Monday, December 11, 2017

A Carol Born

When it comes to carols, I have always found “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” to be especially poignant (if you're not familiar with it, you can listen to it here.)

It did not begin as a song, but as a poem written on Christmas morning by America’s greatest poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, more than 150 Christmases ago. At that moment in time America was torn apart and battling itself in the Civil War – a war that still stands as the one in which more Americans died than in any other.

When dawn broke that morning, Longfellow was despondent. During the war his son Charles had been horrifically wounded when a bullet passed through part of his spine, leading to a long and excruciating recovery. And as if that wasn’t dark enough, his wife Frances had died as a result of burns sustained when her clothes were set on fire by dripping sealing wax, which she was melting with the intention of using it to preserve some of their daughter’s trimmed curls.

But despite that sorrowful backdrop, as Longfellow sat in his Massachusetts home on Christmas and heard the ringing of local church bells, his faith in divine promise started to stir and he was moved to put pen to paper. The resulting poem was transformed into a hymn nine years later, when John Baptiste Calkin composed the music to which it was set.

The poem’s words absolutely speak for themselves. Since some of them are excluded from the carol we normally hear this time of year, here they are in their entirety:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 76 years ago today. The day after the bombing, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on December 8, 1941, to request a formal declaration of war. His speech was simulcast to the country at large via the radio. In it, he said:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack…

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island…

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves…

Always will be remembered the character of this onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.

Pearl Harbor was attacked because it was where the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet was headquartered. The bombing, which killed more than 2,400 people, began shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Five of our eight battleships were sunk, the other three were badly damaged, and multiple other naval vessels were destroyed.

The majority of the American war planes based in Hawaii were destroyed as they sat on the ground.

In addition, most of the American air forces based in the Philippines were destroyed during the nighttime attack on that nation, which FDR also mentioned in his speech.

By crippling our Pacific defenses, the December 7th attack left us extremely vulnerable in the face of an aggressive enemy to our West – an enemy that had signaled its intent to rule the entire Pacific basin by subjugating other nations to its will.

This came at a time when we had not responded to the fact that Nazi Germany to our East had already declared war against us, had already brought most of Europe under its thumb, and had signaled its own intention to rule the world by way of an Aryan resurrection of the old Roman Empire.

Such circumstances would have spelled doom for the vast majority of countries throughout the course of history. With their foundations based on the accidents of ethnicity and geography, most countries would have simply surrendered; or, in a distinction without a difference, entered into “peace” negotiations under which they would have to accept the aggressor’s terms and after which the lives of their citizens would most certainly change for the worst.

But the United States is a nation based on ideals. Our foundation springs from the knowledge that there are things greater than us, things which are greater than the transient circumstances which exist on any given day. We have always found strength in the conviction that our nation exists to support and advance those greater things, to the benefit of people all over the world, and this sets the United States apart from all other nations in all other times.

Taking heed from FDR’s appeal to “righteous might,” reflecting what Abraham Lincoln earlier referred to as the “faith that right makes might,” the American people of 1941 summoned the invincible courage to rebuild and fight at the same time they were under fearsome siege. They did this despite the fact they were still suffering through an unprecedented economic depression that had started more than a decade before.

Let us pray that those qualities – that will to power and that unwavering belief in the sanctity of human freedom – have not been lost as new generations of Americans take the baton from the great ones which came before. For as has been said, those who forget the past will be forced to repeat it.

It would be shameful if history were to record that we squandered what was handed down to us by people like Larry Perry, and as a result we failed to transfer freedom’s blessings to our descendants... And since you probably don't know who Larry Perry is, I recommend you look here and find out.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

That Christmas Feeling

I published this post seven years ago, when Sarah was a kindergartner and Parker was, like I said, "resting snugly in Erika's womb" ... Today Sarah is a hormonal middle schooler, and Parker is bouncing off the walls with the energy of a meerkat ... She now knows the truth about Santa, and her theme park tastes have graduated from Disney to Universal, but she still loves Christmas ... Meanwhile, he believes in Santa but recently remarked that Dylan (our Elf on the Shelf) "looks like a doll" ... I think I will grin every time I re-read this post, so I'm re-publishing it tonight as we all go barreling into this year's holiday season: 

As long as I can remember, I have spent the Thanksgiving-through-New-Year’s season feeling buoyant and hopeful. On December mornings like today’s, when the temperatures are below freezing and the grass is coated with frost, I have always found it easy to catch the Christmas spirit.

But even for people like me, the appreciation we feel for this time of year is increased many times over when we become parents. Watching our children’s faces light up with wonder, we remember how we felt at this time of year when we were kids. Surely, even the most jaded adult must have fond recollections of Christmas Past and hope that today’s tykes are enjoying Christmas Present.

When Sarah was two, I am pretty sure she remembered Christmas from when she was one, but I know she remembered it when she was three. That was the year we got a flat tire while driving to the annual Christmas Eve party for my extended family. It was dark and cloudy and we were stranded for some time on a rural road -- a circumstance that would usually lead to bad moods and quick tempers. But when the lights of an airplane tracking through the clouds became visible, I pointed to them and told Sarah it was Santa’s sleigh. Her face immediately lit up. She pointed at the lights and wiggled and shrieked to Erika: “Mommy! Mommy! It’s Santa! It’s Santa!” And a potentially bad experience was transformed into a golden moment that will never be forgotten.

Exactly one year later, when she was four, getting her to go to bed on Christmas Eve proved next to impossible. For what seemed like hours, she kept getting up every few minutes and running into our room, laughing and jumping and swearing that through her window she had just seen Santa’s sleigh in the sky. Then she started saying that she thought she heard reindeer on the roof. And she kept getting up and making these claims over and over and over again…

When she was five, we took her to Disney World on December 23rd, and the Magic Kingdom was decked out in holiday splendor. After night fell, as we made our way down Main Street USA with Sarah on my shoulders, she broke into song and belted out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Then artificial snowflakes started to shower down, blown from the tops of the storefronts, and the day came to a picture-perfect end.

The next night saw more classic, Christmas Eve moments. Sarah claimed she saw Rudolph’s nose in the sky on our way home from the annual party. Before bed she made a trail of cookies in our driveway to lead the reindeer to our door. At the end was a marshmallow snowman cookie, along with a note on which she wrote: “Rudolph only.”

Finally, inside our home on her own small table by the tree, Sarah left milk and cookies, and an unfortunately broken candy cane, out for Santa. We disposed of the food and drink before she awoke, and Erika was sure to leave cookie crumbs on the plate next to the empty glass. Erika also composed a thank you note from Santa to Sarah. We had already turned this into a tradition, and Sarah reveled in it again.

Sarah is now six. For the third December in a row she is rising before the roosters every single morning, opening her Advent Box and finding where the Elf on the Shelf has moved to. She is smart as a whip and I did not expect her to still believe in Santa last year, but now it is a whole year later and she continues to believe.

We have always told her that Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Jesus, and is about giving rather than receiving, and she seems to get it. Two years ago, when we told her that after opening her gifts she had to choose one to give away to the poor, she countered by asking if she could give away ten of her old toys rather than one of her new ones.

When Sarah was born, we actually said that we would not even do the Santa thing, specifically to avoid the dreaded conversation in which we would have to admit (there’s no delicate way to put this) that we have been lying to her all these years. Then Christmas came and we did the Santa thing anyway, and although I have some reservations, I don’t have any regrets when I watch her enjoy herself. Her excitement heightens mine and Erika’s, and I am serene in my confidence that she will look back on these days with happiness. After all, one of my fondest memories of Christmas Past is of the year my parents broke the news to me that Santa is not real. The memory involves a chalkboard, but that is a story I will share another time, perhaps another year.

The bottom line is this: I love Christmas to begin with, but I love it even more because of my little girl. Erika and I can not wait to keep making new memories with her and her little sibling, who right now is resting snugly in Erika's womb.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Anthem Antagony

ISIS just got crushed. North Korea keeps threatening and ain't goin' away. Tax reform is on the table in DC. There are many weird things about the Vegas shooting that have not been explained. Things surrounding the Uranium One scandal make it one of the most dastardly cases of political corruption in American history.

With all that going on, the fact that people are still spending hours of their lives venting about the NFL's national anthem protests is a sign they've lost their sense of proportion. However, that flap is so much the issue de jour that not commenting about it almost feels like a failure of civic duty. Shouldn't feel like that, but does, so here I go.

Of course there are two issues involved -- on one hand is the protest itself, on the other is President Trump inserting himself into the picture -- so it must be made abundantly clear that your opinion about one need not bind you to a predetermined opinion about the other. Unfortunately, people seem unaware of that should-be-obvious fact and as a result they tend to fall into either of two camps. One camp asserts that the protesters are wrong and Trump is right, while the other asserts that the protesters are right and Trump is wrong. But from my vantage point, the protesters and Trump are both wrong.

Although brevity is not my strength, I will try to be as brief as possible. If you intend to read this and are all-in with either of the two camps I mentioned, I only ask that you read my post in is entirety (and with an open mind) before deciding whether I'm an ingrate.

The Players
The headline to a recent column by Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Tom Jones read: "Rather than criticizing anthem protests, we should be asking about the reasons for them." That is wrong. Jones has it backwards, for when a person decides to stage a public protest, that person has a baseline obligation to volunteer his reasons for it and back them up and make his case, since that is, after all, the whole point of protesting.

The onus is on the protester to offer his explanation, not on the public to ask him for it, and a protester who fails at that very basic obligation is a protester who deserves to be ignored.

If you make a spectacle about having an opinion yet don't give the basis for it (or even bother to be clear about what your specific opinion is) you can't criticize people for concluding that you don't know what you're talking about.

And let's face it, so far the player-protesters from the athletic world have had a much closer relationship with vagueness than they have with clarity. Sure, they've made broad pronouncements that 99 percent of the public would never disagree with (e.g., police brutality is bad, racist white cops beating up innocent black citizens is bad) yet they have not offered any evidence that police brutality really is rampant, nor have they offered any evidence that cops really are using their weapons in an "open season on blacks" (if you don't mind me borrowing a phrase that has been used quite a bit since Ferguson).

Point to your melanin and tell me it has caused some store clerks to watch you closer than they watch shoppers with pale complexions, and I will definitely believe you. Point to it and tell me that the cop who pulled you over spent more time gazing into your vehicle than he would have spent looking into mine, and I will probably believe you (and the reason I only say "probably" is that I myself was once threatened and harassed for several days by an FBI agent who mistakenly assumed I had knowledge about somebody he was investigating).

But tell me that police officers all over the country are shooting black Americans practically at will, and at rates disproportionately higher than they are shooting white Americans, and your belief alone, even when combined with personal anecdotes about your own unfair (but notably non-violent) encounters with individual cops will not suffice for me to believe that such a sweeping and damning claim is accurate.

I need something more in order to entertain, much less accept, an accusation that attaches itself to so many human beings and that borders, if not crosses, the threshold of slander. I need much more.

And while I promise to come back to the matter of evidence, let me now pause to talk about...

The President
When Donald Trump decided to go tweeting that the NFL's anthem-kneelers should be fired or suspended (I don't know his exact words because I'm not on Twitter and not in the mood to look them up) he correctly read the public's mood. He knew that most Americans are greatly turned off by the protest and that many of them are outright repulsed by it, so he calculated that criticizing the protesters would play well and help him politically.

Trump's calculation was correct, but he was wrong to act on it the way he did. And he was not only merely wrong, but really most sincerely wrong. And damned wrong on top of that.

The President of the United States is universally recognized as the leader of the free world and widely considered the most powerful person on the planet. This has been the case for all of my 46 years, and for many years before I was born. For the man holding that office to publicly declare that private citizens (whom he was elected to serve, not rule) should be deprived of their pay by private employers (whom he was also elected to serve, not rule) is so obviously inappropriate that I shouldn't have to point it out.

Imagine if you went to a town hall meeting during your city's mayoral election, and asked a question that suggested you thought the incumbent was allowing corruption to go unchecked in one of the city government's agencies... and next thing you knew, the President of the United States Himself jumped on the airwaves and called for you to get canned or placed on unpaid leave. How would that feel?

Contrary to what some commentators have claimed, that would be a First Amendment issue. Yes, an employer does have a right to fire you for something you say, because the First Amendment protects you only from the government restricting your speech. But again, we are talking about the President of the United States Himself saying you should lose your job for saying something he doesn't like. Doesn't that seem like government encroachment on your speech rights, even if he says he is not giving an order. Wouldn't you find it egregious if a man with such immense power started throwing his weight around where your livelihood is concerned?

Don't employers have a natural tendency to do whatever it takes to stay on Master Government's good side? Is it really that crazy to wonder if an employer might decide to find a way to rid itself of an uninvited problem employee of whom the most powerful man on Earth opposes, in order to protect itself (and thus its employees and shareholders!) from the wrath of the power that man commands?

Shouldn't we consider what the precedent might mean for tomorrow if a president today sticks his proboscis where it doesn't belong and nobody pushes back?

Conservatives such as myself would scream bloody murder if Barack Obama did something like Trump has done with regard to the NFL players. If we mean what we say we mean, we have to call Trump out too.

The Protest
It's a little hard to comment on the protest because, like I mentioned, the players haven't really explained what they're protesting. However, it's fairly clear that they believe police shootings/brutality against black citizens is rampant and out of proportion to police shootings/brutality against white citizens.

But what does the evidence say about that?

Look at the numbers of what has actually happened, like Larry Elder did recently, and you will see that an unarmed black man in the United States is more likely to get struck by lightning that he is to get killed by a police officer.

One of the most complete studies ever done about police interactions with various segments of the population was conducted by Harvard's Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and published last year. In what Fryer (who is black) called "the most surprising result of my career," it found that after factoring in contextual differences (percentage of population, suspect behavior, etc.) there is no discrepancy in the rates of police shootings of blacks versus police shootings of whites.

Multiple studies including one by Washington State University have found that in simulation tests (think "Shoot Don't Shoot") police are quicker to pull the trigger against whites than they are against blacks.

These studies are not necessarily dispositive, and do not change the fact that every single unjustified slaying by authorities is abhorrent, but they do throw a lot of cold water on the notion that police are singling out minorities and using them for target practice.

If millionaire athletes hope to persuade the general public to accept their side of the argument, they must be able to cite evidence and statistics, and they have to deal reasonably with any evidence or statistics that don't conform to their argument. Where contrary evidence is concerned, they must be able to either debunk it or present a compelling argument why it's not significant.

The reason they must do this is twofold: 1) the general public (by which I mean "the majority of white people") already has a gut belief that there is little if any racial discrepancy when it comes to unjustified shootings and beatings by police; and 2) perhaps more importantly, the stats and evidence I noted above are fairly well-known. Therefore, when the player-protesters fail to present stats and evidence, it reinforces a not uncommon assumption that they don't know what they are talking about -- and that, in turn, invites the general public to conclude that the player-protesters aren't worth listening to.

Which might be a shame, because there are actual statistics that support the existence of a racial discrepancy in physical (albeit non-fatal and non-shooting) encounters with police. For example, the same Roland Fryer study which found no discrepancy in police shootings also found that "blacks and Hispanics were more than 50 percent more likely to experience physical interactions with police, including touching, pushing, handcuffing, drawing a weapon, and using a baton or pepper spray" (direct quote from this article). Factoring in context does cause that eye-popping 50 percent gap to go down, but unlike what happens with shootings, does not cause it to go away; there remains a statistically noteworthy gap and no readily discernible explanation -- other than race -- to account for it.

That is the kind of thing that most people would believe is worth looking into. People on both sides of the political divide, racial divide, economic divide, educational divide, and any other divide you can name. However, with the player-protesters not citing it, it stands no chance of getting any attention.

And with the athletes choosing to make the flag and anthem the centerpieces of their protest, they repel rather than attract millions of potential allies. And those potential allies have legitimate reasons for feeling repelled, even insulted. But I promised I would "try to be as brief as possible," and I have already gone long, so I'll save that for another time.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

De-escalation time

This was my Facebook status yesterday morning as news from the Vegas massacre was coming in:

And while we squabble passionately about whether it's appropriate to sit out the national anthem, 50+ people get killed and hundreds more wounded in the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history... Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families... We (including me) tend to get too worked up over small fish like the various opinions that people have in their heads. WE (this country is called the *United* States of America) have got bigger fish to fry, and may I humbly suggest that it would be a good idea to stop posting snarky comments accusing people of being racist, communist, sexist, or fascist because we disagree with them about the role of government... That's all.

In light of that, I am holding off on publishing the post I was about 95 percent done writing when news of the massacre broke.

Not that it accused anybody of being racist, communist, sexist, or fascist. But it was about the anthem protests by NFL players and President Trump's reaction to them, and as we all know, that topic tends to be a wedge rather than an adhesive.

With the exception of a few vile journalists and cynical politicians, America as a whole has reacted humanely and as one to what happened in Vegas. Just like we have done in the face of tragic and evil events throughout history. Just like we did after the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year, when the targeted population was very different from the one targeted in Vegas (a big thanks to Michael Medved for drawing that particular comparison).

When the chips are down, we consistently show our goodness and our proclivity to regard all of our fellow humans simply as that -- human beings with their own dreams and desires, not dagger-drawn mascots for various groups pitted against each other. As I head off to the mountains for my annual fall hiking trip, that is the America I will think of and be proud of.

Until next time, take care.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my kids skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind them as they trick-or-treat on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games at which the fans are loud and the bands are blaring...and most of all, college games in which Auburn is winning and the song you keep hearing begins with the line: War Eagle, fly down the field / ever to conquer, never to yield!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

et ceteras

Trump at Turtle Bay
Whether you love our 45th president or hate him, he hit a home run Tuesday at the United Nations.

From his unambiguous declaration that North Korea's nuclear shenanigans will not stand ("No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.") to his equally unambiguous and perfectly segued call to action against Iran ("We face this decision not only in North Korea. It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime -- one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.") Donald Trump hit the precise notes that the world needs to hear from the leader of the free world.

From an international vision of enlightened, self-determining, and symbiotically cooperating nations ("The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free...Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.") to a clear-eyed disavowal of centralized power ("The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing...The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.") he articulated a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it exists, and of how the world can and should improve.

As with all speeches, the ultimate proof will be in the pudding that comes. Will the actions Trump takes (and does not take) through the remainder of his time in office be consistent with what he said Tuesday? Will he actually confront evil and will he inspire persuade other nations to do so as well, to advance our mutual interests and shared values? Only the coming months and years will tell, but as far as speeches go in real time, Tuesday's was one of the best a sitting president has given in ages.

Don't get me wrong. It's always better having football than not having it. But is it just me, or does the start of this football season seem awfully flat at both the college and pro levels? There have been some good games, of course, and some good story lines, but nothing has really grabbed my attention and made by pulse go up.

I'm sure Florida beating Tennessee on that Hail Mary was exciting if you're a Florida fan, but when I saw it all I could think was that it proved there are Pop Warner Youth League coaches who no more about football than Tennessee's head coahc Butch Jones and defesnive coordinator Bob Shoop. How is it that with five seconds left and giving up a 60+-yard pass being the only way the game wouldn't go to overtime, they failed to call an alignment with a bunch of defensive backs deployed in the deep secondary to guard against what was sure to come? How is it that they had only two guys back there covering all that real estate? Come on.

Jaromir Jagr is the second leading scorer in NHL history, and while he may be 45 years old he is also coming off a season in which he banged out 46 points and was, despite playing significant minutes, the only player on his team to not miss a game all season. It was a surprise that the Panthers did not offer him a new contract when his expired in July, especially since he was only asking for a one-year deal which meant they wouldn't have been taking a gamble on term -- but it is an even bigger surprise that nobody else has signed him either, with him being open about his desire to play and about not wanting to break a team's bank and with him being a much, much better player than many of the other wingers who are sure to be on NHL rosters when the season starts in two weeks. If Jagr's career ends because no one will sign him when he has so much gas left in his tank, it will be a stain on the league.

It was not good to learn that Brian Boyle has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Though not a superstar, he is one if my favorite players to ever don the Tampa Bay Lightning sweater. A hockey player's hockey player, Boyle is one of those blue collar guys who does the supposedly small things supremely well to help his team prevail -- win faceoffs, forecheck to establish zone time, poke pucks away from opponents' sticks. The good news it sounds like the diagnosis was made very early and the prognosis is very good, and there is no doubt he has the right mindset, so I am confident he'll beat this. Best of luck, Brian.

...that's all I have for tonight. Take care

Monday, September 18, 2017

When a journalist behaves like a jackass

Below is an email I received Friday from internationally known journalist Ryan Lambert, who writes for Yahoo Sports on their hockey site Puck Daddy. Other than me having italicized his email to distinguish it from the rest of the text in this post, this is precisely as it came from him, lack of capitalization and all:

hey snowflake, take your "stick to sports" 700-word email that you know for sure I would never care about and put it in the toilet. it really doesn't matter to me what you or any other MAGA loser thinks.

you're on the wrong side of history. can't imagine why you would send me this email except to cry about it.

get lost.

I think that tells you all you need to know about the kind of person Lambert is, especially since my email to which he was responding actually stated that I read his articles "almost every day and find them to be both good and enjoyable."

I emailed him directly, rather than comment in the comments section of one of his articles, for the specific reason that I know such comments tend to result in people jumping in and being rude and disrespectful without saying anything substantive. My aim was to avoid their ilk, but little did I know that Lambert would show himself to be one of them.

What originally prompted me to write was his increasing tendency to drop political opinions in the middle of his sports columns without bothering to provide any support for those opinions -- unlike his sports opinions, which he does explain and support.

In my email, I pointed out that he tends to attack the character of those who disagree with him on politics but does not bother to explain why his political views are better or why his opponents' are bad. Instead, he merely proclaims that those whose politics differ from his are low-IQ bigots and then he scurries away. (Yes, when you consider what I just typed, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by his infantile response to me, but nonetheless I am -- so maybe I am stupid after all!)

Anyway, it's amusing that Lambert called me a snowflake when he was the one acting with nothing but emotional incontinence and I was the one offering reasoned thoughts.

It's also amusing that he called me a "MAGA loser," seeing as how I published several things during the 2016 election that were fiercely critical of Donald Trump. (MAGA stands for "Make America Great Again.")

Part of me thinks I should stop this post right now and hit the "publish" button. Another part of me thinks I should show what I meant when I just said that my email to Lambert offered "reasoned thoughts." Well, I'm the kind of person who likes to back up what I say, and I do not want to make anyone guess wrong about the tenor of my email to Lambert, so here is what I wrote to him about one of his recent columns (my email was obviously not italicized, but the underlines were there):

In a September 6th piece you declared the Chicago Blackhawks logo "racist as hell," and said that anyone who claims otherwise "has a weird ulterior motive" and is uttering "the kind of thing dumbass white people say." Yet you did not explain why you think the logo is racist at all, much less racist as hell (other than linking to an article by Greg Wyshynski in which he too failed to explain how it is racist, though at least he engaged in the not very intellectual task of citing a lone example of a 7-year-old child not liking a similar logo that is worn by a youth team in a different country). If the Blackhawks logo is so racist then it should be extremely easy to explain why, but neither you nor Greg did (could?).

And you sure "as hell" did not explain what makes white people "dumbass" when they beg to differ about the Blackhawks logo. It is simply a picture of a Native American visage - a generally accurate picture that is not a caricature and does not belittle. The team name Blackhawks derives from an old US military unit that was named after a Native American leader named Black Hawk. He fought against the US in this country's early years, and was an important historical figure who wrote the first-ever Native American autobiography. The hockey team's logo has probably done more to keep his memory alive than all of the textbooks, documentaries, college lectures, magazine articles, and newspaper columns ever produced - all of them combined. So yes, there is a very logical, very substantiated argument not only for the logo not being racist, but for it being the opposite of racist, and you have not offered the slightest counter to that argument. Instead, what you have done is engage in name-calling and character defamation against those who suggest that maybe you should offer an actual argument.

I also addressed another column, by writing this:

Today, in response to Max Domi's suggestion that the NHL should increase the size of the goal cage, you wrote: "Leave it to the MAGA guy to push a dumb idea that a bunch of people already came up with." And that was literally all you said on the subject. I too am not a fan of the idea (because I think it would cheapen scoring and make inter-era statistical comparisons harder than they already are) but it seems like your sole intent in commenting on Domi's sports idea was to levy a clear implication that people who support Donald Trump are "dumb." That is a personal attack, and if you suggest such a thing in writing you have a professional and ethical obligation to support it, which you did not.

I was not all lovey dovey in my email, but I laid my reasoning out and left it open to debate -- after having identified myself to Lambert as a daily reader who enjoys his columns. And the way I ended my email doesn't really amount to fighting words: "I think you should reconsider slipping political asides into your columns if you aren't going to elaborate on them. That's all."

To which he responded with all the intelligence and maturity of a middle schooler making fart jokes while masturbating in the boy's room.

Remember, we are talking about a well-known person who is on Yahoo's payroll for the specific purpose of trafficking in opinions.

There is a wonderful feistiness to the opinion business and that feistiness belongs there, assuming the person being feisty has made his point and addressed counter-arguments raised by those on the other side. In other words, I would never expect Ryan Lambert to adopt a "customer is always right" attitude when dealing with his readers -- but I do expect a man who enjoys jabbing his sharp elbows at people to be, shall we say, a wee bit tougher when those people jab their own elbows back at him. Calling them "losers" and telling them to "get lost" without bothering to even acknowledge what they said, much less address what they said, is a pathetic sign of intellectual impotence.

In fact, it is so pathetic that I gave Lambert the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe he didn't actually read what I said. After all, his characterization of it as a "'stick to sports' 700-word email" seemed to miss the fact that it specifically said: "There is of course nothing wrong with a sportswriter having political opinions, and if a sportswriter explains/supports his political opinion when he brings it up in a sports column, I would not have a problem with him doing so even though one of the main reasons people follow sports is to get away from the constant drumbeat of politics."

So maybe he just saw my subject line ("political comments detracting from your hockey articles") and replied without taking the time to read? Who has time to read my long-winded brain droppings, anyway?

So today I emailed him back, saying only this: "Amusing reply. My only question is: Did you read the email or were you reacting only to the subject line?"

And this was his response, once again typed without expending the energy of moving his finger over to the shift key to capitalize: "yeah i read it and it's one of my great regrets. you're awful. don't email me."

I suspect (but don't know) that Ryan Lambert's priggish attitude and inability to engage in rational debate over his political and social views is not unusual among journalists, because I suspect (but again, don't know) that they hold those views dearly despite having never taken the time to think them through or put them to the test.

The good news is that my grudge-holding (I cannot write this post and simultaneously claim there is no grudge here) doesn't extend to me refusing to read Lambert's hockey columns. In fact, I read his new one this very evening and it is quite good.

But should you ever find yourself wondering if he's a great guy or if he's open to a productive, good faith exchange of ideas, be aware that he's not. And should you ever wonder if his non-hockey beliefs stem from him possessing knowledge and pondering it, be aware that the evidence suggests they do not.

When a man behaves like a jackass and disrespects people who debate in good faith, it tends to be because he's a jackass who acts in bad faith.

I suppose I just engaged in a little name-calling myself... but at least I have a basis for it, and that basis consists of words from the donkey's own mouth.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bring back the fire

In many ways, America was founded by a tax revolt. Yes, human rights and the freedom of individuals against authoritarian governments were the sacred principles, but taxation -- governments confiscating from people the fruits of their labor -- was one of the primary violations of rights and liberty that spurred our founders to take up arms against the crown. That anti-tax spirit has remained strong and even somewhat bipartisan ever since, as evidenced by the 1960's "JFK tax cuts" being passed under LBJ, and by Ronald Reagan's sweeping cuts helping propel him to a 49-state landslide reelection, and by even the tax-loving Bill Clinton being forced to promise lower rates in order to get elected.

But unfortunately, these days we don't hear as much griping about taxes these days as we used to -- at least not in public -- and that does not bode well for public knowledge or national vigor.

As reported yesterday in this article, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, on average, Americans spend more money each year on taxes than they do on food and clothing combined. The average annual household tax bill is $10,489, whereas the average annual food-plus-clothing bill is $9,006, which works out to a difference of more than 16 percent. Perhaps more alarming, that tax bill increased by more than 45 percent from 2013 to 2016 (from $7,203 to $10,489) and that sure as hell ain't because the average household income increased by that much.

These days, if anyone complains about taxes they will be told by noisy know-nothings that they are nothing more than greedy money-grubbers who only care about "tax cuts for the rich." What they don't realize is that that average annual household tax bill does not come only in the form of federal income taxes (which plenty of low income families don't pay) but in the form of all stripes of federal, state, and local taxation.

One big problem is that millions of Americans are economically harmed by taxes but are unaware of it, thanks (?) to paycheck withholding. They never think about what they are paying because it gets heisted from their own paychecks before they ever see it; and since they don't have to write a check or hand over their debit card number when April 15th rolls around, they do not realize what they are being forced to shell out.

The same is true with sales taxes. They get added to the bill when you pay for dinner, buy a new jacket, or whatever, but because you don't swipe a second transaction to send money to Master Government, it never quite registers in the brain how much you're paying Master Government.

And it's not like we are getting a good return on investment from all those tax dollars we shell out. Our infrastructure is out of date and questionably maintained. Our electrical grid is not hardened to protect it from an EMP attack that would wipe it out and instantly send us back to the stone age. In many ways and in many jurisdictions, our justice system is anything but. Our metastasized bureaucracies stifle our personal freedom and obstruct our ability to innovate. And although our military is well-armed, in many areas of vital importance it is shockingly shrunken and spread way too thin.

It is long past time for the American people to reassert their control over the American government. Becoming mad as hell about the taxes we are forced to pay would be a good first step in that direction. 'Tis time to rekindle the anti-tax fire that has fueled our nation from the start.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kickoff Time

The first two games of the 2017 college football season take place tonight, so it feels right to republish my post from nine years ago:

College football finally returns this week, and in the coming month campuses will come alive all over the land. From Baton Rouge to Boulder and Clemson to Corvallis and Morgantown to Madison, alumni will return in their RV’s and the aroma of beer and beef will waft through their tailgate parties.

There is nothing on earth like college football. Because a single loss can take you out of the running for the national title and maybe even your conference title, college football has the most important regular season in all of American sports.

It is the only sport in which you can win every game but one, yet the whole year is remembered in a bad light because the one loss came against your archrival. Likewise, it is the only sport in which a season-ending win against your archrival can turn an otherwise bad year into one worth celebrating.

In different corners of America, longtime rivals play for chintzy but endearing objects: Minnesota and Michigan for the Little Brown Jug, Purdue and Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Tennessee and Kentucky for the Beer Barrel.

Alumni from different schools argue that not only does their alma matter have the best football team on any given Saturday, but that every aspect of their alma matter is better than every aspect of every other school in America.

It is obvious that Auburn’s “War Eagle” is the greatest fight song ever played. Yet Michigan grads will tell you that no song is as stirring as “The Victors.”

It is obvious that the sweeping angles of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium make it the best place on earth to watch a football game. Yet Arizona State grads will tell you there’s no better place than the upper deck of Sun Devil Stadium at sundown, from which you can watch a game and see the desert turn to fire at the same time.

And it is obvious that Auburn-Alabama is the most heated rivalry in the world. Yet, inexplicably, some will say that title belongs to Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma or Army-Navy.

Meanwhile, Tennessee grads claim that the greatest pre-game tradition in America is the procession of their Vol Navy, when alumni arrive by boats on the Tennessee River.

And Wisconsin grads claim that the greatest post-game tradition is their Fifth Quarter, when the band stays in the stadium to play and the fans stay in the stadium to party, regardless of who won.

As someone who was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, I watch Bucs games while feeling my stomach boil with intensity, but I have little interest in spending hours of my life watching other professional games. On the other hand, as someone who graduated from Auburn, I watch Auburn games while feeling heart-stopping anxiety – and I also watch any other college game that’s on TV when Auburn is not. I will stay up into the wee hours of the morning to see Boise State vs. Hawaii and enjoy every minute of it.

College football fans do things like that. And they wonder about all kinds of topics that relate to the sport but not to their school, such as: Will Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno end the year with more career victories? Will Ohio State make it to the national championship game yet again, only to get embarrassed yet again? Will Notre Dame continue its downward spiral that enables millions of Americans to revel in schadenfreude?

No other sport can match college football’s blend of pageantry, passion, and season-long drama. So cue the marching bands, let the cheerleaders adorn our televisions, and let us all argue about who’s number one. I am ready.

Note: It's interesting to re-read this post and think about what has changed. Bowden and Paterno are no longer coaching... Paterno is no longer even walking the Earth, and his once stainless reputation has been shredded by the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal... Ohio State has, yes, made it to the national championship; but far from getting embarrassed, the Buckeyes won it resoundingly... the BCS has given way to playoffs... a lot happens as time passes, my friends.

Monday, August 14, 2017

V-J Day

72 years ago today, the bloodiest war in human history came to an end when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The announcement of Japan's surrender set off celebraions around the globe, including the one in Times Square during which this iconic picture was taken.

After six years, during which more than 60 million people from 27 different countries were killed, World War II was finally over. In the United States, August 15th came to be known as V-J Day, for Victory in Japan Day, since our European enemies had surrendered three months earlier.

Despite the fact that America was brought into the war when it was bombed by Japan, and despite the fact that atomic weapons were used to hasten the war's end, and despite enormous cultural differences, the two countries became strong and lasting friends whose alliance is now one of the most dependable on earth.

That is a direct result of the respectful and helping way America dealt with Japan after the war ended. One of the reasons we are unique in world history is that as conflicts conclude, we always seek to befriend our antagonists and to better their lot as well as our own. That fact needs to be burned into the hearts and minds of those who believe America is always the aggessor.

In my younger days, V-J Day was noted on calendars. Today it is not. This is not how it should be.

The Greatest Generation is rapidly passing to the other side of eternity's veil. Before its members are gone, may the rest of us thank them for the freedom they transmitted to us. And may we resolve that their sacrifice shall never be forgotten, and that it shall not have been made in vain.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 3 of ?

This is the third post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first two can be read here and here.

My previous installment argued that the meticulous workings of nature could not have resulted from random chance; in other words, that the facts of life on Earth, made possible by Earth's placement at this precise distance from the sun, furnishes overwhelming evidence of a Creator.

That premise is far from original.

Going back at least as far as Cicero (who died in 43 B.C.) many thinkers have expressed variations of the watchmaker analogy, which holds that the universe functions in ways that are as finely tuned as an always-accurate timepiece, and that it thus implies the existence of a divine watchmaker. Those thinkers include such scientific titans as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes.

Thomas Paine was one of America's most brilliant founding fathers. He was also an opponent of organized religion, and his 1794 book The Age of Reason fiercely criticized many parts of the Bible itself. Yet, based on logic and deduction, even he was a firm believer in the Divine -- so much so that right there in The Age of Reason he stated "the creation we behold is the real and ever-existing word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaimeth his power, it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence."

The same year Thomas Paine died in New York, a baby was born in Shrewsbury, England, who would grow to up to become a leading man of science. At the age of 50, that man wrote a book and concluded it with a sentence in which he professed that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one." At the age of 64 he remarked that (emphasis mine) "the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God." Six years after that, in a private letter, he wrote the words "I have never been an Atheist." That man was Charles Darwin, and the book in which he talked of life being "breathed by the Creator" was On the Origin of Species, the very same one in which he posited the theory of evolution.

Three years before Darwin died, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Einstein also lived to assert "I am not an atheist," and in 1936 he wrote that (emphasis mine) "in all the laws of the universe is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must be humble."

Francis Collins, who currently heads the Human Genome Project and is director of America's National Institutes of Health, wrote the following for CNN: "I have found that there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

The more we learn about science (whether the science be biology, astronomy, physics, or anything else) the more evidence we find that the world and universe were deliberately designed. Not only do we find more evidence, we find continuously stronger evidence, for we always learn that nature is even more complex and entwined than we thought the day before but that it continues to hum along no matter what -- like a flawless watch crafted by an infallible watchmaker, if you don't mind me going back to the old analogy.

But of course you would never know this by listening to the combined forces of our cultural vanguards and mainstream media, or as I have decided to start calling them, the CMC, for Culture-Media Complex.

The religion of choice for members of the CMC is atheism, though they often try to obscure that fact by calling themselves merely "agnostic" or "secular." And in order to advance and defend their religion, they wield the exact same tools they accuse preachers from other faiths of using: fervor and rigidity.

The CMC's fervor and rigidity are evident from the way its members start off by suggesting that they are smarter than those who believe in God, then use that suggestion to automatically dismiss the thought that there might be empirical evidence of God. With a figurative wave of their hand and implied roll of their eyes, all they need do is utter that "everyone knows" there's no evidence of God and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded, and their like-minded co-stars and co-hosts nod in agreement and start tsk-tsk'ing about Bible-thumping rubes in backwater hick towns. All the while, no one in the CMC ever gets asked to provide any support for what they say, and none of them ever get asked to comprehend or even acknowledge the many rational reasons for thinking differently than they do.

Unfortunately this same impulse (to wall one's self off from opposing thoughts and evidence) plagues the world of science as well. And the impulse is exponentially worse in the world of science, because even though scientists are supposed to evaluate all evidence and consider all possibilities before reaching any conclusions, many of them do the exact opposite when it comes to the central question facing humankind. They are humans, not robots, and just like poets and politicians and accountants and everyone else, scientists can be very guilty of the ancient sins of pride, arrogance, and pre-judgment; their job title does not erase their humanity, nor does their schooling prevent confirmation bias in their work.

Scientists, seemingly above all others, should grasp the enormity of the conundrum I mentioned in my previous post when talking about how life on Earth could have come to be after the big bang: "The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero."

Of course there is no shortage of scientists who have looked at the conundrum and concluded that a deity exists. Their conclusions are also based on their evaluation of the bottomless intricacy of life's continued existence, for example the functioning of gills that allow fish to breathe underwater; the presence of hundreds of different kinds of wings that allow thousands of different kinds of creatures to take to the skies; the physiological slowdown that allows Siberian brown bears to survive the long foodless winter by hibernating until it's over; and the symbiotic relationship between Joshua trees and yucca moths that allows both species to survive in the harsh habitat of the Mojave uplands, where a disappearance of either species would cause the other to go extinct.

But of course there is also no shortage of scientists who reflexively ignore the conundrum without giving it a passing thought, who never bother to look at evidence of a deity because they reject out of hand the very notion of a deity. Their knee-jerk rejection of contrary input is decidedly unscientific and renders them extremely vulnerable to the second half of Keirkegaard's warning: There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Regrettably, the CMC automatically portrays scientists from the latter camp as credible and those from the former camp as nutty... and meanwhile, scientists from a third camp -- those who have yet to study the matter, or who have started to study it but have not yet drawn conclusions -- seem practically invisible because they aren't mentioned at all... and this state of affairs is shameful, because it leaves billions of us ordinary people misinformed about the topic that happens to be the most important one in each of our lives.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 2 of ?

This is the second post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first can be read here.

All living things are comprised of cells -- other than microscopic germs that consist of just a single cell, such as bacteria.

To get an idea of how incomprehensibly small cells are, consider that one teaspoon of soil is home to 40 million bacteria, and despite being so numerous in such a tiny space, they are invisible to the naked eye, even in their aggregate.

The average-sized human body is built of 37.2 trillion cells, and to put that number into perspective, consider that in order to travel 37.2 trillion miles you would need to make the journey to the sun and back more than 200,000 times, with every one of those 200,000+ journeys being 186 million miles round-trip.

Living things exist and function because all of their infinitesimally tiny cells do their jobs and work in concert. Each cell is made up of component parts which include (but are not limited to) the membrane that protects it from invasion; the ribosomes that manufacture protein; the endoplasmic reticulum through which protein is transported; and deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA, that double-helix-shaped molecule which determines the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, whether we can curl our tongues, whether we can wiggle our ears, ad infinitum.

If you were a bear in western Canada belonging to the species known as black bear, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your fur was in fact black, or whether it was one of the other colors your species sports in that part of the world: brown, cinnamon, or white.

If you were a dachshund living with your owner in Munich, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your hair was smooth and dapple or wiry and brown.

Each of our eyes consists of millions of cells (six million in the cones alone) and receives light through the cornea, which bends it upon entry... the pupil then controls the intensity of that bended light, which proceeds to strike the lens, which in turn focuses it to the retina through a gelatinous substance... then, having received that focused light, the retina transforms it into an electrical impulse and sends it to the brain along the optic nerve, and the brain takes that electrical impulse and translates it into an image... and all of that happening, unfathomably fast, is how we see.

But of course, our eyes are neither the only nor the best to be found. Whereas human eyes have some 30,000 cones in the fovea, which is the most sensitive part of the retina, falcon eyes have around 1,000,000... and whereas we have one fovea per eye, falcons have two... and whereas our brains cannot perceive more than 20 events per second from the information sent by our eyes, falcons can perceive 70 to 80 per second from the information sent by their eyes -- which, in the words of British naturalist Helen Macdonald, means that "events in time that we perceive as a blur, like a dragonfly zipping past our eyes, are much slower to them...allow(ing) them to stretch out a foot at full speed to grab a bird or a dragonfly from the air."

And on the opposite end of the predator-prey spectrum is the common house fly, whose eye has not one lens but thousands. Their eyes do not enable them to see far, but do enable them to detect the slightest of movements so quickly that it is almost impossible for us to swat them (or predators to snatch them) before they dash away.

All of which brings me to the words penned by William Peter Blatty in his pilosophical novel Legion: "Someone had created the world. Made sense. For why would an eye want to form? To see? And why should it see? In order to survive? And why should it survive? And why? And why? The child's question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age."

The secularists of our age -- the God deniers, if you will -- would have you believe that this all occurred by random.

They would have you believe that after the big bang 14 billion years ago, random dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form stars and planets... and some of those dust and particles accidentally formed our sun... and some of them accidentally formed Earth at the precise distance from the sun that its heat, vitamins, etc., arrive at Earth in exactly the right amounts to make life possible... and some of the particles coalesced to accidentally wrap Earth in an atmosphere that accidentally includes oxygen, which is necessary for life.

They would have you believe that as dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form Earth, a googoplex of indescribably miniature (to the point of being invisible) bits of matter collided together in just such a way that they accidentally created cells and accidentally arranged those cells just how they needed to be arranged to form eyes that could see and lungs that could breathe and ears that could hear and tongues that could taste... and et cetera and et cetera, from the deepest seas to the highest peaks, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles, with each accidentally created organism just happening to be perfectly designed to survive in whatever its accidentally created habitat happens to be.

The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero. This is a very inconvenient truth for secularists, particularly atheists, many of whom remain oddly unaware of it, while those who are aware of it tend to ignore rather than address it -- and yet they would have you believe that their scientific acumen is superior to that of people who comprehend the math and ask them to stop ignoring and start addressing.

The secularists would have you think you are nuts for concluding that the infinitely interconnected complexity of the world and universe must be by design. But what makes more sense: Concluding that it occurred by design, or believing that it occurred by mathematically impossible happenstance?

To be continued...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off To See The Wizard

It's hard to believe how much time has flown by, but it was six years ago to today that Sarah and I watched "The Wizard Oz" on the big screen. On this anniversary of that great Daddy-Daughter Day, I figured I would go ahead and republish the piece I wrote about it at the time:

It is somehow reassuring that today's children are just as familiar with The Wizard of Oz as prior generations were, even though it has been 72 years since the movie was released. I file it under the category of "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same." And I file yesterday afternoon, when Sarah and I went to watch it on the big screen, under the category of "Great Daddy-Daughter Memories."

Downtown Tampa is home to one of America's best examples of a movie theater from Hollywood's golden age, back when they all had one auditorium and were often extravagant in their decor. Designed by John Eberson and opened in 1926, the Tampa Theater is bedecked with red upholstery and Greco-Roman statues, and its auditorium evokes a Mediterranean courtyard at dusk: The screen is surrounded by castle walls, while the ceiling is painted dark blue like the twilight sky, fitted with tiny lights reminiscent of stars.

I took advantage of my cell phone camera while we were there. Here is a view of the floor level, taken beneath the balcony after the movie was over and almost everyone had left:

Here is one taken from our seats in the balcony, when the organist was providing pre-show entertainment:

And here is another one taken from our seats, looking into the corner to give a sense of how high the walls go. To add to the perspective, keep in mind that we were sitting in the lower third of the balcony:

As part of its Summer Classics Series, the theater broke out Oz for matinee screenings this weekend. Sarah was fascinated with the opulence and I appreciated being able to watch a cinema classic while sitting inside a classic cinema. Even if you have seen a movie before, there is something different about seeing it on the big screen.

The event was touted as a singalong, and as you can tell from the following picture, the lyrics appeared on screen. I certainly didn't sing, nor did the bare majority of people in the audience, but quite a few did.

There were other examples of audience participation that, um, you just wouldn't get at home. Every time the Wicked Witch appeared (or Miss Gultch, her Kansas incarnation) large numbers of people hissed at her. And they applauded when she melted and whenever Toto made an escape.

Yes, some people came in costume, and not all of them were kids. One trio of folks who -- well, I will just say they probably got the senior's discount -- dressed up like the Lollipop Guild.

Yesterday was far from Sarah's first time watching The Wizard of Oz, but it was the first time she realized it was all a dream. She has already asked to go again next summer.

I can't believe that with all the pictures I took, I failed to take any of us. I (or Erika) will make up for that next time, but for now I leave you with the photo that turned out to be yesterday's coolest by far. I was taking one of the Scarecrow on screen and apparently my shutter snapped just as the next frame, of Dorothy, was coming round -- because you can see both their images on the screen, with hers fainter:

Note: "Movie palace" (or "picture palace" in the U.K.) was the name given to the style of theaters designed by Eberson and other cinema architects of his time. For a list of 150 of his creations, most of which are now closed and not all of which were in the U.S., go here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thoughts On Divinity: Part 1 of ?

Talking about your belief in God is uncomfortable because it leads to people questioning your intelligence. However, this present age might be the most important one in history for believers to talk about God and explain why they believe in Him.

G.K. Chesterton is said to have remarked that "when a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." Evidence that those words are true litters every corner of modern America, and comes in the form of everything from social pathologies run amok to flaky nonsense being considered deep thinking.

The social pathologies I'm talking about -- fatherlessness, substance abuse, welfare dependency, obtaining your sense of belonging from gang members and ideologues rather than family members and mentors, etc. -- are not new, but their commonness is, and I do not believe it's a coincidence that they have grown to their highest levels at the precise moment in history that our belief in God has shrunk to its lowest level.

The American ideal -- indeed, the human ideal -- is based not on people having (in the words of P.J. O'Rourke) "the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums," but on people knowing (in the words of Pope John Paul II) "that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." It is tragic that so many Americans have lost sight of this, but then again, when massive numbers of Americans believe there is no God, it's inevitable that massive numbers of Americans will have a self-centered worldview in which everything revolves around them and whatever their whims and desires of the moment happen to be.

*     *     *     *     *

Life and its many problems are complex and sometimes the answers are too, but oftentimes the answers are not complex. After all, simple causes frequently have far-reaching effects, and an increase in the number of people who believe in God would go a long way toward curing our earthly ills -- and note that I am not even talking about following a religion or joining a church, but simply believing in God.

For those of us who do believe, one of the annoying things about contemporary culture is how quick and eager its vanguards are to call us ignorant and stupid, when they themselves are ignorant and they themselves usually operate on emotion rather than intellect.

Most of the vanguards couldn't pass an elementary school science test, yet they toss the word "science" around like a shibboleth because they are under the false impression that science and religion are at odds -- and based on that false impression, they assume that by pretending to be aligned with science they are somehow confirming they're smarter than those who logically believe that the infinitely complex, intricately connected, and supremely balanced wonders of nature are not some accidental result of an origin-free firecracker that went bang for no reason.

But of course, the irritation I just displayed is unbecoming. There is nothing wrong with skepticism -- I myself have a skeptical nature -- and there is no denying that the people I called cultural vanguards have a reason for their skepticism.

In many of their minds, people who believe in God have no reason for doing so other than an unsophisticated desire to cling to childhood fantasies about an invisible friend. Many of them see believers as people who live their lives hoping/assuming that at some moment a deus ex machina will magically appear and solve all their problems with no effort on their own part. And the vanguards' skepticism is given wings by the undeniable fact that God has never sat down on their couches looking like Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman and talked to them.

On top of that, add the fact that the vanguards rarely if ever engage in conversations with believers, and their skepticism becomes a self-sustaining fire: They are of the earnest opinion that believers come to their faith by ignoring evidence and refusing to grow up, and so they portray believers that way without ever hearing (much less understanding) that the overwhelming majority of believers arrive at their faith after contemplating the world's facts and enigmas through agonizing periods of doubt and reflection.

They automatically reject the idea of God without entertaining the abundant evidence that He exists (often not even realizing that there is such evidence), yet they portray as fools anyone who unautomatically accepts the idea of God after having scrutinized both the evidence of His existence and the evidence of His non-existence. This means that they reject the Scientific Method while acting as if they are science's avatar, and because they hold massive sway in the popular culture, their bogus portrayals of believers (and equally bogus portrayals of non-believers) have become accepted as a reality they are not.

As a result, living, breathing human beings suffer because the vanguards' rejection of God fuels a socially domineering rejection of God, which in turn renders people uninformed and leads them astray.

It is far past time for the logical -- and yes, scientific -- reasons for believing in God to be explained and understood.

*     *     *     *     *

So what am I to do as a 46-year-old father of two and husband of one, who leads an ordinary and unremarkable life and whose blog is read by dozens, maybe scores, but definitely not by hundreds or thousands or millions?

I do not seem like much of a messenger for any "come to God!" post, for I swear like a sailor and am too fond of beer and often disdain the way I was designed by the God whose existence I feel driven to affirm.

But I do feel driven to affirm His existence, and do feel qualified to do so. Maybe "what am I to do?" amounts to laying out my reasons for believing and publishing them and hoping that each individual who reads them will consider them fairly and without prejudgment.

In my Easter post this year I wrote that "I believe in God not on faith alone but also on evidence (though that's a whole other blog post)..." Well, it's time for that whole other blog post to get written, but it is going to be several posts, not one, because the subject matter is too important and too large to be limited to a handful of paragraphs.

Consider this piece to be the first in a series, as I will start "making my case" for God in the next one, which I hope to publish soon.

The series will probably be intermittent, as I might write posts about other topics in between writing posts about this one, but I consider this topic to be transcendent and I hope you will follow along.

Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mankind's Greatest Hour

Today, as we fire up our grills and crack open our beers, let us remember why we even have a July 4th holiday: to commemorate the greatest act of shared, selfless courage the world has ever seen.

Everybody should know that Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Most people know the names of a handful of the 56 men who signed it, such as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and of course Jefferson himself. But few people seem to realize that when those men signed their names, they were committing what was considered an act of treason against the British crown, punishable by death. Those men were property owners who were successful in their lives and businesses. Their lives were comfortable and they stood to lose everything by signing the Declaration -- yet they chose to sign it anyway, because they knew that casting off the crown and forming a new government based on individual liberty was the right thing to do, not only for their own descendants but for all of humanity. And here is what happened to some of those men after they signed the Declaration:

Five of them became prisoners of war.

Nearly one-sixth of them died before the war ended.

British forces burned, and/or looted, the homes and properties of nearly one-third of them.

When the British did that to the property of William Floyd, he and his family fled and spent the next seven years living as refugees without income. His wife died two years before the war ended.

After being forced into the wilderness by British forces, John Hart struggled to make his way home. When he finally got there, he found that his wife was dead and his 13 children were missing. He died without ever seeing them again.

Richard Stockton was dragged from his bed and sent to prison while his property was ravaged. From the day of his release from prison until the day he died, he had to rely on charity from others to feed his family.

Francis Lewis’s wife was imprisoned and beaten. Meanwhile, his wealth was plundered. His last years were spent as a widower living in poverty.

Thomas Nelson Jr.’s home was captured and occupied by British General Cornwallis, who used it as what we would now call an operations center. Therefore, Nelson ordered his troops to destroy his own home with cannon fire during the Battle of Yorktown. To assist in funding the war, he used his own credit to borrow 2 million dollars, which today would equal more than 25 billion dollars. Repaying that debt bankrupted him, and when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It is a safe bet that fewer than one percent of our citizens have ever heard of these people, much less know anything about the devastating sacrifices they made so that future generations could have the freedom necessary to build the kind of upwardly-mobile, always-progressing society we would come to take for granted.

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a wonderful gift called America, and we owe it to our children to make sure we don’t allow that gift to be destroyed. We should never hear the words “Fourth of July” without feeling a skip in our heart and a tear in our eye.

Much thanks to Jeff Jacoby, the late Paul Harvey, and all the others who have written and spoken about the fates of the signers, to keep their story alive.