Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's official...I'm an idiot

There are times in life when something happens which calls into question the actual level of your intelligence. After a while you get to the point where you develope a sense of how smart you are or at least how smart you think you are. You do this primarily by comparing yourself to those around you. While I may not be as smart as Steve Jobs, I'm pretty sure I'm a little sharper than the guy who rings up my toiletries purchase at CVS. I may not have the cognitive capabilities of Stephen Hawking, but I could probably win a battle of wits with the tattooed woman who cuts my hair at Sports Clips.

But then last night happens and you're just not sure anymore. 

As many of you know, yesterday...the 29th of June...was the third anniversary of my Mother's death. I was naturally feeling a bit down when I settled in to my recliner to read last night. I decided to find the picture of my parent's headstone/grave plaque on my cell phone that my sister Paula had sent me a while back. It had taken forever for us to get the thing finalized, and the cemetery people had finally installed it a couple of months ago. We had to order Dad's from the Veterans Administration because of his military service, so it had been a long, drawn out affair. But it had turned out well. I actually went over and looked at it on the first anniversary of Dad's death a few weeks ago, my first ever solo visit to the place. I remember thinking that it was quite beautiful. 

When I pulled the picture up on my phone, I was stunned. It was like an outer body experience. I looked closer, enlarging the picture to its maximum size to be sure I hadn't lost my mind. But there was no escaping the fact that I am an idiot. For there on my iPhone was the unmistakable evidence for all to see:

                                          Betty Dixon Dunnevant
                                      Sep 3 1930                  June 20 2012


Surely, I couldn't possibly have told them the wrong date of death. It's got to be their fault for writing it down wrong. I tried to recall the meeting with the strange woman at the cemetery. I remember how difficult it was deciding what four words we would chose to eulogized her. I remember the computer screen where the woman was typing in everything into a template to make sure it would fit. There's no way I could have told her the 20th when it was the 29th, right? Nobody is that stupid.

So, I will go over there today and find out if it was me or the pros at Westhampton Memorial Park. Meanwhile, somewhere in heaven, I would like to think that Mom is getting a good laugh out of this. She never liked cemeteries anyway. The nerve of those people trying to cheat her out of nine days! The weird thing about all of this is that I have looked at the picture of this thing at least twenty times, even went to see it in person and stared at it for fifteen minutes...and never noticed the mistake until last night. How could I have missed it?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

City of God, or City of Man?

Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its verdict on gay marriage, a thought, or more precisely a collection of thoughts have been bouncing around the vast empty spaces inside my head. Then I had a text conversation with my son yesterday afternoon. He mentioned that in the sermon he heard at Christ Church Episcopal in Nashville, the priest had mentioned Augustine's great work, The City of God. It occurred to me that the thoughts banging around up there weren't all that original, since they had much in common with the ramblings of an Algerian philosopher from the 5th century! I suppose that there's nothing new under the sun, but here's what I've been thinking about.

Perhaps, the nine black-robed justices have done American Christianity a huge favor. Maybe now, having been disabused of any notion that evangelical Christianity enjoys majority support in this country, the church can be decoupled from politics in general and the Republican Party in particular. Maybe now, Christians will get back to the real work of Christianity which is the betterment of mankind through the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I come from a faith background which has always closely identified itself with our country and mostly conservative politics. Although it was rarely if ever said publically, the clear implication was always that Christians were, or at least ought to be, conservative Republicans. Some of this was a result of the fact that generally speaking, Republicans tended to be pro life and Democrats pro choice. Most of the devout Christians who I have known in my life have been consistently against abortion, viewing it as the taking of a human life. Although, I agree with them about abortion, I have never been a one issue voter. I have always been persuaded that choosing a political leader is a terrible mess of a thing that requires a million trade offs and that the man or woman you ultimately choose will be part saint and part sinner. So I always felt that closely associating your church with one side of the political divide in an overwhelmingly divided country made little sense and in fact was bad for business.

Now that we Christians have come to the realization that our views, by and large, are out of favor and we are no longer the dominant fashion of thought in this country, we can all now take a step back from political activism, in favor of delivering salt and light, the roll that Jesus invisioned for his disciples. As exiles from the dominant culture we will be better able to identify with other marginalized segments of society...in other words, the kind of people who Jesus hung out with. Perhaps now that we realize that we can't create the utopian (American) city of man, we will concentrate on the City of God. Which brings us to Augustine.

Now, I'm no Augustinian scholar,(actually I'm not any kind of scholar), and I don't claim that I have read all twenty five books that make up his seminal work. I'm more like a guy who had to read the Cliff Notes version for a paper I wrote my sophomore year at UofR. But, I remember the big stuff. After the Roman Empire was overrun by barbarians at the beginning of the 5th century, the early Christians were getting the blame from many Romans who thought that ever since Constantine had established the new sect as the official religion of the Empire, things had gone downhill. Enter Augustine, with City of God, a full-throated defense of the faith, and it's many contributions to society. But for Augustine, there was a difference between the kingdoms of man and the kingdom of God, and confusing one with the other would lead to trouble.

While my citizenship is American, in the mind of Augustine my first citizenship isn't secular, but sacred. When the power of the state finds itself aligned with the eternal truths of the faith, all benefit. But when the state runs afoul of God's laws, a separation must occur. One goes one way and one another. 

However, when the state and the church start to be seen as two sides of the same coin, both the state and the church are in trouble. The state becomes too powerful, and the church becomes impotent. There should always be a tension between the two. The goals of the modern nation-state often flow from base motives, the desire to exert power and dominion over smaller, weaker neighbors for example. If the church is seen by the world as part of the government, it will also come to be seen as equally base. Now that many Christians are waking up to the idea that maybe, just maybe, 
our salvation lies somewhere other than political power, we can once again be free to administer grace and comfort to a screwed up world in desperate need of both.

On the other hand, the church may respond to a culture that doesn't agree with them on gay marriage, by trying to mobilize those who do into some sort of crypto-religious-lobbying-influence peddling special interest group...exactly the sort of thing that our Lord and Savior would never have done. The battle for hearts and minds isn't fought in a committee. There are no precinct captains in charge of feeding the hungry, no district chairmen in charge of comforting the downtrodden. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a fully engaged citizen and taking part in political work, politics is a poor substitute for the gospel.


Chill Out!!

Alright. I've just about had enough of the gloom and doom apocalyptic nonsense on Facebook. Nothing that has happened this week is the end of the world. So, let's put the sack cloth and ashes back in the closet, and calm down. You, like me, might have thought that the Obamacare decision was the equivalent of legal dyslectia. Maybe you disagree with my opinion that the gay marriage decision was the right one on the merits. Regardless of how you come down on the Supremes, or the Confederate flag, or anything else that may have rocked your world this past week, there should be a couple of things about which we can all agree...

1. On the very day that the gay marriage decision was rendered, ISIS militants staged a public execution of three homosexual men somewhere in Syria. The three were suspended by their ankles from the top of a three story building, then dropped headfirst into the pavement below to the celebratory cheers of a gathered mob. None of us live in Syria. This is a glorious accident of birth for which each and every one of us should be grateful.

2. Tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court not withstanding, I will wake up in my five bedroom, climate controlled home after a restful night in a king-sized rice carved poster bed. I will walk downstairs and grind up a cup of coffee beans from Nicarauga and while waiting for them to brew, I will open up my iPad and instantly be connected to all of the wisdom of the world by way of a platform that as recently as 25 years ago didn't exist. I will drive my beautiful Cadillac CTS all of two miles to my beautiful and spacious office where I am paid handsomely for providing financial services to nearly 500 of the best people in the world. All of this is mine despite the fact that my father was the son of a sharecropper, and my parents once lived in a trailer park. 

3. Despite the chaos of national politics, the Dunnevant family biannual beach vacation is only three weeks away. I get to spend seven days with the coolest family God ever created, and nobody in Washington has any power to stop me.

4. Although gay couples can now marry in these United States, the Chicago Cubs still will not win a World Series this year.

5. While ObamaCare is now firmly entrenched in American law, the Washington Nationals still need to find a consistent power hitting first baseman.

6. While it must be acknowledged that Christianity, at least the Evangelical version of it, is now firmly outside the mainstream of American political thought, it was even further outside the mainstream of political thought in Ancient Rome , but oddly enough experienced its greatest period of growth at precisely the same time as its believers were being used as fuel to light the street lamps.

Chill out everybody. Let's figure out a way to get along with people with whom we disagree. In the meantime, let's all count our blessings.

Name them...one by one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Week of the Supremes

This past week saw two monumental Supreme Court decisions which produced the widest possible reactions I've ever seen on my Facebook wall. The Obamacare case was either the death knell for the rule of law, or a victory for the poor. The decision on gay marriage was either a triumph for love or the end of democracy in America. Chief Justice John Roberts was either a man who has grown in his time on the bench or a duplicitous traitor. My view:

1. My reaction to the ObamaCare ruling was resignation, since words, long ago, lost their meaning. It seemed clear to me that the court had no appetite to overturn the apple cart which contained this mess of a law and it would be willing to twist itself into linguistic knots to rule in favor of this monstrosity. This is what happens when laws are 2000 pages in length and written by think-tanks and other varieties of professional idiots. "Established by the states" becomes just about anything you want it to mean. So now the Supreme Court has now developed a new line of work, that of copy editor of poorly crafted legislation. 

2. In May of 2012 I published a blog entitled, "Having a Gay Rights Debate With Myself," where I began to hash out my thoughts on this subject. A year later I published a two-parter on the same subject, once again trying to outline my thinking on what for me has been a troublesome issue. Having already stated my view, I will not again rehash it. When the decision came down I wasn't surprised. It was strange because at once I believed that on the strict matter of recognizing the right to marriage for gay people, the court had gotten it right with respect to due process and equal protection, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel that this ruling will not be the end of things. In my heart of hearts I believe that some in the vanguard of this sexual politics movement will not be satisfied until every vestige of opposition is humiliated. Tolerance will not be enough, neither will equality in
the eyes of the law. Nothing short of celebratory acceptance will do. If there is a sizable slice of the
population who doesn't care for gay marriage...they must be made to care. My son assures me that this isn't the case. He thinks it absurd to worry that a gay couple would deliberately ask a church to perform their wedding ceremony knowing full well that they will decline, therefore creating an opportunity for yet another legal challenge...this time going after churches and their bigoted view of scripture. He reminds me that during the debate Justice Kagen pointed out that certain Jewish Rabbi's refuse to wed Jews to non-Jews and are constitutionally protected in doing so. He tells me that my slippery slope concerns are overblown. I hope he's right. When I observe the unprecedented speed with which the gay rights and now transgender rights movement has advanced, he will have to allow me my ambivalence.

For me, this week has demonstrated one very good thing. In America, we endure great changes in policy and law with scattered placards and assorted bull horns. On the steps of the Supreme Court were partisans from both sides of these raging debates, and when the verdict was announced one side
cheered wildly, some shed tears of joy, while the other side felt crushed by the news, shedding their own tears. But there was no violence. Nobody killed anyone. Free citizens competing against each other in the realm of ideas played out their cases within the architecture of democracy, and accepted the results without bloodshed. In the grand sweep of history, this is a very new and very rare phenomenon. In this fact I take great pride and a great deal of comfort. 


Friday, June 26, 2015

Any Ideas on Who Should Replace FDR on the Dime?

There are times when I think that Western Civilization is about to implode on itself from the sheer volume of stupidity that it produces. Some deranged, drug-addled teenager shoots nine people in a church and suddenly there's a mad rush to airbrush from our shared history any traces of racism in our ancestors. A breathless CNN reporter, while interviewing another CNN reporter asks, "I'm wondering if perhaps we need to rethink the Jefferson Memorial in Washington. Should we really have such an imposing memorial for a slave owner in our nation's capital?" In my own city, protesters have gathered on Monument Avenue to protest the statues of Stonewall Jackson, A.P. Hill and Robert E. Lee. Overnight, one of them spray painted Black Lives Matter across the base of the Jefferson Davis monument.

I came out quite a while ago as being in favor of removing the Confederate Battle flag from the state capital building in South Carolina. I did so because the state house is a government building and as such represents all people. Like it or not, that flag has been appropriated by racists for over a hundred years, and as such it is painful for a significant percentage of our population. There isn't much that any government can actually do to irradiate racism from the hearts of its people, but removing that flag from the roof of a state capital building seemed like a decent and wise thing to do. However, give progressive lunatics in this country an inch and they will devour the mile in less time than it takes to whistle Dixie.

So, while we are at this business of airbrushing our history, here are a few suggestions:

1. If we are going to take down the Jefferson memorial, then why not the Washington monument? I mean that's a twofer since not only was he also a slave holder, but the Washington monument has got to be the world's largest phallic symbol, an ugly reminder of the mysogynistic, patriarchal nature of the power structure of our nation. Perhaps this could be the first order of business for a Hillary Clinton administration.

2. Andrew Jackson on our twenty dollar bill? Really? I know he's the father of the Democratic Party and all, but Jackson was the brains behind the forced exile of native Americans from Florida via the trail of tears. Replace him with Harriet Tubman...another twofer!

3. Take the change out of your pocket and take a gander at the dime. Who is that handsome man? Why, none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt...the man responsible for the internment of thousands of law abiding Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during WWII simply because of their race! At some point we will have to put Obama's likeness on some form of our currency, why not the dime?

4. Abraham Lincoln is on the penny AND the five dollar bill. This one is tricky, I know, what with the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing the slaves and all. But old Abe was also the first President to employ the modern concept of total war, authorizing as he did the infamous slash and burn tactics of Sherman's March to the sea. By turning a blind eye to the systematic destruction of property, killing of civilians and the raping of women, Lincoln was culpable in the very tactics that we now deplore when perpetuated by ISIS. No, I'm afraid Lincoln will have to be scrubbed from our money and something or someone will have to replace the big statue in Washington. 

We have a lot of work to do. In another ten years we won't even recognize DC. Looks like Obama wasn't kidding when he promised to fundamentally transform America!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Modest Proposal

Don't be alarmed by what I'm about to write. I'm simply thinking out loud, and writing down the thoughts as they come to me, without the bothersome chore of actually fact-checking any of what you're about to read. It's all very scattered, but most of it is based on the extensive reading I have done on this subject over the past five years, so it's not complete BS. Try to keep up!

Ok, so the United States has a national debt of something in the 17-18 trillion dollar neighborhood. Anyone who has purchased a Treasury bill is a creditor. That includes the Chinese government along with your crazy uncle Fred. A creditor is defined as a person or company, or government to whom money is owed. So we owe some 7 trillion to other countries, and a whopping 6 trillion to...ourselves, in the form of future obligations to Social Security and whatnot. So, we can't just stiff ourselves. But when it comes to what we owe other countries, that number cannot be viewed in isolation, it has to be compared to what those other countries owe...us, does it not? For example, we owe the Chinese roughly 1.5 trillion bucks...give or take a small fortune. However, the Chinese government owes US somewhere around 1.4 trillion. We owe Japan 1.3 trillion, they owe us 1.2 trillion. In fact, if you add it all up, what we owe other countries is pretty darned close to what they all owe us.

So, how's about we just call it even? Write off the whole mess as a giant misunderstanding and start all over. To sweeten the pot a little maybe we could throw New Jersey in to the Chinese to cover the short fall. While we're at it, we could write off those insane trillions that we owe to the freaking Federal Reserve in the form of loans they made to their own government back during the Great Recession of 2008. If you're hoping I can explain the Rube Goldberg contraption that is inter-governmental borrowing, you are hoping in vain. Hint: even Janet Yellen can't explain it. 

Now, the deal with national debt is this, in and of itself it is neither good or bad, it just IS. As long as your economy is growing at a 5-7% annual clip, a 18 trillion dollar debt financed by low interest rates can be grown out of. However, our economy, post recession, has been growing at an annual rate of somewhere around 2%. In Economics, this is what is referred to as "being up Shit's creek." So, either we figure out a way to 1. ramp up economic growth, 2. dramatically cut spending to slow down the need for further debt, or 3. default. 

I would prefer #1. Economic growth at 6% tends to lift everyone up, and has the added benefit of being fun. However, politics being what it is, neither party has the ability or the inclination to put in place a pro-growth program, since neither party can even agree on what growth is or even if it's a good thing!  If there's anything that the American people should know by now is that #2 is never going to happen ever again. For politicians of both parties, economic growth isn't nearly as much fun as spending other people's money. So expecting Washington DC to cut spending is akin to expecting John Boenher to give up his tanning bed. That leaves the only reasonable alternative being # 3.

President Obama: I've called this press conference today to announce that as of midnight last night, the United States of America has decided to default on all of our foreign debt obligations. In return, I have authorized the Department of the Treasury to forgive all the outstanding debt of every country who owes us money. Thank You..........drops microphone.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Best Years of Your Life

What happens if you wake up one day and come to the conclusion that your best days might be behind you? For my younger friends, this isn't likely to happen, but if you're over fifty, at some point the thought might rear it's ugly head. This is not a matter of depression or even anxiety, rather a frank admission of fact with a keen eye towards the calendar. I am 57 years old, and as such have most likely lived roughly two thirds of my expected life span. I've got thirty years left, more or less, not counting the occurrence of some freak accident or act of God. The question then becomes, will I accomplish as much, create as much, do as much over the next thirty years as I did since I was 27?

Much has changed in the last thirty years. In 1985 there were things that I knew to be true:

1. I was about to become a father. I knew what my job was as a man. My job was to provide for my family. I was willing to do whatever it took. I also needed to provide a stable environment for my kids to grow up in which meant primarily...loving their mother with all of my heart.

2. I loved my church in 1985, not everything about it, but the big things, I loved. I was in a Sunday School class full of young couples our age all struggling with the same stuff, being taught by a guy who was one of us, a laymen who could teach circles around most seminarians. I got challenged every week with something from the bible that was applicable to my day to day struggles. As a consequence, I felt like I was making spiritual progress of some kind, becoming a better person little by little. 

3. I knew who we were as a country. America was a gigantic rowdy stew of discontent, even thirty years ago, but there was still the conviction that we were great, a nation of more good than bad, a force that stood for something noble, or at last made an attempt to. Maybe we weren't actually great, but there seemed a shared notion that we should at least aspire to greatness. By greatness, I suppose I mean that we thought of ourselves as leaders of at least the free world. When the Berlin Wall came down, it was as if we had finally prevailed over the totalitarian inclinations of the world. 

4. In 1985 my family had its organization and hierarchy perfectly in tact as it had always been. My Mom and Dad were the leaders of a growing tribe. They set the pace for the rest of us. It was all so reliable and comforting to know and understand one's place in the world.

I knew more than just these four things, of course, but these four formed the basis of my understanding of what life was about. Today, everything has changed. Some things have changed on the margins, but other things are completely unrecognizable to me:

1. My kids are grown and gone, and with them most of the fire that they put in my belly to make money. Now that I'm not under such financial pressure, it's hard to know how to downshift my internal engine to a lower gear without tearing up the transmission. I'm afraid that without huge overwhelming obligations, I will lose the competitive drive that has been one of the keys to my success in the business world. I feel myself scrambling around for new goals, something freshly pressing, a new rabbit to chase.

2. I'm still at the same church. Many, although not all of the people I knew thirty years ago are still there. The fact that I no longer feel enriched, challenged or motivated by my attendance there isn't all the fault of the church. In fact most of my discontent is my own fault. In matters spiritual the fault almost always lies within I'm told...especially by ineffectual clergymen. So, I feel adrift from my faith community, as the kids now call it.

3. The America of 2015 is no longer the leader of anything except social pathology statistics. We have been surpassed by other, more aggressive nations in the categories that used to measure influence. This isn't the fault of any President or party, it just is. We are fractured, divided by a laundry list of issues, with no common ground in sight. At last count there are 13 announced candidates for the Republican Party nomination for President in 2016. Still, everyone knows deep down that it will wind up being another Bush vs. Clinton matchup. That's who we are now, it's the best we can do. Instead of doing something about runaway debt, a cratering education system and the actuarial doomsday clock which is the American welfare apparatus, we seem obsessed with making the world safe and affirming for the likes of Caitlyn Jenner. Sexual identity politics has now eclipsed racial identity politics, or maybe identity politics has itself been eclipsed, since everything is now fluid and evolving. We're all aggrieved now for one reason or another. 

4. My family is still large, loud and growing, but leaderless. Mom and Dad aren't here anymore. We who remain are trying to figure out what happens now at Christmas. It's a strange season of life when the big lights go out all at once. When they do, I suppose it's natural to stumble around in the darkness for a while waiting for your eyes to adjust.

So, the question lingers, are my best days behind me? What will the next thirty years bring? I feel like I need to regroup, call a timeout and draw up a new battle plan. The plays I have always called in the past might not work against this new world of slippery assumptions. I had a teacher one time who tried to help me learn how to spell the word assume. He said, "always remember Doug that when you assume, it always makes an ASS out of U and ME. Poor guy would get fired for using that trick today. The point is, the days are long gone when I could assume anything about life. Black is white, up is down, left is right, so I'll have to learn to roll with this new world. There's no going back. What's in the past is finished. Whatever time that remains will have to be fought over and won.

My Father's Day Lesson

Father's Day is over and I'm glad. I must admit that I started the day feeling a bit sorry for myself. I was missing Dad and my kids. Church wasn't any help. It was one of those horribly awkward services where instead of a sermon, you're asked to get into small clusters of half a dozen of your fellow congregants and pray about various things. I suppose it's designed to promote unity or some such thing, but for me it's just awkward and annoying. Prayer isn't something I like to do, on command, with strangers. So, that was the low point of my day.

Then we headed out to my in-laws for a Father's Day lasagna lunch. There was key lime pie for dessert. Things were looking up. 

Pam had to head back to church soon after lunch for the beginning of VBS, so I would be alone for most of the rest of the day, not something I was looking forward to on such a melancholy day. I popped three Advil, turned the heating pad on "high" and laid down in my trusty recliner for a nap.

When I awoke, there were two messages on my phone, one from each of my kids issuing an invitation to join them for a "FaceTime" chat. First up was Patrick. He looked good, sounded good and happy. I watched him and his dog Oliver do some pretty cool tricks. His room looked about as clean as straight as I have ever seen a room that belonged to him. It appears that dog ownership has forced him to become a better housekeeper, since whatever you leave on the floor becomes potential dog food. We had a nice talk. I started to feel better. Next up was Kaitlin and Jon. There they were sitting on their sofa with little Jackson next to them chewing on some dog toy looking squeezably soft. They too looked happy. We talked about our upcoming family vacation in Hatteras. By the time this call was finished, I felt a lot better. I had no reason to feel sorry for myself. I needed to snap out of it. How could I complain? My Dad lived to be 89, and was loved and adored by everyone who knew him. I have been blessed with two kids who are smart as whips and busy building their lives, and who love their Father enough to Face Time him on Father's Day. Stop your whining, Dunnevant.

So, around 6 am I settled in front of my television to watch the U.S. Open. Four and a half hours later I watched Dustin Johnson three putt the tournament away, handing the second major of the year to young Jordan Spieth. It was heartbreaking. I have nothing against Spieth, in fact I love the kid. I just always hate to see any athlete fail so spectacularly. Johnson could have won the Open if he sank the first putt, would have guaranteed himself a spot in an 18 hole playoff against Spieth, which he probably would have won, by simply brushing in the second four foot putt. Sadly, he missed them both and in a matter of seconds went from the thrill of victory to the agony of humiliating defeat. Brutal.

That was my Father's Day. Started out poorly. I had to endure a bout of brooding discontent. But then my wonderful kids, along with their beautiful dogs, picked me up. Next year will be better.


Friday, June 19, 2015

A Joke Test

I saw a joke on the Internet the other day that I thought was funny. There was a picture of a man face down on the aisle of a grocery store with the caption: Man down..aisle six! The joke proceeded to explain how he got there...

A man and a woman were grocery shopping together when the man reaches for a couple of six packs of beer and loads them into the cart. The woman says, "What do you think you're doing?" The man replies, "It's my favorite brand and they are on sale, two six packs for only 8 bucks." The woman quickly puts the beer back on the shelf. "No way I'm letting you waste money on that nasty stuff!" The man looks disappointed but makes no reply. A little later they are on the health and beauty aisle when he sees her place a jar of face cream in the cart. " What do you think YOU'RE doing," he asks. The woman says, " This is my brand of face cream and its on sale for 20 bucks. This stuff makes me beautiful." The man quickly places the face cream back on the shelf and says, "Two six packs of beer makes you beautiful too and we can save 12 bucks!"

Initially I thought that this was a pretty funny joke. But the more I think about it the more I realize how terribly out of step this sort of joke is in today's culture. The above paragraph is packed to the gills with loaded trigger words, micro-aggressions, and misogynistic stereotyping, not to mention how blithely it treats the very serious problem of alcoholism, and domestic violence. Here we have a classic example of a joke that manages to reinforce a virtual laundry list of destructive pathologies for the purpose of cheap laughs. Are we supposed to actual find humor in a man that must consume 144 ounces of beer before he can find a woman attractive? Are we supposed to laugh at the prospect of a woman who resorts to violent assault as a response to mere rudeness? Once again a joke portrays a woman as a moral scold and a man as a crude and thoughtless ape. Instead of laughing, we should be outraged at these gender-based stereotypes.

Ok...of the two previous paragraphs, which one is funnier?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I am now a TRANSTAXUAL.

Someone once said that life is but a series of teachable moments. If that is true then for the last couple of weeks, school has been in session. I've leaned all sorts of things, thanks to Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal.

From Ms. Jenner I've learned that gender isn't about biology as much as it's simply a social construct. The roles that society has assigned to men, women, boys and girls are arbitrary and full of patriarchal biases. The sexual hardware that you are born with can no more define who you are sexually as being born Caucasian can any longer define who you are racially...enter Ms. Dolezal. She self-identified as black despite the fact that her parents were both very white. What matters for Dolezal was how she felt, not what she, in point of fact, was. Powerful and impressive new words and phrases have crept into my consciousness. I now know what gender fluidity means. I now understand that truth is no longer transcendent. Truth has now become a personal possession, as in "my truth", much like a handbag or a golf club. When they wear out, we can simply get new ones.

My discovery of these new realities has caused me no shortage of anxiety. I'm now considered an older man, white, privileged and something other than middle class, so the air is thick with condemnation for my kind among the new cultural elite in America. But there is no reason that it has to be this way. A person doesn't cease to learn, grow and evolve just because he happens to be white, relatively well off and male. I intend to make the best of this new world. I'm going to embrace the new possibilities that have presented themselves to me courtesy of this new personal truth fluidity thing. If what matters in life isn't objective reality but how I feel, then I say...what the hell?

I today declare myself a TRANS-TAXUAL man. In my heart, at the core of  my very being, I truly feel like I have paid enough taxes already. When I add up all of the taxes I have paid over the last twenty years or so of my business life, it is staggering. From federal payroll taxes to both halves of FICA, to Virginia state taxes, down to personal property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, and all of the taxes hiding within my eight page Verizon bill, I'm done with them. Besides, I identify much more with people who don't pay any taxes. For years I have denied who I really am as a taxpayer. I used to just go along to get along like everyone else. But then I started being punished by the tax system,(talk about your social constructs!!), for my success, losing one deduction here, another over there and before you know it I was paying an obscene share of my income to the government. But now with the advent of taxpayer fluidity, its a brand new world. My personal truth is that I've paid enough, so to be true to myself, which is now the ultimate truth, I'm just not going to pay anymore. 

Now I realize that there will be those out there who will object to my new truth declaration. I will be accused of having ulterior motives, of being a tax-cheat, of dodging my civic responsibilities. Well, to quote that great philosopher Taylor Swift, " haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate." It takes great courage to go public with this announcement, and I will take comfort from the support of my real friends and family as I make the transition from tax-payer to free-loader.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Five Thoughts

Here are a few random thoughts which happen to be ricocheting back and forth inside the vast empty spaces of my brain:

1. Lebron James is the best basketball player on the planet, a fact that is clear enough to me, an uninterested, non-fan of the game. It is even more clear to the millions of basketball aficionados out there. But, the fact that he went to the trouble of saying it the other night is just one of the many reasons why he will never be beloved. Americans generally don't like athletes who say such things about themselves. Yes, Muhammed Ali was the greatest of all time, but at the time he was telling the world, he was despised by most people. We much prefer humility in our athletes, especially the great ones. But I suppose it's hard to be humble when you're as great as Lebron. Still, other greats have managed it...Walter Peyton, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken all managed to go an entire career without any "taking my talents to South Beach, I'm the best in the world" nonsense. 

2. It occurred to me the other day that in the entire time that Jesus was on this Earth he never once instructed us to point out the sins of others. That was his job. He did however constantly emplore us to love our neighbor. I say this because I read something a few days ago about the often heard phrase...love the sinner, hate the sin, which sounds kind of right but isn't exactly biblical, not to mention extremely hard to do. I'm pretty sure that we are supposed to hate our own sin. Making a big production about other people's sin is called judging, and is generally frowned upon by our Lord and Savior. Besides, I have enough sin in my own life to keep me plenty busy, I'll let God deal with what the guy down the street is up to. Of course, prophets, preachers and priests have a different gig that allows them to talk about sin in general and condemn it from the rafters. But the rest of us should mind our own business, I think.

3. With Father's Day coming up, my kids won't be here with me...again. Although that truly stinks, it's not the end of the world. They are busy building their lives, and I don't begrudge them that. Being a Father is the single greatest accomplishment of my life. What Pam and I brought into this world trumps everything else we will ever do. Fatherhood is the greatest privilege afforded to a man. 

4. With nearly 40% of the season gone, Bryce Harper's on base percentage sits at .480. Wait...what?

5. Donald Trump is running for President. Last night I watched his announcement speech on YouTube. Holy crap, what a circus. Roughly 40% of the stuff he said was 100% true...China is kicking our ass, the folks flooding into this country across our southern borders aren't scientists and philosophers, the Iraq war was a huge mistake. But to hear a casino-building ego-maniacal, self-promoting huckster like Trump declaring himself a candidate for the office once occupied by Thomas Jefferson disturbs some basic law of political physics, doesn't it? Maybe it's just me.

Ok, that's all I've got today. Check back tomorrow and I'll try to do better.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Fury of Memories

This week has been lurking in the shadows for a while now. I've seen it on the calendar. I've known it was coming, and I've been dreading it. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my dad's death, followed ironically by Father's Day this Sunday. 

Truth be told, this past week was no bargain either. I have been living under a black cloud of sorts ever since my visit to SunTrust bank to close out my parent's checking account. The melancholy that has settled over me, combined with a very painful neck and an expiring air conditioner and furnace replacement bill has made for a bad week indeed. Yes, I know...poor, poor, pitiful me. There's nothing worse than reading a whiny blog, especially when it proceeds from someone who has been as formidably blessed as I have. 

Still, I miss him terribly. And this week I will find it difficult to say anything new on the subject. I will republish pieces I wrote a year ago when it was fresh, the one I wrote at 2am the morning after he died, the euology I gave at his funeral, and a story I wrote about about what it was like to be the 13 year old son of Emmett Dunnevant. 

This week I'll run the risk of boring you. Some of you might find yourselves annoyed by it all, and honestly, I wouldn't blame you if you did. I made the ridiculous statement in Dad's eulogy that I was "done with grief." In hindsight, that may have been the single most ignorant thing to ever come out of my mouth. I may have felt Iike I was done with grief, I know I hoped I was, but the truth is that grief wasn't done with me. Most of the time it leaves me alone. Weeks pass when I am free of it. But then I stumble upon a memory, and it storms back to life. 

My grief isn't about regret, there is no unfinished business, no words that should have been spoken. It's simply about sadness and loss, the finality of death. The problem is that he is forever gone, permanently removed from this realm. While my faith promises eternal life, it doesn't promise to bring my Dad back in time for dinner tonight. It doesn't promise to let me take him to a ballgame again. It doesn't allow me to tell him about the amazing year that Kaitlin had as a second year teacher in Columbia, South Carolina. It doesn't allow me to tell him about Patrick's adorable girlfriend. There is a vast, permanent chasm between him and me. I am learning how to live with it, and most of the time I manage very well. But not this week. The calendar has unleashed a fury of memories. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Enduring My Biennial Beat Down

Well, at least it's over. I have endured the biennial beat down that is the Dunnevant Family Yardsale, that self-inflicted celebration of masochism masquerading as a family tradition. The 2015 edition featured 95 degree heat and stifling humidity. One might assume that such oppressive heat would have the effect of thinning the crowds. One would be wrong.

They came. In relentless, pulsing, sweating tides, they came. There they were at 7am as we were removing the giant green tarp from the great pile of knickknackery. By 9am their numbers could legitimately be categorized as teaming. At noon they were still there, picking through what remained despite the sight of a dozen Dunnevants packing up boxes and folding up tables. It was like some kid had kicked the top off an anthill in Mechanicsville and suddenly the ground was crawling with bargain hunters. And boy, were there ever some bargains.

My neck cooperated fully with events by barking at me all day long. It was so considerate of my two bulging disks to bark excessively loud every time I got out of the sunshine. No no, that would not do. If I wanted to get through this day it would have to be outside in the sun, the Saharan heat providing some degree of comfort. So, my job for the day would be to roam the crowd of shoppers goading them into buying stuff they didn't need or want. My technique combined false advertising claims with guilt shaming...

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to draw your attention to this table of men's and boy's apparel, by pointing out that several of these shirts were worn by Elvis himself!"

Hapless Customer: How much will you take for those three lawn mowers?
Me: Make me an offer.
Hapless Customer: Do they work?
Me: Absolutely not!
Hapless Customer: (appears crestfallen)
Me: Look Pal, you have any grandsons? You look like you have grandsons. Just look at those oversized wheels on those babies. You could take those and make that boy a go-cart that would make him the envy of the neighborhhood! You're part of the Greatest Generation, am I right? You guys are famous for tinkering with crap! Why, I bet you could break down one of those engines and have that baby purring like a kitten in no time!
Hapless Customer: Well, er....I 
Me: Sure you can! Tell you what, for YOU...listen, give me twenty bucks and you can have all three of them, and I'll even help you load 'em in your truck!

Elderly female customer: Excuse me sir, but does this DVD player work?
Me: Does it work?! I have to say Ma'am it disturbs me greatly that you would accuse me of offering defective merchandise for sale. See that note attached that says, 'still works great'? Well, aside from the sketchy grammar, I can assure you that truer words were never spoken.
Elderly female customer: Yeah, well let's plug it in and see.
Me: Ahh yes, we have a Ronald Reagan customer on aisle 5!! Trust...but verify!

When all of the entrepreneurial dust had settled, this gaudy celebration of horse-trading had netted us over $900. 

God Bless America.




Friday, June 12, 2015

The Perils of Yard Sale Preparation

Last night Pam was going through the contents of a box she had retrieved from the attic, looking for items to sell at the upcoming Dunnevant Family Yard Sale. Inside she found a book entitled, "Deck the Hall, Family Memories & Activities." It was one of those Norman Rockwellian keepsake books into which you wrote down a record of special things you do at Christmas. Unfortunately, it was quickly overtaken by the blunt instrument of technology so notes from only three Christmas' past were registered...1991, 1993, and 1994, 1992 apparently being the Christmas that time forgot. What follows are a few sentences that caught our eye.

1993. Kaitlin was 6, Patrick 4. Here was our schedule:

Christmas Eve 4:00 pm Exchange gifts at Al & Cindy's
                       5:00 pm Dinner at Granny Til's
                       9:00 pm Christmas Eve service at Grove
Christmas Day 5:30 am Kaitlin wakes up.
                        6:00 am Opened presents with the kids
                        8:00 am Breakfast at home featuring eggs, banana bread,Apple cranberry casserole
                       11:30 am Drive out to Mom's ( the White's )
                        1:00 pm Lunch with present opening to follow
                        5:00 pm Drive to the Dunnevants in Chester for present opening and snack supper.
                                      All 18 family members spent the night and went to Enon Baptist church the 
                                      next morning, since it was Christmas Sunday.

We managed this with a four year old and a six year old. I don't remember any meltdowns. Perhaps there were some, but we were so exhausted those memories got permanently erased from our addled brains. Then there was this:

"Snow the Thursday before Christmas. Just a dusting, but I took the kids caroling through the neighborhood...Paula and Ron expecting a baby...Sean's first Christmas (had a fever)...Sharon separated from Tom...Kaitlin saw Santa and his sleigh in the sky on Christmas Eve...She was worried about whether she'd been good enough for Santa to come...Patrick wanted every toy he saw advertised."

At this point Pam was sitting in the hall at the top of the stairs crying her eyes out.

Stupid yard sale!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Sad Day

Today I did something that I have been putting off for a long time. I drove over to SunTrust bank and closed out Mom and Dad's checking account.

I told my siblings that I was waiting to make sure there was nothing outstanding that needed to clear first, and that wasn't a complete lie...just not the whole truth. There hadn't been any activity in their account in nearly six months. No, I had been putting it off because, a part of me didn't want it to be finished. It was the last tangible connection I had to them.

Around four years ago, it was discovered that Dad had made some sort of error in his account that resulted in a rash of bounced checks. I remember being shocked when it happened because he was always so fastidious with his affairs, so conscientious and orderly. I was called in to find out what the problem was and soon after took over all of their finances from that point on. Dad had made a math error, then several others, and before he knew what had happened, he had a real mess on his hands. While trying to reconstruct what had happened, I discovered exactly when it started. His handwriting gave it away. Suddenly out of nowhere his fine, bold hand became an illegible scrawl, his checkbook an incomprehensible muddle. It took a while, but eventually I got it all straight, and I would spend the next four years paying their bills.

When it first happened I was dreading it. I have a hard enough time keeping all of the other checking accounts in my life organized, was I really ready for another? But something strange happened along the way. I began to actually enjoy it. A couple of times a month, I would drive out to their house and sit with them at the dining room table and pay bills. We would laugh and joke around. Dad seemed releaved to be out from under the responsibility. Sometimes Mom would get all up in the pictures about something and I would tease her about being a lunatic. Then she would fix me something to eat before I left. After Mom passed, I would pay bills every other week during one of the nights that Pam and I brought dinner to Dad. He was always so thankful, so grateful for every little thing I ever did for him.

It's almost been a year. Dad died on the 16th of June, 2014. It took me almost a year before running out of excuses for keeping his checking account open. For me it was the last piece of physical proof that they existed. And now it's gone, closed out, shut down. When I returned to my office I fed their remaining box of checks through the shredder.

I'll be ok. In a couple of days I'll have gotten over it. I'll realize that I have other proofs of their existence, namely, my brother and two sisters, and all of their children. Ryan, who looks just like Dad. Kaitlin, who has Mom's insanely thick hair. Patrick, whose innate sense of right and wrong, his hatred of anything unjust, was planted in his heart by the blood of his grandparents. There's evidence all around me, come to think of it. 

Now that I think about it, Mom and Dad always cared so much more for all of us than they ever did about what was in their checking account. 

It wasn't even close...

Operational Philosophy of Life #1

I have made an editorial decision here at The Tempest. From now on, I resolve to have nothing to say about any news item that concerns allegations of police brutality. It's not that I don't care about such stories, it's just that it doesn't matter.

Over the past couple of years it seems that there have been hundreds of incidents of policemen behaving badly. There emerges jumpy video that seem to catch the cops red handed in some excess. Then the brightest lights of the grevience industry show up, bullhorns in hand, to fan the flames. Soon a catchy slogan is born...Hands Up, Don't Shoot...Black Lives Matter. But then counter-factual evidence begins to emerge calling into question the initial rush to judgement. Mitigating factors contribute to a new narrative that seems to at least partially exonerate the police. But by that time, it's too late. The protests, sometimes violent have already begun and there's no turning back.

Then it's on. Liberals are out for blood, convinced that the police are no different that the Gestapo of Nazi Germany. Conservatives go all in with the police, decrying the soft on crime anarchy of the left. You look at Facebook after any of these incidents and you will see clearly drawn battle lines with no room for dissent. If you show any sympathy towards the protesters, or question the tactics of law enforcement, you will get hounded by the law and order crowd. If you show support for the cops, you'll be judged as just another priviledged, racist white guy who doesn't think that black lives matter.

So, I've decided not to go there ever again. Part of the reason I have made this decision is because of one of the operational philosophies of my life which is:

" With regards to any subject about which I develope a strong opinion, there is at least a 50/50 chance that I will eventually be proven wrong by events."

What follows is a partial list of just a few of the many things about which I have been proven very wrong during my life:

1. There is nothing of value above the Mason-Dixon Line.     Umm...Maine.
2. The Republican Party is the party of small government.
3. Lebron James is overrated.
4. Indian food is gross and you have to sit on pillows when you eat.
5. Walt Whitman was an over-hyped hack.
6. My son will never make it through college because he's so disorganized.
7. Jon Manchester isn't good enough for my daughter.
8. If I can just make $------- a year I'll be happy.
9. God is interested about my views on tax policy.
10. Eventually the Cubs will win a World Series.

So, with this formidable track record, I will exercise restraint with respect to writing opinion pieces about something as incompetently reported and evidence-free as domestic unrest.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Nothing-Speak

I have a language problem. I mean, other than my epic punctuation, spelling and grammar issues, not to mention my perpetual struggle to maintain tense agreement. No, what I mean by a language problem is the growing tendency among business leaders, politicians and ministers to use mountains of words towards the purpose of saying absolutely nothing.

Years ago I was at a company convention at some exotic locale having a fine dinner at an awards banquet. After dinner we were introduced to a guest speaker whose resume was filled with prestigious jobs in government. I had never heard of him, but he looked the part and seemed to have quite the pedigree. He walked to the podium to polite applause and then began speaking. It took about five minutes or so for everyone to realize that he was talking complete nonsense. It was all English, all complete sentences, but the words had no coherent meaning. Slowly, everyone began glancing sideways at each other with perplexed expressions. Suddenly, the entire house realized that he was a comedian. The laughs started coming fast and furious, mostly out of relief that we hadn't lost our minds.

I'm not sure that guy's act would work today. We wouldn't get the joke. We are so conditioned by nothing-speak we wouldn't even notice.

Listen to any politician on the stump and you will hear nothing but an insipid collection of poll-tested jargon and calculated buzzwords. "We face difficult challenges ahead, but the things that unite us are greater than the things that keep us apart." First of all...not true, secondly, that sentence is a blank canvas onto which the listener can paint any interpretation he wishes. Sort of like, "We are the change we have been waiting for." Really? What kind of change? Change from what to what? How long have we been waiting? Who exactly is "we?"

But it's not just politicians, businessmen do it too. Listen to any CEO give his quarterly report and you will hear what sounds like some foreign tongue. " Our revenue projections were negatively impacted by the synergistic effects of a global paradigm shift in the investment culture at major financial centers around the world." Translation? We had a crappy quarter.

Preachers, alas, are not immune from nothing speak. You want to sugar coat a hard sell to your congregation...you tell them that what you are about to say has been the result of a "journey of faith." If you want to cut off any potential opposition, all you have to say is that the thing has been "bathed in prayer" and that God "has been speaking clearly" at every stop along the way of the "journey." Who wants to object to something that has been the subject of such a long and arduous ordeal of faith? Have we been on such a journey? Then who are we to object?

In each example I have given, the politician, the businessman, and the preacher want to minimize opposition, downplay bad news or poor performance, with the added benefit of saying nothing of substance that might get them in trouble later. It's actually a pretty sweet linguistic trick. The problem is that America, the company's shareholders, and our churches are poorly served by this epidemic of empty words. Don't most of us want people to just tell the unvarnished truth? Isn't it exhausting to constantly have to read between the lines in life? Wouldn't all of our lives be less complicated if our leaders were more like George Patton and less like Dwight Eisenhower? 

Maybe leaders today believe that we the people can't handle the truth. Maybe they're right. If so, shame on us. Until we demand plain spoken truth, we will continue to get risk free nothing speak.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Thanks, Facebook.

Had lunch with an old friend yesterday. I hadn't seen him in years. We were close in college, two working class townies surrounded by a couple thousand rich kids from New Jersey, but our lives took off in different directions and we had drifted apart. But a few weeks ago we found each other on Facebook, that great cyber-detective of the Internet, and before long there we were having lunch at Joe's Inn.

He looked good, not very different from how I remembered him. We began to catch up over a fried chicken club sandwich and homemade potato salad. After twenty minutes or so he laughed, "This is great. Thirty-five years ago all we talked about was women. Now we spend lunch together talking about our surgeries!" Sad, but true.

We talked about our kids. His daughter had just given birth to his first grandchild. I was jealous. We talked about our successes and our failures. He had endured a difficult and acrimonious divorce, is there any other kind? He was just now rebuilding relationships with his kids, and coming out from under the financial devastation of the thing. Listening to his story, I couldn't help but feel grateful for my wife.

As we talked, it occurred to me that I can count on two hands the number of people on this Earth who I have a personal, thirty-five year history with. Generational friends are a rare thing anymore. We are so transient, so scattered, our attention spans so short. It's far easier to just lose the connection, to simply move on to the next thing in life. But when we do, we lose something valuable. We lose a life connection. We lose the things and the people who anchor us to the world. I'm getting to old for that, too old to neglect the old friends.

It was a great lunch. We promised to do it again soon and I believe we will. 

Thanks, Facebook.



Friday, June 5, 2015

The Tyranny of Palindromes

I'm old enough to remember when it was suggested that if you played certain Beatle songs backwards, you would hear satanic messages. I could never figure out how to play albums backwards on my record player, so I dodged the bullet on that one. Some residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania haven't been so lucky.

The Port Authority, which is in charge of Pittsburgh's city buses, announced that it would begin removing an advertising slogan from it's buses after complaints that when read backwards, it was offensive to some. The marketing campaign began several months ago and included "Rockin' Rollin'...and Movin' Groovin'." However, when the latest incarnation of the campaign premiered a few days ago, the trouble started. It seems that, " Ziggin' Zaggin, when viewed in a rear view mirror, was highly offensive, since it so clearly co-opted a very famous Rap lyric with no attribution. No wait...

Although the Port Authority acted swiftly in agreeing to remove the hateful message, some Pittsburghians didn't understand what all the fuss was about. According to CBS Pittsburgh's reporting of this story, Antwon Manson of the Hill District said, " Who really thinks about reading it backwards? It's 'Ziggin' and 'Zaggin'. A vehicle zigs and zags through the city to pick somebody up. It's a ....BUS."

At this point probably over half of you are thinking that I'm making this story up. In the four years that I've been writing this blog, I have been known to pull your legs on more than a few occasions. Recently, I sent an e-mail to the large Dunnevant family that I thought was clearly, propostourously satirical. But satire is often in the eye of the beholder, since more than one of my family was convinced that Patrick was about to bring a ravenous, attack dog to Hatteras for beach week! 

But, believe me when I tell you, I'm not making this up. This actually happened in Pittsburgh this very week. We now live in a country where the easiest job in America is being a writer for the Onion. All you have to do is read a newspaper. Overt, in your face, racial epitaphs are horrible and should be shamed, but now we must guard from the covert racism of words that someone might see in a mirror, spelled backwards and take offense. Wow.

Well, just as a precaution for any advertisers out there, here are some other potentially reverse trigger words that you may want to avoid.

1. If I'm on a diet, I better not see the word STRESSED.
2. Brent Musburger is clearly an agent of Lucifer with his famous introductory tag line, "You are LIVE..."
3.Recovering alcoholics might be launched into a bender if they see the word, REGAL.
4. The NRA is probably behind the phrase, "All SNUG in their beds."
5. Twinkle, twinkle little STAR????

Life in America has now become a gauntlet of potential offenses. The public square is teeming with trigger words, micro aggressions and privileges that need to be checked. So, keep your heads down out there, and just to be on the safe side...leave your mirrors at home!




Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How To Pick a President

As of 6:30am this morning, June 3, 2015,  there are over a dozen officially declared Presidential candidates, three Democrats and nine Republicans. There will be more to follow in the coming weeks. How in the world is a person supposed to make an informed decision from such a long and formidable list? How does a citizen do his civic duty to the Republic amidst all the media spin and misinformation? Fear not, for I have compiled a helpful list of questions to help with this monumental decision. I do so now, a full 18 months prior to the big event, for those of you who hate waiting to the last minute to make up your minds. As a bonus, this handy voter's guide is completely and totally non-partisan, as it applies to you no matter your political leanings. So, let's begin, shall we?

First, a little quiz. Below you will find a list of qualifications for the highest office in the land. Which ones are actual, constitutionally mandated qualifications and which are not?

1. Must be a natural born citizen of the United States.         TRUE
2. Must be a male.                                                              FALSE
3. Must have attained the age of 35.                                    TRUE
4. Must have resided in the U.S. for the past 14 years.         TRUE
5. Must not already have served two terms as President.     TRUE

That's it. That is the sum total of what our constitution has to say on the subject. Our founders cast a wide net indeed.

Ok, next, let's go over some of the other non-constitutional qualifications that have grown up over time. Some of these are in fact excellent requirements for potential Presidents, others not so much.

1. Must be a person of unimpeachable moral character.

We Americans desperately want to believe this one. Many of us insist on only supporting a cross between Andy Taylor and George Bailey. Who among us wouldn't feel better if all of our Presidents had Jimmy Carter's ethical core, Harry Truman's family life and George Washington's character? Well, the trouble is, moral fiber doesn't necessarily translate into great leadership. There never has lived anyone who possessed a more finely calibrated moral compass than my mother, but she would have made a perfectly dreadful President. My mother's unimpeachable moral character wouldn't have saved her from the demands of the office. She lacked the education and life experiences required to effectively lead something as large and unwieldy as a nation. (although she could have whipped up a batch of homemade biscuits that would have had the French Ambassador eating out of her hand!) Sure, being a morally admirable person would surely help in the Oval Office, but the history of the job is full of highly effective men who weren't exactly Boy Scouts...Thomas Jefferson and FDR spring to mind.

2. Must be a lawyer.

At first glance it would appear to be true since 25 of our 44 Presidents have been lawyers. But, in point of fact, those who haven't been lawyers form an impressive list, among them...George Washington, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes. It might interest you to know that we the people have seen fit to elect three school teachers, three farmers and a newspaper publisher to the highest office in the land.

3. Must have government experience.

Probably a good idea, but not necessarily FEDERAL government experience. Most Americans place FDR and Ronald Reagan at or near the top of best Presidents, many also add Bill Clinton to that list. All three men were governors first, with Reagan and Clinton having no experience on the federal government stage. There's something to be said for having the executive experience of actually knowing how to run something, how to delegate, how to build consensus, etc..something that being either a CEO or a governor provides. On the other hand, being a mere Senator offers zero practical governing experience since a Senator's job is essentially to talk.

4. Must have foreign policy experience.

......I guess so.

5. Must have served in the armed forces.

There was a time when military service was an unspoken requirement for the presidency, especially after World War II. After that war, we elected nine consecutive Presidents who had served in WWII. Not until Bill Clinton did the string end. In all, of the 45 Presidents we have elected,  fully 33 of them were former military. To be fair, it should be pointed out that FDR didn't serve, for obvious reasons, and did pretty well. Although the four Presidents we elected before FDR were all without military experience and none of them were exactly Hall of Fame material. So, who knows?

6. Must agree with me on the ALL-CONSUMING issue that is most important to me.

Each of us has that one big thing that we are passionate about when it comes to politics. For some it might be term limits, or taxes, immigration, or abortion. For others it might be Obamacare, drug laws, gay marriage, or the catastrophe that is the designated hitter rule. If you fall into this category, you're what is known as a single-issue voter. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) but, you need to understand that your big issue will occupy your new President for approximately ten minutes of his four year term. Then he or she will turn their attention to lots of other stuff. So, good luck with your pet issue.

7. Must be a member of the same church denomination as me.

As far as I know, only three of our Presidents were Southern Baptists...Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, a decidedly mixed record for this strategy. We Americans have been rather even handed in the distribution of denominations. There have been two Congregationalists, three Disciples of Christ, four Methodists, eight Presbyterians and a whopping twelve Episcopalians. For good measure we threw a couple of Quakers in the mix, four Unitarians, one Catholic and five with no denominational affiliation whatsoever, amoung them Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. So, I'm thinking that we should discount religious affiliation when shopping for a President....since we aren't tasked with electing a preacher.

Here are a few more things to consider when making this decision, although what follows might be considered a bit partisan, since they are personal to me. 

MAKE SURE YOUR NEXT PRESIDENT DOESN'T HAVE:

1. A criminal record.
2. An annoying facial tick.
3. Chronic acne.
4. A really irritating spouse.
5. A lot of inherited money.
6. A lot of shady friends.
7. A history of ill-health
8. An embarrassing, poorly qualified running mate.
9. A green card.
10. An infatuation with Taylor Swift.

That's all I've got, but I hope that this has helped serve as a check-list of sorts. The truth is that whomever we elect as our President in 2016 will be a mixed bag. He or she will have some excellent qualities and some glaring weaknesses. On some issues we will be in perfect agreement, on others we will be miles apart. When we vote for someone we do so largely on faith since we will know virtually nothing about who they really and truly are, so effective are their handlers. Sometimes it's a gut feeling, an intuition, indeed...a hope.  But, I'm thinking that if we all use this handy how-to guide to picking Presidents, we might actually get lucky. 

You're welcome.






Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Men of a Certain Age...




This is the picture that greeted me yesterday morning on every single news site I visited at 6 am. This was big news. The man whose Sports Illustrated cover photo once graced the walls of my bedroom in 1976 has been reborn as "Caitlyn" and lionized by none other than Annie Leibovitz.

I am told by sophisticates that what the former decathlete has done is "brave." Mrz Jenner her-himself has spoken of how he-she finally feels free, that for the first time in his-her life isn't living a lie. The fact that this picture is on the cover of Vanity Fair purportedly says something about our evolving culture, the chattering classes intone. The photographic talents of Ms. Leibovitz have at least saved us from the ghastly decision of whether to place "Caitlyn" on the cover of Playboy or Playgirl.

For men of a certain age, the spectacle of seeing perhaps the greatest American athlete of the past fifty years wearing a silk camisole is deeply unsettling. I count myself among this unsettled group. I harbor no ill-will towards Bruce-Caitlin. I want everyone to be happy. I can't imagine what it must have been like to train for the decathlon all the while hating yourself for being in a man's body. That's an existence that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. But, why must all of this truly amazing plastic surgery be proclaimed to the world below the masthead of Vanity Fair magazine? Herein lies the difficulty that I have. It seems like suddenly, irretrievably, we have decided to celebrate things that, historically speaking, fifteen minutes ago we prescribed therapy for. You can either view this phenomenon as some sort of supercharged burst of sublime progressive evolution, or you can worry that we have gone stark-raving mad. Seriously, who among us a mere twenty years ago would have thought that this sort of thing would get the sort of fawning treatment it has gotten today? A brave new world we have.

So, I wish Bruce-Caitlyn the best and hope for him-her that the remaining years of his-her life provide the happiness that he-she has been denied. 

One nagging question remains...I wonder why he chose to spell his new name with a "C" rather than the trademark "K" of his famous reality television family?

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Great Maine Lake House Adventure

Maybe the neck is getting better. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking. This morning it wasn't as stiff as it has been and I didn't feel the need to take three Advil as soon as I rolled out of bed, a good thing. We'll see.

June has arrived. For my business year, June the first is an important day. I devide my corporate year into three parts. January 1 through May 31 is the busiest time. I schedule and execute 70% of my client annual reviews during the first five months of the year. June 1 through August 31 is the slowest part of the year. My clients and myself are busy with vacations and whatnot, so things slow down. From September 1 through the middle of December things get busy again. Each passing year accentuates these divides. As a result of this happy condition of a mid year slow down, buying (or renting ) a summer vacation home has always been a goal. For the past ten years that goal has been deferred because of the monumental task of paying for the college education of my two smarty-pants kids, and then my daughter's fabulous wedding. But, thankfully all of that is behind us.

So, during our wonderful week in the Cayman's, Pam and I discussed the topic of a vacation home in earnest. We talked about the where and why and when of the thing and it became quite clear to me that her heart is still in Maine. A place in Hatteras or Nags Head would be more convenient, accessible for spur of the moment, last minute weekend getaways. But Maine is much more beautiful, and carries with it the allure of magical memories. With a lake house in Maine, the logistics are horrible, but everything else is sublime.

So, we have begun the long, hard search for our "Maine Family Compound." It will be much more modest than the Bush's place in Kennebunkport, and won't require the Secret Service, but it will hopefully be a place where my family will make a million memories.