Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CSI - Christmas Season Investigations

Attacks against obnoxious but nevertheless defenseless inflatables occur daily in the streets of our great city. These are the stories of the dedicated men and women of the Christmas Season Crime squad who investigate these hideous crimes against these helpless… whatever you wanna call them. This is what they do.

CSI – Christmas Season Investigation
Saturday, December 13

When investigator Bob Sawyer arrived at the crime scene, he found his partner Judy Brown already there.

“What do we have here, Judy?” he asked, surveying the area as he spoke.

“It looks like a massacre, if you ask me.”

“How many vics do we have?”

“Three. They’re all in a pile over here.”

She led Sawyer to a pile of what appeared to be stack of official NFPA/CSFM Fire Retardant, weather resistant PVC coated rip stop nylon crap of all different colors but mostly blood red.   

“Can we I.D. any of them?”   

“I won’t know for sure until we get them back to the lab and I’m able to pump some air into them. But I’m guessing that this one is Santa and this one's probably some kind of a snowman.”

“How many kinds of snowman are there?” he asked, trying to relieve the tension.

She ignored him so he got back to business.   

“Do we know what took the wind out of their sails?”

She wanted to ignore him again but this was a fairly legitimate question, given the circumstances.

“Someone pulled the plug would be my guess. But who would do this? And why?”

“Who called it in?”

“A mailman. Said he was driving through the neighborhood and something just didn’t seem right. And then he saw them…just lying there…slumped over in a heap.   

“I take it we don’t have any witnesses.”

“No one’s talking but we’ve got some uniforms canvassing the neighborhood. The family wasn’t much help. They said that the last time they saw them, around three hours ago, everything looked fine. They were bouncing around, had big smiles on their faces, looked real cheery, you know…all Christmassy.”

“You believe them?”   

“I don’t know. You know as well as I that it’s usually someone close to the victim. But why would they do it? This neighborhood is pretty heavily decorated. Why would anyone take out their own Santa?”

“That’s our job to find out.”   

“I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“They’ll be no rockin’ round the Christmas tree, tonight.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get the scrooges who did this.”

Sawyer directed the uniforms to put plastic caution tape around the plastic crime scene and went into the house to talk to the family. Judy Brown loaded the victims into her trunk and proceeded downtown to continue her investigation.

Several hours later Sawyer returned to headquarters. He entered the room where Lab Tech Brown was poised over one of the victims.

“It’s funny,” she said, “but I couldn’t help thinking…” her voice trailed off as if unable to organize her thoughts.

“What is it, Judy?”

“Well, I was just thinking how when I work on a human I put plastic gloves on to protect me…and I guess to protect the evidence and here I am working on a piece of plastic and I’m still putting on plastic gloves for whatever reason…I don’t know…you know.”

She looked quizzedly at Sawyer who looked just as confused as she did.

“I got a feeling that this is just the beginning of many strange things we are going to encounter with this case,” Sawyer said, sensing that she might be letting the case get the better of her. 

“It’s not going to be easy on any of us but our job is to speak for the victims. These guys will tell us what we need to know. We’ve just got to go where the evidence takes us. So what have we got so far?”

“I was right about Santa and the snowman. The other one appears to be a reindeer.”   


“I don’t think so. Look here,” she said, holding up the limp, lifeless plastic remains of what was once a charming fantasy deer. Sawyer tightened his lips and nodded, obviously impressed with his partner.

“No red nose. Good work.”

Suddenly the phone rang. Sawyer picked it up and Judy watched him grimace and shake his head as he listened. He put the phone down and just stared at the floor.

“What is it?”

“I think—” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Sometimes, even for a seasoned Christmas Season veteran, it all gets to be too much.

“Come on, tell me. We’re a team aren’t we? So let me help.”

“I think…I think we have a serial killer on our hands. We won’t know for sure until we get all the facts but it looks like two more Santa’s, another reindeer, some elves and an Easter bunny.”

“An Easter bunny!”

“Yeah, go figure. All I know is we got to stop this insanity before no inflatable individual feels safe in suburbia.”

“I don’t know? An Easter bunny at Christmas time. We may already be at that point.”

“Is there anything else we know, anything at all that can help us get to the bottom of this massacre?”

“Well there doesn’t appear to be any cuts or tears. They don’t appear to be shot and I’m ruling out poison—just because. I think my first hunch may have been right. Someone pulled the plug on these guys—but who—and why?”

“If ever there was a case for a case going cold it would be this one. There just doesn’t seem to be much to go on.”

Just then, a patrolman burst in, ran over to a television set and turned it on.

“Sawyer, you gotta see this.”

Fox News was highlighting a rally just a few blocks from the crime scene. An evangelical minister, standing in front of a manger scene and holding up a Bible was protesting what he called the ongoing war on Christmas. He was calling for Christians to unite and fight back.

“Stand up for what you believe in,” he urged the crowd of spectators. “We have to take Christmas back and put it where it belongs—in the churches. We have to put Jesus back into Christmas and take Santa Claus and Rudolph and those lazy freeloading elves out. We have to rid our department stores of the false gods of Christmas.
“Once we succeed in saving Christmas we have to take back Easter…and All Saint's Day too.”

“Did you hear that, Judy? I understand where he’s coming from, I really do, but honestly no one else is even thinking about taking Easter back—not with twelve more shopping days to go in the Christmas season.”

“You might have something there, Bob. No one would even be talking about saving Easter in December unless they’d just recently had an encounter with an Easter bunny. I think we’re going to have to pay a visit to this community terrorist…ask him a few questions.”

“Well, if we’re right about the guy, I know one thing for sure. We won’t have to trick a confession out of him. My guess is he’ll be squealing like a pig about to become an Easter ham just to claim credit for this crime.”

“The stupid ones always do,” Judy agreed, shaking her head in disbelief.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hippopotamuses sitting in a church in a jelly jar in a sewing basket

This past Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot published an article of mine. Among other things, I was critical of the Internet and the wrong or misleading information found on it. In the original draft I had an oft-quoted remark by Patrick Moynihan concerning facts and opinions, neither of which is in short supply on the Internet. This article came out of that article.

Everybody says we are living in the Information Age. 
More likely, the Opinion Age, I’d say because everyone has one.

I could be wrong about that, but I think I’m right. I dunno.
Recently I submitted an article to the paper for consideration. It included Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own facts.”
The editor wrote back, “Lose the quote. Every submission I get uses it,” and then asked the question, “What’s up with that?”
Of course she was right. I myself had seen or read the quote a gazillion times. Maybe not that many. Maybe a hundred, fifty at least. No less than ten.
Fact is, hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t use the quote to discredit someone else’s opinion.  I fully expect Taylor Swift to release a new song any day now containing these or similar lyrics:
My boyfriend says I’m a bitch.
I tell him, “That’s your opinion.”
He says my exes all agree,
so it must be a fact.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
Like Patrick Moynihan says,
“You jerks entitled to your opinion,
No one’s taking that away.
But a lot of jerks don’t make it a fact.”
So listen to what I say.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
I dunno. I think it’s pretty good. But that’s just my opinion.
Nevertheless, a lot of opinions passing for facts and facts passing for opinions are floating around these days. I blame the Internet, where to misquote Roseanne Roseannadanna—and you can look it up—“You can always find something about something.”
I thought I’d prove my point by googling the most outlandish phrase I could think of. Despite my premise that anything can be found on the Internet, to be honest, I thought I could beat it. I thought I could come up with a phrase that wouldn’t produce a result. At that point I was prepared to get cute, use the phrase as the title of this piece and put it on my blog. Not only would the topic now turn up in all future Google searches but it would also draw attention to my blog. 
Before I had put a single word on paper, when this was just an idle idea floating in my head, I decided to go with the catchphrase, “Hippopotamuses sitting in a church.”
To my dismay I got quite a few hits. So I switched to, “Hippopotamuses in jelly jars,” which also pulled up many hits, as did “Hippopotamuses in sewing baskets.” I’m hesitant to show how far I will go to prove a point, but “Hippopotamuses in jelly jars in sewing baskets” turned up countless hits including a myriad of images depicting variations of hippopotamuses in jelly jars in sewing baskets.
In my opinion, it will not be global warming that does us in. It won’t be nuclear annihilation. It won’t be disease or pestilence or too many Big Macs. Mankind, in my opinion based on the facts, will be done in by information overload. We will simply shut down and just like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put us together again.
But if, on the outside chance there is a way to save mankind from this fate, I know where you can find it. I just can’t bring myself to say the word.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Life isn't a high school debate

The Virginian-Pilot Sunday Forum, November 30, 2014

Endless debate is becoming the new favorite American pastime; inaction our nation’s worst nightmare.

Scholastic debates are all about taking a position, any position and defending it. Teams get points for doing this with style and poise. Get enough points and your team wins.
Public debate—about real issues having real consequences—should be about more than tallying up points. It should also be a search for truth. And the truth shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Two factors make arriving at the truth so difficult.

One is the shear abundance of information out there—some of it good, some of it bad, and much of it misleading. Once something is put out there—even a boldface lie, easily and continually disproven, it lives on forever. It is never going away.

Opposing views in the digital age are not discussed by two people staring each other in the eye trying to make the other one blink. An issue like global warming in today’s heated environment will most likely be argued by two people staring down at their iPhones, pulling facts off the Internet the way two people watching a movie at the cinema might pull popcorn out of a jumbo box.  

Just as the last bites are hardly ever as good as the first ones, most of those facts have been out there so long they are beginning to get stale. Many of them weren’t that good to begin with.

The second factor preventing us from arriving at the truth centers on where the debate is not taking place.

In a democracy, our representatives should make up the debate teams. But all too often, the big issues of the day are being addressed outside of Washington. Issues like immigration reform, global warming, building the economy, defense, health care, and education—are being fought by cable news networks, with an unhealthy dose of viewer tweets as to “what’s trending.”

This is generally self-serving because voters generally tune in to the facts they like from the folks they like getting them from. Our elected officials are listening to this debate, and then waiting for the polls to point them in the winning direction.

It shouldn’t always be about winning but it usually is. This is why true campaign-funding reform faces an uphill battle. The challenge is always to corner the money, never reduce it. This is because while money doesn’t make for better elections, sadly, it still does win elections.

But political victories don’t necessarily lead to solutions. In fact, most of the time they won’t lead to anything. They’ll merely keep the debate alive. Too many of our representatives seem content to simply keep the debate going if it improves their own chances of survival. Not arriving at an end game seems to be their game plan.

Arriving at the truth is difficult but it shouldn’t be impossible. The biggest obstacle to arriving at the truth isn’t that it’s not out there. It’s that no one seems to be looking for it.

Our leaders in Congress are unwilling to lead, electing instead to score points by arguing for the sake of argument. Meanwhile, across the nation their supporters vigorously take positions shaped around often false or misleading information.

Our nation is paralyzed, frozen by the inaction inside the government and misguided action by those living outside the Beltway. In the end, it shouldn’t be about doing what we like to do—debate. It shouldn’t matter what debate team we’re on. It should be about finding the truth and then doing something.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Republicans Take a Look at Day and Night—and don’t like what they see

Today, Republicans in the halls of Congress have taken a stance on the controversial issue of day and night. Early this morning, shortly after daybreak, Republican leaders convened behind closed doors before emerging moments later to speak to reporters.
“We don’t like the day,” said one.
“We used to like it; the way it used to be; but we don’t like it anymore.”
“Too light,” added another.
“Too bright,” said a fourth, grabbing the mike and staring straight into the camera.
The chorus continued.
“Why can’t we go back to the way it was?”
“You mean go back to” a reporter began but was cut short.
“I mean go back to last night.”
“Well, it will be night soon, if you could just wait—”
“I don’t want to wait. I want to go back to the dark days of last night, right now.”
“I think you mean the dark night of yester day, Senator. Not the dark days.”
That’s the way it went all day long as Democrats tried to convince Republicans that everything would be all right if they were patient and allowed nature to take its course. And Republicans rambled on about how good the night was in the good old days—last night.
A hearing was convened on the spot because there was no time to waste. The day was slipping away. Irony replaced lunacy for a short time as scientists tried to convince Republicans that day and night was something we really did have no control over.
“That's just the way it is,” said an elitist scientist from one of those Ivy League schools.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Fox in the Henhouse is Anything But Fair

Cranks used to be harmless individuals who stood on the corner cursing the heavens, screaming the world was coming to an end and hurling dirty looks and a raised fist to anyone so bold as to ridicule them.  There weren’t enough of them to make a difference and for the most part the few that existed were obviously crazy, or as we used to say, touched in the head. They’ve come a long way. Now they have their own news station.

Watching FOX News is like being a fly on the wall in a roomful of old cranks, disguised as attractive young blondes accompanied by their suitors, listening to them proclaim the sky is falling and discussing whose fault it is. FOX News is where cranks, both viewer and commentator, wind up to get wound up.

It’s not that hard in a complex world to find something wrong if that is all you are looking for. Cranks have always known they can draw a lot of attention to themselves by searching behind every silver lining for that tidbit of disaster that might exist. But Fox News has managed to place themselves ahead of the curve on the negativity scale by putting those tasty morsels under a microscope.

In their world tragedies become conspiracies, isolated cases become the norm, good programs they don’t like become evil deeds they must destroy.

We live in a country where individual freedom and representative government are the standard by which all others are measured. The very bedrock of our Constitution is based on the dignity of man and the guarantee of life, liberty and happiness. But that doesn’t mean things won’t sometimes go wrong or that in a nation of 300 plus million people, some of them at times will be less than happy. Zeroing in on those exceptions and harping on them because it gets you an audience doesn’t make you a voice of reason. It makes you a crank.

It is easy to ignore a crank standing on the corner. But FOX News has cornered the crank market. They reach millions of people who wouldn’t recognize a crank if he or she were staring them in the eye.

Like I said earlier, the crank standing on the corner thinking he could change the world was crazy. But the cranks over at FOX News can and do influence people. So what is their motivation? You don’t have to go far for the answer.

Money and power, as usual, are always the prime motivators behind bad behavior.

Why else would people claiming to be dedicated journalists who love their country express so much contempt toward their government when there is so much to be proud of?

There used to be a thing called perspective for everyone but the cranks. We were cautioned to keep everything in perspective and always be aware of it.

But in its quest for money and power, FOX News has distorted the facts by continually maximizing the minimal. They have treated perspective as something not to be aware of, but rather to beware of.

They lead us to believe that

the miniscule number of people that might engage in voter fraud justifies putting an unnecessary burden on millions of voters who have never committed fraud;

 —more Congressional hearings are needed to determine if a tragic attack on an embassy might possibly involve a conspiracy;

 —the rise in some people’s rates overshadow ten million people having health insurance for the first time;

the inability to stop or control political upheaval in countries where political unrest could and should be fully anticipated is somehow seen as a sign that the most powerful military in the world is suddenly weak;

raising the minimum living wage will cost jobs when being able to earn a living is the reason for having a job;

regulations are bad in spite of the fact that every major economic catastrophe has been due to the lack of regulations.

The list is never ending because cranks will always find something to complain about. Talk of death panels, IRS, NSA, ATF, FDA, ETC overreach, the color of the president’s suit, or worse, whether he was even born in this country—all this becomes fodder for the cranks at FOX News.

It is important to remember that cranks aren’t necessarily dancing to a different drummer. They are simply out of step.

How should we deal with all this crankiness?

The same way as if they were standing on the corner.

Ignore them. After all, they’re just cranks.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,

—It Won’t Be the First Time
In discussing the proposals to battle the effects of global warming, specifically ambitious carbon reduction, Thomas Donohoe, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “There is no way this can be done without fundamentally changing the American way of life.”

Now there is no way to know what aspects of the American way of life he was referring to; the ongoing effort to eliminate the middle class, our fascination with guns, our propensity towards violence as a first line of defense for matters big and small, our love affair with mediocre T.V. and lots of it, our dependency on fast food, our refusal to avoid HOV lanes at all cost, or our determination to live in the past even when we know the past wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

My guess is it is the last one. We continue to think, as Jerry Lee Lewis expressed so aptly a half century ago—Has it been that long?—that we Americans really “have the bull by the horn-a.”

Has fundamentally changing a way of life ever been a good thing?

The obvious answer is ah…well…ah yes, yes it has—especially when that fundamental way of life doesn’t seem to be working.

Living in filth during the Black Plague seemed like the only way to go until someone got the bright idea that cleanliness is next to Godliness. It took a while because Europe was a pretty big cesspool but in time and with a great deal of effort and expense, Europe cleaned up its act and eliminated a deadly disease in the process. And when it was over, the only question being asked was, what the hell took us so long.

Of course, the answer to that question was that for a long time not everyone was walking around in the filth but when they learned that you didn’t have to actually walk around in the filth to be affected by it, fundamental changes occurred and plagues, for the most part, now only turn up in children’s nursery rhymes.

But you can go back even further, right to the beginning in fact. There was a time, and people tend to forget this, but there was a time when men lived in caves. Not only did he live in caves but he was damn happy to be doing so. He had his fire going, a bed of straw, a coat of fur, and a stack of rocks to keep the neighbors out of his yards.

Then someone came up with the bright idea that they could do better and the natural response was, “What, better than this?”

That was a cave man trying to hold on to his fundamental way of life. That was a caveman flat out rejecting the idea that while bear coats might be appropriate for everyday wear, deerskins might be better for formal events.

The world that has been continually changing from day one. And no faction of society has successfully been able to apply the brakes to change. So again the question becomes, why do we still fear it?

The answer is no one really fears change. But some people have a stake in avoiding it.

So the next time someone—someone in the oil business, say, makes the argument—yes, we could go to wind power and solar power, and it would be cleaner, but do we really want to turn our backs on dirty coal?

You tell him not to let the windmill blade hit him on the way out of the 20th century. And remind him that today’s fundamental way of life is yesterday’s old news and today’s new ideas will be tomorrow’s fundamental way of life—but not forever.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Writing will improve when readers demand it. Reading will improve when there's something worth reading.

A recent article entitled, “SOL SCORE STAGNATION” highlighted the fact that
reading and writing scores are down. State officials point out that like math scores, which were once also down but are now on the rise, reading and writing scores will also rise once students become more comfortable with the tests. Interesting. They do not say that reading and writing will become better—only that scores will get better.

I garnered this information from my Thursday edition of the Virginian-Pilot but the vast majority of people getting this news will pull the story off the Internet. There, they will be free to go immediately to the comment section and read what anonymous people everywhere were saying about the story; and by the fifth or sixth comment also discover what these anonymous people were saying about everything and anything else under the sun while breaking every imaginable grammar rule in the book—assuming there still are grammar books.

They can then Tweet and text their friends about the article. The good news is no one will be grading those.

Reading and writing scores are down because reading and writing serve no purpose in the modern world—at least not reading and writing the way it used to be. Today, words are out, punctuation is out, complete sentences are out, and coherent ideas are out.

LOL, !!!!!, & :'(  (for crying out loud) are in.

For the past year, I have been transcribing letters between my father, when he was a POW in Germany and my mother, a WAVE serving in Pensacola, Florida. Their engagement, like those of most of their friends from that era, was carried on through the mail. These letters help to point out the stark differences between then and now. They also say something about reading and writing.

Most importantly, I can hold these letters, which are over 70 years old in my hand just as my parents did when they sent and received them. Most of the millions of Tweets and comments that have been posted online over just the short time I have been writing this have already been forgotten and been moved down the page—never to be seen again, replaced by even less important and equally forgettable stuff.

My father was captured in Sicily on July 22, 1943. She continued writing even though her letters were being returned, “addressee missing in action.”  He continued to write not knowing if his letters were even being received. Finally, on February 4, 1944 he receive his first letter from home. He responded immediately, “Finally received a letter from home. You can imagine what it meant to me.”

Waiting for something makes it more important. Knowing that someone else is waiting for your response makes what you say and how you say it even more important.

Today, if something is posted on Facebook and doesn’t receive a “Like” within a reasonable amount of time—usually a few hours—the poster wants to know what happened. With so many words going out to so many people so many times on so many subject, the obvious question becomes, “How can any of it be important?”

The answer is, it isn’t.

And neither are the writing skills that go into texting and Tweeting. Once you become used to reading misspelled words and miss-punctuated sentences, not to mention sentences that don’t even make sense to begin with, it’s not long before reading skills also go out the window.

In today’s world, speed is of the essence. That and ease—easy to write, easy to read. If it isn’t easy and it isn’t fast, then it isn’t getting done. In today’s world of low reading and writing scores, nobody is going to wait almost a year for a response. Who has that kind of time?

Lest a young reader think I’m just another disgruntled old dinosaur out of touch with the always changing times, I’d point out that when I was their age we had abbreviated, coded messages, too.

Whether as students away at college or soldiers in Vietnam, our correspondence often contained the cryptic message S.W.A.K. (sealed with a kiss) on the flap of the envelope. The only difference between then and now is that we also had a written letter inside that could be held in our hands and read. Some of us still have those letters.





Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Times They are a-changin'

The Virginian-Pilot Sunday Forum, August 3, 2014.

FIFTY YEARS ago Bob Dylan recorded what for many became the standard for the turbulent ’60s. 

Most of the politicians he sang about are gone now. So are most of the parents. He was right: “The times, they [were] a changin’.”

The young people he sang to have become today’s politicians, parents and grandparents. 

Back then, as teens, we were looking to the future and telling our leaders and parents that if they couldn’t do the same, they should “get out of the way, don’t block up the road.” Today, we’re the ones looking over our shoulder.

And just like our parents and leaders then, we aren’t comfortable in a changing world. I talk to people all the time who say they don’t care anymore. They’ve given up on their leaders, their country and everything in between. They don’t vote because “they’re all crooks.”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream (final installment)

Don't Wake Us From This Dream

To their credit and despite the brutal attacks waged against them by workers—often out of sheer jealousy—the rich continued to make money. The number of millionaires grew from a mere 50 in 1848 to 5,000 in 1910. Despite a crippling income tax that stole virtually every dime they made, the number of millionaires somehow—by hook or by crook—grew to 50,000 in 1958 and 500,000 in 1980. But always in the back of their minds was the notion; how much more money could they have acquired were taxation not robbing them blind—or at least making them teary-eyed.

Workers continued to accuse their bosses of being greedy and indifferent, some might say insensitive, to the plight of labor. But workers didn’t have to walk in fine Italian shoes or ride in long limos or fly in company jets and know that those shoes could have been even shinier, the limos even longer and the jets bigger and faster. Workers didn’t have to spend every waking moment burdened by images of how things might have been, could have been—dammit, should have been.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The “Money Movement” that had begun with so much promise with Taft-Hartley was faltering. Who would deliver the spark needed to restore dignity to the downtrodden rich man? The young didn’t worry about the rich the way they had worried about the Vietnam War. Blacks didn’t concern themselves with the plight of the rich the way they had obsessed about Civil Rights. And the rich certainly couldn’t count on Feminists, whose concerns were lagging so far behind that “glass ceiling” wasn’t even in the vernacular yet.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream (continued)

The Dark Days
Many say the beginning of the end to actually enjoying being wealthy was the great railroad strike of 1877 and the many other labor strikes that occurred in its wake. These events served fair warning to the Captains of Industry that the gilded train they had been riding was about to derail. Maybe derail is too strong a word, but the ride was going to get a little bumpier as their grip on the purse strings loosened. But they weren’t going to roll over and die without a fight. They weren’t called Captains of Industry for nothing.
In 1957, the Mafia held an informal, casual dress board meeting at the palatial estate of Joseph “The Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, N.Y to devise a game plan for dividing the underworld empire of assassinated kingpin Albert Anastasia. Big news at the time, it wasn’t the first time the rich and powerful got close and personal. Back in 1889, the great railroad magnates assembled at J. P. Morgan's home at No. 219 Madison Avenue to form, in the phrase of the day, an iron-clad combination on how to deal with the labor issues confronting them.
Key to their plan was maintaining their control over the federal government, which was already very much beholding to these money magnates. How beholden?

In 1887, President Cleveland vetoed a bill appropriating $100,000 to draught-stricken Texas farmers because he didn’t want to weaken the sturdiness of our national character by encouraging the expectation of paternal care by the government. This tough-love approach was for the farmer’s own good. That same year, when it came to dealing with wealthy bondholders, his paternal instincts kicked in, and his concern for the sturdiness of our national character took the day off as he used a treasury surplus to pay off $100 bonds at a rate $28 dollars above value—a gift of $45 million.

Whether Republicans or Democrats held office made little difference because the real power rested with this small group of men with all the money. Socialist and Populist groups took up the cause of workers, but were never more than weak third parties capable of small gains but unable to make a real difference.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Wealthy Also Have a Dream

The Good Olde Days
Shedding the shackles and scourge of oppression is never easy.
Just ask the wealthy.
Never have so few had so much taken from them under the guise of helping so many inferior and ungrateful peons. Why, they’ve been down so long, they don’t know which way is up.
But, you say, aren’t they rich? How hard can being rich be, and might their sense of oppression be all in their heads?
The answers to these questions are yes, harder than you think and of course it’s all in their heads. That doesn’t make their oppression all right or even a little right—or them all wrong or even a little wrong.
Charles Dickens didn’t know the half of it when he wrote in 1859, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He could have also added, “And you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The decades just ahead would be recognized for both the unfathomable accumulation of wealth by the very, very, very few and the unspeakable poverty experienced by the many, many, many millions of workers. 
There was a time—and you may find this hard to believe—when the wealthy controlled everything. Captains of Industry, sometimes irreverently referred to as Robber Barons, had it all—money, power, Congress and presidents in their back pockets—not to mention the hatred of almost every American worker. This hatred was more telling than you might imagine as any CEO will tell you: if the workers don’t like you, you must be doing something right.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fourth of July—the way our forefathers intended it to be

There are probably a dozen different ways to celebrate the Fourth of July, but this year I found myself focusing on only two. One I actually participated in and the other, an imagined Tea Party rally based on what I’ve garnered from the nightly news over the past four years.

Both celebrations included flags, lots of them, often incorporated into shirts and vests, but everything else about the two happenings were very different.  

The Tea Party party I envisioned in my head featured a number of speakers who called for taking back the government—from whom, no one would say. They also touched on the notion that our president is a dictator; that our unemployed—once productive workers when they were working have somehow morphed into lazy moochers now that their jobs are gone; and that the immigrants flowing across our borders are a different, substandard class than the ones most of us are descended from.

The speakers were confident that once this government take-back was accomplished, taxes would go down, the economy go up, roads will become drivable again, and the nanny state will get off our backs—freeing us all up to become the millionaires we were always meant to be. We will again be a nation of God-fearing, patriotic, self-reliant rugged individuals like the ones that built this nation into what it is today before all the losers started tearing it down into what it is today.

It goes without saying that there was a multitude of guns present, which any freedom loving American will tell you is the cornerstone of a strong free nation—not to mention, the lynchpin of a strong economy.

The Fourth of July celebration that I actually attended took place in the community of Brockport, New York along the banks of the Erie Canal. It consisted mostly of farmers from the neighboring towns or men and women who used to work at the nearby Kodak plants before those in charge cashed in their chips leaving Rochester’s industrious workers to fend for themselves. These people now worked in the local businesses that dotted the area more known for its cabbage, corn, and fruit crops. In spite of the hard times that have bedeviled this area for the last 20 years or so, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Because the real world they lived in kept them from trouncing around the country all the time, and they were too practical to invest in something they could wear only once a year, I saw a lot of overalls but no tri-corned hats.

The flags at my real celebration were your basic “Stars and Stripes.” I didn’t see a single “Don’t Tread on me” or any flags with images of Sarah Palin. There were no Confederate flags because even though New York fought in the Civil War, New Yorkers choose to associate with the war that won our independence, not the war that almost tore our nation apart.

The Brockport celebration didn’t depend on outside agitators with agendas to carry the day but rather on locals with unbounded spirit. Instead of incensing the crowd with rhetoric, they inspired us with song—patriotic music performed by community choruses and ensembles and, of course, the world famous Brockport High School band. Each performance, no matter the group, included present members, future members and alumni from across the nation. To my untrained eye, the adults, young adults, children and senior citizens seemed to value each other’s contributions.

One highlight was a medley of service songs, calling on those in attendance to stand when their anthem was played. This was as military as it got. There was no discussion of America’s involvement or lack of involvement in overseas struggles.

Our president wasn’t insulted. He wasn’t accused of being too weak, too strong, too hardheaded, or too indecisive. It wasn’t even suggested that he is un-American. In essence, the whole affair seemed to be a celebration of America and not a condemnation of Americans.

I didn’t speak to anyone during my stay in Brockport who wasn’t a hunter or didn’t own a gun; but I saw no firearms. And there didn’t appear to be any militias present, although everyone seemed capable of defending themselves and property. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was exercising his or her own second amendment right to own and bear arms but apparently, the right to own and bear arms does not entail making a spectacle of yourself. 

I came away from the two events—one witnessed in person and the other seared into my brain by three or four years of news reports, with one very intriguing question about America.

Why do people who proclaim to love their country seem to hate their president, government and fellow citizens so much?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Story of Man (Continued)

The Evolutionary Story of Creating
An Evolution Out of Nothing

     Instead of starting with a big bang let’s start where all great ideas start—a quiet room and a blank wall. God is sitting in the middle of nothing thinking about nothing with nothing to do when it dawns on him—and He’s not even sure what “dawns on” means, but he knows that whatever he decides it means that’s what it will mean; but anyway, it dawns on Him that He is lonely and that things are not going to get any better. He knows where He has been and knows where it’s going and it frightens the hell out of Him because He’s still only in the early stages of eternity even though it seems like it has been going on forever.

     Bottom-line: He ain’t seen nothing yet!  Even though he’s seen a lot—of nothing. He knows He is the only one who can solve His problem. There is no cavalry and even if there were, He suspects they would be late.

     “Today,” God says to Himself, cautiously optimistically, “is the first day of the rest of my life,” wondering as He says this if “my” should have a big M or a little m.

     He wonders how the first day of the rest of His life will begin. Will it be a big bang or a big surprise—a big surprise mainly for the man and woman who wake up to discover that they’re at the end of the planting season, it’s time to harvest the crops and there are no slaves around to do the heavy lifting.

     What he wants from his new friends is what everybody wants out of a friendship. He wants his friends to know how important they are to Him—and vice-versa.

     The problem creationists have with the evolution story is that man is hardly in it while evolutionists complain that there is hardly anything in the creationist story except man.

     But could both be overlooking the big Wooly Mammoth in the room? Maybe man is as important as the creationists think he is but maybe, just maybe, putting mankind at the end of a long chain of slow moving events was just the introduction God intended to demonstrate that importance. Maybe the dinosaurs are simply the greatest opening act in history, no more and no less, and mankind is still the biggest headliner—the way God always intended him to be.

    Obviously, the creationist’s story was too easy and man never did get the full grasp of just how lucky he was. He woke up in Eden with absolutely no knowledge of volcanos, tundra’s, rush hours or plain old dumb luck. By the third chapter—and these are very short chapters—man had turned his back on his only new best friend and lost, in the process, a piece of real estate, the likes of which he would never see again.

    But there are some monkey wrenches in the monkey story too.

    Evolutionists protest that the creation story is a story that relied heavily on incredible imagination, bondless enthusiasm, and not much common sense—one you might come up with if you didn’t know an atom from an Adam.

    Well, duh! Moses—a chief contributor to the creation story—was, after all, a man who wandered in the desert for forty years just trying to get back home. He didn’t know what an atom was, so he did the best he could with the only Adam he had.

    So, in the end, what is the story of man’s beginning?

     Obviously, the evolution story is nothing more than the creation story with an earlier beginning and a little more pazazz—not a different beginning, just an earlier one. And the creation story is nothing more than the evolution story with all the details missing.

    God can and must be in the new and improved comprehensive story of man but so can the dinosaurs and monkeys. In the new story, God has to be more than just a folk hero pulling rabbits out of a hat and dropping man in a garden. He has to know a little science. If creationist have no problem with God writing the book on religion they should be able to credit him with writing the book on science, also.

    To recap, creationists simply have to have a brain and evolutionist have to have a heart and both have to brave-up and not be afraid of the truth. And God has to be more than just a wizard.

    But He can do it. He can do it short and quick or He can do it long and tedious. For all we know, He could have already done it both ways on different occasions and we’re just the third or umpteenth attempt at getting it right. If He wanted to, He could even do it upside down and put Australia on top and England down under and believe me no one would be the wiser.

    Or this could all be nothing more than a practice run with the real show starting tomorrow after He gets a good night’s sleep. He certainly has all the time in the world to get it right and all the time in the world to kill, if, in fact, he’s just fooling around. The truth is, He may not have done anything yet. We may just be an idea floating around in His head.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Story of Man

The Evolutionist's Story

     Evolutionists, or as they prefer to be called, scientists, ascribe to the Big Bang Theory and estimate that the universe was created in a single, stupendous light show about 10-billion years ago.
     Our own solar system, including our Earth and 7,8, or 9 other planets, depending on what day it is and who’s counting, entered the cosmos with all worlds spinning around five and a half billion years later. Because the Earth was pretty damn hot in the beginning, cockroaches didn’t show up until at least a few months had gone by and things began to cool down.
     Around 3.8-billion years ago, living cells began floating in the oceans—floating because they were only single, lonely cells without a clue. Double living cells came later but were not much better than one and pretty much just as lonely. In fact, two is just about the loneliest number of cells since the number one, but they were able to advance our culture in a small, incremental two-cells-at-a-time manner—and so, evolutionists claim, it was around the time that double living cells showed up that cells stopped floating and began experimenting with the basic dog paddle.
     Dinosaurs made their entrance around 225-million years ago, hung around for a truly uneventful 150 million years, and then all of a sudden, around 65 million years ago they just decided they had had enough, called it quits and started digging their way to the center of the Earth to get away from it all.
     It wasn’t a good idea and they only got a few thousand feet before hitting a stone wall. This is what is generally referred to in geological terms as the end of the dinosaur and the beginning of petroleum.
     Man showed up about three score and three million years after the dinosaurs left, unaware that dinosaurs had ever even existed, until about 150 years ago. This explains why man gets so excited every time he finds a dinosaur bone in his back yard, no matter how small, and curses for all to hear, “Well dad-gummit, there’s a bone that I could have used in my gas tank.”
     Around 25 million years ago, the first deer set four feet on the planet—roughly 23 million years before man, 24,999,500 years before gunpowder and 24,999,900 years before the invention of the automobile. One would think that this was more than enough time to prepare for being the animal that man most liked to sneak up on and surprise the hell out of, but one would be wrong. We still get that “Where the hell did you come from” look from a deer every time they see us.
     Although he has been a significant addition to the earthly landscape over the last 2-million years, scientists are quick to point out that man had been, more or less, good for nothing for more than 99% of that time, not  making any truly memorable mark in history until about 10,000 B. C. But when he made his move, he did so in a big way.
     It wasn’t a big bang kind of way. No explosives were used in any way although some animals were hurt in the process. Man’s biggest accomplishment at first was just getting off his knees and standing up—"one small step for mankind but one giant step for monkeys." Once he was up, there was no holding him down.
     Sure, mistakes were made. It’s been rumored that an early ancestor of Benjamin Franklin rubbing two stone wheels together in a primitive attempt to make fire created mankind’s first rapidly advancing prairie fire—driving hundreds of families out of their caves. But in time, man became the master of his environment moving quickly from the production of tin cans to bronze statues and the next thing you knew, there’s a 450-foot pyramid sitting there in the middle of the desert, saying, “Hey world, look at me.”
     And that was just the pyramid talking. The men behind the pyramids were even cockier. They would balance themselves at the top of those peculiar, pointy pedestals, gaze up at the stars and the moon and boast,

     “This is just where I’m going when I’m dead. You ought to see my beach house. I LOVE being a Pharaoh.”
    It would be just a few thousand more years and man would be flying to those same stars and hitting golf balls on that same moon.
     Yes, mankind certainly knew how to put on a show and he wasted no time in turning Earth into his own private little playhouse. Hell, ten thousand years of evolution for the dinosaurs, even the last ten thousand when they should have been getting the hang of it, never amounted to more than poking another spike out of their back or finding room for another row of teeth.
     Evolution has been very good for man and man has been very good for evolution. You couldn’t write a better autobiography for a species than the story of evolution.

(to be continued)