Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Christmas Dragon?



My neighbor has an otherwise beautifully decorated house, adding much to the festive atmosphere of our very jolly cul de sac. But for reasons unknown to this writer, he has chosen to erect this giant, nine foot tall Christmas Dragon right in the middle of his front yard. It’s one of those inflatable things and has the added feature of ginormous fully functioning dragon wings that when fully extended measure ten feet from tip to tip. The only thing missing from this thing is fire coming out of its mouth...but to make up for it, he does have fire in the belly, as it were, which gives off the impression of dancing lights traveling to and fro throughout the abdomen of this beast. 

I am informed by my neighbor that his Christmas dragon has as it’s inspiration a character from the Battlestar Galatica television series...I suppose i should be grateful that my neighbor isn’t a fan of Jabba the Hut.

Here’s all I know. I will never in a million years take Lucy for a late night stroll past his house during this Christmas season. If she were to catch a glimpse of this towering inferno of ferociousness, wings a-flapping, the poor girl might spontaneously combust from the terror of such a sight!

Can We Talk?



Can we talk? My name is Lucy and I am good girl. I live in house which in best of times, a very scary place, but never more than at time called Christmas. My humans bring whole tree in house without consequence...when I try to bring one lousy stick in house, they not happy...go figure. 

Anyways, lately the trees are everywhere. Lights and chords coming out of lights. Everywhere. And boxes. Let me tell you abouts the boxes. One room in house is stacked full. Large, dark boxes stacked to heaven. Even though house now have more boxes than ever, at least ten times a day, scary men drop more boxes on front porch, forcing me to hurummph and growl and bark. You try taking nap with this foolishness! Not as easy as I make look!!

Now, today it get worse. Today, I hear human say it time to “wrap” all of dark scary boxes. I remember this wrap business of which he speak. This is where human place box on table and then wrestle scary and loud paper onto box amidst many angry words. It put human in foul mood. No snuggles or head scratches for me today. I lucky if they remember to let me out to tinkle. By end of day box room will look like bad storm. Human will have paper cut and run out of tape. Always run out of tape.

From my picture, you can tell how much I worry. Still, human will ask why I not eat all dinner...while boxes stacked all around, stacked to heaven. Still, human ask this not smart question. Soon, it will be over. Trees will go away. No more boxes. 

Then, I eat like normal dog, and will be good girl again.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Joe Biden and Meghan McCain

By now most everyone has seen the clip of Joe Biden comforting John McCain’s daughter on The View. It appeared on my Twitter feed, of all things, posted by Jake Tapper of CNN. I almost didn’t click on the thing because...well, let’s just say that The View is ordinarily the sort of television show that I wouldn’t be caught dead watching. But, I was told that it was heartwarming, so I watched.

It wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t some sanctimonious, fact-free, feelings heavy diatribe against the latest faux outrage of the day. It was just Meghan McCain talking about her Dad’s struggle with cancer. She was trying to tell Joe Biden what an inspiration his son Beau had been to her Dad when she lost her composure and began crying. These were not contrived, crocodile tears, these were real, flesh and blood tears that came from a place of deep sorrow and pain. Suddenly, Biden gets up from his chair and moved closer to her, reached out and held her hand and began comforting her with stories about how much he truly loved her father, and how much his son had also loved him. Here was a man stained by cancer, stung by the loss of his son, moved by compassion and love for the daughter of a man who for most of his life has been his political enemy. Biden being Biden, it was full of warm stories and self deprecating attempts at humor. The whole thing was over in three minutes. It was worth the click, as it created in me a longing for something that has vanished from not only our politics, but our society at large...decency.

The reason this episode went viral is because we can hardly believe it’s possible for two political foes to actually love each other as dear friends. We are so accustomed to vicious acrimony and sharp division, that when we see love and tenderness being honestly demonstrated we are shocked by it, astonished that it still survives in 2017. Our political divisions are stark and widening. Our differences increasingly personal. There exists a wide chasm in our public life which seems impossible to cross. Those on the other side have taken on the appearance of monsters, people with whom no accommodation is allowed, or even desired. I’m not naive, the most extreme voices in our country belong to some truly reprehensible people. I get it and I understand that some of the views being espoused by those extremes should be challenged. There are times when lines must be drawn. But, when you step back from the extremes, most of us are divided over issues that can be dealt with by compromise and conciliation. Do we honestly think that in the careers of John McCain and Joe Biden, there have not been profound and passionate disagreements between the two? Then, how is it that the two of them count each other as close friends?

Here’s how...

Almost five years ago, I hired one of my clients as my assistant. She was smart, had a background in the business world, and was willing to work for slave wages. (Just kidding!!). She has become invaluable to me. She works hard, is a quick study, always shows up on time, executes all assigned duties with vigor and competence. Over these past five years she has also become a dear friend. I’ve gotten to know her and her family. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who are about ten years behind my two. Her stories of their struggles are so familiar to me. I laugh at her family stories. She laughs at mine.

And you know what? The two of us are at opposite ends of the universe when it comes to two things...religion and politics. Sometimes she looks at me like I’ve got two heads when the subjects come up. We both think the other is so wrong about so many things!!! Probably exactly how Joe and John have gone at it for the past thirty years. See, on many of the biggest things in life, honesty, loyalty, compassion, trustworthiness and honor, my assistant is unassailable. Our political and religious disagreements do not define us, our friendship and respect for one another does. 

Our parents used to tell us that it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

They were right.

So, thank you, Joe Biden, for demonstrating to us what being a decent human being looks like.







Tuesday, December 12, 2017

An Election in Alabama

I’m told that there’s a special election in Alabama today with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance. It’s an election to replace former US Senator Jeff Sessions, who took a job as Attorney General in the Trump administration. It features the infamous Roy Moore running against some democrat, who ordinarily wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance in this reddest of states. But, this is 2017, and Judge Moore has some rather unpleasant baggage. So, there’s a chance he could lose to the random democrat guy who’s running against him. A lot of political heavyweights and entertainment stars have turned up in Alabama over the past few days. Whoever had...There will be a Uma Thurman sighting in Alabama...in the office celebrity-sighting pool just made a fortune. Robocalls have been recorded and deseminated across the state’s phone lines, which I’m sure has delighted Alabamians about as much as a visit from an LSU recruiter. Last night there were dueling rallies, where the Judge’s wife assured the crowd that her husband was not anti Semitic by announcing that One of our lawyers is a Jew! Meanwhile, over at what’s his name’s rally, the keynote speakers where Charles Barkley and an actress from Orange Is The New Black. I have no idea what the significance of these two are to the election prospects of a democrat in Alabama, but I wouldn’t think it would be a good sign.

I have made my views known on Judge Moore in this space before so there’s no need to go through it again. But, here’s what I know for sure...there will be one loser tonight, and that’s the Republican Party. If the democrat dude wins, the party will have lost a reliably Republican seat in the Deep South. If Moore wins, the democrat party will hang the Judge around the neck of every Republican Candidate who runs for everything from dog catcher to Senator for the next ten years. The next time a high profile democrat running for office is found to be involved in some horrendous moral failing the democrat answer will be, Roy Moore. The next time a Republican politician feels compelled to lament the moral decay of our increasingly pagan culture they won’t bother because...Roy Moore. But hey..at least they will have saved the seat, oh...and, abortion!!!!!

So, tomorrow morning this time, the continued destruction of the Republican Party will have been advanced, whether by the election of Roy Moore or the election of the other guy. As I have watched the evisceration of the Grand Old Party since Trump was vomited onto the scene, the only worry I’ve had is what would become of a country dominated by an unrestrained democrat party? Without a viable opposition force, would that party give in to its most extreme voices on the left? Or would they be sobered by their new ascendancy and try to govern by practical consensus? In other words, would they be Clement Attlee of post war Britain, or Joseph Stalin in 1932 Ukraine? The answer seems to be neither. When I look at the democrat party today, I mostly see a collection of relics and fossils who couldn’t sell hacksaws in a prison. Maybe a new generation will rise up. Maybe the Republican Party will one day rise from the ashes of what will be an epic repudiation in 2018. Who knows? It’s politics, after all.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Weekend of Concerts

There are two weeks left before Christmas. Fourteen shopping days. The last fun thing Pam and I had planned before crunch time is over with. We drove up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to hear my brother and the National Christian Choir put on one of their four Christmas concerts this past weekend. It was great fun, even though the drive up was through a snowstorm and involved interstate 95N, never a happy thing. The day was saved by a fantastic choir performance which featured my brother in one particularly show-stopping solo, proving that his newly 70 year old pipes are in fine working order. Once the concert was over, it was still snowing, so exiting the parking lot was a 50 minute adventure, which featured an assortment of hapless idiots all trying to out-nice the next guy. ( Do you need to get in front of me even though I’ve been setting still for half an hour and only two cars can exit this parking lot for every click of the light? Why, by all means!!)

As luck would have it, our Hampton Inn was only 900 feet from a truly delightful place called the Greenfield Restaurant. We walked from our hotel to the restaurant in the still falling snow for a truly remarkable meal...the best pork chop I’ve had in years. Yesterday, the drive home was clear and bright and we got to see a couple of charming Pennsylvania towns in the sunlight instead of a blizzard...York, New Oxford and of course, Gettysburg.

But now, play time is over. It’s time to get serious about conspicuous consumption, so Pam and I had a strategy session last night to draw up a game plan. Then we finally decorated the family tree while Patrick’s Portara Ensemble performed their Christmas concert live via Facebook beamed in through our Apple TV...just like Grandma and Grandpa used to do it!

A side note...there’s something about the Christmas season that stirs the emotions for good and for ill. The strangest thing happened to me when I walked into the auditorium Saturday night. The place was standing room only, packed to the gills, probably a thousand or more people paying good money in a snowstorm to hear this Choir. And yet when I made my way through the double doors into the place, I was greeted by a vaguely familiar aroma. It startled me. It was a smell from a few years ago, one I will never be able to forget. It was the distinct smell of the lobby of a nursing home. I looked around and saw a sea of older people, gray hair, tweed jackets, old men with canes, older ladies wearing hats. It occurred to me that the audience for traditional robed choir music was largely octogenarian. For about fifteen minutes a deep sadness came over me, one that is difficult to describe but more and more familiar to me.

Of course, last night when Portara performed their Christmas concert, I saw a couple dozen talented millennials singing under the direction of a young director, which gave me hope that there is still a future for inspired vocal performance that doesn’t require auto tuning. But this is always the way it is for me at Christmas, swirling emotions from all over the map. One minute it’s a joyful, heartwarming memory, the next, something triggers an odd melancholy. One minute it’s fun, silly anticipation, the next, mournful regret. 

It’s always more good than bad though, so...we carry on. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sick To My Stomach

2017 has been nothing if not consistent, as it has provided one cringe-worthy moment after another across the fruited plain. Each new day requires steady nerves and a brave heart before turning on the computer. Just about the time you’re convinced that it’s impossible to be embarassed any further, some wretched excuse for a human being rears his or her malignant head and plants themselves right there in front of you and your morning coffee. Try this one on for size...

Police in Moore, Oklahoma yesterday released bodycam footage of the March arrest of then State Senator, Ralph Shortey, who was found in a Super 8 motel with an underage teenaged boy, the pungent smell of marijuana wafting from the room. Shortey, 35, married father of four homeschooled girls, can be seen explaining to the officers that he and his young cohort were just hanging out talking about life...and he was very close to convincing the boy to get his GED!! Upon further review however, it was discovered that the Senator was hip-deep in a child sex trafficking ring and rabid consumer of child pornography, a hobby that one would think might conflict with his Senatorial duties. (Of course, this is 2017, so I suppose I shouldn’t assume too much here.)

But, this isn’t even the worst of it. After all, in this day and age, the discovery of a politician involved in sexual perversion isn’t exactly breaking news. No, what caught my attention was the t-shirt the Senator was wearing when he was arrested. You know, they say that clothes make the man and all. I was thinking about using a picture of it here, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ll try to describe it for you...

It is one of those tight fitting ones worn by men who shouldn’t wear tight fitting anything. In the middle of the shirt was a scripture reference...Ephesians 5:22. Just below this was a cartoon sandwich. Below the sandwich were the words...Now, fix me a sammich. Just in case you’re wondering what Ephesians 5:22 says?

...Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord.

So, while getting high and having sex with a teenaged boy in a Super 8, this guy decides to wear a t-shirt with a Bible Verse. Meanwhile, his wife, the submitting one, is busy back home educating his four children. I’d be willing to bet my house that in his last campaign for the State Senate, Ralph Shortey was the family values candidate.

I look at the picture. I read the story, then glance through the comments beneath it...once again, the Christian faith taking a vicious beating in the public square, brought on by yet another wicked man claiming religious faith. I think to myself...No wonder Jesus couldn’t stand religious people!

Then I think about a girl I know, the daughter of some dear friends. She’s just out of college, extremely smart, blond and beautiful. She could do anything she wanted, her entire life laid out in front of her, the possibilities are endless. What does she do? She volunteers to teach math and English to refugees in one of the most dangerous places on the planet for the next two years. Why? Because of her love for Christ, and her desire to serve the least of these. Then I think of how the world will never see a news story about her or her work. But every knuckle-dragging degenerate cloaking their wickedness behind the banner of Christ gets plastered all over my newsfeed. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Traditions

           


Why do you guys have so many Christmas trees in your house...is a common question I get this time of year. It’s usually followed up with these reasonable observations:

That’s a lot of work.

It’s not like your house if huge or anything.

It must be a hassle taking all those trees down afterwards.

Yes. Yes. And...yes.

By way of explanation, I have posted pictures of three of the the six indoor trees. I have not included the trees in the kids rooms, nor have I taken a picture of the big family tree in the living room since it has not been decorated yet,( more on that in a minute). These three trees, from top to bottom, adorn my library, the foyer, and the upstairs hallway. Each has a theme which differentiates it from the others. In the library, the tree is silver and gold and features a variety of Christmas ornaments we received as gifts every year at Joe Schott’s Christmas parties back in my Life of Virginia days. The foyer tree is also silver and gold, but its ornaments are all of the nativity or angels or something directly related to the birth of Christ. The upstairs tree in the big picture window is a Winter tree, it’s ornaments all depicting some sort of nasty weather common during winter, snowflakes, ice, etc. The cardinals that flitter on this tree are representative of the State of Virginia. In the old days, There used to be a seventh tree, in a corner of the kitchen that featured only ornaments which the children had made, which seemed like overkill at some point after both of them had graduated from college, and was eliminated from the rotation.

Which brings me back to our family tree in the living room. There it sits, adorned with 800 colored lights, in its customary corner. In a couple of weeks time there will be presents stuffed underneath it bulging out in all directions. On top will sit a Christmas angel that my wife bought 26 years ago. It has gone out of style with its frumpy Victorianism. It matches nothing. But Pam wouldn’t dream of parting with her. See, our kids have taken turns placing this angel at the top of the tree since 1991. They were so competitive back in the day, we had to keep a tally to prove who’s turn it was every year. This year is supposed to be Kaitlin’s year, but she missed it. We missed it. They were only home for what seemed like hours over Thanksgiving and we didn’t have time. This will be the first time we have decorated the tree without them since they’ve been alive. It probably explains why it sits there unattended. 


Neither one of us are anxious to discover what it’s like to decorate the tree without them. Silly, I know. But parents can be silly and sentimental when it comes to family traditions, and we make no apologies for our sentimentality. We’ve earned it. For it is precisely these traditions that make each family unique. It’s these traditions which make your kids want to come home in the first place.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Intelligence Leaving The Body

Big day yesterday. Crossed two huge items off of my December to-do list. Booked our 2018 Maine lake house vacation, and wrenched my back out while running on a treadmill at AmFam. 

Booking the lake house in Maine wasn’t as easy as I make it sound. My search began in September while I was in Maine enjoying our 2017 vacation. I had narrowed it down to a couple of different places by the time we made it back to Short Pump and were greeted by the great exploding dishwasher caper. Needless to say, that set me back several weeks. By the time I recovered from that and restarted the search, my two previous favorites had already been scooped up by somebody else fortunate enough to have fully functional kitchen appliances. Long story short, my hopes for a four week, month of July Maine vacation has morphed into a three week jaunt from July 22 through August 12, and instead of Quantabacook or Megunticook, we will be frolicking on beautiful Pemaquid Lake. I have made a plaintiff plea to the owner of Chill Lake House, that if she should have a cancellation on either side of our three week reservation, I would be more than happy to book that week too. Briefly I considered offering some sort of soft bribe with the plaintiff plea, but decided that I didn’t want to appear too pathetic. The closer we get to July, I won’t care so much about looking pathetic and will probably end up shamelessly offering envelopes of unmarked bills!

Meanwhile, at AmFam....

So, I’m about thirty minutes in to a three and a half mile run on the treadmill, watching some felonious Trump administration official lying to some reporter on CNN, when suddenly I felt discomfort in my lower back, in the area of my belt line, to the left of my spine. That’s weird, I thought. Of course, I continued running despite this discomfort, which was growing more so by the minute. After a while, I thought to slow down to a fast walk, a stubborn concession to the reality of my situation. First, I set the speed of my treadmill to 4.5 mph, and lowered the elevation back to 6 from 12, thinking surely this would solve the problem. By the time I conceded to the fact that I probably needed to end my run, ten minutes had passed and most likely I had made matters worse. I have no explanation for this behavior, but it has always been so with me whenever I hurt myself doing something at the gym. My mantra has always been that sharp pains are merely sloth and weakness leaving the body and should be ignored. If you stopped working out every time you feel a sharp pain, you’ll end up looking like that 5’ 8” 300 pound asthmatic who thinks he’s working out when he sits in a chair and works a couple of arm handles round and round, all while wearing a headband!! So, you push through any sudden pains. This strategy is a constant source of frustration to my wife who basically thinks I’m an idiot.

By the time I made it home, I was in quite a lot of pain. I consult my nightstand for the batch of medications I was prescribed the last time something like this happened. The pill bottles say, 06/09/2017. I take one of the yellow pills and one of the white pills. Then, I think to call my administrative assistant and steal some free medical advice from her Doctor husband, who happens to be wearing Christmas tree glasses. She texts me a picture of him in these awesome glasses and asks, You sure you want medical advice from this guy? He explains that, no, I should NOT have taken the white pill and the yellow pill simultaneously, and applying heat was in fact the exact opposite of what I should be doing. It occurs to me that I should know this, considering how many times similar pains have befallen me. I must acknowledge the truth of Pam’s accessment that I am an idiot.

This morning, the pain is still with me and I now have a new fear to deal with, something that my Christmas tree glasses wearing Doctor  let slip in his telephone diagnosis...kidney stones??? No way. Not a chance. It’s just weakness leaving the body, or as my wife would say, More like intelligence leaving the body!

I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Special Season

Pam and I spent nearly 12 hours on Saturday beginning the process of decorating our house for Christmas. A couple hundred dollars of new and replacement finery was purchased. Lights were strung on two natural trees and three fake ones, with more to come. Stockings were hung along the fireplace mantle. Candles were attached to the sills of twenty four windows, this year’s versions equipped with a timing device that switch them on simultaneously at dusk. Three holly trees in the front of my house, along with a lighted wreath hanging on our front door are also hooked up to a dusk-sensing timing apparatus which cuts them on at sunset and then shuts them off at midnight without assistance from any living thing. As I watched my home flicker to life a few minutes ago it occurred to me that the amount of electricity that these lights will burn over the next four weeks would probably power a water filtration system in some third world hellhole for an entire year. But this type of thinking assumes that happiness is a finite commodity and that joy is a zero sum game. If I allow myself to experience joy then that means that somebody else somewhere must die from cholera, a pointless and juvenile notion. So...I will feel no guilt for the warm glow that permeates my home. But, I will wonder why. Why do we do this? Why do we insist on decorating our homes with relics so shot through with nostalgia? Why do we go to such great lengths to conjure up this Christmas feeling?

My pastor today attempted an answer, suggesting that the reason we all long for the Christmas spirit, is because something in us has a sense that the the reconciliation, goodwill and renewed brotherly love that so often accompanies this season offers a glimpse of what the world would look like if it actually was the Kingdom of God, and if Jesus really was the king of our hearts. He might be right. 

All I know is that whenever Christmas comes around, I feel compelled to be a better man. Sure, I shouldn’t need seasonal inspiration for this project, but too often I do. I get sidetracked by the business end of life and drift away from goodness. I don’t mean to suggest that by drifting away from goodness, I suddenly become bad, rather I become distracted by my own needs, and in the process become blind to the needs of others...and left unattended this blindness gets awfully close to bad. But at Christmas, I start to once again see the people who are struggling. I start to notice the people desperate for a Christmas miracle, instead of the ones looking for a sale on David Yurmin bracelets. Once I begin seeing them again, I’m reminded of my great good fortune. In them, I see the exhausted carpenter and his teenage wife, and I suddenly long to be the owner of an inn with vacancies. It’s at Christmas when I start looking around for ways to be a blessing with greater urgency and intention. In the process, my mood lifts, my spirits improve, my aspirations elevate to something more noble than self interest. 

Many things are responsible for my heightened mood. It can be something as simple as a carol, or the sound of the Salvation Army Bell. It might be the sight of a young couple wrestling with a toddler, trying to get that first picture with Santa. Or...it just might be the glow of the 1950’s style lights on the hollies out front, or the soft yellow glow of candles in my windows. 

But, anything that turns me outward towards the world and away from my own narrow pursuits is a good thing. And if it’s the decorations we haul down from the attic every year, then....deck the halls.






Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Lights and Me

   

Today is the day I’ve been putting off. It has been lurking around my consciousness for weeks now like a suppressed middle school memory. But now Thanksgiving is over and my annoying neighbors are out there, shaming me into submission. Yes...it’s time to festoon the outside of my house with Christmas lights. The purpose of this ritual, as far as I can tell, is twofold. First, it contributes to the gaiety of the season, creating an appropriately festive milieu, spreading joy throughout not only the neighborhood, but in our individual hearts. Second, it offers proof to any roving bands of nationalists out there that we are not Jewish.

I will start this project with vigorous optimism. I clearly recall the extra care I took putting all of these lights away last year. I carefully wound each strand with delicate precision, as someone defusing a bomb, determined to avoid tangles. I placed each strand into the metal filing cabinets in my garage with the kind of precise care usually reserved for placing sleeping infants into cribs or taking souffl├ęs out of the oven. I inventoried each extension chord and every wreath, even made mental notes about improvements that would enhance next year’s display. So, I have every reason for optimism that this year will be different.

But, hovering over each of my shoulders is a spirit. On my right is an adorable Christmas cherub humming White Christmas. On my left is the Grinch, before his heart grew three sizes. He is whispering in my ear, and he knows a thing or two about my historically faulty memory. His understanding of the procedures I followed in last year’s putting away of the lights is very different than mine and he’s letting me know about it no uncertain terms. He recalls a haphazard, frustration-filled frenzy of stuffing and forcing recalcitrant and already tangled strands every which way into those metal filing cabinets, with quite a bit of uncharacteristic profanity, especially so soon after a celebration of our savior’s birth. He reminds me of my incompetence in that annoying rhyme-y way of his.

Of course, he’s right. I will open the filing cabinet drawers with great trepidation, holding on to the faint hope that I really did take care last year. But, like every year that has preceded this one...it will be a hot mess. I will pull out one Gordian Knot after another and think to myself..What the hell? 

Eventually I will untangle the mess. Then I will plug in each strand to determine how many new strands I will need to buy. Some will spring to life merrily. Others will turn on, then flicker menacingly. Others will be thrown in the trash. I will then make the drive to Lowe’s to buy new lights only to discover that this year’s models are slightly different than last year’s. This is due to some knitwittery cooked up at some government agency charged with saving the planet from global warming or some such thing. This year LED lights are all the rage, which is great if you want the outside of your house to look like the Elvis wedding chapel in Vegas. Since I prefer the vintage 1950’s style lights, which I’m sure are real ozone hole killers, I find myself in a quandary. Do I bend with the times and make the transition to LED or do I stubbornly insist on bespoiling the planet and search all over town for my old school lights? 

            Or.....



I feel rather certain that regular readers of this blog know the answer to this question. Of course, it would help matters if I had a dog who would help me with this project like this good boy...


Instead, I’m stuck with this girl...







Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who’s Next?

After a day which saw Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor both brought low by the swift scythe of the sexual harassment reaper, a natural question is...Who’s Next? I mean seriously, if Garrison Keillor can go down, literally no one is safe. So as a public service, I have compiled a list of powerful men who might be and handicapped each of their chances. I present them here in alphabetical order:

Stephen Colbert.
- Comedian. Host of Late Night, and hater of all things Republican. Devout Catholic and devoted family man, married to only one woman and father of three kids. If he were to fall, would be an excellent candidate for swanky Beverly Hills rehab facility. Odds 100:1

Ted Cruz
-Senator. Former Presidential Candidate. Southern Baptist and devoted family man, married to only one woman and father of two kids. High creepiness factor and support of “traditional family values” would make his fall especially embarrassing for tradition families everywhere. Odds 50:1

Tom Hanks
- Actor. Beloved. This generation’s Jimmy Stewart. Married twice. Divorced once. Four kids. Please God, no. Odds 75:1

Rush Limbaugh
- Radio talk show host. Conservative. Currently on fourth wife. Hater of all things Democrat. Odds 25:1

Joel Osteen
- TV preacher. Prosperity Gospel Icon. Writer of vapid books. Possessed of very white teeth and a blond wife. If this guy goes down, comedy writers in Hollywood will give themselves hernias churning out jokes at his expense. Odds 50:1

Paul Ryan
- Speaker of the House. Allegedly conservative. Devout Catholic. Married to one woman and father of three kids. Passionate P90X devotee. Squeaky clean image. Uh-oh...Odds 30:1

Bernie Sanders
-Eewww...Gross!!

Jon Stewart
- Comedian. Former host of Daily Show. “Destroyer” of all things Republican. Tepid response to news of fellow comedian, Louis C.K.’s fall doesn’t look good right now. Odds 10:1

But, because this is 2017, I would be remiss for assuming that the next big name to fall will be a man. At some point, a powerful woman is going to find herself swept up in this tsunami. Who will she be? What powerful American woman will most likely be the trail blazer? Here are a few possibilities. I will leave it to you, the reader, to set the odds.

Ellen DeGeneres
Ann Coulter
Sarah Palin
Oprah Winfrey
Elizabeth Warren
Rosanne Barr

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Creeping Ambivalence



This man has been on the Today Show for twenty years. In that time he has endeared himself to millions of Americans, including my wife. So, we were both astonished to hear the news this morning that Matt Lauer was unceremoniously fired by the suits at NBC news. Samantha Guthrie, misty-eyed, announced the shocking news this morning, that one of the most popular and beloved morning news personalities had been fired because of an allegation of sexual misconduct by an employee of NBC. There would be no leave of absence, no investigation, no stint in rehab, and as of 8 am this morning...no details. My wife had only two things to say about this turn of events...I’m very disappointed. I thought Matt was one of the good guys. And then...This is how women are going to take over the world.

I might have added...Apparently due process is officially dead...but didn’t. Just a few minutes ago, I learned that reporters from the New York Times had been working on this story for weeks. Perhaps they presented the higher ups at NBC news with their findings last night. Maybe the story was so damning, so devastating, that they felt they had no choice but to fire the man. If so, I’m not looking forward to the details.

The Matt Lauer bombshell comes on the heels of the announcement that two especially obnoxious loudmouths, Keith Olberman and Joe Scarborough have decided to back away from Twitter, in Scarborough’s case, and retire from political punditry, in Olberman’s case. One can’t help but wonder what secrets reporters are busy uncovering in their cases. At the rate we are going, it might be wise to invest in sexual addiction therapy centers, since clearly the demand will soon outstrip the supply. 

I must here admit to a creeping ambivalence. My instincts, such as they are, favor the accusers here. This is the result of the fact that I’m a man and therefore know a thing or two about the piggishness of my fellowman. I also know that whenever there is an imbalance of power in a work environment, that imbalance is likely to be exploited. There is a reason that no female officers of corporations have come forward complaining that they were sexually harassed by some dude in the mail room. But, as the pace of allegations has quickened, to the point where it can now fairly be described as a frenzy, I’m starting to have some doubts. Although I have always held firm to the belief that you should never underestimate the human capacity for evil, and that nobody has ever gone broke betting against the bad faith of powerful men, my trick knee is starting to tell me to be careful here. Introduce some skepticism into each new allegation. While it’s true that abused women deserve to be believed, this is only true when they are telling the truth. This is where due process comes into the picture. An allegation is not the same thing as a conviction. The seriousness of the charge does not equal guilt. There is a reason our parents warned us not to rush to judgement. Justice requires deliberation, a testing of the facts. But, deliberation doesn’t sell papers, the wheels of justice grind too slowly to goose overnight ratings. 

Maybe Matt Lauer is guilty as sin and deserves to be fired. But, something about this feels hasty and wrong. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Whatever happened to the face slap?

Between the Thanksgiving holiday, the installation of a new kitchen floor, work contingencies, an attempt to secure a lake house for our 2018 Maine vacation, the deluge of leaves in my yard, and the download of another Richard Russo novel...I have had little time and even less inclination to write anything over the past week. I will attempt to remedy that here.

Since we last visited, several more allegations of sexual misconduct have been brought against high profile men by newly empowered women, who have suddenly discovered the courage and fortitude necessary to speak up against their tormentors, five, ten, sometimes twenty years after the fact. The latest reprobate being Congressman John Conyers, described as an icon by Nancy Pelosi in a strange interview given by the fossilized former Speaker, who couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether Conyers was a saint or a sinner. Meanwhile, Senator Al Franken continues his apology tour by vowing to learn lessons from past gropings which he says he can’t remember. His latest tact seems to be his confession that... he’s a hugger. I get that. I’m a hugger too. But, I do my hugging with my arms, not my hands, and always take extra care to make sure that my hands don’t end up full of the butt cheeks of the person I’m hugging...but that’s just me. I’m no Senator. 

Still, it seems to me that that an accusation of ass grabbing isn’t the same thing as an accusation of rape, or even standing naked in front of a women who has not requested your nakedness. In other words, there are degrees of debauchery, and while all of these behaviors are deplorable, all are not equally so. Rape gets you jail time. Grabbing an ass should get you slapped across the face. (whatever happened to those women?) 

I listen to these reports and read the stories of these women. I believe most of them. Some seem overblown and even silly, but who knows, maybe their stories are true too. But the one thing they all have in common is this...none of them slapped the men across the face. Not only that, on the many occasions when they reported the assault to their boyfriends, not a single one of these alleged boyfriends tracked down the assaulter to punch his lights out. Not a single one. This is profoundly disturbing to me on many levels. I can assure you without equivocation that if someone grabbed my wife’s behind, that someone would get the s**t beaten out of him, not because she isn’t capable of defending herself, but because he would deserve said beating, and nothing short of a beating would assuage my wrath. If this makes me a knuckle-dragging misogynist, then so be it. Although the prospect of a sound thrashing  would in no way deter a rapist, it just might make the Al Franken’s of the world think twice about copping a feel. When as a society we have evolved past the physical confrontation of groping, bullying and other small time thuggery, the gropers, bullies and thugs are emboldened. There was a time when loutish behavior was often outed publically with a dramatic slap across the face, to the profound embarrassment of the lout. Many a fine 1940’s movie scene featured this device. I say, let’s bring it back.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Hardest, Longest Wait

There are big, consequential days coming up. If your children all grew up and moved away, you know what I’m talking about. One of mine lives in Columbia, South Carolina, the other in Nashville, Tennessee. We vacation with them one week a year. They come to visit us, we go to visit them. But twice during the year, we get them here, under our roof at the same time together...Thanksgiving, and Christmas. So, this is a big deal. 



Kaitlin and Jon will breeze through this afternoon around 3 o’clock, drop off their lummux of a dog, Jackson, then continue on to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with Jon’s family. They will come back Friday afternoon and stay until Sunday afternoon. Patrick and Sarah will get here sometime late tonight, probably after 10 o’clock. They will have to head back to Nashville sometime Saturday mid morning. So actually, we will have all of them here together for approximately 15 hours...which will feel like 15 minutes.

Today will be the hardest part. When my kids are on the nation’s highways at the same time, I am always a mess inside, but especially so today on the worst traffic day of the year. I have shut down the business for the week, so I will busy myself getting the leaves up from the yard. But, my mind will be elsewhere. Traveling mercies...

I have looked forward to this weekend for quite some time now, not just because I get to see them, but because Thanksgiving gives me an excuse to be officially grateful. Of course, I shouldn’t need an excuse, official or otherwise. Gratitude should be my default position. But, let’s be honest, for most of us, it isn’t. 2017 has contributed mightily to my ungrateful heart, creating, as it has, a bull market for bitchiness throughout the fruited plain. This blog has reflected this zeitgeist. From politics, to sports, and now to the runaway train that is sexual harassment allegations, our world has managed to gravely disappoint us all like no other time I can remember.

But then...Thanksgiving comes, and families gather. We see them climb out of their cars, run to them with hugs and smiles, help them drag their suitcases inside. You examine them carefully, while you smile and hug. Are they looking well? Have they lost weight?  Gained weight? Do they look worried? Tired? Do they look happy? What do they need? Do they need anything? Surely they need something...

Then you calm down and just enjoy them. On the big day the whole extended tribe will gather and the welcome scene will be repeated. Hugs all over the place. Kisses and hugs. The food will be incredible. There will be football. Rumor has it that there might be some sort of slipshod Beatle concert performed by several of the Dunnevant men. Pies will be eaten. Later on, while decorating the Christmas Tree, turkey sandwiches will be served. No one will want to go to bed. Who wants to waste time sleeping when the kids are all home? But we eventually have to because we are all exhausted. It’s the very best kind of exhaustion.

So, for the next several days, I’m going to let this dysfunctional year stew in its own juices. I’m not going to have time to whine about the latest crazy thing happening in the world. I’ll be busy being thankful for every good and perfect gift I have been given in this life. Every single one of them.

You do the same.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2017.

By any measure, 2017 has been a mind blower, an assumption destroying mass of hypocrisy, an unending reel of civilizational outtakes, patched together to resemble an actual year. I found a photograph and a Far Side cartoon the other day which did a nice job of summarizing this entire miserable failure of a year:



In the climate of 2017, the year of raging disappointment, I half expect Donald Trump to Tweet this out with a caption...What do you bet these guys are talking about what a bad guy Roy Moore is? Sad...

I read a quote the other day from some alleged pastor in Alabama, who while defending Roy Moore, made the following crucially important point, “Some of these 14 year old girls, the way they dress, could pass for 20.” This from a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, out of some dark tribal place, a representative of the church suggests that if a teenager walks out of the house in tight jeans and a low neck sweater, 32 year old judges can’t be expected to restrain themselves. New Zealand has never looked more attractive.

I remember years ago there was a very famous television evangelist named Jimmy Swaggard, most famous for being a cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis and for weeping while singing. This dude was quite the headliner. He could deliver hour long empassioned sermons decrying the decadence and sexual debauchery of America, and somehow tie it all back to when they ripped the Bible out of the schoolhouse. The man built a media empire around this theme, his face filling cable television from Maine to California for nearly a decade. Then, it all fell to pieces when he was busted with a prostitute. My Dad was furious that such a man would bring such shame to the Gospel. I remember watching a 60 Minutes piece about Swaggard with him. He turned to me and said, Sometimes, the people who yell the loudest about something do so because they’ve got something to hide.

I’ve thought of those words a lot lately...

Maybe these liberal icons who are constantly touting their feminist bonifides...are overcompensating for something.

Maybe these pastors complaining about how 14 year olds too closely resemble 20 year olds know this from personal experience.

Maybe Charlie Rose can arrange to moderate a debate between Al Franken and Roy Moore on the subject...Too Young To Grope?


Or maybe, just maybe...we all should just give up on 2017, and promise to do better next year.




Monday, November 20, 2017

Lucy’s Scary Day...Part Two

Lucy: Seriously? You’re calling me weird? You’re a spaniel. You have a three inch tail which is like physically impossible to catch, yet you chase it anyway!

Facilitator: Lucy, we’ve talked about this...no body-shaming!

Howls of dog laughter...

Doberman: SILENCE!!! Lucy, continue.

Lucy: My humans are just a little bit off, that’s all. I mean, their hearts are in the right place and all, they feed me and give good scratches and everything, but I don’t know, I’m worried about them.

Facilitator: Can you be more specific? Maybe someone else in the group has had a similar experience with their humans. Let’s turn this into a growing opportunity!

Lucy: Ok, like I said earlier, I really love them. They let me climb up on the sofa with them when I’m downstairs and, they even let me sleep with them in their king sized bed every night!

...lots of enthusiastic yapping and a simultaneous shout out of KING SIZED BED!!!!!

Lucy: But, the thing is, my humans aren’t exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer...

Pug: Oh puhleeze, we all have dumb humans!

Black Lab: Spoken by a runny-nosed imbecile who doesn’t even know how to shake!

Facilitator: I must say, I’m sensing an awful lot of hostility in here today, and frankly, I’m ashamed of all of you! Now, let Lucy finish without these triggering interruptions.

Lucy: Here’s one thing...every day around 5 o’clock this scary man driving a weird car without any doors drives up like way too close to my human’s Street box. Then, he never fails to stuff things, god only knows what, into the box. Of course, I warn my humans of this clear and present danger, every single day...and then, without fail...my human pats me on the head and walks right out there into harm’s way, and without hesitation, sticks his hand right in the box and pulls out whatever the man jammed in there. It’s like he has no fear, and like he can’t even hear my warnings. Seriously, one day it’s gonna be like a bomb and it’s going to blow his hands off. When that happens, he better not come running to me.

Border Collie: Wait...Lucy, that’s a mail box... And the man in the doorless truck is the guy who delivers the mail. Chill out.

German Shepherd: Lies!! The man in the doorless truck is the avowed enemy of all dogs on earth!!

Beagle: Don’t fall for that Collie’s lies! Next he’s gonna tell us that cats are our friends!

...wails of protests...

Border Collie: Idiots....I’m surrounded by idiots.

Lucy: But, it’s not just the doorless car man. Sometimes my humans like totally forget my name. Most of the time, of course, they butcher the heck out of it...instead of Lucy, it ends up being Lucy the Goosey or some such thing. But, here’s the thing...at least once a day, one of them will look me straight in the face and ask me “Who is my good girl?? I’m like, come on people. You guys know this one!!

Affirmative groaning....

Lucy: But, the worst thing is my Dad. He has this round thing called a frisbee which he LOVES SO MUCH. Seriously guys, every time he takes me out into the yard he brings that thing with him...but then he does the oddest thing. He throws it away!! It starts flying up in the air and I’m sure it’s going to escape, so I run like the wind and catch it before it disappears forever. I mean, he’s lucky I’m kinda fast and am really good at retrieving things. Of course, instead of being grateful, as soon as I give it back to him he DOES IT AGAIN!! So, 
like eventually I just stop giving it back to him, if that’s how he’s going to be. And what does he do? He gets mad at me!! Its like he doesn’t even understand how close he is to losing his frisbee forever. 

Facilitator: I can certainly understand your frustration, Lucy. But remember the first rule of being a dog...No dog gets to pick their humans. We just have to learn to be thankful for who we end up with. I’m sure they’ll come around. You’re only what...3? 4?

Lucy: I’m 3.

Poodle: I’ve got news for you Lucy, if you haven’t whipped them into shape by now, it’s never going to happen. I knew your humans were slow the minute you walked in here. Look at you...who lets a dog wear an orange collar after Labor Day??

Pit Bull: Hey Pal...you ever get tired of putting up with them, look me up. Let’s just say...I know a guy.

A Scary Day For Lucy

This morning, Thanksgiving week gets started off right here at the Dunnevant house. In approximately 45 minutes, a crew of skilled carpenters will descend on the place to rip out the hard wood floors from our kitchen and breakfast nook. Then they will bring in a pallet load of new flooring and dump it in the breakfast nook where our kitchen table used to be. I’m not sure about this next part, but I think they will then reinstall the kitchen cabinets which they had removed over a month ago when this whole mess started. After Thanksgiving is over, they will come back and install the new flooring. At that point, everything will be placed on hold until the first of the year, since neither Pam, Lucy nor I care to spend a week in a hotel right before Christmas while our entire downstairs floors get resanded and stained. Speaking of Lucy, the Psycho-Dog....

It’s going to be interesting to see how she handles today’s proceedings. I’m sure the sounds of wood being ripped up from the downstairs will be a delight. Of course, after the crew leaves is when it will really get interesting. Then, when Lucy goes into the breakfast nook to eat her dinner she will find subfloor where her hardwood floor used to be. That means that her dinner dishes will be sitting on a scary new surface. The old surface was bad enough, what with its terrifying tendency to randomly startle the bajesus out of her while she was trying to eat.(don’t ask) Now, she will have to deal with not only this rough new sunken floor but also the horrifying pile of wood over in the corner. 

Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like if Lucy could talk. Suppose she attended an encounter group for troubled dogs once a week at the Canine Wellness Center and Spa...

Facilitator: Thank you all for coming today. As we all know, Thanksgiving is this week, and our humans have been known to lose their minds a little during the holidays. Is there anything any of you would like to share with the group? Anyone?

Silence....with occasional scratching

Facilitator: Lucy? You look particularly troubled today. Anything strange going on at your house?

Lucy: You don’t know the half of it. My humans have decided to start tearing the house down. They’ve started with the floors downstairs, but I have a feeling that eventually they will be gunning for the bedrooms upstairs too. They're just crazy enough to do it, I swear!

...the sound of sympathy whines break out around the circle...

Lucy: It all started when we got back from Maine. One minute I’m asleep on the sofa, and the next thing I know, my humans have opened the dishwasher and let water everywhere into the kitchen. The next day they went out and bought three of the most hideous machines you can imagine and put them in the kitchen for three weeks where these machines screamed out 24 hours a day. I mean, what were they thinking?? I mean, I love my humans, but sometimes they seem so confused. Then, then...they let these very loud and smelly men come into our house and steal the kitchen cabinets!! It was like one minute they were there and the next minute...GONE! The worst part is...I think my humans actually paid these smelly people to do this thing!

...barking and growling...

Facilitator: That sounds unsettling Lucy. But, remember what we have talked about...what coping mechanism have we been working on?

All dogs in unison: When all else fails, chase your tail!

Lucy: Yeah well, that’s easier said than done at my house. You try having delirious fun in a house filled with dark shapes and random scary bags everywhere.

Spaniel: Dude, you’re weird.


Friday, November 17, 2017

My Philosopher-Mother Strikes Again

For much of human history, the world’s best and brightest minds believed that a person’s fate was largely predetermined by outside forces. Men and women were essentially wandering around this life fully controlled by cosmic puppet masters, whose motives and inclinations were unknowable. But, somewhere around 500 B.C. a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus came along with a three word theory...Character is Destiny, the idea being that instead of the winds of fate or dumb, blind luck, a human being’s destiny was actually closely correlated to his or her inner character. 

My father was no Greek philosopher, in fact, I would wager that he never heard of Heraclitus. But his highly refined sense of right and wrong, good and evil, led him to conclude that what’s down in the well eventually comes up in the bucket. My mother’s formal education stopped upon her graduation from Buckingham Central High School, but that didn’t stop her from formulating her own philosophy of human behavior which was, who you are when nobody’s looking is who you really are.

My parents have been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve watched the growing list of famous and powerful men being brought low by allegations of sexual impropriety, from inappropriate flirting all the way to rape. Some of the men on the growing list should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but others have been deeply disappointing. There will no doubt be more to come. Part of me is glad to see lecherous men get what is coming to them, another part of me senses an opportunistic feeding frenzy of accusation, women perhaps using the cover of the moment to settle old scores. But, how to tell the difference? It’s all a horrible mess that makes me glad I’m not a judge.

I’ve often wondered what my Mom and Dad would think of it all. Honestly, I’m glad they aren’t here to see it.

Yesterday, when I read the Sylvester Stallone story, another memory came back to me from my philosopher-Mother. I was in some sort of trouble back in the day. Mom suspected that I was guilty of something and was trying to persuade me to come clean and confess. I remember she looked me straight in the eye and said, Douglas, you listen to your mother...be sure your sins will find you out.

Never have those words felt more true than they feel right now.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Silver Lining at the DMV

As many of you know, I enjoyed a one hour and fifty eight minute stay at the lovely Hotel DMV yesterday afternoon with 50 plus of my fellow citizens. It was everything anyone could expect from an encounter with the bureaucratic state...maddening, and infuriating . However, all was not hopeless despair. No matter how bad things get in life, there is always a ray of sunshine somewhere in the mess if you look hard enough. At the DMV yesterday afternoon, there were actually two.

The list of things contributing to my bowel stewing frustration yesterday was long and impressive. Despite a nearly full house of customers, only 5 of the 11 customer service windows were open. The little slips of paper we all were handed upon arrival assigning us a queue number were intentionally random, a devious plot hatched by some tenured functionary to keep all of us totally in the dark as to where we stood in the order. When the creepy robot voiced woman came on the loudspeaker to announce who was now being served and at which window, it was always a number which had zero relationship to any of the other numbers recently called. What possible relationship does B-67 have to F-145? Well, about as much as C-16 has to M-297. Whenever a new number was called, half of the customers could be seen shaking their heads from side to side in resigned agitation. But then, out of nowhere something genius happened. The sound system at the DMV started playing this:


When I heard Love Me Do, I thought it was just a random Beatle song slipped in the mix of otherwise horrible elevator music. But when it was followed by From Me To You, then She Loves You, we were on to something. I am here to tell you that the entire mood of the building changed. Customers who had just minutes earlier been on the edge of a nervous breakdown, men and women who were starting to get the attention of the security cop in the corner because of their muted but profane outbursts, were suddenly now humming along to Ticket To Ride. Don’t misunderstand, none of us wanted to be there, and we were all still mightily annoyed, but now suddenly, there was a song on our lips. It was a genius crowd control move.

The second surprise came when my number was finally called. From the vantage point of where I was sitting, I could only see the faces of four of the five customer service technicians, and the view wasn’t pretty. These three women and one man looked like the most miserable people on earth, like they were the only people alive who wanted to be at the DMV less than we all did. The word hemorrhoidal agony came to mind. But when I made my way over to window 3, I was in for a pleasant surprise. My attendant greeted me with a beaming smile and a How are you? What can I help you with today?? I was taken aback and temporarily rattled by this brazen display of kindness, forgetting for a moment why I was there. I quickly recovered and began spilling out my tail of woe, trying to explain the three month ordeal I had been through to obtain a clear title of my son’s vehicle. When I was finished, this woman looked my directly in the eye and said, Mr. Dunnevant, that sounds horrible and I am so sorry for what you have been through, but we are going to get this fixed for you today, ok love?

Again, don’t misunderstand, this woman was no miracle worker. I was still in for another 45 minutes of bureaucratic bungling, but now I was in the hands of a caring, diligent, and strangely happy woman. And I am here to tell you...it made all the difference in the world. I saw first hand how even the most impossible situation can be redeemed by a kind, caring human being. Let this be a lesson to everyone of us who is trying to run a business, all of us who find ourselves in difficult, stressful situations in life, this wonderful woman at the DMV illustrated for me the eternal truth of Proverbs 15:1...A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

An Observation on the 1%

On more than one occasion recently I have run across news stories claiming that the richest 1% of people alive today control something like 50% of the world’s wealth. This story has come in several forms, sometimes expressed as the richest 20 people in the world have more wealth than the 200 million poorest people, or some such thing. I am not here to dispute the truth of these assertions. Matter of fact, I’m absolutely sure that it’s true. What I highly doubt, however, is the contention that this is something new in human history. I’m very suspicious. Unfortunately, since world wide wealth statistics are a relatively new science, getting a grasp of how much wealth there was in the world in say, the 1600’s, is a dicey proposition, that features a lot of guessing. But, here’s what my trick knee tells me...throughout all of recorded history, there have always been and there always will be a small, elite subset of human beings who rise to the top of the heap and consequently gobble up a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth. To “prove” the accuracy of my trick knee, I’ve been doing some digging. Here’s what I’ve found.

Scholars have published lists of the richest men in the history of the world based on available data and best estimates using inflation adjusted numbers. They have not included heads of state since their wealth would have been considered public. (so, Genghis Khan and Joseph Stalin didn’t make the list) No, these are the 20 wealthiest private citizens of all time. The list contains 11 Americans. Only three of the men on this list are alive today. ( Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, and Bill Gates ) 12 of the 20 lived prior to the Industrial Revolution, 2 of them during the Middle Ages (Rufus the Red, William the Conqueror ). 

But, I decided to drill deeper on this question of wealth concentration at the top of the pyramid. The assumption is that today with the advent of powerful technologies and the dot.com explosion, that mega wealth is somehow newly unprecedented. So, I decided to look at  this a different way. How do the modern high tech billionaires compare to their old school predecessors? Ok, here’s what I found...

There is a list out there of the 20 richest Americans of all time, inflation adjusted to 2015 dollars since that was the year that the list was complied. Exactly one of them made his fortune in tech...Bill Gates, with a net worth of 86 billion, which places him at number 4. The other three living American Billionaires on this list? Warren Buffet at number 10, the dreaded Koch bothers at numbers 17 and 18.

Now, how about the top three richest Americans of all time? 

#3. Cornelius Vanderbilt. Died in 1877, after making a boat load of money in the shipping and railroad business. His fortune comes in at 185 billion dollars.

#2. Andrew Carnegie. Passed away in 1919 after amassing a fortune of a staggering 310 billion dollars in the steel business. To his great credit, he gave virtually all of it away at or near his death, endowing an endless list of public libraries, etc...

#1. John D. Rockefeller. When this dude finally kicked the bucket, it was made out of solid gold. His dominance of the oil business resulted in a fortune that makes modern day tech titans look like pikers. 340 billion dollars...that’s billion with a “B”.

In other words, the top three guys on this list, all long dead, were worth more than the next 12 guys on this list...combined.

All of us, every single one of us suffer from recency bias, that is, whatever we actually experience and know always feels like the best, worst of all time. The most dominating idea in our heads most of the time is simply the most recent idea we have been exposed to. I try to fight this instinct all the time with varying degrees of success. In the arena of income inequality, do I believe that policy makers should try to come up with initiatives that increase incomes at the lowest end of the economic ladder? Of course. Minimum wage laws have sought to effect changes in this area. Discussions of a living wage seek to address this issue as well. Death taxes and estate levies, and the progressive income tax have been enacted to chip away at the other end of the ladder with very limited success, since generally speaking, rich people got rich because they are smarter and more resourceful than policy makers. Still, I am in favor of any remedy that will actually work to narrow the income gap. But, we better disabuse ourselves of the notion that we have the power to do away with the accumulation of wealth at the very top of the pyramid by a small cadre of thieves and achievers. Until we can figure out a way to alter human nature, it’s never going to happen.

There is nothing new under the sun....

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Dream and a Story

A month ago today I started writing a story. I’m still writing it. 

When I was in Maine, on one of the first couple of nights there, I had a rather disturbing dream. It was one of those dreams where the  central action was very graphic and clear, while all of the ancillary stuff leading up to the central action was blurry. It was such a surprising dream to have at such a peaceful and happy place and time. Usually people have dreams like this one when they are dealing with some heavy burden, or under unrelenting stress. The only stress I was under in Maine was having to make the agonizing decision between bacon and eggs or blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Even though I was busy reading five novels during my three weeks in Maine, the dream was always in the back of my mind. I would sit out on the dock and think about it while fishing, thinking that it might make a decent short story. But, as soon as I began writing, the germ of the idea provided by the dream has morphed into a full blown universe of characters with a host of conflict all over the place. I have no idea how it’s going to end, how any of it will ever be resolved. That’s really half the fun of writing. 

I’m probably doing it all wrong. I’m sure that real writers have a story outline already formed before they begin writing. People who actually know what their doing in the writing world would probably laugh at my technique, which basically involves sitting down at my desk, staring off into space for fifteen minutes ruminating, then opening my Word document and typing away in short, intense bursts of clarity, then...nothing for a couple of days. Before I can resume the narrative, I have to go back and read the last five pages to recall where I was in the story. It’s all pretty random and unorganized....but amazing fun.

The weird part is that despite how fun it is, it is mentally exhausting. I can only devote an hour or so at a time to the thing before I just have to stop. It wears you out. What a wimp!

Working title...Saving Jack

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sex Clams, Lizzards, and Roy Moore



Yesterday, I found this photograph of the front page of the Times Daily from none other than Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Soon, like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, the sarcastic, punny comments started rolling in, some of them outstanding!

My wife: Looks like the people in Muscle Shoals have a thing for mollusks.

Facebook Friend: What a world...even the promiscuity of shellfish is divisive nowadays.

Facebook Friend: Actually, Sex Clams sounds like a great name for a band.

Me: I’m relieved there were no accompanying photographs...

Me: What’s so divisive about this? I’m thinking that whatever two consenting clams do in the privacy of their own riverbed is their business.

Family Member: What happens in the ocean, stays in the ocean.

This whole spelling error thing brought to mind this classic from a couple of winters ago:





I don’t know about you, but this hilarious failure of copy editing turned a sordid story into something light hearted and funny, and for that, I am eternally grateful to whoever was responsible for it. Poor guy is probably freshly unemployed, but he did America a great service. Otherwise, I would be forced to comment about yet another high profile man accused of confoundingly stupid and creepy behavior. Thankfully, most reasonable people from both sides of the political aisle have spoken out against the idea of a 32 year old man stripping down to his tighty whiteies in front of a fourteen year old girl for purposes of sexual gratification. But, predictably, many partisans are out there making the exact opposite argument that partisans made when it was Bill Clinton in the cross hairs of women making accusations of sexual misconduct. Back then, these folks claimed that the women must be believed. Their claims needed to be taken seriously, for it had taken great courage to speak up against so powerful a man. Now, these charges are all manufactured by an agenda driven newspaper determined to bring down a Godly man. The excusers have offered up several conflicting explanations for Mr. Moore’s actions:

He didn’t do it, and couldn’t be expected to remember if he did.

What the heck is wrong with a 30 year old man dating teenagers?

Even if he did, he never had sex with them, and whenever they asked him to stop and take them home, he did.

He never got like completely naked, ok? 

I’ve heard rumors that those WaPo reporters paid these woman $1,000!!

Look, he eventually wound up falling in love with a teenage girl and married her and they’ve been married for over 30 years now!

It’s exactly like Mary and Joseph in the Bible. You remember where it says in Matthew that Joseph plied Mary with wine, then stripped down to his tunic? It’s the exact same thing here, and Mary and Joseph turned out just fine!

At this hour, Roy Moore is still a candidate for United States Senate. Meanwhile, one of his future colleagues, Bob Menendez, accused among other things, of cavorting with underage prostitutes in the company of a lobbyist...and on his dime, is probably about to be acquitted. So maybe if Moore wins, he can be seated next to Menendez...so they can talk shop.








Thursday, November 9, 2017

Softly and Tenderly

About an hour before the beginning of the CMA awards show last night, my son sent me a picture of a group of protesters outside the Bridgestone Arena carrying a sign warning of the eternal consequences of rejecting the King James Version of the Bible. I thought, Seriously?? That’s what you’re going with on a cold night in Nashville? Then I texted him back...This might be the most embarrassing time in history to be a Christian. That statement probably needs an explanation.

It seems that more and more lately, my faith takes turns getting hijacked by any number of people and movements who claim Jesus Christ as a major inspiration. Slick, telegenic preachers dressed in $3,000 Italian suits claim him as the inspiration for a teaching that promises nothing but wealth and victory. “You can have your best you...today!People marching under the banner of white nationalism, who bemoan the presence of way too many of them and nowhere near enough of us, claim a middle eastern Jew as theirs. Many on the far left seem to think that Jesus Christ and Che Guevara were separated at birth somehow since Jesus was clearly a committed Marxist. Many on the far right have contorted themselves in theological pretzels trying to justify their devotion to a President famously fond of grabbing women by the pu***, a man who wouldn’t know the difference between Second Corinthians and the second act of Hamilton if his life depended on it. But, they all claim Christianity as their loadstar, their inspiration. For a man who had virtually nothing whatsoever to say about politics and government, he is claimed by practically every crackpot in America with a half baked agenda of hatred and contempt for others. Just about the time I begin to question my own faith, just about the time I’m about to give up...this woman stands up in front of a packed house in Nashville and millions on television and begins singing a hymn from my childhood...


I almost missed it. I had been in the other room writing. I got up to go ask Pam something at the beginning of the song. I couldn’t look away. First of all, Carrie Underwood can flat out sing, no autotune required. But, it had been years since I had heard the song, and I knew every word. It’s not even one of my favorites. In fact, back in the day, it was this sort of song that inspired people to write new stuff. It was usually performed like a funeral dirge, slow and uninspired. But last night it was the lyrics that grabbed me, their simple distillation of the message of Christ, artfully and beautifully rendered...

...Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.
        See, on the portals, He’s waiting and watching;
                Watching for you and for me.

...Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home;
        Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling;
                 Calling, “O sinner, come home!”

Here, finally, an accurate portrayal of my faith, one that reaches out with love and compassion to a fallen world. Softly. Tenderly. Waiting. Watching. You don’t need to be a member of the right political party. Nobody cares about your money. If you’re weary, come home...

...O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me.
        Though we have sinned He has mercy and pardon;
                Pardon for you and for me.

...Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home;
         Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling;
                Calling, “O sinner, come home!”

It’s love he has promised, not wealth. He brings mercy and pardon, not national renewal. Jesus isn’t a founding father, he’s the Son of God. Jesus isn’t someone we co-opt and his teachings aren’t something we get to shoehorn into the latest political theory. He stands on those portals, waiting, watching and calling to us... come home. 

It took a transcendent performance from a country music star to remind me of this truth.

Thanks, Carrie Underwood.