Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Transformation of Bruce Jenner

It was 1976. I had just graduated from high school. I was working at Lowe's hardware on Broad Street saving every dime for a planned trip out west at the end of the summer. I was supposed to go to college after high school but I wanted to travel the country first. That summer was an Olympic Games year. They were held in Montreal and the only things I remember about them were that the Communist countries were winning all the medals, and America had a Decathlon champion named Bruce Jenner. He was amazing, a one man phenomenon of California cool and athletic grace combined with movie star good looks. The gold medal looked good on him. After those games he went into show business with some television movies for awhile then disappeared until he resurfaced in a reality show called Keepin Up With the Kardashians which I can proudly say I have never watched.

This morning, I was minding my own business trying to stay well informed when I ran across a story announcing that Bruce Jenner is undergoing a " transformation" into a woman. Apparently he and his family are thrilled. So far it's been little things like growing his hair out, wearing makeup and showing up at family gatherings with manicured nails, but soon we are assured that the changes will be more noticeable, more flamboyant. To satisfy the American appetite for all things puerile, Mr. Jenner is having the feminization filmed, to be aired at a later date as a reality series.

I am doing my absolute best to be a modern, sensitive and caring man. I really am. With the assistance of my two grown children, I have boldly stepped into the 21st century by broadening my food choices,(Indian cuisine), eliminating boorish thoughts and dated, harmful words from my vocabulary,(Kraught, towel-head, Jap etc..), and come to become more tolerant and understanding of lifestyle choices that I find personally disgusting and abhorrent. But, there are times when I see
pictures and read stories about a man like Bruce Jenner turning himself into a woman, and I just
wonder what the hell is this world coming to?

From the story I learn that the appropriate response to Mr. Jenner's "decision" is acceptance, even celebration. I should be thrilled for him that he is finally finding happiness. Moreover, I should be inspired by his "courage." It's as if he has just announced to the world that he has decided to devote the rest of his life to feeding the hungry in Bombay. Clearly, God made an awful mistake knitting him together in his mother's womb and blessing him with an Adonis physique and the athletic ability of a small "g" God. The fact that Mr. Jenner used the sexual organs that God gave him to produce 6 beautiful and devoted children was a cosmic accident as well. A friend of the family is quoted as saying that "Bruce feels as if he has finally cast aside a bag of bricks that he has carried for so long. He feels free."

Reading the story, it dawns upon me that despite the efforts of my children, I still retain the ability to
be shocked and saddened by what 95% of all human beings that have ever walked upon this earth would have considered a sickness. It seems that 21st century man is the first to be asked to celebrate the degenerate. But, that last sentence would probably be considered hate speech nowadays. When in truth it is simply an honest declaration of my heart. I can summon no admiration, no celebration. I see no courage. I see a confused, addled man-child living in a reality television universe that has transformed the concept of truth into an incomprehensible mess. The only emotion I can summon is pity.

Friday, January 30, 2015

An Office Adventure and a Super Bowl Prediction

Last year Pam and I agreed to host a couple of Liberty University nursing school students in our home every other weekend for a couple of months while they participated in a work study program at St. Mary's hospital. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially Pam since it gave her a couple of young people to spoil and pamper and cook fabulous food for, her life's calling. Yesterday, we got our second batch of girls, Anna and Elayne. They arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon, doe-eyed and earnest, and judging by their exuberant response to their first meal at Casa Dunnevant, the poor things haven't had any decent food in years. It's nice to have kids in the house again.

Had an unfortunate medical issue at the office yesterday which I will write about as carefully as possible to avoid providing too much unwanted information. I was minding my own business preparing for a 3 o'clock appointment when at approximately 2:15 I began to feel hot. Then I felt myself beginning to sweat. Then came intense cramps. Ten minutes later I was holding on to the railings in the restroom for fear that I was about to pass out, by this time having sweated through my shirt. By 2:45 it was all over and apart from the soaked shirt and flushed white complexion, I was back to relative normal. I did have to cancel the appointment. Bizarre.

I'm not big on making Super Bowl predictions because most years I don't care enough to have formed an opinion about either team. But this year is different. I'm not a huge fan of either team. My only bias is my desire that the local boy Russell Wilson has a good game. I suppose I would rather see the Seahawks win the game. But here's the thing...I have this weirdly confident feeling that Seattle is going to blow out the Patriots. If I was a betting man, which I am NOT, I would be confident enough to lay down serious money, my hunch is that strong. It boils down to this, I think that Seattle's defense is vastly more athletic than New England's offense. With the exception of Gronk, an athletic freak, the rest of the Patriot skill players are average. the back seven of Seattle are all gifted athletes that I believe will overwhelm them. So there, I said it. Seattle in a blow out. If the Patriots win, feel free to mock me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Strange Dog

There is something mysterious about dogs. Usually that term is applied to cats since everything about them is mysterious. But with dogs its different. This morning was a perfect example.

I came down the stairs at my usual time. Lucy is generally always asleep or at least dozing on her bed in the living room. But this morning she was standing at the window looking out into the darkness in a high state of anxiety. First a few muffled barks, then an intense, menacing growl came forth from some dark place within her as she stiffened, erect and alert. I walk over to comfort her but she was having none of it. I looked out the window and saw nothing in the darkness. I turned on the front porch light which revealed an entirely empty front yard. I put the leash on Lucy and took her out for her morning constitutional. Although she eventually took care of business, she did so only after a thorough inspection of the entire yard, all the while growling with her head on a swivel. Once back inside, she showed no interest in her breakfast, preferring to remain on full alert at the front windows.

Although this was a unique incident, there have been other times when Lucy snaps her head skyward with wide eyes, and soft growl at some unseen thing. It's as if she sees things that we don't. We already know that dogs hear frequencies of sound that our ears do not recognize. Molly used to run into the middle of the back yard and start howling for no apparent reason, then 15 seconds later we would hear the approaching rescue squad siren. Maybe dogs also see things that we cant see. I'm not a big believer in ghosts and spirits, but when I see the hair on Lucy's back come up as she stairs down an empty hallway, it gives me the creeps.

We know that there are some dogs who can detect cancer in someone, who can actually smell it on them. These amazing animals seem to have some sort of gifted intuition. Of course, in Lucy's case it might just be that she is neurotic enough to be capable of doggy hallucinations. Or we might have mice. Who knows?

But it wouldn't surprise me at all if we one day discover that dogs are dialed in to the spirit world in ways that no one ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Global Warming, the explanation for everything.

As the great blizzard of 2015 is walloping the east coast, I am being equally pummeled by the confusing claims of the climate change experts. A year ago a New York Times story appeared with the provocative headline, " the end of snow?" The global warming  cartel at the United Nations back in 2001 confidently predicted much milder winters and much less snowfall, claiming particularly that large snowstorms would virtually disappear. Well, we're only halfway through the 2010's and this is the 14th such mega snow storm to hit the east coast, making the past ten years the snowiest on record.  No worries though, because now the climate gurus tell us that major snowstorms like this are actually caused by the very same climate change forces that were supposed to make them a thing of the past.


There's one thing I've noticed over the years with the settled science of global warming. No weather event ever provides anything but confirmation for scientists. Having lots of tornados? That's because of global climate change. Where have all the tornados gone? Global climate change. You say you're having a mild winter? Of course you are. Global climate change will do that. Getting hammered by one killer snowstorm after another? Why, it's that global climate change again!

The other day I read a story that proclaimed 2014 as the hottest year on record. A few days later another story comes out that had the same dudes at NASA who made the original claim walking back the story and admitting that the claim was made based on one-hundreds of a degree variations. All of this despite the fact that the planet's "inevitable, incontrovertible" warming trend is now in it's 18th year of...not warming. It's enough to drive a non-scientist to drink.

I'm not only not a scientist, I'm not even science-y. I don't even like Sci-Fi. But I am a relatively alert observer of contemporary culture and current events. Here's what I have observed over the last twenty years about global warming/climate change. It seems to be a totally unfalsifiable theory in that  no weather event anywhere in the world ever serves any purpose other than serving as more "proof" that global warming/climate change is real and that we are all doomed unless we tax something or someone to death to fix it. If anyone brings up the strange gymnastics required to blame both too much snow and not enough snow on the same theory, the true believers look at you like you've got two heads. " How dare you question the settled science, you flat-earth denier!!"

Monday, January 26, 2015

Things I Don't Believe

What follows is a partial list of stuff I don't believe. Some of them are things I may have believed at one time but no longer do because of education, training and experience. Some are things that I have never believed but are listed here because so many other people do. Some are people who I believe cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Some are people who do tell the truth on occasion but have lapsed into the bad habit of circumstantial fibbing. This is not to say that I always tell the truth. Far from it. We are all capable of lies great and small. These are merely the ones which are most obvious to me.

1. With regards to Barack Obama... I do not believe that he is a Muslim, a closet Communist, or is secretly trying to destroy the country because he hates America. No one in the history of this Republic has benefitted more from the American Dream than our current President, and I believe he knows this full well. There's a gigantic difference between being a Manchurian candidate and being merely mistaken about policy. I profoundly disagree with his conception of the role of government and the nature and purpose of the Constitution. This does not require me to adopt a conspiracy theory which places the President of the United States at the center of some nefarious plot to destroy the country. Calm down people.

2. I do not believe that global warming is the gravest threat to the survival of the planet. That prize goes to the existence of thermo-nuclear devices winding up in the hands of an outfit like a Boko Haram. I believe that science knows precious little about something as impossibly complex as planetary climate and to advance the notion that their limited knowledge is complete and certain enough to call for the reordering of society is the single worst example of hubris ever to manifest itself on planet earth.

3. In 2008 I believed that Sarah Palin was a nice enough person but had no business being a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Today, I believe that she is an embarrassing nut job.

4. I once believed that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were always being accused of cheating because the rest of the league was jealous and simply tired of getting their collective asses kicked. Now I believe that maybe they are cheaters. Where there is this much smoke, there's bound to be some fire.

5. I used to believe that church was too stuffy. Now I don't think church is stuffy enough. Too much glib familiarity and not enough reverence and awe.

6. Modern education theory and practice hasn't had a decent idea since the one room schoolhouse.

7. Speaking of education, there probably exists nowhere a more destructive idea than the notion that "anyone can teach."  While anyone might, in fact, be allowed to teach, real teachers are those very few among us with the gift of teaching. The ones without this gift comprise the majority of employed teachers in America. Those with this gift change the world.

8. I do not believe that the history of the world is the story of decline and ruin, rather I believe that history illustrates the evidence for the gradual betterment of mankind. Who among us would prefer to live in the Middle Ages with its barbarism or even the 1920's in America when the second leading cause of death was diarrhea?

9. I believe that salvation is a lot simpler than the Catholics would have us believe and a lot more complicated than we Baptist hope it is.

10. I used to believe that Walt Whitman was an overrated hack. But the other night I read "A Song of Myself" again and discovered that it was quite beautiful.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Davos and Me

It's 40 degrees and raining outside, trapping me inside the house on this Saturday. I don't have many options today, unlike the world's super elite who are gathered at Davos, Switzerland. They invented options.

This annual confab of politicians, CEO's and celebrities never gets old for me. It's called The World Economic Forum, and I love it! Nothing says "irony" like fifty billionaires lecturing me about conspicuous consumption and the evils of capitalism. This year someone actually counted the private jets...1,700. It took that many private, ozone-depleting airplanes to fly the world's richest people to a resort in the Alps to discuss climate change. The same people who lecture the rest of us about sustainable lifestyles are paying 47 bucks for a hamburger. Some billionaire gave a speech informing us that we Americans will have to learn to get by with less in the future. That same billionaire flew to Davos in a private jet with not one but TWO nannies on board.

Still, Davos is the place to see and be seen for the world's .003%. No oligarch would be caught dead anywhere else the third weekend in Janurary. There will be panel discussions on all of the trendiest topics of the day. There will be speeches by the most beautiful people on earth. The wealthiest men and women will have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of world issues, and show their concern for the 99.997% of the world who can't afford two nannies. There will be cocktail parties and concerts, private screenings of earnest documentaries bemoaning some coming appocholypse. Al Gore, the patron saint of Davos will be there in his exalted position as "conscience of the planet." Bill Clinton always can be depended upon to make an appearance pitching some Global initiative or another, usually surrounded by a bevy of hot snow-bunnies. Bill Gates is essentially the mayor of Davos. He's on practically every panel, and why not? Between he and his wife Melinda, they give
away more money than the rest of the attendees combined, buying them a boatload of indulgence and
a coveted spot in the hierarchy of the most covetous people on the planet.

Meanwhile, we gluttonous Americans are at home be-spoiling the planet with callous disregard for the sustainability of our lifestyles, paying a mere $2.25 for a whopper with cheese at Burger King.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Somebody's Lying in Boston

Somebody's lying up in Boston and this time it's not a politician.

Yesterday, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady both held press conferences to give their version of Deflate-Gate, and each of them denied any culpability. If they are to be believed, the twelve game balls from the AFC championship game against the Colts lost a pound and a half of air pressure all by themselves. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson is studying game film until one o'clock in the morning in a basement somewhere in Seattle.

Frankly, besides Mr. Wilson, there isn't much to like about either of these teams. The Seahawks defense is full of trash talking egomaniacs, Pete Carrol isn't exactly a paragon of virtue even in comparison with Belichick. The Patriots, for all their record of excellence, give off an ugly vibe of arrogance and more than a whiff of cheating. So, what is a football fan to do?

And another thing... I love Russell Wilson, everything about him. I love that he's from my hometown. I love his leadership, his clutch performances, his professionalism and his character. But if I could have a word with him before the Super Bowl here's what I would tell him:

" Russell, love ya man and I'm pulling for you in the big game. But if you are fortunate enough to win today could you do me a huge favor and not tell everyone that God was responsible for the win? Listen, I'm glad you're a believer, so am I, but I'm pretty sure that God doesn't get involved in the outcome of sporting events and to suggest that he does makes him seem small somehow. I know that's not your intent, but that's the way it comes across to millions of people on television, so... I mean it's fine to thank God for giving you an opportunity to play in such a huge game, but to suggest that God was somehow on your side is a theological leap. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State of the Union

There was a State of the Union speech last night. When it was over my son texted me for my thoughts. I had to confess to him that I hadn't watched. That's probably a bad thing, an unsatisfactory example of civic disengagement on my part. I almost feel bad. I can remember a time when I wouldn't have missed it. That was back when I had a more exalted view of the process, back before I was tasked with the job of paying for it all, back before I had much experience dealing with the federal government in the very real world of business ownership. Those were the days.

I'm informed by my much more optimistic and much less jaded son that the President proposed a treasure trove of new benefits and entitlements for the middle class, things like expanded child care tax credits and paid maternity and sick leave. "Why are we the only advanced nation on earth that doesn't have these things," the President asked. This on top of his new free community college for all proposal of last week, all paid for by a tax on the richest 1%, which my son gleefully pointed out doesn't include me! " You're off the hook Dad, relax."

That's great to know...that I'm off the hook. It's also encouraging to hear that the President actually at least tacitly admitted that all of these wonderful new free things are not really free, that somebody's taxes will have to be raised to "pay" for them. This amounts to political progress, I suppose. Who could possibly object to taxes being raised on a handful of billionaires, right? And what cold-hearted child hating person could possibly object to paid maternity leave?  Talk about your low-hanging fruit?

One is left to wonder why the President waited until his party lost both houses of Congress to go all
FDR on us. Perhaps he is as cynical as he accuses his opponents of being. Maybe he knows that he
and his party can get the benefit of being seen as "concerned" about the middle class without having
to go to the trouble of actually getting these programs passed and administered. Then they can run in the next election against the obstructionists in the other party. " It's those nasty Republicans standing between you and all of this cool free stuff!" Good strategy actually.

Let me try to answer the President's question. He asked  rhetorically, " why is it that we are the only advanced nation on earth without paid maternity leave?" By asking the question, he is clearly suggesting that this is a grand failure on our part, that despite our wealth and power we have failed our citizens by not adequately protecting them from the vagaries of life. My answer is this... The reason we don't provide the sort of cradle to grave social safety net that is common in much of Europe is the fact that up until maybe twenty years ago a majority of Americans felt that it wasn't the proper role of government to do such a thing. Even FDR' s signature achievement, Social Security, was made possible by and is still sustained by the notion that it is most definitely NOT a welfare plan.
It is a retirement plan that we CONTRIBUTE to. Americans have had for most of our history this
quaint notion that we are responsible for our own lives. We haven't wanted or needed a bunch of do-gooders from Washington or anywhere else coming in telling us what to do. This fiercely independent streak has in no small part been responsible for this nation's astounding and unprecedented rise from colony status a mere 250 years ago to the world-striding powerhouse of today. It has also been the reason that our shores have been the beacon for millions fleeing places with much more intrusive governments than our own. For most of our history, Americans have thought it ridiculous that we would tax the man down the street or across the State in order to force an employer to pay someone else to stay home after the birth of a child. Sure it's a nice thought, but not something that any government should have the right to INSIST upon.

But, the times, they are a changin'. Most Americans I would imagine think that all of these free things are a great idea. Why shouldn't we be more like France? Especially, since it's only the "rich" who will have to pay for it all.

I believe that the future belongs to the Democrats. There are far more voters who are middle class than there are millionaires and billionaires. There are many more voters who want more from their government than there are those who want the government to leave them alone. I hope it works out. But my reading of history and my experience with government is that entitlements that are sold as being free or that are described as benefits that will be financed by the idle rich have a way of morphing into something that costs an awful lot more than advertised. And when that happens, it won't be my generation who gets stuck with the bill.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lucy's New Thing

Now that all remnants of Christmas have been returned to the attic, Lucy seems back to normal. By normal I mean her regular skittishness as opposed to the manic, projectile-pooping mess of a dog she was once the trees went up. With each new day she is more confident, playful and adventurous. Hopefully by next Christmas she will have grown out of all her neurosis.

Now we only have one major Lucy related problem. Although she is our third Golden Retreiver, she is the first to ever manifest this particular tendency. At least we think so since neither one of us remember Murphy or Molly...shedding. Lucy is a shedding machine! We only allow her to get up on one piece of furniture in the house, our sofa downstairs. Accordingly, we drape a blanket over it each and every morning. By the end of the day the thing is covered, plastered in short, blond hairs. But it's not just the blanket. Every piece of clothing that we own proudly proclaims evidence of her existence. The inside of our dryer is covered with the stuff.

Since getting Lucy was my idea, I feel a special guilt when it comes to any added hassle or work that she visits upon us. So, I'm the one who is in charge of it. I take her to the vet, I bathe her, I feed her, take her for walks and now...I give her her daily brushing. My Dyson vacuum is going to explode one of these Saturday's from exhaustion.

I keep thinking that maybe it's a puppy thing. Maybe when she gets older and stops growing the shedding will stop or at least lessen. Maybe she sheds because of her skittishness and once she chills out a little it will stop. And maybe President Obama will become a raging conservative. It could happen, right?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Grove Avenue Baptist Vs. Bedside Baptist

This Sunday morning features low skies, steady rain and 41 degrees. The pews of Bedside Baptist are destined to be packed on a Lord's day like this. I must make a decision soon. The clock is ticking.

"Do not forsake the assembly," the old prophets said. A more modern version of this truth would be the adage that one raindrop can prevent a thousand Baptists from attending church. My Dad used to say that the crowd on bad weather Sundays amounted to the mysterious "faithful few." I'm sure there is some truth to that, but I always thought as a kid that the people who showed up literally every single time the church doors were opened were a little weird. I always felt like..."Dude, get a life!" It was like they were keeping score somehow and wanted to win eternity's perfect attendance award. Such were the sacrilegious thoughts that would ramble through a preacher's kids 12 year old brain as he stared out the church windows in a blinding snow storm. Whenever I would ask Dad about my ideas he would launch into a theology-heavy lecture about grace vs. works when all I wanted to do was go sledding.

But now, I am an adult, so I get to make my own church attendance decisions. Today, I really would rather stay here in my pajamas. I have no burning desire to go sit for an hour in a pew. There's all the standing and sitting, all of the group dynamics putting terrible pressure on you to sit and stand at the "correct" times, whether or not you are so moved to do either. There's the music, the interview( a new addition to our weird liturgy), and then the sermon. Today there will be a baptism and I think a baby dedication.

I suppose if the parents of a new born can drag themselves out of the rack and get to church, then I better get my lazy backside in a pew. Besides, seeing a baptism is about the very best thing that ever happens at my church. It never fails to inspire. It's evidence that somewhere, somehow, somebody is doing something right.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

American Sniper. A Review.

Chris Kyle was a complicated guy. Reading the book about his four tours of duty in Iraq was fascinating and horrifying. While I can be thankful that there exist men with the combination of courage and brutality that Kyle possessed, he's not exactly the sort of guy you invite to a barbecue. Still, the book was so intriguing, I read it twice.

I was anxious to see how Hollywood would portray the man. Would they turn him into a psychotic, trigger happy, brainless patriot? Would they turn him into a super hero? To my considerable relief Clint Eastwood presented as faithful a portrayal as I could have hoped for. The Chris Kyle of American Sniper was a man of flesh and blood with feet of clay, who was torn between his obligations to his family and the prodigious martial gifts that made him the most lethal fighting man in Navy Seal history. Bradley Cooper's performance was astonishing, worthy of an Oscar. The depictions of urban battle weren't  staged and neat, but rather, chaotic and confusing, lending an authentic madness to the film. When a sandstorm overwhelms a battle towards the end you can practically feel the grit in your teeth.

Eastwood did clean Kyle's character up a bit. In the heat of battle, he was known to have described the enemy in several pithy, colorful and racist ways. In this characteristic he was not unlike past generations of warriors. To the American GI in WWII, the Japanese and the Germans were called every degrading term imaginable. Part of this can be attributed to the necessity in war of demonizing the enemy. Killing someone doesn't come natural to most, even in wartime. If thinking that the guys on the other side who are trying to kill you are less than human makes it easier for you to pull the
trigger...well that's just part of what makes war hell.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the movie I happened upon several message boards that featured people in great distress over what they perceived to be the glorification of war and warriors that American Sniper represented. Many were horrified that there were men like Chris Kyle in the world. To them he was a sadistic, cold-blooded killer whose primary motivation was racism. In truth, there was a cold bloodedness to him, in that he was remorseless, convinced in the justice of his cause. He had little time for doubt, for in his mind doubt is what got people killed. But, there was no sadism
in him, no blood lust. Asking your most lethal fighting men to be deep-thinking, conflicted metro-sexuals is asking an awful lot! You don't have to love the Chris Kyles of this world to be thankful and appreciative that they exist.

By all accounts Chris Kyle was a brave and courageous man with a bit of a savior complex and a servants heart, who in the course of four tours of duty in one of the most dangerous places on earth managed to kill over 160 people who were attempting to kill American soldiers. For this he has my admiration and gratitude. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Great Beach House Search of '15

It's January of an odd year, and that can only mean one thing. It's time for the great Dunnevant family beach house search! It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this space that our search features a family-only search website called, "Beach Central" administered by my wife. All of the research leg work has been done by Pam and my niece Jenny. They then post the finalists onto the website, where the rest of us are encouraged to make comments as to our preferences. From all of this input, a decision will be made no later than this coming Sunday. Then some unlucky sucker will be chosen to be this year's banker, send in the deposit and collect everyone's rent over the next six months.

Whenever I hear politicians moan and groan about how difficult it is to obtain consensus in Congress over some issue or another I always think, "Psshhtt! Try getting 14 adults in MY family to reach consensus on a beach house!" First there's picking a week that fits everyone's calenders. Then there's the price range, finding a house nice enough aesthetically but not so beautiful that it winds up costing a fortune. The battle then becomes location, location, location. Do we want to be right on the beach or across the road, Nags Head or Hatteras, ocean front, ocean view, or simply ocean scent?

But despite this stunning array of variables, each and every year we manage to come to agreement, unlike the mental midgets in Washington, and with rare exceptions we wind up deliriously happy with our choice, once again, unlike DC. We do this without going over budget, no bribes change hands,(not that I KNOW of anyway), and without vicious ad hominem attacks...although this year there was a snide comment about one particular house being about as exciting as Hillary Clinton on her wedding night. The point is, if the Dunnevants can do it, then surely our elected officials can.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fightin' Joe Morrissey!

Perhaps it’s not so bad. Maybe the voters of eastern Henrico are more sensible than we are giving them credit for. Sure, they just re-elected Joe Morrissey, he of the long and diverse rap sheet, the same Joe Morrissey now serving a sentence for taking indecent liberties with a 17 year old. They re-elected…him.

But, consider this. How many times have you sat around thinking about politicians and the idea comes into your head, “that scum-bag ought to be in jail!” Well, in Joe’s case, his constituents don’t have to worry about him because he’s already in jail. There won’t be any long legal battles the next time he punches somebody’s lights out outside of some bar in The Fan. The next time he swindles a little old lady out of her life savings, there won’t be any costly trial or prolonged, embarrassing drama-fest. They’ll just add it on to his existing sentence. So, when you think about it, re-electing Morrissey is quite efficient.

To my out of state readers, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for the tawdry freak show that Virginia politics has become. We Virginians used to pride ourselves on our historical legacy. We are after all the Mother of Presidents. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, Patrick Henry, George Wythe, Robert E. Lee, all hailed from the Old Dominion. But in two short weeks we have sent a Governor to prison, elected a State Delegate who is already in prison, and are close to naming a street after a former Delegate who served nine years in prison for being a drug dealer. Our cultural and political evolution has taken a disturbing detour from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our current Governor’s resume lists his most shining pre-election accomplishment as being President Clinton’s greatest fund raiser. I mean, sure…George Washington may have commanded a rag tag insurgent army to victory against the world’s greatest military power, and granted, Thomas Jefferson may have written the Declaration of Independence and all, but can they really compare with a man who figured out a way to turn the Lincoln bedroom into the most profitable bed and breakfast in America?
Yes, things have certainly changed here in the Commonwealth. While we may have once been called the Mother of Presidents, now we’re more like the Shady Uncle of Presidents.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Expert Analysis on the Big Game

8:27 National Anthem performed by Lady Antebellum. Meh...

8:30 Teams come out for coin toss and it is revealed that in case you happen to be watching the game on a black and white set, you won't need to worry since Oregon's uniforms have zero color.

8:36 Oregon tries desperately to fumble the ball away but it keeps bouncing back into their arms! Refs blow first call of the night. Booth review bails them out only after forcing official to look ridiculous staring off into the distance waiting..

8:42 Oregon touchdown. Mariota looking like a Heisman winner...quick, athletic, and very Hawaiian. Now the team in color gets the ball.

8:50 Ohio State has to punt after third string QB can't seem to figure out coverage...perhaps because he " ain't come here to play no school!"

8:52 Nearly choke when the very last chip in the bag temporarily lodges in windpipe. Embarrassing.

9:00 Knuckleheaded Ohio State QB starts completing passes.

9:05 Ohio State touchdown after a 4th down conversion. Good game.  Referee is a dead ringer for Bob Newhart and when his microphone goes out he REALLY looks like him!

9:13 Oregon receiver drops a potential huge gainer. All the momentum shifting towards the Buckeyes. Oregon AD rethinking the colorless uniforms.

9:17 Ohio State touchdown. Kaitlin dials CVS hotline to see if they can deliver a sedative to her husband.

9:25 Oregon looking sloppy as the quarter ends. Sloppy and colorless.

9:30 Buckeye fumble. Ducks receivers start catching passes. Go for it on 4th down at the goal line and come up short. Bob Newhart calls personal foul on Ohio State resulting in a four inch penalty mark off.  My first second guess of a call happens when coach does not call Heisman winners number on 4th down.

9:42 Buckeyes looking like the better team just about the time they fumble the ball after a big gain, proving that anyone who bets money on 20 year olds playing games is a certifiable idiot.

9:54 Buckeye Touchdown. Starting to look like another over-hyped Pac-12 team folding like a cheap card table in the big game, plus Ohio State looks very good.

10:05 Oregon settles for field goal after horrible pass by Mariota. this guy won the Heisman? Nearly 600 yards of total offense in the first half. What the heck has happened to defense anymore?

And that's where my expert analysis ends. I have an early appointment in the morning so the idiots who schedule these big sporting events to begin after 8:30 at night on the east coast are losing me for the second half. Now, if this was the World Series, I would be up for the bitter end and blurry-eyed in the morning. But it's college football with no SEC team playing, so...

Lucy in the Rain

I wake up to the sound of rain. I glance at the clock and notice that I have overslept by an hour. It is 36 degrees outside. My backyard is a muddy, soupie quagmire by now and soon Lucy will need to go out for her morning constitutional. It is January the 12th, 67 days until Spring. It is a Monday. Beautiful.

Four million Frenchmen gathered in the streets over the weekend for a giant show of solidarity against terrorism. Among the throngs were many prominent heads of State. The Obama administration is being roundly criticized this morning for failing to send anyone other than the Ambassador to France to attend the rally. I disagree for a variety of reasons.

First, I don't recall world leaders all showing up in New York City for a Kumbaya parade after 9/11. I have nothing against these types of demonstrations, but frankly, they just aren't my style. Emotional gatherings featuring mass-produced "Je Suis Charlie" signs might make the people of France feel better and that's good, but as a matter of policy, it accomplishes absolutely nothing. France is still teeming with angry, radicalized Muslims and the next violent, nonsensical attack on innocents is coming sooner rather than later. Secondly, Obama was in a classic catch 22 here. If he hops on a plane and flies over to Paris and appears in the front of the line of world leaders he would get criticized for grandstanding, for attempting to make it all about him, of simply trying to create a grand optic. If he sent Joe Biden instead, he would have run the risk that old Joe would have said something stupid..."Hey Angela, what does a guy gotta do to get a croissant around here?" So, the President decided to keep everyone home and he gets hammered for it. That's fine with me. Being President is all about being damned if you do and damned if you don't. I suppose he could have sent John Kerry, our very French-looking Secretary of State, but no telling what old Lurch might have done or said. No, I support the President on this one.

Lucy is laying on the rug by the back door staring at me. It's as if she knows that she needs to go do her business but she knows how gross it is outside. She's got that look that says, "I wonder how long I can hold it?" I better not let her find out. So I will put on my raincoat, get the leash and a fresh poop bag and walk out into the front yard in the pouring rain watching Lucy go through her elaborate voyage of discovery, searching for the ideal, perfectly positioned six inch square of real estate worthy of her prodigious morning bowel movement. She will not be rushed by the elements. If anything, it takes her even longer in the rain. Of course, probably 99% of dog owners would be using an umbrella in times like these. Not me. My oversized black and white Titleist umbrella is far too horrifying for my Lucy. She couldn't possibly be expected to relax enough to perform her morning toilette with so menacing an object over my head. So, when finally she is done, both of us will be soaked.

Despite it all, I so completely love this dog. I love every eccentric, jumpy, neurotic, adorable inch of her. Crazy dog!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

All Is Not Lost

Last night, on a whim, Pam and I went to see "Mame" at the old Empire Theatre downtown. First we had a fabulous dinner at Tarrants, then walked the block or so to the newly named Virginia Repertory Theatre. Because it was all so last minute our seats were in the balcony and the second we wedged ourselves into them I knew that I wouldn't last two minutes. My knees were rubbing against the back of the seat in front of me and we were in the middle of a row. In my nightmares, I saw a very large man reeking of cigarettes pouring himself into the seat beside me, trapping me for the duration. Quickly, I spied two lone seats all by themselves in a small cove above the stairwell in the farthest corner of the place. I made some excuse to Pam and beat a hasty retreat to claim them. I hadn't been gone two minutes when the huge, cigarette-smoking beast of a man and his two large friends arrived as if on cue. I texted Pam from our newly absconded seats. The relief on her face was palpable! The usher with the clipboard cut us a sideways glance with a knowing smile that we found out after the show was because she thought Pam was the mother of the child star in the cast! Crisis averted.

The show was wonderful. Although the actress who played Mame was an understudy,( I assume the lead actress was ill ), she did a masterful job. I remembered several of the songs from the movie version I had seen years ago. They were clever and fun. The actors were good, not great. The orchestra was superb.

It's always the same thing when I attend a concert. It started back at Godwin High School when I would listen to choirs led by Sherri Matthews. Since then there have been a stream of productions great and small that have featured my son; Nashville Symphony performances of Beethoven, Dr. Entsminger's Chamber Singers, countless other concerts from the Belmont Beltones to Handel at Carnegie Hall. I aways leave the theatre feeling better about life. Although we all live in a world that is full of despair, pain and cruelty, and at times it's tempting to believe that we are doomed...we are also capable of incredible beauty. The same world that gives us hatred and starvation, also gives us Bach. It is the most comforting, life affirming thing in the world to sit down for two hours and listen to talented men and women perform beautiful works of art. It reminds me that all is not lost.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A New Entitlement

Yesterday, while aboard Air Force One, President Obama took the opportunity to announce a new entitlement, free community college education. Alrighty then.

The proposal was short on details, like how much it was actually going to cost the taxpayers, only that the cost would be “significant” and be shared with the states who would be required to pick up 25% of the unstated cost. Here are the details that were provided:

The program would be offered to “students of any age” who were “willing to work for it” and were able to maintain a 2.5 GPA, be enrolled at least “half time” and make “steady progress” toward their degree. In order for community colleges to participate in this program they must adopt, “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms.” The President estimated that the plan could benefit up to 9 million students.

Several questions leap to the inquisitive mind:

1.     What does “willing to work for it” mean exactly? How many hours a week? What kind of job? Will someone be required to provide these jobs?

2.     What does, “steady progress” mean with respects to qualification for this program?

3.     Since this program is open to “students of any age” and will not be needs tested, is it possible that the primary beneficiaries wind up being the middle and even upper classes, and not the needy? Especially since the needy are already qualified for Pell grants?

4.     Does the requirement that State run community colleges adopt “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms” amount to an unconstitutional overstep by the Federal government which does not have jurisdiction over the educational institutions of the States? And, what are these “evidence-based institutional reforms” of which the President speaks?

5.     Since our nation currently has amassed 18 trillion in debt and still is running a dangerous annual accounts deficit, where exactly will the money for this new entitlement come from?

Ok, whenever any President or any politician for that matter introduces a new spending program, my default position is usually intense skepticism. The reason for this should be self-evident, (see large intimidating number in #5 above). However, since even a broken clock is right twice a day, a thinking person should not dismiss every proposal out of hand. For example, while I might object to transforming a college education into an entitlement on the grounds that A. we are broke, and B. this is no business of the Federal government, I must confess that there are far dumber things to spend money on that giving a deserving kid a shot at a decent education. So, maybe I could be persuaded to support this under a couple of conditions:

1.     Full financial disclosure before any votes are cast. None of this 3000 page crap that we have to pass before we can find out what’s in it.

2.     A dollar for dollar exchange of another government program for this one. For example, let’s say that it is determined by the wise men at the CBO that this thing is going to cost 100 billion. It would then be the job of the proponents of “free college education” to find a 100 billion dollar federal program, or a combination of several smaller programs that add up to 100 billion to eliminate, (I would suggest the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department for starters).
Yes, I’m aware that the State of Tennessee already has a program very much like the President’s and that’s great since the States are where these initiatives should be coming from. And yes, I’m aware that college is free for all in Germany and much of Europe. But the fact that Europe does something does not necessarily imbue it with the ability to end all debate. Europe has its own financial time bombs, many of which make that large, intimidating number in #5 look like child’s play, and many of which might very well be the result of such a profligate welfare apparatus. However, as a reasonable man, I am willing to entertain this particular idea knowing full well that when it comes to Federal programs, an awful lot can go wrong.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


There’s a new craze in America, a new pastime. It’s all the rage and equally popular in every demographic. Whites and blacks, conservatives and liberals, gays and straights, the religious and agnostic alike, something has finally come along to unite us….being offended.

Taking offense has become the new morning cup of coffee for vast swaths of America, from the heartland to Manhattan. It is the great conversation ender. All one has to say when confronted with something disagreeable is, “I’m offended by that,” and all debate grinds to a halt. It affords its speaker immense stature as a member of the growing legion of the aggrieved, those delicate souls of the put upon generation. Only this generation encompasses everyone at every age.

TLC offers up a reality show called, “My Husband Is Not Gay” about several Mormon men who despite being happily married, confess to being attracted to other men, and before you can say “Ellen DeGeneres” a press conference is called by GLAAD announcing their grievances accompanied by a petition with 80,000 names demanding that TLC pull the show.

Meanwhile, the parent organization, One Million Moms was busy being shocked and revolted by a Disney offering, Good Luck Charlie, because of the appearance of a same sex couple. A boycott is in the works.

Yesterday in Paris a couple of radicalized Muslims who were offended by irreverent cartoons responded by storming the offices of the offending publication and murdering 12 employees in cold blood, so at least the American strain of the offense bug isn’t quite as violent as the European variety.

Over the past few months I have seen published accounts of a heavenly host of the gravely offended. White people offended by Al Sharpton, black people offended by Donald Sterling. There was even a giant, outdoor crowd offence demonstration when a crowd of NYPD officers turned their backs on their mayor, so deep was their collective emotional scarring.

But, lest you think that your humble correspondent is immune, think again. There are a long list of things and people who offend the hell out of me. What follows is a brief list of just a few:


1.     Reality television. Any family who agrees to introduce cameras into their home so the rest of us can be entertained by either their dysfunction, celebrity or both is beneath contempt and offends every fiber of my being.

2.      The Westboro Baptist Church. These hateful bastards are the ones who show up at funerals with the most vile, illiterate signs speaking cruelly of the dead, all in the name of Christianity.

3.     Rap music lyrics

4.     Rap music

5.     Rap musicians

6.     Donald Trump

Fortunately, as an American, there exists a remedy for #1. I never, ever watch reality television. That way I am only offended that so many others do. As far as #2 goes, the hateful bilge that proceeds out of their mouths is protected speech by virtue of the First Amendment. Inasmuch, I must learn to live with it. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 I also have the privilege of filtering out of my life by choosing not to listen. I hold similar power over #6 by never watching any television show that features his buffoonish face and toxic hair, and never, ever voting for him for President.
I feel the need to point out the fact that if something offends me it bestows upon me no special rights or privileges. The proper response should be something along the lines of, “So what?!” Life is a complicated, contentious thing. Not everything suits me, not everyone agrees with me, and that’s perfectly fine. Would I prefer it if people were nicer and more agreeable? Yes. Would I prefer if people with whom I profoundly disagree would just shut the heck up? Yes. Will that ever happen? Not in a million lifetimes. My only alternative to perpetual indigestion is to develop a thicker skin, and learn how to shrug my shoulders while saying, “oh well…”

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Eleven Dead in Paris

The news from Paris this morning is horrible. The offices of a satirical magazine were attacked by heavily armed men killing 11 people. The pictures are disturbing. Free people everywhere are united in support of the French people and freedom of the press. The story is still developing as I write these words so further details may emerge that will clarify the issues here. Right now it appears that this particular publication, Charlie Hebdo, may have been targeted for its frequent publication of irreverent cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad. The weekly describes itself as, among other things, strongly anti religious and says it reflects, " all components of left wing pluralism, and even abstainers."

From the sound of it, this is not a magazine I would care to read, me being somewhat religious and decidedly not left wing, however they do have my respect and admiration for having the guts to actually publish satire aimed at Islam, the world's untouchable religion. I've always found it galling how Christianity and Christians are routinely mocked by Hollywood, while Islam almost always gets a pass.  There may be occasional and rare exceptions, but generally speaking, it's open season on bible-thumpers. I love going to the Onion website because I'm always entertained, but I can count on one hand the number of articles I have seen sending up Islam compared to the almost daily drubbing that Christianity sustains. But, that's fine. It's satire, and that's part of the fun. Still, the primary reason Islam gets treated with kid gloves is because of attacks like this. Islamic terrorists have sent a clear message to every newspaper in the world that if you cast the Prophet in a bad light, they will come after you. Largely, it has worked, but apparently not on this hardy band of Frenchmen. I salute them and mourn their deaths.

I shouldn't even say this, but in all candor, I couldn't help laughing a bit at one particular detail of this still breaking story. I shouldn't be laughing at anything having to do with such news I freely admit. I am clearly a terrible human being. However, when I read that during the assault, two French policemen arrived on bicycles, and after realizing that the attackers were heavily armed...FLED THE SCENE, well, the irony was just too much. What's it been now, seventy years? Some things never change I suppose!

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Dad's Wisdom

When you write a book, especially one about your parents, it occurs to you what a terribly mediocre writer you actually are. In one sense I'm quite proud of Finishing Well, but in another I'm disappointed. There was so much more I could have said, should have said about them. Reading back through the finished product is an exercise in frustration. How could I have possibly not mentioned my Mother's beautiful alto voice, the way it would carry through the house on hot summer evenings? How could I have failed to pass along all of the little pieces of advice my Dad gave me along the way? But what's done is done. Many of you have bought a copy and for this I am grateful.

Still, over the past week or so I have had cause to think about Dad. My son and I have had a couple of long text message discussions recently about various things and it has occurred to me that Dad and I never had  a similarly long conversation in our entire time together. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Men born in the 1920's weren't big talkers for one thing, so Dad and I had short, terse exchanges mostly, until the end when he was sick and would talk for hours. But when he did speak to me about important things there was always a distinctly different quality to his voice. He would clear his throat and look off into the distance before offering some piece of advice like, " no matter how bad a day you've had, everything feels better after a hot shower."

There were lots of those one line nuggets of wisdom. I haven't talked to Donnie about this but I'd be willing to bet that he heard the same ones I did:

" Anything worth doing is worth doing well."
" You always feel better after a hair cut."
" Shaving is like working. If you don't do it every day, you're a bum."
" It's not how you start a thing, it's how you finish that counts."
" There's nothing worse than a quitter."

Then there were the surprising, out of nowhere asides that he would offer, many of which would stagger me. I remember once when Kaitlin was just a baby, he was over the house for some sort of gathering and he sat next to me on the sofa where I was giving her a bottle. He very casually leans over and says, " you know that Kaitlin will learn how to be treated by men by the way she sees you treat her Mother." Whoa.

I so wish he had said more, but that wasn't him. It wasn't his generation. I much prefer how Patrick and I talk about practically everything. But there's a problem with that too. I want to pass along wisdom to my kids, not just opinions and jokes. I want the stuff I say to them to count for something. I want them to remember me for something besides wit, sarcasm, and a libertarian streak. I don't want them to remember me as merely a theological Christian, but one who actually lived a life that more closely resembled the Sermon on the Mount, than some Roberts Rules of order version of doctrine. In other words, I want them to think of me as I think of my father, as a wise man.

Back to Work

The long slumbering holiday is over. Back to work. Good.

Listen, I enjoy time off as much as the next guy, but this Christmas/New Years thing is just too much. I feel like I haven't done anything productive in a month. I've put on five pounds and my routine has been destroyed by inactivity. It's times like these when I realize that I will never be able to retire. The pressure of having to make a living, the neccesity of having to accomplish something, while troublesome at times, provides the challenge of life. Without it, boredom reins. Although I certainly wouldn't mind being rich, being one of the idle rich would kill me.

Speaking of the idle rich, my wife couldn't possibly have let the holiday season leave us without one last extravagant, over the top event. Last night's Downton Abbey season five premier saw Pam in the kitchen from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until showtime preparing an English tea party extravaganza. As is our tradition, the Fort's came over to watch the show, so there she was doing her very best Ina Garten impression. Our fine china made an appearance. There were place cards identifying the various delectables; cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, scones with homemade whipped cream and blackberry jam. On another counter was the tea pot wrapped in a towel, just like Leigh Ann taught her, with delicate cups from the china cabinet. Of course the milk had to be poured into the cups before the tea, lest bruising should take place. Everybody knows that, right? Naturally, Lizzy had seconds.

The show didn't disappoint. It seldom does. This fact continually amazes and confounds me. If you had told me five years ago that I would freely and enthusiastically sit down every Sunday night to watch a television show about an insanely rich family of British monarchists I would have told you
that you were crazy and probably asked, " What, are they really attractive and naked?" After all, my
favorite television fare usually involves violence and suspense, Band of Brothers and Breaking Bad come to mind. But there I was last night glued to my seat, riveted by the trials and tribulations of the Crawleys and their downstairs servants.

 The Mother Country lives!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Is Kobe Bryant a Racist?

"I just think European players are just way more skillful. They are taught the game the right way...they are more skillful. When you have limitations and you understand your limitations, you can be great...In America it's a big problem for us because we're not teaching players how to play all around basketball...that's why 90% of the Spurs roster is European players, because they have more skill."
                                                                                                       Kobe Bryant

Is Kobe Bryant a racist? The above quote is so packed to the gills with code words and insinuation, one has to ask the question. Mr. Bryant, at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career and perhaps frustrated by being on a horrible team, offered his analysis of the state of American basketball and seemed to throw American players under the bus. Any discussion of his sport must face the fact that when he says "American" players, he is essentially saying African-American players since they comprise 76% of the league. Kobe offered this loaded critique:

"AAU basketball doesn't teach kids how to play at all so you wind up with players who are big and they bring the ball up and they do all this fancy crap and they don't know how to post up. It's stupid."

I'm not a huge basketball fan. There was a time when I did play the game and even a time when I followed it both at the college level and in the pros more than I do now. So I'm no aficionado, but you don't have to be one to recognize the loaded racial overtones of Mr. Bryant's comments. When he speaks of "understanding your limitations" while speaking of European players, we all know to what he refers. After all, they made a movie about it..."White Men Can't Jump." And notice that he keeps using the term "skillful," not "athletic."

Before you dismiss my premise that Kobe might be a racist, consider the reaction to the above quotes had they come out of the mouth of a Dirk Nowitzki or Greg Popovich? I submit that the race hustlers would be organizing boycotts and Al Sharpton would be bellowing into a bullhorn had a star white player made the same observation about the comparative skill levels of "Eurpoean" vs "American" players.

Of course, Kobe Bryant isn't a racist. But it's worth pointing out that in today's hyper-sensitive culture, WHO says something is often more important than WHAT is said. Jesse Jackson can disparage Jews by referring to where they live in New York City as "Hymietown" all day long. But let a white politician call an African-American "articulate" and all hell breaks loose...unless you're Joe Biden who is allowed to say anything.

Truth still matters to me, which is why I have no problem with Kobe Bryant's observations. European players DO seem more fundamentally sound. African-American players ARE generally much more athletic and flamboyant on the court.

Thanks Kobe, for stating the obvious.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

As Un-American as a Tie...

Perhaps nothing makes you feel more American than a day of watching college football. It matters not whether you know anything about the teams. So far today I really haven't. I know that Baylor has very cool helmets, for example, and that quite a few of my Facebook friends are big fans. I know that the TCU faithful are practically apoplectic with rage at the way they were treated by something called the "selection committee." They probably are feeling vindicated by the ass-whupping that their horn frogs (yes...I said horn frogs) laid on Ole Miss.

I'm an SEC man myself, meaning that I root for the teams from the Southeastern conference. It's a southern thing with me. I first became aware of football when I was an eight year old living in New Orleans during the week and Nicholsville, Alabama on the weekends where my Dad pastored a  church. The first time we were in Alabama on Iron Bowl weekend, my Dad thought that perhaps the "rapture" had taken place and we had somehow missed it! His theological confusion was cleared up by some guy named Billy Ray down at the Esso station, the only townsperson NOT in Tuscaloosa. Football down south isn't like football anywhere else. That's not to say that there aren't very good teams and players in the Midwest and out West, but it's just not the same. The winning percentages of SEC teams over the past ten years or so bear this out as well as the National Championships they have piled up. But, nothing lasts forever, and while they are still awfully good, other conferences have caught up.

Now there's a playoff. Four teams chosen by a committee of wise men who are supposed to be in the know. For anyone upset that their team was left out, it should be pointed out that a camel is, in fact, a horse designed by a committee. But from the looks of it, all four teams are capable of winning it all.
What makes it all so American is our relentless drive to crown a champion, our hatred of ties or anything that even meekly suggests unfairness. This despite a generation of whimpy parents protecting their little ones from the humiliation of losing by not keeping score in T-ball. Note to such parents: the kids ALWAYS keep score and are more resilient that you are!

So, there will be no nil-nil ties this weekend, only winners and losers. Just the way we like it!