Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Taxes Are Great!!

There is a famous similarity between death and taxes, but it's the wrong one. Yes, they are both inevitable, but what really unites them is the anxiety that surrounds that inevitability. After all, we only die once, but pay taxes every year. Death at least has the virtue of being final.

As a business owner, I have no taxes, state or federal, withheld from my pay. Instead, I must write a check each and every month for what I "estimate" that I owe. This is over and above both my employee and employer Social Security taxes. Actually, I don't even write a check, rather, I make sure that the amount I owe is in my business account on the 15th of each month for the Feds and the 25th of the month for the State of Virginia, because that's when the eagle swoops in and takes via something called an "automatic debit transaction."

The hard part is the estimating. Basically, it works this way. You start with what you paid last year, then you compare your income from last year and compare it to this year and make adjustments accordingly. Seems straight forward enough on paper. The problem is that it never seems to work out how it's supposed to. No matter how much I pay during the year, I always have to pay more on April 15. It's like an intransigent, immutable law of physics. Of course, the fickle nature of business also plays no small roll in my tax-paying difficulties since cash flow is about the most cruel feature of any enterprise. What happens if the 15th rolls around and nothing is shaking in the receipt ledger? The IRS doesn't care about my cash flow difficulties, all they know is it's the 15th and they are hungry.

To aid me in my tax dealings, I employ an accountant. He has prepared my tax returns for over thirty years now. He knows more about my financial life than anyone on earth, including me. If he were to suddenly die of a heart attack, I would be lost. I give him all of my records in February every year and then the waiting begins. Sometime in early April, my tax return arrives via FEDEX weighing in at close to two pounds. My hands tremble as I pull the little rip chord thing at the top of the package. At the top of the pile is a cover letter which starts, "Doug, please find your 2014 tax returns enclosed. Sign the e-file authorization and fax it back to my office. Make a check payable to the U.S. Treasury in the amount of....."

Each year my heart sinks as I read the number. Each year I can't believe it. I was so careful this year, how could I possibly owe this much? For a minute I think that there must be some mistake, but there never is. He's right, my accountant. So, I write the check. Sometimes, I first have to take an advance from my line of credit, THEN pay the tax, but it always gets paid. Then I find his bill for professional services further down in the pile of forms. I pay that too.

Years ago, I used to get angry. I used to feel put upon having to write such ridiculous checks. I would rail against government waste and corruption being at the root of this unfair shakedown. But ultimately, that way lies madness. Our Rube Goldburg tax system simply is what it is, and whining about it is wasted energy. So instead, several years ago I changed my thinking. What if I turned this horrible negative into a positive? Suppose I made it my goal each and every year to pay MORE in taxes than I had the year before? After all, if my tax obligations are rising every year, there's a good chance that my income is as well. Success is the greatest revenge, I'm told. 

Yes, yes it is.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Birthday and the Mess in Indiana

Today begins the "week of my birthday." That's right, one day isn't enough. It's more like a festival of celebration. The highlight of the week will be Wednesday, April Fool's Day, the one day all year where my default personality type is in vogue and my behavior is acceptable. 

 57. Such a large and foreboding number. Can I even say that I'm in my "middle fifties" anymore? The weird thing is that some times I feel better than I ever had. For one thing, I'm in better shape than ever what with all of my working out. But other times, I can feel the years. It's a mixed bag.

On the actual day of my birth, Friday, Pam and I will be hitting the road to Nashville to spend the long Easter weekend with our son who we haven't seen since Christmas. It's on these long car trips when I feel the years most acutely. When I get out of the car after a nine hour road trip, my hips feel like they are made of concrete. But it will be worth it to see my boy.

I suppose I should have something to say about this business in Indiana. The "religious freedom restoration act" is the sort of story that makes me want to sell everything and move to New Zealand. The problem is that I can easily see both sides clearly. I have sympathy with the proposition that religious expression should not be dictated by law. If we keep going down our present path will the government some day force a Catholic priest to perform a gay wedding ceremony? But on the other hand, why must a conservative Christian baker or florist feel compelled to deny services to a gay couple? Do they feel equally compelled to deny those services to formerly divorced couples or atheist couples? It's all a terrible mess.

It seems to me that if I were a baker and a gay couple asked me to bake them a cake, I would be grateful for the business. Agreeing to bake the cake no more suggests that I endorse their lifestyle than agreeing to bake a cake for a bar mitzvah suggests that I'm Jewish. Imposing personal belief boycotts is part of what has gone wrong in our country over the past twenty years or so. Political, social and religious differences have suddenly prohibited us from being nice to each other. If we have big, important disagreements on big, important issues, this does not give us the right to forget our manners. If a gay couple gets turned down by a florist, something tells me that there are dozens of gay-friendly florists out there who would love the business. And if a gay couple walks into a baker and wants a wedding cake, would it kill the Christian baker to thank them for the business, bake the best cake ever, and wish them well? Must a literal "federal case" be made out of everything?

In 2015 the answer is, yes...yes it must.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A New Arrival??

Got the wonderful news yesterday that I'm going to be blessed with a Grandchild soon. Now, before one of my siblings reads this and becomes apoplectic with rage at having to learn about this on my blog, I am referring to the fact that Kaitlin and Jon just put a deposit on an English Creme Golden Retreiver who is due to be born next week and delivered into their possession the first week of June. So, I suppose that the more accurate term would be "GrandPuppy." This would also make Lucy an Aunt. In this, Kaitlin and Jon are following directly in our footsteps since we got our first Golden, Murphy, exactly one year after getting married. Apparently, the apple didn't fall very far from the tree.

This is wonderful news because having a dog provides practical training for ultimately having a child. Many of the skills required in parenting are also needed in the care and maintenance of a dog. One must learn how to manage unwanted bowel movements and bladder accidents in either case. There are other similarities as well. Learning how to manage your time is essential, a dependable, predictable feeding schedule is a must, and they always, ALWAYS, cost more than you think.

They are already trying to pick out names. The finalists seem to be Jackson, Deacon, and Dougie. If my daughter ever hopes to have a profitable place in my last will and testament, she will NOT name her dog after me. I have no problem with the other two names since they both lend themselves well to shortened nick names. Jack, Jax, Apple-jacks, Jackie...Deak, Demon-Deacon, Deacon Doodles, Diddly Deak etc... Both names also can be easily shoehorned into the lyrics of famous songs, an always crucial factor in name choices...."Deak Deak a Do-Deak, banana-banna boo beak, a fe fi foo feak, Deacon!"

Hopefully, Lucy will be a positive roll model for the new arrival, or at least maybe little Jackson will shame her out of being afraid of EVERYTHING.

Friday, March 27, 2015

House of Cards. A Review.

I've been on a diet for the past couple of weeks. Actually, it's more like a mini-diet. Pam is the one on a real diet, I just eat the stuff she fixes. However, I have eliminated snacking between meals. So far, it's been a raging success. I've lost 5 pounds. On the down side...I'm starving to death. We sit down to dinner while watching "House of Cards", more on that later, and eat a perfectly delicious meal that Pam has prepared. As soon as the last morsel has been devoured we look at each other with an expression that practically screams, "Wait...is that it??" Last night I was reduced to scarfing down 6 dill pickles for dessert. I'm drinking water all day just to tamp down the hunger pains. Brutal.

House of Cards. We just finished season two last night, so if my analysis of the show seems incomplete, keep that in mind. It's a truly brilliant show, wickedly good writing, acting, and direction. It is also fascinating and terrifying. Although I'm sure its depiction of the business of politics is overly dramatic and its characters overly evil, it's still close enough for government work, as they say. Let me rephrase that, I HOPE it's overly dramatic because if politicians are as evil and manipulative as Frank and Claire Underwood...we are totally screwed.

Every single character in this show is mortally flawed. There isn't one person in Washington with an ounce of moral character. Well, at one point early on I thought that Frank's loyal assistant, Doug Stamper, possessed a glimmer of humanity. The appeal of the show is in the thorough rottenness of it's characters. It's absolutely fascinating to watch openly horrible people plying their trade free of guilt and shame. Pam and I are torn as to which character is our favorite...Frank or Claire. Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood is delicious to watch especially when he turns to the camera and entertains us with his pithy asides, full of wit and cruelty. He is the Majority Whip with an insatiable appetite for power. Robin Wright's Claire is even better. She's the beautiful, perfectly poised ice queen, every bit as power hungry as her husband but with far more subtlety. She manages to plot her evil schemes with an angelic smile, perfect manners and practiced faux-sincerity. 

Even more fascinating is the mind-blowing absurdity of their relationship. Infidelity is not only tolerated but encouraged, even threesomes if the timing is right. It's bizarre to see this type of  lascivious deviance in a marriage that features such a small-town southern accent.

By the end of season two Team Underwood has finally slithered their way into the oval office, three dead bodies in their wake. Can't wait to see how they manage to hold on to power so ruthlessly obtained.





 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My E-mail From Ted Cruz

Yesterday I received a fundraising e-mail from Ted Cruz. In past election cycles I received similar e-mails from Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul, proving that political donor mailing lists are quite incestuous. For what it’s worth, I’ve decided to do a line by line commentary of this particular appeal as an exercise of civic duty, hoping that it will help me form an informed opinion of this particular candidate.  Here goes…

The top of the letter features a teardrop shaped red and blue logo with the Senator’s name next to it in gray ink. Underneath it says,

"I am running for President because millions of Americans are standing up and saying “we want our country back!”

I have always hated this political formulation. I hated it when Obama used it in 2008 and I hate it now. The reason is because it suggests that the country has somehow been stolen. No, the country voted in a free election for the other guy. Nothing has been stolen. The country belongs to all of us. Voting for a different party or candidate does not constitute “taking the country back” from anyone. Maybe this is just a quibble, but it has always annoyed me.

My Fellow Conservative,

Ok. How does he know this about me? After all, I was deemed worthy of a fund raising letter from Hillary Freaking Clinton, for crying out loud!

"The United States is the greatest nation the world has ever known, but recently we have gotten off track."

To the great annoyance of my more progressive friends, I agree with the Senator about the greatness of this country. Whether we are the greatest that the “world has ever known” is debatable if you happen to be Greek, or of Roman heritage, but that’s a debate for another time. And yes, we have most assuredly gotten off track.

"We need to restore the strong values that made us great, so that we can leave a stronger and more prosperous nation for our children."

It would help if we could first come to agreement on which particular values did in fact make us great. It is this very core disagreement that is at the center of our discontent at the moment. Points off
for waiting until the third sentence before mentioning the “children.”


"Our country was built on freedom, enterprise and strong family values. It’s clear that these values are still held dear by the American people."

It is not at all clear to me that they do. Those who successfully engage in “enterprise” are daily vilified as greedy, self-absorbed children of privilege who aren’t paying their fair share. “Freedom” is under assault from a sizable portion of Americans who think that the rest of us are too stupid to make our own decisions in life. As far as “strong family values” is concerned, which ones?

"But Washington DC has become completely disconnected from the values of real Americans. That’s
why we are now more than 18 trillion dollars in debt, why wages have stagnated, and why our foreign policy is an absolute mess."


It would be hard to find a city more disconnected from real America than Washington DC. We are 18 trillion dollars in debt because as Americans we keep sending our elected officials mixed messages, “balance the budget! Don't you dare screw with my Social Security, and don’t even think about raising taxes! Oh, and if I lose my job pay me unemployment forever!”

"It’s time for new leadership."

Yes, it is.

"Politicians all too often promise one thing on the campaign trail, only to break those promises once elected."

I hadn’t noticed.


"You say you believe in these principles. Show me. When have you fought for conservative principles and what have you accomplished?"

The Senator cannot be accused of being unwilling to fight for his principles, but he also hasn’t accomplished much himself, having only been a Senator for a couple of years with no previous elective experience.

"My mission between now and 2016 is to help take America back to what made us great, so that we can move together. Thank you for adding your voice to this fight, and I hope I can count on yoursupport for the long road ahead."

Not so fast cowboy. I’m going to have to watch how you handle yourself in this campaign. I need to know more about you and your views. I know you’re smart. Your law professor at Harvard is on record calling you “off the charts brilliant." I know about all of the times you have argued cases at the Supreme Court where you were magnificent and won all those “best amicus briefs of the year” awards. In fact, although our current President fancies himself an “expert” on the Constitution, you actually ARE an expert and have the legal chops to prove it. But intelligence alone isn’t enough to be President. There’s also this business of temperament. So far in your brief Senatorial career, you have been a back bench bomb thrower, and that worries me a little. To govern successfully from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue requires the ability to persuade and build consensus, something that the current occupant has been unable to do despite his intelligence. Ronald Reagan might not have been in Mensa territory, but he somehow managed to get his agenda passed despite a VERY hostile Congress. Will you be able to lead a divided nation?

Ok, that’s it. If I get any more e-mails from other candidates, I’ll do the same thing.

You’re welcomed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thank You, Mo'ne Davis

Every now and then a story comes along that warms your heart. This is one such story:

A couple of days ago news broke of a knuckle-dragging jock who plays first base for the Bloomsburg University baseball team. The latest athlete to make a fool of himself on Twitter, Joey Casselberry
 had this to say, "I hear that Disney is going to make a movie about Mo'ne Davis. What a joke! That slut got rocked by Nevada!"

To refresh your memory, Mo'ne Davis was the adorable girl who pitched her way into our hearts during last year's Little League World Series as a twelve year old. Since then she has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has been interviewed on television and even made a few commercials. For referring to a now 13 year old girl with a sexualized word like slut was a reprehensible thing to do and by doing so Mr. Casselberry has proven himself to be a boorish moron. However, when his University promptly expelled him from the team, I thought it a little heavy handed. We DO still have a First Amendment, after all. My wife disagreed, reasoning that while we are free to say whatever we wish, we are not free from the consequences of our remarks. Fair enough, but still I thought the dismissal rather Soviet-like.

Well, this morning Miss Davis rescued me from my despair. She sent an e-mail to Bloomsburg University requesting that they reinstate Mr. Casselberry:

" Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance. I know he didn't mean it in that way. It hurt on my part but it hurt him even more. I know how hard he's worked. If it was me, I would want to take that back. Why not give him a second chance? I know that people get tired of seeing me on TV, but sometimes you need to think about what you say before you say it."

Mo'ne, this is where you drop the microphone and walk off the stage! Wow! It takes a 13 year old girl to speak the wisdom of the ages to us, to remind us of our humanity and offer up forgiveness and reconciliation over vengeance and retribution. It takes a 13 year old girl to demonstrate dignity, grace and class.

Just in case my two children are reading this, I want my grand children to grow up to be like Mo'ne.


Monday, March 23, 2015

A Question For God at 4:30 am

This morning, at approximately 4 am, my eyes blinked wide open. There would be no more sleep. I hate it when this happens. Pam is sound asleep. Lucy is curled up in her doggie bed by the door. Every living thing seems to be asleep except for me. So I lay there staring at the ceiling for thirty minutes, then give up. What to do at 4:30 am eastern standard time?

1. Check on my bracket. Last Thursday I went 10-6. Friday I was also 10-6. Then over the weekend I went 10-6 again. Thanks to Villanova and UVA, my East Regional bracket has been destroyed, but everything else is still alive and kicking. Thanks, UVA for absolutely nothing!

2. Read the overnight news. Apparently Ted Cruz is running for President. Let's see now, he hasn't yet served even one full term as a U.S. Senator but is running for the Presidency.  Sound familiar? 

3. Check my email. Here's one from Proactiv+, a "special deal" which promises to rid me of troubling acne once and for all. Great...only 35 years late. Here's another one offering me heartfelt congratulations for having been selected to receive a free box of Swiffer samples.

4. Look at the weather forecast for the week. Lots of cloudiness in store but mostly in the 60's.

5. Do a little casual reading, an article about ten phrases you can no longer say because they are sexist. Make mental note not to say, "aw man!" or "ladies and gentlemen" ever again.

At this point I realize that I am hungry and have been for several days now since Pam and I are attempting a diet. Actually it's Pam that's doing the diet, I am simply along for the ride. However, I do need to drop ten pounds so I am making an attempt to eliminate between meal snacking. It's not until you decide to do such a thing that you realize just how much snacking you do. Good Lord, I'm a snacking machine! Couple of doughnuts here, a bag of chips there and before you know it, you're piling on a thousand calories a day. But, those particular calories are, in a word, awesome, so giving them up is difficult. People who know about such things tell you that the first thing you need to give up if you want to lose weight is...bread. See, this is the sort of thing that bothers me. It's one of the first things I'm going to ask God when I meet him. Why did you create bread...warm, aromatic, delicious bread, if it makes us fat? And what about butter? Bread and butter together is about as comforting and delicious as food gets, and yet we have to swear off the stuff if we want to look good in our swim suits? It's just not right.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Marriage and a College Education

This morning I read a column by George Will about the worsening dating/marriage prospects for college educated women. In it he bemoaned the declining college graduation rates of males vs. females. He also quoted from an article written by a recent Princeton graduate named Susan Patton who opined:

"Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are . . . It will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you."

Of course, Ms. Patton makes a good point, men are overly attracted to pretty women. For too many of us a well-filled out sweater trumps all else. Where she goes off the rails is in her narrow view of what makes someone "smart." For Ms. Patton and scores of others, smart equals highly educated. While a college degree certainly helps in the acquiring of knowledge, it cannot bestow wisdom, nor can it confer common sense. The fact is that there are many facets to intelligence, some of them can be measured and analyzed but many cannot. Take Pam and me for example.

We are both college graduates, she from James Madison, Summa Cum Laude, me from University of Richmond, Thank the Laude. I consider myself reasonably intelligent. I am well read, knowledgable of world affairs and history and possessed with an encyclopedic memory for millions of things from which I can make no money. Pam, on the other hand, knows virtually nothing about world affairs,
even less about history, and has trouble remembering where she left her cell phone. So, which one of 
us is  "smarter?"

I will not here open this subject to a vote by the readers of this blog for fear of being humiliated. But to answer this question is difficult, because smart is extrordinarily difficult to quantify. The fact is that I am smarter in some areas than she is, but in other areas she makes me look like a moron. If I were tasked with formulating and executing a plan for teaching a struggling 3rd grader how to learn his multiplication facts, I would be lost. If I were asked to plan and organize a dinner party for 8 guests, it would end up looking like an episode of the Three Stooges. But, ask Pam to offer up an informed opinion on the efficacy of index fund investing in a bear market, or the deleterious effect of the designated hitter on baseball statistics and well...it wouldn't be pretty.

The fact is that Pam and I are two kinds of smart. She tends to be smart in areas that I am ignorant and vice versa, which has contributed to 31 happy years together. Can a woman with two Master's 
degrees find happiness with a plumber with a high school diploma? Not likely, but certainly not impossible. Love is funny that way. How do we measure devotion, faithfulness and selflessness? Are these not vital to a successful marriage? From which department at Princeton do you acquire such things? My advice to Ms. Patton is to maybe come down from her educated high horse for a while and open herself up to the possibilities for happiness in that great marketplace of humanity out of which she has priced herself. Finding a mate is not a financial transaction, Ms. Patton. It is a matter of the heart, a magical discovery where two independent people find someone who compliments them, who provides a contrast, who brings something new and different to your life and makes it better. Sometimes that person has a Doctorate, but sometimes she just might be a plumber.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Unfinished Business

I am a bad son. My mother died almost three years ago and my dad last year and I still haven’t finalized their graveside markers. I’ve only been to visit the graves once. My sisters both have been many more times. The entire thing just creeps me out for some reason. Perhaps when I get older, I will feel differently. But, I had put it off long enough, so Paula met me over there today to finish things up.

When I walked in the office, the old familiar feelings of extreme discomfort returned. I noticed a display advertising a new “community” called the “eternity gardens” which featured finely trimmed walkways and park benches strategically placed along the way. There appeared to be some kind of sale going on because several of the premiere eternity gardens lots were marked as SOLD in big bold letters. Apparently, people are just dying to get into the place.

But soon, we were in the capable hands of a sales associate. My dad’s plaque would be provided by the Veterans Administration due to his service in the US Navy during World War II. There would be a cross in the middle. My mother’s plaque would be a little trickier. We were told that outside of her date of birth and date of death and her name, we would be limited to four descriptive words to summarize her life on this earth. They suggested, “Beloved Wife and Mother.”

Ok, she certainly was beloved, and no doubt was a fine wife and mother, but those four words together seemed almost comically incomplete. It would be like summarizing Albert Einstein’s life with, “Really Good With Numbers,” or eulogizing John Lennon with, “Fairly Decent Song Writer.”

No, “Beloved Wife and Mother” wasn’t going to cut it. But if not that, what? How was it possible to immortalize such a profoundly influential life in four words? Of course, almost immediately I began with the wise cracks.

“I’ve got one. How about Draw Back a Nub?

Paula then chimed in with, “I’ll Be John Brown.”

Of course, family members would be entertained by such a graveside reference, but others might wonder what was wrong with us. So, over the next few days we will try to come up with four words that properly capture her unique personality and provide the appropriate level of dignity.


I can’t help but wonder what Mom would make of all this. Would she be ticked that we haven’t done it already, or would she be appalled that we are making such a fuss? 

“Wild Woman of Winn’s”

“Give Money to Missions”

“Y'all Leave Douglas Alone”

Wise Woman, Faithful Friend”

This is going to be hard.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aaron Schock. A Cautionary Tale.

Aaron Schock. Remember that name. He has become the poster-boy for everything that is wrong with politics. His story is a story of greed, corruption and hubris. It is also a story of ego and stupidity. It all started in 2008 when the people of the 18th district of Illinois decided to elect a 26 year old to Congress. Let that sink in for a minute. What possible reason could there be to justify sending a 26 year old to Washington? What could this kid possibly have done in such a short life to deserve such a position? What life experiences did he have that would convince a majority of voters that he had the requisite judgement and wisdom to represent them and their interests? But, I digress.

So, the kid was good looking and fit, so much so that he landed on the cover of Men's Health magazine. That's something, right? God knows that DC could use more people who aren't ugly and out of shape. So, he had that going for him. But then the guy started watching Downton Abbey, and was blown away by that awesome house. So, he goes out and drops $40,000 of tax money on an amazing office makeover that makes his digs look like Lord Grantham's library. From there it was all down hill. 

There was the fabulous $500 a night room at the London luxury hotel, the lavish travel to glitzy destinations, the pricey restaurants, the private jets, all on a mere Congressman's salary. Eyebrows were raised, even in a town as cynical as DC. Soon, the boys over at Politico started asking questions. The straw that broke the camel's back was the Tahoe. The good Congressman bought the SUV in 2010 from a big donor who owns a dealership in his district. Just last year, he traded it in on a brand new, $70,000 Tahoe, paid for with campaign money, but registered in his name. The old Tahoe had 89,000 miles on it. Unfortunately Schock had billed the tax payers for reimbursement of work related mileage totaling 170,000 miles. Once Politico started snooping around, it was just a matter of time, after all, he was a Republican. The Congressman resigned yesterday. 

This isn't just a story about yet another slimy politician lining his pockets at the public's expense. This is a story that perfectly illustrates what is wrong with politics. What has happened to this country when politics has become a career path instead of the last act of a life of accomplishment? The Founders envisioned that those we would elect to represent us would be those who had distinguished themselves by a life of industry and wisdom. There would arise an aristocracy not of birth but of talent. Nearly 250 years later we are confronted with a 26 year old man who thinks he has the skill, wisdom and chops to become a leader of men. Now listen, I love twenty year olds. My kids are in their twenties. I used to be twenty. But while it is equally true that age does not always bring wisdom with it, very few twenty-somethings have the life experiences required to handle the cess-pool of dysfunction that is national politics. When I consider how I thought about life and the world around me at 26 compared to what I know of the world now, it is laughable to think I could have made the kinds of wise, well reasoned decisions needed to govern a nation back then. Although I had just graduated from college and gotten married at 26, I was basically an idiot, in the sense that I knew so much less than I needed to know, and unfathomly less than I thought I knew. Congressman? Are you freaking kidding me??

Don't shed any tears for Mr. Schock. In no time, he'll land a sweet six figure job on K Street.






Monday, March 16, 2015

Preachers and Gulfstreams

I will not mention his name. I will not provide the name of his church. To do either would be to feed his Olympian ego. But, I can't just let this story go without comment.

Over the weekend I read about the "television evangelist" who had launched some sort of fund raising telethon event whose goal was to raise 65 million dollars in one weekend. Naturally, I assumed that the good Reverend was either fund raising to expand the church building, or perhaps to aid some beleaguered refugee community somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. Maybe he was planning relief packages for Ebola victims in West Africa. Possibly, it might have been for some new outreach for AIDS victims or plans to build a community center in a blighted inner city somewhere. Then I read some background on the man behind the fundraiser and discovered that his services as a motivational speaker are very much in demand. His particular brand of "prosperity gospel" is quite popular at the moment. According to the Reverend, his heavy travel and speaking schedule have given him many grand opportunities to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What better way to facilitate these grand opportunities for evangelism than to buy a brand new 65 million dollar Gulfstream? Not just any Gulfstream mind you, but the G650, the finest private jet in the business. The jet-setting Reverend's plan is to persuade 200,000 people to donate $300 each, making this a grassroots Gulfstream.

I haven't kept up with the progress of the event so I don't know whether he was successful, but my trick knee tells me he will be. 

When I think of the missionaries serving all over the world in every hell-hole corner of the globe, trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, laboring 14 hours a day in the hot sun trying to provide clean drinking water in some dirt poor village in the middle of a freaking war zone, this Elmer Gantry and his Gulfstream makes me want to vomit. When I consider the thousands of pastors and priests around the world laboring mightily to spread the message of grace and forgiveness on a shoestring budget, this charleton in the 3,000 dollar Italian suit bilking his gullible congregation out of their Social Security checks so he can park his ass in Peruvian leather seats at 35,000 feet, infuriates me more than I can possibly express. But, it has always been so. There have always been hucksters, showmen, and slime balls of every description in the church. It comes with the territory, I guess.

But, that doesn't mean I have to take it. I have this blog, and I have an outlet for whenever I get truly and thoroughly pissed off. So, Reverend...here's hoping that the maiden flight of your new luxury jet hits every possible pocket of turbulence, and that you christen those fine smelling leather seats with your own vomit.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dog Chores and a Concert

Is there anything more awesome than waking up on a Saturday morning after a week of beautiful sunny weather to find it raining outside? Not just raining, but dark and misty with low clouds and even a touch of fog. The only thing missing are the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine walking down Aprilbud Place.

But, I am resolved not to let the elements get me down today. I have a full schedule that includes a spectacular concert tonight. The 90 voice Westminster choir will be presenting an evening of drop dead gorgeous music tonight at St. Michael's Catholic Church. Pam and I will be boarding three of them in our home after the concert. When they discover that our son is Patrick Dunnevant they might not want to come home with us since he was probably their graduate assistant in freshman music theory class who wouldn't put up with any of their crap. Be that as it may, we are thrilled to get the opportunity to hear beautiful choral music again and to have kids in our home once more.

So, my jobs for the day are A. Dust and vacuum the house and B. Give Lucy a bath. 

Ever since Miss Lucy's arrival, it is has been necessary to meticulously vacuum the entire house every single Saturday. If I ever miss a Saturday, like I did last week, the place becomes coated with a virtual sea of doggy hair. Let this serve as a warning to my two children and their determined pursuit of dog ownership. Every dog sheds, some more than others. If you want to own a dog, you better know your way around the business end of a good vacuum cleaner! We are told by people who know such things that dogs shed more when they are nervous or afraid, which explains the sea of dog hair in my home after a mere two weeks. Lucy is to nervous dogs what Lebron James is to basketball...the King.
Giving the girl a bath is a breeze though. With my last Golden, Molly, she required weekly baths because of her allergy problems. Lucy only needs a bath once a month or so and even then she still looks and smells great. I just prefer a clean dog and I love how beautiful her coat looks afterwards. While Molly loved her bath and always looked forward to them, Lucy is a bit freaked out by the whole thing. Shocking, I know. But afterwards, she is very pleased with herself and prances around like a Diva. 

I sure hope our students like dogs, because Lucy is going to LOVE them.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Racism and Me

Someone publishes a video of a bunch of drunken frat boys singing a racist song in Oklahoma, and just as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, we are launched into another national conversation on race relations in America. You know it's started in earnest when you see a Jason Whitlock column on the first page of ESPN's website. The only thing that these national conversations lack is honesty, a frank admission of biases, and acknowledgement of the truth. I will do my part to change that with what follows. These are the thoughts and feelings that I battle with in the area of race. I am fully aware that by admitting to them, I run the risk of alienating some of you. Screw it.

1. I despise much of black culture, especially in the entertainment field. I believe that rap lyrics, with its celebration of thugs, objectification of woman, and glorification of violence is a hideous affront to civilization. The fact that so much of white society is trying to co-opt it is an embarrassment.

2. When I watch sporting events on television, almost all of them are dominated by black athletes. After the games, when the players are interviewed it seems that most black players are illiterate. Although athletes as a whole aren't exactly Einsteins, more often than not, black athletes sound as if they have no basic command of the English language. There are exceptions. There are very intelligent black players and many moronic white players, but as a general rule I have a hard time imagining many of these black athletes being able to function in an entry level college class. Thirty years of such post game interviews has instilled within me a generally bad opinion of black intelligence. 

3. Fifty years of the Great Society and its elevation of the power and importance of government as both provider and protector in the black community has baked into the black community a sense of entitlement. The almost complete disappearance of responsible fathers in the black community makes me feel at times that the pathologies that plague the inner city are mostly self-inflicted. Therefore, I generally resent being constantly told that more and more money needs to be thrown into the very same programs that have facilitated such self destructive behavior.

4. With the Pavlovian Dog appearance of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson at every exploitable incident involving race in this country, my reaction is that the black community has the leaders that it deserves. My dislike of these two odious men cannot possibly be sufficiently communicated in mere words. My hatred of them is visceral.

5. There is probably no single segment of America that I loathe more than upper class white fraternity kids. These children of privilege, the kind that appeared in the Oklahoma University video have never in their lives had to work for anything. None of them have had to overcome anything approaching a head wind. And while they sing racist songs demeaning blacks, a quick glance of their iPods would reveal mostly Hip Hop music. Every Saturday in the fall these same punks, dressed in their blue blazers and sundresses and pearls cheer wildly for the Sooners, a team dominated by black athletes.

6. The worst examples of overt racism I have ever witnessed over the years have been provided to me by people I go to church with. This fact has always been painful for me to admit. The fact that racism not only survives but sometimes has thrived within the confines of an establishment dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a profound embarrassment. In fairness, the church is also the place where my worst racial instincts have been challenged. It is also the place where I have met some of the most loving people, the people most dedicated to racial justice in word and deed. It is a mystery.

Well, that's a start I suppose. My basic default position on race relations in this country is that blacks have made much more progress here than any other place on the planet, and much more than their leaders are willing to admit, and white people including myself are much more racist than we are comfortable admitting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Redeemed


 

                                                              Part II

 

“Shut up!!” he screamed, “I swear I’ll blow your goddamn heads off!”

He was trembling. Martha noticed his wild eyes with two black lines drawn underneath, just like baseball players on sunny days. Tears and sweat had cut thin gray streams through them. His hair was jet black and hung down over his face, long and stringy. From his right earlobe hung a string of beads. He wore a denim jacket and a black t-shirt. His jeans were filthy, with huge holes in them, one of which exposed most of his right thigh. He smelled very much like a dog who had been left outside in the rain. Martha felt another thought on its way.

“Is it money you want?”

Henry cut his eyes abruptly towards her. “Why not just give him the key to the safe deposit box?!” he thought.

“That’s right, grandma!” he yelled, “I want your money, all of it.”

“I wish I could help you, but we don’t keep much money around the house.” Her voice was calm and clear.

“That’s right son.” Henry had finally found his voice and it was booming. “See, we’re senior citizens. Don’t have much need for cash. Now, we’ve got money in the checking account and plenty in savings down at the bank, but cash? No, just don’t have a need for it.”

The boy slumped back against the door and began to cry weakly, slowly lowering the gun until it hung quietly at his side.

“My name is Martha and this is my husband Henry.” Martha managed a relaxed smile. “What’s your name?”

The boy stopped crying and looked at Martha through his filthy hair as if seeing her for the first time. He lifted the gun and pointed it at her, then waved it at Henry. “You two bastards may not have any money, but I’ve got this, so shut the hell up, so I can think!”

“Such language,” Martha thought, “What perfectly repulsive language!” She began to think about his parents, trying to imagine what kind of people would allow their son to roam the streets looking and talking like this. She was suddenly overcome with compassion. The power of this strange emotion overcame her fear. She spoke with surprising energy and confidence.

“Well, if you won’t give me your name, I’ll just make one up. I’ll call you John. Are you hungry John?”

“What?” Henry asked.

“You look like you could use some supper. When was the last time you had anything to eat?”

John looked at Henry, then back at Martha, confused and terrified in equal measure, saying nothing.

Martha sprang from her rocker and confidently turned her back on them both, starting for the kitchen. “Why don’t we all go in the kitchen and I’ll throw something together. It’s easier to think on a full stomach.”

John screamed, “Wait!” He raised the gun again, pointing it at Henry. “You first, old man! Don’t try anything stupid or…”

“You’ll blow my goddamn head off, I’m guessing.” Henry was beyond fear and had lapsed into irritation.

They walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table. John’s face began to relax a bit but his knuckles were still white around the handle of his shiny black gun. Martha was busy going through the refrigerator.

“I hope you like chicken because it looks like that’s all we have. How about I make you a chicken sandwich and heat up some soup?”

John was silent, staring at them both, a thousand thoughts raging through is head.

“So John,” Henry broke the awkward silence. “What do you do? I mean besides breaking and entering?”

“Nothing.” He spoke. “I don’t do anything. This is the first time I’ve ever done this.”

“Well, I suggest that you make this your last time. There’s no future in a life of crime. Besides, you’re not exactly cut out to be a criminal.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, for starters, I’ve never met anyone who would be easier to identify in a police lineup.”

Martha placed a steaming bowl of chicken soup on the table in front of John. Beside it she placed a chicken sandwich on a paper towel. She then poured lemonade into a blue plastic cup. “Help yourself.”

John instructed Martha to sit across the table with her husband where he could keep an eye on them both. He wanted their hands on the table where he could see them. Then he laid the gun a few inches away from his right hand and picked up the sandwich in one clean motion. He took a ravenous bite and swallowed it almost without chewing.

“No manners either,” thought Martha. “What kind of parents must this boy have?”

He plowed through the soup with equally ill-mannered haste, sloshing noodles and broth over the rim of the bowl. Hot chicken soup ran down his chin and formed a small pool on the table.

“I take it that the food suits you?” Henry asked loudly.

“It’s alright, if you like chicken,” John answered without looking up.

“They tell me that they serve chicken soup three days a week down at the penitentiary.”

John finally lifted his eyes from the bowl and narrowed them at Henry. He gulped down the last of the lemonade and wiped his chin on the dirty sleeve of his jacket.

“There’s lemon meringue pie,” Martha offered, feeling uncomfortable with the silence. She walked over to the refrigerator and cut a large piece of pie and placed it on a paper plate in front of him. “Do your parents know where you are John?”

“I doubt it,” he answered with his mouth full. “They think I’m in college.

“College?”

“They think I’m studying to be a big shot at school.”

“But I suppose you found out that you didn’t need to go to college to become a big shot, right?” Henry boomed. “All you needed to do was to grow out your hair, buy some pants with holes in them and rob old people of their life savings.”

John reached for his gun and pointed it between Henry’s eyes. “You’re just like my old man. You think you’ve got all the answers don’t you? What’s your answer to this gun pointed at your head Pops? You got an answer for this?”

“Life insurance.”

“John! Please don’t!” Martha pleaded. She reached out suddenly and clutched his left hand firmly with both of hers. He jumped, startled and afraid and pointed the gun at Martha.

“Talk to me John. I’ll try to understand. I’ll listen for as long as it takes. You don’t want to hurt us. I know you don’t. Will you talk to me? Please talk to me.”

John softened his grip on the gun and once again began to cry. Martha squeezed his hand and touched his shoulder gently like she had done so many times when her two sons were young and angry. She pulled her chair closer to him and they began to talk, Henry keeping a sharp eye on the gun and wondering if his wife’s Good Samaritan instinct was finally going to get them killed.

They talked softly about his parents who didn’t even know that their son had dropped out of school months ago. They had separated two weeks after he went away  for his freshman year. He hadn’t talked to either of them in months. They had probably been counting the days, cutting little lines in a wall someplace every morning, waiting for him to leave. He hated them. He hated everyone now. Nobody wanted him.

Martha told him that he was wrong to think that way, that God loved him and had a plan for his life. He told her that he didn’t believe in God. There didn’t seem to be much evidence for his existence. Martha offered herself as proof. “How could I have possibly had the courage to turn my back on you in there a minute ago if it weren’t for God?” She never let his hand go. He looked straight into her eyes and the room fell silent.

Suddenly, Martha got up from the table, walked into the bedroom and returned with an El Producto cigar box. Henry’s eyes widened and his face went pale. “Martha, have you lost your mind?”

“Henry,” she answered firmly, “Remember the other night when you said that we needed a gun to keep around the house? Well, this young man has one and I think we ought to buy it from him”

Henry never took his eyes off of John while answering, “Yes, I remember using those exact words.”

John looked at Martha in disbelief, mouth ajar, waiting for an explanation.

“Look John, you need money. We need a gun. Let’s make a deal. How much did you pay for this gun?”

“I stole it.”

Henry came to life. “You hear that Martha? He says he stole it. Imagine that. I mean, what are the odds?”

Martha ignored her increasingly confrontational husband. “Well, supposing that you had bought it, how much would it have cost?”

“I don’t know. Two, three hundred dollars?”

“Henry? You think 300 is a fair price?”

“By all means, Martha. We have absolutely no reason to doubt the boy’s word.”

“Then it’s a deal!” Martha opened the box lid and pulled out a huge wad of twenty dollar bills as Henry buried his face in his hands. John watched her count out fifteen twenties and lay them on the table.

“I thought you said you didn’t have any cash in the house.”

“I didn’t…for a thief. But for a friend, I can always find some extra money.”

 She extended her hand to John, waiting for him to hand over the gun. She was calm and confident. Henry watched it all happening as if in slow motion. He loved his wife with all of his heart, but it was this sort of thing that had always driven him crazy, her undying faith in the goodness of her fellow man. All he wanted to do was rush this punk and beat him to within an inch of his miserable life and if this all had happened twenty years ago he already would have. Instead he prayed under his breath that God would deliver them from her naiveté. This wasn’t Les Miserable.

John reached across the table and swept up the twenties and stuffed them in his jacket pocket, still holding firmly to the gun. Martha held her breath and hoped that nobody could hear her heart beating. Then he rose from the table, looked at them both and slowly placed the gun in Martha’s hand.

‘Thanks for the meal,” John finally spoke. “I feel much better.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” Martha suddenly felt exhausted.

“I better be going now.”

“Where will you go?”

“I’ve got a place, an apartment. It’s ok.”

“Well, if you ever need anything, I guess you know where we live.”

Henry began to seethe. Was this punk about to get away with it?

The three of them walked down a short hallway into the living room. John crushing bits of glass under his feet as he made his way to the front door. He looked down at the glass as if noticing it for the first time.

“I’m really sorry about the lamp. Was it very old?”

“Been in the family for three generations,” Henry thundered. “It was an antique, an irreplaceable original.”

Martha looked across the room at John and smiled. “Just like you, John.”

Henry waited for a minute, then said, “I couldn’t possibly take less than three hundred dollars for it.”
John opened the door. He reached into his pocket and placed the crumpled wad of twenties on the Ben Franklin desk, then disappeared into the night, shutting the door gently behind him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Redeemed


Martha Rigsby knew her way around a rocking chair. Her father knew how to build one too back sixty years earlier when he had built this one. She swayed back and forth effortlessly, like something mechanical, keeping rhythm with the eternal ticking of the mantle clock, it too having been built by her father, the master craftsman.

It was 7:30 and this evening was progressing like all the others. Her husband of fifty-two years was in the kitchen cleaning up the dinner dishes, washing each dish carefully by hand, drying them with a clean dish towel and stacking them gently in the cabinet over the dishwasher. Henry Rigsby had bought the dishwasher from a Greek man who sold them from the back of a tractor trailer. He was told that it was “practically brand new.” He brought it home as a surprise for Martha on her birthday, six years earlier. Martha wanted no part of it, and had demanded that Henry return it  and get his money back, but he never saw the Greek man again. Of course, the thing didn’t work. They had called a repairman to come fix it but it was missing several pieces, so there it sat taking up space. Henry liked to point out that it gave the kitchen more counter space. It was a sore subject.

Martha shuffled through the paper until she found the sports page. She loved the summer months the most, because she loved to follow her beloved Cleveland Indians. Henry was to blame for her obsession with baseball since it was he who had made the mistake of taking her to her first Indians game forty years ago. She sat in the left 
field stands and fell in love with everything. She watched the outfielders chase down 
fly balls. She watched other fans scream epitaphs at several Indains for swinging at 
pitches that were a mile out of something called the “strike-zone.” She listened to the 
venders barking out enticements for peanuts, popcorn, hotdogs and beer. She watched the Indians get beaten 16-2. She wouldn’t allow Henry to leave the game until the very last Indian had struck out in the bottom of the ninth. She wondered how people could be so rude as to leave in the middle of a game. She felt embarrassed for the players, so much so that, over the vehement objections of Henry, she wrote a scathing letter to the editor as soon as got home, blasting the Cleveland fans for deplorably bad manners. She became a baseball fan for life.

Martha shook her head from side to side as she read the box score. “Worst pitching I’ve ever seen,” she said to herself, “We’ve got no pitching.”

“What’s that, Martha?” Henry’s thundering voice startled her the way it always did. “I can’t hear you. I’ve got the water running.”

It’s our pitching,” she responded, “worst I believe I’ve ever seen.”

“You say that every year. I think it’s time you got behind a different team. How about one of the teams from California? The Dodgers have plenty of pitching.”

“Why should I follow a team from California?”

“Because that’s where our two sons live and our grandchildren. Seems perfectly natural that their grandmother would start following the Dodgers.”

Martha turned the pages aimlessly for a while, then folded the paper neatly and 
placed it on the coffee table beside the TV Guide. Henry walked passed her and lowered himself, like a dish, carefully into his recliner. The front of his pants was wet in a dark blue line just below his belt. Martha usually never failed to remind him that if he would wear the apron he wouldn’t get his pants wet, but tonight she let it go. He reached for his book on the coffee table. For the hundredth time he read about the trials and tribulations of Ishmael, Queequeg and Ahab. In his seventy-nine years nothing had proven as consistently delightful as Moby Dick. With each new reading he would somehow find something new. He read with the wide-eyed excitement of a school boy.

Martha watched him reading as she worked on a cross-stitch calendar she had started three years ago. As she looked at him she remembered how she once used to wonder what he would look like when he got old. Back then she believed that he would be remarkably wrinkle free, with a full head of salt and pepper hair. He would be handsome at any age, she had been convinced. She smiled to herself when she considered that she hadn’t been far off.

“You know Henry, you turned out to be a rather distinguished looking old fool, if I must say so myself.” Martha had surprised herself.  She had done that a lot lately. Words would come flying out of her mouth before she had a chance to measure them and calculate their effect.

“Well, of course I did.” Henry never looked up from Herman Melville.

Then suddenly, “Are you fulfilled Henry?”

“Yes Dear. Dinner was wonderful. I couldn’t possibly eat another thing.”

“No, no, are you happy? Are you content? Do you have regrets about our lives?”

Henry took off his reading glasses, folded them and placed them teetering on the arm of his recliner. “What kinds of questions are these?”

“They’re perfectly natural questions for people our age to ask.”

“OK. Actually, I couldn’t be happier. I’m 79 years old, reasonably healthy, married the only girl I ever loved, and I’m not in a nursing home.”

“I’m certainly not the only woman you ever loved.”

“Well, you’re the only woman I ever loved who would agree to marry me, and now that I think about it, I do have a regret…that I never got involved in real estate.”

“I just find myself thinking about these things more now than ever before. I think about everything we’ve done and I realize how much of a charmed life we’ve lived.”


“God has been good to us,” was Henry’s stock reply whenever Martha would start with one of her “have we been faithful stewards” speeches. After a while he picked up his glasses, found his place in the book and once again launched into the deep.

The front door flew open wildly, slamming into the Ben Franklin desk, sending the stained glass hurricane lamp onto the floor where it exploded into a thousand slivers of glass. He held a gun tightly with both hands fully extended in front of him. He slipped on the shattered glass as he scrambled to shut the door behind him.

“Either one of you moves, I’ll blow your goddamn head off!” His voice shook like the voice of a child. Sweat poured from his face and his eyes were wild and lost. Henry was motionless, waiting for his heart to start beating again. He held Moby Dick in a death grip. He tried to speak but his mouth couldn’t form the words. Martha looked into the eyes of the young man before her. She felt her mouth go dry and all the color drain from her face. Her fingers and toes began to tingle. She felt the vague sensation of a thought about to be spoken. “Is there anything we can help you with young man?”

                                                            To Be Continued

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Window Shades of Death



 

Well, at least Lucy doesn't look any worse for the wear. Here she is, paws crossed, completely at peace with herself, guiltless and guileless. Meanwhile, I am contemplating a Sunday morning trip to Patient First.

Yesterday, I awoke to a strange yellow ball on the horizon. The further it rose in the sky, the warmer it became. A quick Google search revealed that this was, in fact, the sun. I resisted the urge to find a calf and butcher it at the top of the nearest mountain. Instead, I thought it might be fun to take Lucy to my office while I paid some bills, a little morning outing with my loyal dog at my side.

We rode over to the office without incedent. Upon arrival at the empty parking lot I walk up to the front door with my keys and briefcase in my right hand and the handle of Lucy's leash in my left. 
She is a bit wary at this point since she's only been here a couple of times, but so far, so good. Then it 
gets tricky. The welcome mat at the front door is still wet from the recent snow so I don't want to set my leather briefcase on it while I unlock the door. Instead, I jam it between my knees. I then unlock the door and swing it open. As I do so, I hear the timed chirping of our alarm system which gives you thirty seconds to enter, and punch in a password. Failure to do so will set off an ear-piercing sound and launch a call to the police. After throwing the door open, I stuck out my backside to prop it open so Lucy could enter, while simultaneously reaching for my briefcase. That's when the fun started.

The front door to our our office is adorned with wooden shades, large, clingy, wooden shades which make a loud clapping noise when you brush up against them. When these shades collided with my rear end, the loud clapping sound sent Lucy into a terrified panic. Instead of entering the building, she bolted for the parking lot...practically ripping the leash handle from my hand, and jerking my left arm back at an odd and very abrupt angle. So, there I was, the door propped open, my briefcase dropped on the wet mat, trying desperately to coax Lucy into the office, all the while, the countdown of death chirping inside! Trying to calm down a lunatic dog while coaxing her to enter a building through a door with wooden shades emitting scary sounds is hard enough. Try doing it when right at point of entry the intruder alarm goes off!! Lucy spent the entire time pacing nervously in my office, shaking like a leaf. In retrospect, not my best idea. 


About an hour later, I headed over to AmFam for a workout. Once there I noticed that my left shoulder had started to hurt... A LOT. Instead of lifting weights, I opted for an hour session on the treadmill, all the while, my surgically repaired shoulder barking it's resistance. Now, 24 hours later, after a fitful night's sleep, it is killing me. I'm afraid I may have ripped something apart in there. Not good.


So, I will go over to see my maniacle Indian doctor at Patient First, get it x-rayed and hope for the best. Dog ownership isn't for sissies.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Slippery Slopes

The list of Golden Retreiver Rules I put on Facebook yesterday is one of the coolest things I've run across in quite some time. It's so funny precisely because it is so true. When Lucy arrived we too had all sorts of noble plans. This time it was going to be different. THIS golden wasn't going to take over not only our house, but our lives too. Five months later she strides around here like she owns the place...because she does!


The gist of this list of rules is the infamous "slippery slope" argument. This is the line of reasoning, usually employed by politicians when losing an argument, whereby it is contended that if a relatively benign and insignificant thing A is allowed to pass, it will slowly but surely lead to catastrophic plague B. We heard it most recently in the Net Neutrality debate. Now that the camel's nose of government regulation is under the tent, surely censorship of content and rate hikes will follow. We also heard it with regards to the gay marriage debate. Allow gay people to marry one another and before long people will be rushing down the aisle to marry their parakeets.

However, despite the overuse of the device, slippery slopes do in fact exist. No one can seriously argue that there isn't a ton more vulgarity on television than there used to be. Today in prime time, there is more profanity, graphic violence, and nudity than there was in R rated movies from forty years ago. So, it was a slippery slope from the censors allowing the sound of a toilet flushing on All in the Family in the 70's to Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Some will argue that this is a good thing. But just like the famous frog and the pot of boiling water, the American people would have melted down the phone lines if an episode of Family Guy had been aired in 1970. But now, we don't bat an eye.

My point is that it is true that every society evolves, and in doing so we constantly test the limits of things. Sometimes little compromises, small, seemingly minor decisions do lead to unintended consequences. We can argue about what leads to what, but we can't argue that actions taken today will never have unforeseen consequences tomorrow. There's a phrase for it....the slippery slope.

Will Net Neutrality lead to excessive government meddling? I hope not. Will Fred marrying Fido be commonplace in ten years? I think not. But this I do know. There isn't a person alive today who was born before 1960 who ever would have believed that a President of the United States could survive getting caught having oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern. But he did. Imagine how long Harry Truman would have lasted under the same circumstances? 

Slippery slope indeed.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dueling Weatherpersons

Oh boy. Here we are on the cusp of another winter storm, which can only mean one thing...the revenge of the weather nerds is upon us. 

That's right, the Internet has been buzzing with NAM's, EURO's and GFS's for days now. With each new run of these computer models, meteorologists great and small burst forth with their latest predictions. Barely comprehensible maps appear with lots of colors and squiggly lines offering visual "explanation" for why we can absolutely, positively count on 2-8 inches of snow. Each of these forecasts comes with the requisite weasel words which allow the meteorologist with enough ass-cover to allow for plausible deniability if we end up getting nothing but rain. But it's all great fun, and as far as I can tell, the professionals have about the same record of accuracy as the growing legion of homegrown, do-it-yourself weather forecasters...like my friend and former youth pastor Jeremy Welborn. Weather forecasting seems to be the hobby of choice for the kind of people who might have put together model airplanes or collected stamps fifty years ago. Apparently, anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can take up this new hobby. The best part of meteorology is the fact that, just like baseball, if you're successful just thirty percent of the time, you're in the Hall of Fame.

This particular storm must be something special because it seems that each of our three local TV guys has a different forecast. Our infamous, and obnoxiously arrogant Internet weather expert,who prefers the exotic "DT" changes his forecast about every thirty minutes and produces more incomprehensible maps than anyone. He also provides some level of entertainment by constantly berating his television competitors for being "idiots and morons." Whenever the TV guys wind up being right, DT lowers the cone of silence over his operation before finally explaining that he was actually right all along but we were too stupid to understand his superior, if nuanced, models.

 So, depending on who I chose to listen to, I'm prepared to endure each of the following; a day of cold rain followed by a bit of sleet, a wintry mix( an ass-covering formulation if ever there was one) which may or may not switch over to all snow anywhere between 11 am and 4 pm, or a brief interlude of snow that could drop anywhere from a trace to ten inches of the white stuff, in an area that may include all of the eastern seaboard, or may be confined to an area the size of New Kent County.

I prefer the old days of George Carlin's imagination and his famous "hippy-dippy weatherman"...

"The temperature outside is 52 degrees at the airport...which is stupid since nobody lives at the airport. Tonight's forecast...DARK, followed by widely scattered light in the morning. Tomorrow's weather will be dominated by a large Canadian low.....which is not to be confused with a Mexican high!!"