen people, I am extremely concerned about the threat of radicalized Islamic Jihadists entering our country. It's a vexing problem for not only us but free people everywhere. But, I'm not concerned enough to countenance this sort of demagoguery. Being fearful is one thing, becoming unmoored from everything that has made this country the beacon of the free world is entirely another. We give these barbarians way too much credit when we are willing to shred our constitution to protect ourselves from them. Hundreds of thousands of brave men and woman have given their lives to preserve our blessed Bill of Rights. Ill be damned if I'm going to let Donald Trump or anybody else rip it to shreds because of a bunch of seventh century whack-jobs!

Oh, and for all of you who say that he has 35% support in the polls, let me remind you of two things. Number one, not one single solitary vote has been cast yet, and number two...35% support among primary voters equates to about 8% of the electorate, or roughly the same percentage of Americans who believe the moon landing was faked! Donald Trump will not win the Republican nomination, but his buffoonery will fatally weaken whoever does. Then we will have four years of Hillary Rodham Clinton to deal with.

Thanks Donald. Thanks very much.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

50/50

December 8. Only 17 days until Christmas. Only two weeks until I shut the business down for 2015. It's been a nice year, not spectacular, but nice, and I'll take it. I have voluntarily offered the FEDS access to my checking account on the 15th of every month, on which day they have extracted ridiculous amounts of money. The State of Virginia gets their shot on the 25th. If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. Taxes are the tribute we owe our government for the privilege of living in a free country with cleanly paved streets, police and fire protection, and a dependable electric grid. We can argue amounts and rates all day,(and I have!!), but I have no complaints about paying taxes, and if you do, spend a few days in Sudan!

Politics in America is a dysfunctional mess. We are polarized, angry and susceptible to loud blowhards with orange hair, if polls are to be believed. With the attack in San Bernardino, we are increasingly frightened by the prospect of a fifth column of Jihadists stalking around ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. Gun sales are through the roof as are calls by sheriffs and college chancellors for average ordinary citizens to obtain concealed carry permits and begin packing heat in public to protect against crazed Islamist attacks. Now I'm not sure who to be more afraid of...Abdul Mohammed, or Bubba with the hair trigger. Yeah, nothing screams security like a 20 year old eager to open a can of whup-ass on an A-rab!

But, maybe a reversion back to our Wild West roots is inevitable when the FEDS to whom we pay our taxes don't seem terribly interested or adept at fighting back. Listening to the President the other night wasn't exactly the most reassuring twenty minutes of my life. He may have said the right words in places, but he delivered them in that bored, detached way that communicated much more than his actual words could ever have..."I can't believe I'm going to be late to the Kennedy Center!" When he tries to talk tough about terrorism he reminds me of my parents back when Paula and I were fighting in the back of the car on those long trips between New Orleans and Nickolsville, Alabama back in the day. Dad or Mom would look in the rear view mirror and say with absolutely zero conviction, "Don't make me come back there!!" It was a frustrated, plaintive plea for us to please, please, PLEASE settle down!" But both of us knew that there was no chance that Mom was going to suddenly leap across two rows of car seats and throttle us, making good on her threats. Same thing with Obama. He's only got 13 more months, and he's a freaking Nobel Peace Prize winner for God's sake. No way he's going after ISIL in a way that might damage his legacy. Besides, he's got a memoir to write.

Which may be just as well. He doesn't know how to fight terrorism any more than I do. The answer isn't simply...Carpet bomb 'em!! Every action has a reaction. We think we have a refugee problem now? Wait until you see the hoards pouring into Europe after we've carpet bombed what's left of Syria and Iraq! It will take a more active and coordinated military action than we have managed so far, but how much more active is a subject of intense debate, even among military types. Whoever the next President is will have some extremely difficult decisions to make.

Meanwhile, there's Christmas. 17 days until the big day. What are the chances that there will be another horrific attack between now and then? I'm thinking 50/50.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Oval Office Speech

Stray observations from the President's Oval Office speech last night.

1. Standing at a podium was weird, but irrelevant.
2. For the first time in a very long time, I actually felt like the President of the United States was on our side for a change.
3. Took him a while but he finally conceded that the Fort Hood massacre was not workplace violence.
4. Why does he insist on using the term ISIL instead of ISIS? Does he not like admitting that they are in Syria?
5. I absolutely despise the way he always falls back on this "being on the right side of history" shtick. It's what he says when he wants to end all debate and it happens to be bulls**t. History didn't defeat Hitler. History didn't end slavery. The blood sweat and tears of bold and determined men and women laboring under impossible burdens did. When he glibly asserts that we are on the right side of history, he's essentially saying that eventually, in the distant future HE will be vindicated by historians for his brilliance, so anybody who criticizes him for his present incompetence is on the wrong side of history. It's very annoying and sounds weak. Does anybody think that Vladimir Putin cares one whit about what side of history he's on? Please.
6. Even though it was encouraging that the President does finally seem to understand what kind of battle we are engaged in, once again he spent roughly half of his speech lecturing us about the dangers of the often talked about but seldom actually seen, Anti-Muslim backlash. His attorney general said a couple of days ago that her number one fear was an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence by Americans. Seriously? That's her number one fear? Let me get this straight, radical Islamic jihadists take out 3000 Americans on 9/11, murder their fellow servicemen at Fort Hood, and now kill 14 of their co-workers in San Bernardino and the thing that keeps Loretta Lynch up at night is the fear of American anti-Muslim bigotry?? While any incidents of violence against any minority group is too many, the number of such incidents against Muslims in this country since 9/11 are less annually than the number of such attacks against Jews. And yet, there was my President last night lecturing me to guard against my naturally American predisposition towards hateful revenge. I grow weary of a President who holds such a low opinion of his own countrymen.
7. Never once in his address did he lay the blame for terrorism on global climate change...a VERY positive development.
8. The President looked very tired and oddly bored. It's as if he just can't get in to being a wartime President. He is clearly much more comfortable pursuing his social justice agenda, and up to a point, I understand that and sympathize. But, fate has dealt him this hand and he needs to drum up a bit more enthusiasm for the job, in my opinion. He is still our President for the next 13 months. He can't start writing his memoirs just yet. We need him to be fully engaged...NOW. Can you imagine FDR spending half of one of his fireside chats during the dark days of WWII lecturing us about succumbing to anti-German bigotry? Can Presidents come off as too gung-ho for war? Absolutely...see George W. Bush. But, when the President of the United States goes to the trouble of an Oval Office address in prime time and mails it in, then rushes off to the Kennedy Center afterwards, it doesn't actually communicate resolve.

Ok, there you have it, my take. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to fling overheated invective my way. Just don't include any overly anti-Muslim language that might be interpreted as "edging towards violence." Loretta Lynch might arrest you!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Shower Encounter

There are signs all over my gym declaring that the use of cell phones is restricted to the lobby area only. I suppose this rule is for the safety of members since working out with large steel rods and ponderous round weights requires a certain level of concentration. Nevertheless, with the advent of hands-free technology, this particular "rule" has become everybody's favorite rule to ignore. Most of the time I ignore it since I'm kinda busy trying to burn a thousand calories without killing myself. But every  so often...I snap.

At American Family, the shower stalls have two little compartments, the first is a dressing room where you can hang your towel, then there's a shower curtain with the actual shower stall on the other side. So, yesterday, there I was standing under the hottest water I could stand after a particularly difficult workout, when I heard a cell phone ring tone blaring out of the stall beside me. It startled me, not the ring tone itself, but, you know...the shower! Then, I hear the shower curtain being slid open and the guy answering his freaking cell phone in the shower!

Idiot: Yeah? Hey, what's up? Yeah, I'll be there. Can I call you back?

Now, at this point one of my mostly dormant but occasionally dangerous personality traits reared it's ugly head, i.e., my inability to keep my mouth shut. Without considering any of the consequences of criticizing a total stranger while naked, I hear myself saying...

Me: Dude, seriously? You bring your cell phone into the shower?

Now, I should point out that at this point, I have no idea what this guy looks like. The shower stalls at AmFam are quite tall. For all I know, this guy could be a 300 pound dead-lifter with a Swaztika tattooed on his forehead. Then he replied...

Idiot: Ha. Yeah.

This was one "ha", not "hahaha". His voice was very deep, sounding like someone not to be trifled with. But for some inexplicable reason, I couldn't leave well enough alone. Ubiquitous cellphone use at my gym has become, for me, one of life's more irritating features. I had suffered in silence long enough.

Me: Wow. You so important that you can't risk a ten minute shower without staying connected?

As soon as I said it, I thought, "what the heck is the matter with you? Just let it go!" Too late. Then a reply...

Idiot: Ha. Yeah.

I'm not sure what's worse, the fact that I had just insulted a total stranger in a shower stall, or the fact that the moron didnt even know that he had been insulted!!

Since of the 17 words I had heard him utter, four of them were, "Yeah", I decided to let it go. No fun debating a monosyllabic nazi-sympathizer, after all. But, as I was driving home it occurred to me what a stupid thing it was to do. We live in a violent hair-trigger world of quick tempers and short fuses. Criticizing the cell phone etiquette of total strangers is the sort of thing that could start the kind of argument that could turn quite ugly in a hurry, before you know it, you might have civic unrest on your hands complete with nonsensical slogans like Check your Apple Privilege, and Droid Lives Matter.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

San Bernardino

At 6 am on Thursday morning, the 3rd of December, this is what I have discovered about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Two of the gunmen, a man and a woman, have very Arab-sounding names. The man made a trip to Saudi Arabia a while back where he purchased and brought back to the United States his mail-order wife who on this day was his accomplice. The couple had a young child who they dropped off with family on the morning of the attack, explaining that they had a doctors appointment. The man then went to a holiday party with his colleagues at the Inland Regional Center, where he left in a huff after some sort of argument with a co-worker. He returned with his wife/girlfriend some time later dressed in masks and dark tactical gear, brandishing AK-47 style rifles ( apparently purchased legally) and the two of them began indiscriminately murdering people in cold blood. By the time they were through, fourteen people had perished and another seventeen were wounded. Four hours later they were killed in a shootout with police.

That must have been one hell of an argument!

At this point, nobody knows whether these two were prompted to murderous fury by international terroristic inclinations, radical Islamist sensibilities, simple workplace rage, or just some garden variety pathological mental disorder. To the fourteen dead, it matters not. To the rest of us it matters a great deal. Of those possibilities, we all would most prefer a terrorist narrative, since it would offer some sort of rationale for such brutal killing. "Oh, they were jihadists. That explains it!" Nobody wants to hear that they were just whack jobs who decided to premeditate the slaughter of fourteen co-workers because they got passed over for a promotion. As human beings, we insist on at least vaguely plausible explanations for murderous rages like this one, because without one, it becomes hard to resist hopeless despair.

In a nation as polarized as ours, every horrific mass shooting is transformed into a cudgel with which one side can beat the other side over the head with. If the killer ends up being a fundamentalist, conservative Christian, liberals have a field day. If the killer ends up being somebody named Abdul Muhammad, conservatives have a field day. I, for one, am relieved that these killers didn't turn out to be a couple of Christian Syrian refugees, since that would have sent both sides into cosmic fits of unhinged rage from which the Republic might never have recovered.

For the record, I would like to point out a few things that seem to me to be completely reasonable positions for a reasonably informed and intelligent person to take on some of the most devicive issues of the day. I list them here because too often the noise of partisanship drowns them out:

1. It is possible to fully support the second amendment and support reasonable gun control measures.
2. It is possible to fully support our policemen and want dirty cops thrown in jail.
3. It is possible to be fully pro-life and detest anyone who would shoot up a Planned Parenthood.
4. It is possible to fully support legal immigration and be against open borders.
5. It is possible to love the environment and be opposed to an out of control, power-grabbing EPA.
6. It is possible to fully support a government provided safety net for the most vulnerable people in our society and be opposed to what the modern welfare state has become.
7. It is possible to support a strong, robust, national defense and be against sending American troops to every war-torn hell hole on the planet out of some savior/world policeman complex.

Ok, so there you have it...the mushy middle ground where nobody in this country wants to be, but where everything of value ultimately gets done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Highjinks Training

Thanksgiving is over and it was wonderful, twenty-three of us jammed into my sister Linda's house in Ashland. The food was fabulous, and right before it was served Linda started saying a few poignant words about how much we all meant to her...when Ezra, the second youngest in attendance blurted out, "so, are we gonna say a blessing soon??" Awesome.

Then it was time for my plan to kick into action. I am now 57 years old with an ailing shoulder. I can't be expected to carry 100% of the practical joke/pranking load every year. So, recently I have been training up my successor and eventual replacement in highjinkery, my great nephew Bennett. He is a natural and extremely quick study with great tomfoolery instincts. I had told him that this year for Thanksgiving I was going to bring my remote controlled rat to the festivities. Unfortunately I couldn't find it and when I told him he couldn't hide his bitter disappointment. However, I assured him that I had something even better. He wasn't convinced...

Me: Don't worry Bennett, I've got something better than a rat!
Bennett: BETTER THAN A RAT???
Me: Yeah!
Bennett: No way.

Then I introduced him to the AIR HORN, a small aerosol can with a plastic horn on top that when pressed emits an ear-splitting noise more appropriate for football stadiums than for the solemn and quiet few seconds after a Thansgiving blessing. Bennett was thrilled with my plan and immediately declared, "It IS better than a rat!"

So there we were, side by side in the reverent circle of family around the table of plenty...waiting for Ezra to finish the most amazingly heartfelt prayer in history. For a brief moment I thought that perhaps now was not the time, after such a tender prayer offered by one so young to unleash a prank that had the very real potential to scare the bejesus out of some of our older members. But luckily, Bennett had no such qualms, and at the long-awaited "amen" he pressed down hard and fast on the plastic horn..."WWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKKKKKKZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!" It was a thing of beauty. Some were ready to yell at me for my juvenile behavior, but when they saw Bennett doubled over laughing hysterically, they were forced to hold their fire...brilliant!

After dessert, it was time for the bi-annual appearance of UNKADUGA CLAUS, who reached into his black bag-o-fun and handed out an assortment of nerfguns to all the good boys and girls. Everyone then went outside for a semi-violent game of "SHOOT YOUR EYES OUT" Somewhere inside Christina was in deep prayer-mode, which was a shame since she missed Ezra's turn with the 18 shot Gatling-gun, which two years ago he couldn't even lift, but this year he was firing off shots like a boss! How fast they grow up... 




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

25 Things I'm Thankful For.

What am I thankful for on this the greatest of days in 2015?

1. Indoor plumbing, since 40% of my fellow human beings don't have it.
2. Good health, right shoulder not withstanding.
3. A prosperous business.
4. A daughter with the gift of teaching, a brilliant mind, and a terrific husband.
5. A ridiculously talented son with a sharp inquisitive mind and a tender heart.
6. A wife who is beautiful and supremely skilled at life.
7. My amazingly lovable dog.
8. Technology that allows me to stay closely connected to everyone I love.
9. This blog and the opportunities it avails me to express myself.
10. Every single one of the declared candidates for President since even the horrible ones can serve as a bad example.
11. To have been born an American, inheriting effortlessly by birth what millions of others have sacrificed everything to become.
12. Baseball, in all of its unhurried beauty.
13. Music, with its power to transform.
14. Lifelong friends, only a handful of them, but each has been a blessing.
15. Humor.
16. Central air and heat.
17. Being a part of a large and loving family of brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts, all of them dear to me.
18. Living in a country where I am free to write horrible things about our leaders.
19. Living in a country where my level of happiness is not dependent on which party controls the levers of power.
20. Vander Warner and others like him...accomplished and wise men of faith who have walked the walk, and shown the rest of us the way.
21. My parents, neither of whom are with us anymore, but still shine down on me from the power of their lives well-lived.
22. Advil, and Pepto-Bismol, two over the counter medications that provide the cure for what was the number one cause of death throughout the world a hundred years ago.
23. Cheese, bread and sausage, without which life would have no meaning.
24. The State of Maine from the first of June through the end of September.
25. The Ressurection. 

This Dog. That Face.

                     
                                         

This dog. That face. It almost makes me forget what a whack-job she is. It almost makes me overlook her latest neurosis, as follows:

Back in the Spring I spent a small fortune redoing the landscaping around my house. This included the removal of two huge trees in my backyard and their replacement with a big yard full of turf, the kind that is rolled into place like carpeting. The result has been a beautiful, manicured look out back. Lucy loves the place, it is her domain. It had been our hope that by removing the trees, Lucy would grow out of her fondness for digging around their roots. The key word of that last sentence of course being "hope". There is one spot back there which is still a source of endless fascination for her, and oddly its in the exact spot where she used to dig before, near one of the old trees. There is something there that drives her to dig down just a few inches and then lick the dirt as if her life depended on it! Upon closer inspection I found a strand of dark gray, even black dirt streaked through the spot. After thirty minutes out there Lucy's tongue looks like she has eaten an entire bag of licorice.

So, being possessed of allegedly higher intellect, I decided that I would place a large decorative stone over the dreaded spot, one too heavy for her to move, whereupon, after seeing it covering her licking-hole, she merely dug around the edges of the stone and found new veins of the delicious and mysterious black gold. Now I have a dorky looking stone and an expanding hole in the ground smack dab in the middle of my beautiful manicured $10,000 dollar backyard.                                                    
    


Meanwhile, Lucy sleeps the deep, carefree sleep of the just. Grrrrrrrrr.......










    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Weapon or a Warm Wish?

 So it begins.  There I was minding my own business today browsing around on Facebook when I saw this picture. Apparently the owner of Schuler's bakery wants everyone to know that if they don't want to be wished a Merry Christmas, then they sure better not come in! If you don't celebrate Christmas enthusiastically, well, you are more than welcomed to get the hell out of Schuler's Bakery.

Yes, this is the time of year when some Christians get all up in the pictures about Christmas-dissing...real and imagined. The horrors are everywhere...holiday trees, seasons greetings, happy holidays, X-mas, all examples of the satanic lengths which people are willing to go to in order to put a dagger into the Christ Child. Many Christians have simply had enough...


Yes, nothing spreads Christmas cheer faster than pissing off your neighbors. "What? You don't like Merry Christmas? Well I got your Merry Christmas right here!!"

Just about the time I was about to give in to despair, I noticed that someone had written a comment on the Schuler's Bakery sign. I clicked on it and was surprised to see these words written by my wife,

       "Is this really the way to show love to your neighbor? Is a sign really necessary?      Private businesses are free to do whatever they want to do, but a sign like this just makes saying 'Merry Christmas' seem like a weapon instead of a warm wish."

I could have sat at my computer for two days and not come up with more beautiful words than these. It's one of the many reasons why I am in love with this woman... 

Belligerent, militant Christmas cheer. Is that really how we wish to be known? 

Cha-Ching

Alright, enough with the syrupy sweet, touchy-feely sentimentality about Thanksgiving specifically and the Holidays in general. When you're about to get visited by your adult kids, and a wild man retriever puppy, it's about...work, and lots of it!

First, all the linens in their old bedrooms have to be washed. Then while doing that you're reminded that the mattress in Kaitlin's old room really is shot and needs to be replaced. Cha-Ching*

Then there's the grave concern about just how much of the fall-themed decorations should remain out and just how much of the Christmas knickknackery should be brought out for the kids. Now, to many of you, this may seem like a silly, pseudo-problem, but in my house, this is dreadfully serious business. See, while they are home we must decorate the tree. Our kids must be allowed to fight over who's turn it is to put the angle on the top. Well, it just wouldn't be proper to do this with nothing but cornucopias all over the place, would it? Oh, and our 15 year old tree up in the attic has finally bitten the dust so we had to buy a new nine footer to replace it. Cha-Ching.

With such a fabulously handsome new faux tree with even more handsome faux pine cones, new lights must be purchased. Cha-Ching.

 Pam..."Honey, listen....hear that?
Me..."Hear what?
Pam: "That whooshing sound! Sounds like the air conditioner filters need to be replaced."

I open up the grate and see the words...Replace October 10, 2015. I SAY..."You're right, a couple of days old, these are..." My wife possesses bionic ears capable of hearing the elevated heart beats of squirrels trapped in the attic of neighbors three houses down! Cha-Ching.

Grass needs to be cut. Leaves must be gotten up, after paying a guy $300 bucks to get up the first deluge a couple of weeks ago. Department 56 houses must be hauled out and set up.

Good thing I've got some Percocet left over from my shoulder surgery. I have a feeling I'm gonna need it.



* it has occurred to me that my use of the phrase "Cha-Ching" might be potentially triggering to any Asian readers. Please note that the phrase was used to denote the sound that a cash register makes, NOT as a derogatory reference to people of Chinese extraction.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What Do We REALLY Care About?

Some of my blogs lately have been about very heavy concerns, from the slaughter in Paris to the geo-political and ethical minefield which is the Syrian refugee crisis. From the looks of my Facebook feed, these issues have had a powerful and divisive effect on my readers. Well, it's Friday, and pass time for a blog that I believe has the potential to bring us all together. After all, like President Obama, I want to be a uniter, not a divider. 

So, a couple of days ago, in the midst of the dreadfully serious refugee crisis, with the blood of the innocents barely dry, I passed through my den at 7:30 in the morning, glanced at the television and saw a frame full of Matt Lauer with a gravely earnest expression on his face. He was interviewing someone and looked to be in the midst of asking a profoundly serious question. I paused. Perhaps he had scored a sit-down with the President and was grilling him on his ill-timed "ISIS is contained" line. Or maybe somehow Lauer had managed to win an interview with the reclusive leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Babhdadi. But then my television screen was filled with the cocky face of Charlie Sheen announcing to the world that he has the HIV virus. Moreover, he had had sexual relations with upwards of 500 woman over the past four years without sharing with them this cogent fact. Now he was being blackmailed by a bevy of porn stars and other B-list actresses none too happy about his medical condition. The world is in flames and the suits at NBC thought it wise to air this interview. 

Where to begin? First, let it be known that I wouldn't wish the HIV virus on my worst enemy. On the other hand, who among us is surprised by the news that Charlie Sheen has it? 500 different sexual partners in the last four years? Let that sink in for a moment. That's a new conquest every three days! If it is true that one does, in fact, reap what one sows then Charlie has reaped the whirlwind. But what bothers me is...why does anyone care???? Listen, if it were Tom Hanks, maybe you've got a story. Or if it were discovered that Sylvester Stallone was gay, maybe you've got a story. But...Charlie Sheen?

Most of the time I feel blessed beyond measure to be an American. But honestly, there are other times when I think that we are a wholly unserious people, mired in celebrity worship and too easily attracted to decadence. Thanks a lot Today Show. Thanks for reminding me that no matter that western civilization is crumbling under our feet, you guys never take your eye off of what we really care about.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugees. What To Do?

As of this writing, 31 Governors have notified the President that their states will not accept any new refugees from Syria, in light of the recent attacks in Paris. These Governors have been hailed by some for trying to insure the safety of their citizens, and vilified by others for giving in to fear and xenophobia.
The issue of what to do with the millions of refugees fleeing the years old civil war in Syria is a complex problem with humanitarian as well as geo-political ramifications. However many may want to reduce it to a simple case of fear vs. compassion, the facts of this issue are much more intricate and include more mundane concerns like politics and...money.

Also as of this writing, in all the years of the bloody Syrian civil war, so far the countries in the region who share a common heritage, faith and language with most of the refugees...countries like the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have taken in approximately...ZERO of their Muslim bothers and sisters in the hour of their greatest need. This, despite the fact that each of these countries has plenty of money and the expertise required to resettle them. Although this unfortunate fact certainly doesn't absolve the rest of the world from an obligation to do something to help, it surely should raise a few eyebrows as to...why?

So, the question then becomes, what should be the proper response of the United States government with regards to the humanitarian disaster which is the Syrian refuge? Yesterday, social media was awash in comparisons between this crisis and the Jewish refugees during WWII. For many reasons, I believe this to be a specious argument. First, there weren't any Jews running around machine gunning innocent civilians in restaurants and concert halls in the 1930's, no Jewish state proclaiming a caliphate over the lands of other countries, slaughtering anyone in their path either. Although the vast majority of the Syrians fleeing the war zone are not a party to this ideology, to pretend that amoung them aren't many who are is to be foolishly naive.

We are assured by our government that it can and will fully vet every Syrian it brings into the country. But I don't believe it is either giving in to fear, or displaying paranoia to question their optimism on this score. When they call the Syrian government to follow up on a refugee's background, who is it that actually picks up the phone? An employee of Bashir Assad, the man who's vile administration is responsible for the stream of refugees to begin with??

But, for sake of my argument, let's assume that I am right and that the vetting process is inadequate. Consequently, for every 10,000 Syrian refugees we allow into the country, there are 10 jihadists, a failure rate of only .001%. Is that an acceptable level of risk? According to many of my Christian friends the answer is yes. Scripture is chocked full of commands to treat the foreigner among us with love and compassion. Sure, there is risk involved, but there is risk in practically any noble endeavor. If the failure rate in my example were to rise to 5%, inviting in 500 jihadists, would that level of risk change the equation? I'm speaking theoretically here, since I truly don't know the answer.

Getting back to these Governors. I suppose it's easy to accuse them of pandering to the fear of their constituents, or even trying to embarrass the President with a cynical display of politics. But, regardless of your view on this issue, the number one job of any government is to protect it's citizenry. If a Governor were to agree to take in a couple thousand refugees and just one of them walked into a busy shopping mall and gunned down a couple hundred people, that Governor would go to his political and actual grave with the blood of innocents on his hand. 

Then there's the subject of money. It is estimated by experts that it will cost the United States government approximately $64,000 to care for each refugee it accepts for the first year they are here. This figure includes the cost of health care, resettlement costs, food stamps and other welfare payments, etc.. This, compared to the annual cost of roughly $5400 to provide for them in a neighboring state refugee center in Jordan or Kuwait. (You would think that Kuwait might show a little gratitude in this regard by helping facilitate such a center. We did free them from Sadaam's occupation, after all). Some might say that this more cost effective approach effectively skirts our responsibility by farming it out, in much the same way as Christians farm out our missions responsibility by writing checks instead of going ourselves. Perhaps. But others might suggest that piling on ever more debt by spending money we have to print is neither compassionate or effective.

I find myself stuck in a classic bind. I am held fast between two strong emotions. My heart goes out to innocent people, and the vast majority of those risking life and limb to get the hell out of a war zone are just that...innocent. But my head knows that we have an enemy out there who is hell bent on killing us, and will not hesitate to take advantage of our openness and compassion to do just that...kill us. 

At the moment if I could ask Jesus anything... I would ask him what he meant when he told us to be, "as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Million Questions

As is often the case in life, when it comes to the War on Terror, I have many more questions than answers. The events of the past three or four days have left me with even more questions. Perhaps the reason I don't know the answers is that I don't know all the facts, and the reason I don't know all the facts is because they are being withheld from me by our military planners and intellengence organizations. Be that as it may, here are a few of them...

When the French government, responding to the barbaric attack on its citizens decided to launch a bombing raid on ISIS targets, it is reported that they hit a "well known jihadist training camp and ammunition dump"

1.Why was ISIS allowed to operate a jihadist training camp and ammunition dump in broad daylight? 
2. If this location was so well known, how come it wasn't taken out months ago?
3. Have we not enjoyed total air superiority in this fight since its earliest days?
4. If so, what has been preventing us from taking a well known training center and ammunition dump out?

For the first time since the war with ISIS began, allied air forces finally attacked a nearly 3 mile long convoy of oil trucks transporting petroleum products from ISIS controlled Syria. This, despite the knowledge that the sale of black market oil is the number one source of financing for the ISIS organization.

5. What, in God's name, have we been waiting for? An engraved invitation?? 

In an attempt to answer question #5 above, a Pentagon spokesman said that we had been worried about collateral damage that might have been visited upon non-combatants, so much so that even this attack was preceeded with the dropping of warning leaflets.

6. Umm...WHAT? 
7. You mean like the ones the terrorists dropped before the Paris massacre?

I'm thinking that if you've got a three mile long convoy of tanker trucks carrying oil purchased directly from ISIS, the drivers of these trucks know exactly what they are doing and are no more non-combatants than were civilian Nazi sympathizers in Paris who ratted out members of the French Resistance in WWII. So, while we are busy losing sleep over collateral damage, ISIS is allowed to rake in 50 million a day in revenue, with which they can train jihadists (in the open) and send them to the streets of Paris to murder French citizens. This is the strangest war...EVER.

Oh,and whoever it was at the Pentagon who made the decision to wait to go after these convoys until after the Paris attacks....thanks. Thanks a lot for managing to make Donald Trump look smart, since he's been publicly calling for us to attack their oil supplies and choke off that income stream for months now. Thanks. That was really helpful.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Universal Values??

"Once again we've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share."

As the atrocity in Paris was still ongoing, President Obama took to the podium in the west wing of the White House to make a statement. He looked exhausted and besieged. The quote above was the key takeaway from his remarks. It is a sentiment that one hears often after these types of terrorist attacks from politicians from both sides of the aisle. It is also blatantly false.

I am old school enough to think it unwise and unpatriotic to use the event of a terrorist attack to score points against your political opponents, so let me emphasize here that this has nothing to do with our President. Rather, it is a what I see as a deadly flaw in our collective political thinking when it comes to the very nature of the existential conflict in which we find ourselves. To the President and anyone else who agrees with the sentiments above I ask this simple question...

Please list for me exactly the universal values which you believe that all of humanity shares?

More specifically, which universal values do we share with ISIS?

Western civilization is in the midst of a death struggle with radical Islamic jihadists for the precise reason that we do not share the same values. Nothing could be more self-evidently true. When your enemy can throw a seemingly unending supply of volunteers into the fight who eagerly await their chance to martyr themselves, we can't even rely on the universal value of the desire for self preservation. And yet, after every Paris, a tide of self-loathing Western elitists scramble to the nearest microphone to contextualize the evil, eager to place their own free countries into the dock along with the terrorists. It is maddening and utterly predictable.

What way forward? I have no idea. Confronting and defeating a belief system like radical Islamist jihad has no simple solution, no painless remedy. But a good place to start would be to rid ourself of the dangerous and naive notion that all of humanity shares universal values. To use such imprecise language may make us feel better by creating safe spaces in our mindsbut in the real world it is a dangerous delusion.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

First Thoughts on Paris


I sat down on the sofa with my iPad on the coffee table in front of me, my cell phone in my hand and the television turned on, switching between Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper. The news was coming fast and furious from Paris, a multi-pronged attack on soft civilian targets in one of the world's greatest cities. I sat there for two hours trying to make sense of the senseless. Here are my initial reactions and observations.

My first Facebook post was a bit too snarky, a quip about it being unlikely that the perpetrators would turn out to be a band of "terrorizing Episcopalians." But seriously, what honest, thinking person didn't think it was an attack by radical Islamists?

It's amazing how a cowardly attack on the free people of Paris can transform you into a French patriot in about five minutes.

Every time something like this happens, there is always someone who jumps up and screams, "Yeah, but just two days ago 150 Hulu tribesmen were killed by Tutzi tribesmen in Mozambique and nobody cares! That proves the west is RACIST!!" No, it proves that you are a blithering idiot. 

In general, whenever I hear a talking head reacting to the massacre of defenseless free citizens with the phrase, "Yes, but..." I stop listening. When the blood of innocents is still flowing, it's not time to trot out your moral equivalence talking points.

On the other hand, the very second that confirmation comes that ISIS is behind the attack, you can practically feel the heat being generated by hands gleefully being rubbed together over at the Weekly Standard. The answer to every terrorist atrocity isn't, "Let's send American soldiers to the Middle East again!"

Remember when some of our sillier politicians were telling us how the biggest threat to our National Security was....climate change?

Hearing a French President declare that France is about to wage a war that will be "pitiless" is a very un-French sounding phrase. I truly wonder what that will look like.

I find myself fighting...hard...against my first and perhaps most human instinct...revenge. I've grown very weary of seeing free citizens slaughtered in the streets of good and great cities by remorseless killers yelling Arabic phrases. Part of me says, "Ok Abdul...you want to see paradise, game on!"

Pam asked me this morning, "If this sort of thing should happen in one of our cities, which of the Presidential candidates would you most want in the Oval Office?" Great question. After giving it some thought, I whittled it down to four that I would be Ok with, although, being "Ok" with someone is not the same thing as "enthusiastic." My four were, in no particular order, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and Hillary Clinton...for what that's worth.

Godspeed to the people of France and free people everywhere.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A New Vocabulary

 Since the racial grievance business seems to be booming of late, especially on college campuses, it's becoming harder and harder to keep up with all the latest developments in the genre. Indeed, an entire vocabulary has sprung up, seemingly overnight, to describe a whole host of new forms of racism. While the overt racism of the past like lynchings and cross burnings and whatnot have largely faded, they have been replaced with more subtle forms of racism. As a service to my readers, I will attempt to identify some of these new words and offer definitions for those not up to speed on the cutting edge of grievance industry:

1. Micro aggression...a snub or slight, often unintentional, sometimes not, directed at a person of color by a white person.

2. Nano aggression...a snub or slight, that hasn't actually been levied yet, but one which a person of color fears may be unleashed sometime in the future.

3. Crypto aggression...a snub or slight that a person of color fears is percolating in the mind of a white person, even if it is actually never levied.

4. Trigger warnings...a warning, usually in writing, that what follows may contain words or images that might cause post-traumatic stress disorder reactions in the reader, especially if the reader is a person of color.

5. Trigger happy...a student who is a person of color who is given a passing grade on an exam he got out of having to take because of an abundance of trigger warnings.

6. Privilege...the unfair advantages bestowed at birth upon people of pallor, the able-bodied, the physically attractive, the athletic, those born into stable families, those who never have broken the law, and the large-breasted.

7. Safe spaces...a cordoned off area or room, dorm, or entire section of campus where no one of privilege is allowed to speak, or exist.

8. Racially segregated housing...the bad kind of safe space.





Thursday, November 12, 2015

Be a Blessing

I was about halfway through my second semester at the University of Richmond and ready to quit. Things were not going well. I was working 25 hours a week building wooden pallets in an unairconditioned and unheated warehouse in Ashland while taking a full load of classes at UR, and the grind was wearing me out. My grades weren't good. Commuting all the way from Hanover every morning and working until nearly six every night made for a very long day. As a "townie" I was enjoying none of the raucous social life associated with the college experience, and felt isolated from most of my fellow students by a wide gulf of privilege; many of them were from wealthy, old-money New England families whose BMW convertibles made my 1966 VW Beetle look even shabbier than it actually was.

So, I was feeling very sorry for myself one Saturday morning when I walked across the church parking lot towards my Dad's tiny office to broach the subject of dropping out of school. There he was, slathering a shiny line of black ink on the squeegee of the hand cranked mimeograph machine so he could print out the church bulletins. I always loved the smell of the thing and was temporarily side tracked into helping him with the process, until I eventually spilled all of my troubles to him and informed him of my decision to quit. He kept his attention on the machine and said nothing for the longest time.

Dad had a way of making you feel like an idiot without saying anything remotely unpleasant. In my case, he acknowledged how difficult I had it, but then in a very matter-of-fact, almost kind tone of voice began reminding me that when he went to the University of Richmond, he had four children to feed, and worked the graveyard shift at Reynold's Metals six days a week and still somehow managed to stay on the Deen's list. He never considered quitting because quitting simply wasn't an option. Then he said something I have never forgotten, which I will attempt to paraphrase.

"Son, it seems to me that all you're thinking about right now is yourself and all of your problems. I suppose that's natural for someone to do when things aren't going well, but just because it might be natural doesn't mean it's a good way to live. I want you to try something for me. Every morning when you wake up, I want you to thank the Lord for giving you another day, and then ask yourself this question...how can I be a blessing to someone today? Then, go about your day looking around, paying attention to the people around you, paying attention to the situations that you find yourself in that day, looking for a way that you can be a blessing to someone. See, no matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone else worse off than you. We don't see them because we are always too wrapped up in ourselves we don't notice. But if you strive each and every day to pay attention to those around you, you'll discover a world of hurt out there. You might find that a kind word here, a cup of coffee there might make a world of difference not only to the people you help, but to you too. Everyday we are given our daily ration of God's clean air to breathe, and everyday we should be striving to justify our share."

Obviously, I didn't drop out of school. Once again I was saved from myself by the simple wisdom of my Dad's words. But this particular talk has stayed with me. I haven't always lived up to his advice, but on the days that I have, it has made all the difference. One of the reasons I am a Christian today is the example that my parents set for me. Dad was able to pour the truth of the Gospel into me without my even knowing it was happening. The speech he gave me that day was essentially a sermon about The Good Samaritan, without a pulpit. Dad had a way of living out his faith in practical ways without a trace of piety. He believed that if your "faith" didn't actually result in making you a better person...and a blessing to others, what good was it?

Thanks Dad. I miss you.