Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: In Memoriams, Part One

As 2017 draws to a close, it is time to take a look back and remember some of the influential figures who passed away during the year.

Much like I did for 2016, I am going to do this in a series of posts because there were too many deaths to cover them all in just one. But before I get started I have to give a nod to...

Gordie Howe
When you consider how much I write about hockey, it's unfathomable that I published three "In Memoriam" posts for 2016 and failed to mention the man called Mr. Hockey. I have no idea how that happened, but at least now I'm making it right.

A native son of Saskatchewan, Gordie Howe was one of nine siblings, was nine days old when his family moved from the town of Floral to the city of Saskatoon, and wore number nine as a professional hockey player, most notably for the Detroit Red Wings... so when he passed away and the Wings held a public viewing at Joe Louis Arena, it of course ran from nine a.m. to nine p.m.

Professional sports are the domain of the young, which makes it hard to wrap your mind around what I'm about to say, but Howe's career was so long that he played in the NHL in parts of five different decades, with his first game taking place on October 16, 1946 and his last on April 11, 1980. He was even in the All Star Game in all five of those decades, and was 52 years old when he scored his final NHL goal in a playoff game between his Hartford Whalers and the Montreal Canadiens. The player who got the assist on that final goal happened to be his son Mark, and today they are both in the Hall of Fame.

The complete, all-around nature of his game is testified to by the fact that an in-game achievement is named after him: It is officially called a Gordie Howe Hat Trick when a player records a goal, assist, and fight all in one game. However it is interesting, and says something about Gordie Howe's composure, that he himself only had two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks over the course of his long career.

Mr. Hockey passed away on June 10, 2016 in Sylvania, Ohio, and his ashes were interred three months later in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He is remembered as an icon in both Canada and the United States.

And now it is time to move on to people who died in 2017, and I might as well start with another Saskatchewan man who defied the usual laws of aging when it comes to sports...

Johnny Bower
The average NHL career ends when a player is 28. Johnny Bower, on the other hand, didn't even make it to the NHL until he was 29... then, after just one season with the New York Rangers (1953-54) he was sent back to the minors, and other than two games a couple seasons later he did not return to the NHL until he was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the age of 34... and then he became a star as the Leafs' starting goaltender, playing until he was 45 and backstopping them to four Stanley Cups and winning a pair of Vezina Trophies along the way.

Bower's .922 career save percentage is tied with Dominik Hasek as the highest of any goaltender in NHL history to have played more than 300 games. Interestingly, due mostly to his long pre-Toronto stints with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League, Bower also ranks as the AHL's all-time winningest goalie, with 359 victories to his name.

He was born John William Kiszkan, but later changed his name to Johnny Bower because he thought it would be easier for sports journalists to spell and pronounce. In sports he defied not only the usual laws of aging, but also the usual laws of health when you consider that he played despite suffering from rheumatoid arthritis that made it extremely hard and painful for him to hold his goalie stick; the condition was so severe that it had previously caused him to be discharged from the Canadian Army after he joined it to fight the Nazis in World War II (he was a minor at the time, but was so eager to serve that he lied about his age).

Bower died of pneumonia the day after Christmas at the age of 93, leaving behind Nancy (his wife of 69 years) plus three children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Tom Petty
It caught everybody by surprise when a massive heart attack stilled the guitar-strumming hands and songwriting brain of Tom Petty at the age of 66. This Gainesville, Florida native first thought about becoming a musician when he was 10 years old and met Elvis Presley, and he became dead-set on it when he was 13 and saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Petty grew up to become an internationally known star who sold millions of records; was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame; received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; performed the halftime show at Super Bowl XLII; and won a Gershwin Award and Golden Note Award in addition to Billboard's highest honor, the Century Award.

When Tom Petty was young he was big fan of the Byrds. This inspired him to often play Rickenbacker guitars, the preferred brand of Byrds' front man Roger McGuinn, and many of Petty's songs carry an echo of the Byrds' sound and style. Regardless, every one of the songs he penned was its own breed, from rockers like "Refugee" to easy-listeners like "Learning to Fly" to thumpers like "Saving Grace."

From his many albums with his signature band the Heartbreakers, to his solo work, to his duets with Stevie Nicks, to his pair of albums with the all-star outfit Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty was a major contributor to the American songbook over the last four decades. And he was still going strong when his life suddenly came to an end.

Chuck Berry
His guitar licks were timeless and his stage presence ahead of its time, and the buoyant optimism of his lyrics was something other rock stars should think about giving a try.

I have said for years that it is Chuck Berry, not Elvis Presley, who should be called "the King of Rock." Unlike Elvis he wrote much of his own material, and his first big hit ("Maybellene") came out a year before Elvis's ("Heartbreak Hotel"), thus putting the lie to the notion that rock music needed a white performer to become popular with white audiences.

"Johnny B. Goode" remains one of the rock era's finest songs and its frenzied guitar intro is such a classic that axemen to this day feel compelled to try their hands at it. Berry's other tunes are similarly infectious, from "Roll Over Beethoven" to "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," though my favorite will always be "No Particular Place to Go" with its depiction of a teenager's bumbling attempt at, um, romance: "Ridin' along in my autmobile / my baby beside me at the wheel / I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile / my curiosity runnin' wild ... All the way home I held a grudge / for the safety belt that wouldn't budge / cruisin' and playin' the radio / with no particular place to go."

To be sure, Berry was a mixed bag. Although married to one woman for the last 68 of his 90 years, which is laudable, during that time he also spent a year and a half in prison in the early 1960's for having sex with a minor; and in the 1990's he agreed to a legal settlement with 59 women who accused him of installing a hidden video camera in the women's room of a restaurant he owned (he denied having the camera installed or using it to film illicit videos, but did admit to its existence).

He was no saint, but whatever else he might have been, Chuck Berry was an original without whom our nation's post-war music and pop culture would not have been the same.

Mary Tyler Moore
It's not that there were no female leads on TV sitcoms prior to The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuting in 1970 -- I Love Lucy and Bewitched both predated it -- but there was something markedly different when it came to the show about a Minneapolis news producer.

Yes, it bucked tradition by being about an unmarried career woman and having its plots involve topics rarely mentioned on TV programs of the time (sexuality, infertility, divorce, addiction), but the most markedly different thing about it was how integral the lead actress was to the whole shebang. Just like only Andy Griffith could properly portray Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, only Mary Tyler Moore could properly portray Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Of course, her career spanned well beyond that one series that ran from 1970 to 1977. Moore had previously played a key supporting role on The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 to 1966, and on the big screen she would later win a Golden Globe and get an Oscar nomination for her performance in Ordinary People. She received several Tony and Drama Desk nominations for her on-stage work, winning a Tony for her turn in Whose Life is it Anyway?

In her private life Moore was an animal lover and ASPCA donor who had Type I diabetes and battled alcoholism, and she discussed all of those things openly. Although once a professed liberal, her political views shifted a she aged, and in her later years she described herself as a Fox News-watching libertarian. Mary Tyler Moore died in January and was laid to rest in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Gregg Allman
His music was a stew of blues, Southern rock, and rhythm-and-blues with dashes of country and jazz. That's something that can't be said for the majority of people who have made millions of dollars in the music business and remained relevant for decades.

Greg Allman is best known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, which he founded with his older sibling Duane and which proved to be one of the most successful bands of the 1970's despite Duane dying in a motorcycle crash in 1971. Gregg wrote many of the band's songs, including the classics "Whipping Post," "Midnight Rider," and "Melissa," and his bluesy vocals were as integral to their sound as they were to the solo albums he later recorded.

Allman's 2012 autobiography My Cross to Bear discussed his struggles with alcohol and drugs and his later-in-life embrace of Christian spirituality. And, it contained this particularly telling line: "Music is my life's blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it's all said and done, I'll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, 'Nice work, little brother -- you did all right.' I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast."

He died in May of liver cancer, and was buried next to Duane in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia -- the same cemetery where they used to go at night and write songs when they were young.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas Miracle

I published this post nine years ago and it feels right to do it  again:

My grandfather passed away two months ago.  

I have wanted to write a post about him ever since, and there are a thousand things I want to say in that post, yet it remains unwritten for one very unmovable reason:  I have no idea where or how to start saying those thousand things.  When a man lives 81 years, has 39 direct descendants, and impacts not only his family but countless other people as well, how can you sum up his life in a handful of paragraphs?  You can’t. 

But I do not have that problem when it comes to writing about Granddaddy and Christmas, after the way they converged three years ago. 

Granddaddy’s love of God, family, and country; his zeal when talking about those things to anybody with whom he came into contact; his faith in the perfectibility of man; his irrepressible Scotch-Irish mischief; his unsurpassed diligence in everything to which he set his mind or his hands – those qualities will all be written about in time, but for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that in the last few years of his life they were cruelly stolen by Alzheimer’s disease. 

His mental sharpness started to dull about five years ago.  In 2005 his memory faded as well, and the fading was fast.  He carried on conversations with Nana without realizing it was her.  Remembering how she looked in their youth but not in the here and now, he said things like “I wonder when Peggy’s going to come home” while looking into her very eyes. 

When he and Nana arrived at our family’s 2005 Christmas Eve party, nobody expected to be recognized by him.  Because I did not want to confuse him by addressing him in a way that would suggest he was speaking to his grandson, and because I knew his recollections of battling the Nazis remained vivid, that night I simply called him “Corporal.” 

He asked if I was in the Army like he had been, and I told him I was not because of my diabetes. I told him that we nonetheless had some similarities, because just like him, my last name was Stanton and my blood carried Scotch-Irish genes.  He nodded and said it was good to meet me.  He said I should come around again sometime. 

Everyone at the party walked a tightrope, balancing holiday cheer on one hand with the sadness of loss on the other.  The man we loved, who had known each of us by name just a year earlier, had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. 

But as the night started to grow long, something sparked inside Granddaddy’s mind.  When most of us were assembled in and around the kitchen, he “addressed the room” and said it was great that we were there.  He did not specifically acknowledge that we were all family; however, when he looked at my Aunt Sharon, the third of his five children, a glint appeared in his eyes and he spoke the word “daughter.” 

He and Nana stood on the driveway as the party wound down.  I stood there too, as did several others, hoping to give Nana some sense of normalcy.  But it turned out that our presence was not needed, for while Venus shone brightly like the Star of Bethlehem, Granddaddy came back as if by magic.  Looking up at the Milky Way, he spoke to Nana by name and said:  “Peggy, I’m trying to remember the night we got married.”  Some minutes later, when he said goodbye to each of us, his face bore a look of recognition and for that moment it no longer seemed that there was a stranger trapped in his body. 

As his wife of 59 years drove him back to the house they had called home for 53 years, they talked about their life and their family and it was as if the dementia had never been.  After finishing that 45-mile excursion from rural Hernando County to urban Tampa, they sat up late into the night conversing and reminiscing and sharing life’s small but inimitable joys.  They lay down in bed like they had done so many times through the years, and for that one holy night Granddaddy was Granddaddy again:  John Stanton, Jr., child of the Great Depression, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, proud but humble, flawed but good.

When the sun rose, the dementia was back and my grandmother's husband, as she knew him, never returned.  But they had gotten that one last night together on Christmas Eve, and had gotten it after everyone assumed it was not possible.  As Nana said:  “That was my Christmas miracle.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sounds of the season (both good and bad)

Christmas wouldn't be the same without Christmas music. Religious hymns, secular carols, bouncy kid's songs, fast tunes, slow tunes -- they all fill a role in enhancing our enjoyment of the season.

I know most people don't give a hoot what I think about Christmas music, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Below are my thoughts regarding my favorite versions of three of my favorite religious Christmas songs, and three of my favorite secular Christmas songs -- plus, my thoughts regarding three of my least favorite.

Fyi, I don't like using the word "secular" in this context because many people attach a negative connotation to it where Christmas is concerned. But in my opinion, it's possible to capture the spirit of the season without referencing God or the nativity. Anyway, here I go:


"O Holy Night," Nat King Cole
Though this song was not played very much when I was a kid, it has become ubiquitous over the last 20 years as one big-voiced singer after another, from Michael Crawford to Celine Dion to Josh Groban, has recorded it and received major air time on North American radio stations.

But none of their versions holds a candle to the one recorded by Nat King Cole in 1960. His subtly rich, expertly deployed voice gives you goosebumps as he performs the soaring lyrics and makes you feel like you really are a shepherd watching your flock on that night two millennia ago. The background of the song, combined with the fact that Cole was singing it at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, adds an extra layer of significance.

In the 1840's a French priest asked a local wine merchant named Placide Cappeau to pen a Christmas poem. Cappeau delivered with a poem that has been variously titled "Minuit, chretiens" and "Cantique de Noel." A few years later the composer Adolphe Charles Adams set it to music, creating the heart of the hymn we know today, and I think it's worth nothing that Adams was Jewish.

A few years after that, a little-known American writer and abolitionist named John Sullivan Dwight translated the Cappeau/Adams hymn to English and brought it to our shores as "O Holy Night." During the Civil War it became popular in Union states because of a particular verse that is sometimes excluded from modern renditions: "Truly He taught us to love one another / His law is love and His gospel is peace / chains shall He break / for the slave is our brother / and in His name all oppression shall cease."

"Do You Hear What I Hear?," The Carpenters
When it comes to Karen and Richard Carpenter, mock them all you want for the vein-clogging sappiness of their pop songs. They deserve it. But the fact of the matter is that Karen's voice was resonant and she owned the middle octaves, singing them better than anyone else who achieved pop stardom in the 1970's. My heart thumps when I listen to her arching vocals on their 1978 rendition of this song, complemented by Richard's wonderfully executed accompaniment. On a side note, this song is surprisingly recent, having been written during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," The Carpenters
I have written about this one before, and rather than recount the whole story behind it again, I will simply refer you to that post. If you don't want to go to the link, I don't blame you -- so I'll give you the abridged version by saying that the words were penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as a poem during the Civil War, and subsequently set to music by John Baptiste Calkin.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? So does this: The best singing of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was done by Karen Carpenter in 1978.


"Happy Holidays," Andy Williams
It's not Christmas until you hear this on the radio. In fact, in almost every single year, it happens to be the very first Christmas song I hear on the radio... He'll have a big fat pack upon his back / and lots of goodies for you and for me / so leave a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick / hangin' on the Christmas tree... Rat Packer Andy Williams belts it out so good that I don't even known if anyone else has released a single of "Happy Holdiays" -- but I do know there's no point in anyone else doing so!

"Sleigh Ride," Freddy Martin and His Orchestra
It was 65 years ago that Freddy Martin made this recording and 30 years ago that I heard it for the first time -- on a cassette tape purchased from a RadioShack in Sylva, North Carolina. Bouncing with energy and buoyed by the big bandish optimism of postwar America, it makes me smile and snap my fingers and feel a yuletide chill in the air, even if it's a 75-degree day in Florida. In other words, it is ideal.

"The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole
Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote it in 1945. Everybody knows it, but not everybody knows its title, so it is sometimes referred to as "Merry Christmas to You" and sometimes as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire."

From its line about "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" to its one about "kids from one to ninety-two" to its one about "tiny tots with their eyes all aglow," I daresay that no other song has lyrics which do as good a job capturing the manifold feelings of the Christmas season.

And, I dare ask why anyone has even bothered to record "The Christmans Song" after Nat King Cole did so? His rendering 15 years after the song was written remains, in my opinion, hands-down the best Christmas song of all time.


"Baby It's Cold Outside"
Actually, I kind of like this duet. It's catchy and cheeky, and since I'm not a prude, I am not offended by the persistence of the male who is represented in its vocals.

But can somebody please explain why it is considered a Christmas song? It has nothing to do with Christmas. It never mentions the holiday; and other than using the word "cold," it never mentions anything that's even related to the holiday. Calling this a Christmas song is kind of like calling "Summertime Blues" a Fourth of July song because, well, July is in the summer.

Listen to the lyrics. They are solely about a guy trying to get into a girl's pants. No matter how much she insists she doesn't want to stay for the night, he constantly pressures her to do so because it's cold outside. She explicitly says "the answer is no," and he retorts that "you'll freeze out there" and "what's the sense of hurting my pride?" At one point she actually says "what's in this drink?" When she worries about what gossipers will say, his response is that it would cause him "lifelong sorrow if you caught pneumonia and died." She calls him "very pushy" and he replies "I like to think of it as opportunistic."

Again, I'm not a prude, but seriously, what does this song have to do with Christmas? How come we only hear it this time of year, and only on the stations that switch to a 24/7 Christmas format? There is something amiss.

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
I have mixed emotions about putting this on my "least favorites" list. John Lennon was a genuine pacifist who meant no harm to anyone. I have no doubt that when he and Yoko crafted this Christmas song using the melody of the old English ballad "Skewball," they did so with golden hearts. It was meant as a Vietnam War protest, and I have no doubt that they believed lying down military arms in that part of the world would be good for mankind.

My problem is this: The blinders they wore when crafting the song were shared by millions in the West, and those blinders caused real life disaster for people in the Third World of Southeast Asia. Without American military might, the impoverished villagers of South Vietnam were left stranded without freedom and at the mercy of Ho Chi Minh's murderous tyranny.

Generations of people on the Indochina Peninsula had their futures destroyed and hopes crushed when America went the route that John, Yoko, and the other Sixties peaceniks preferred. Had the peaceniks trumpeted any concen for the real life fates of those people, the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" might make me smile. Instead it makes me sad.

"Santa Baby"
This is far and away the most repulsive, alleged Christmas song of all time... In a season that's about selflessness, giving, and spiritual redemption, this song is all about self-absorption, materialism, and spiritual vacuity... Rather than seeking peace, love, and harmony, the narrator demands "a yacht," "the deed to a platinum mine," and "decorations bought at Tiffany's"... For evidence that she belongs on the nice list, the only things she mentions are "all the fun that I've missed" and "all the fellas that I haven't kissed"... Yes, this is exactly how we should teach our children about the virtues and principles of the season. I know it was written as a novelty song, but I cringe every time I hear it.

In any event, there are only two days between today and Christmas. Be merry all weekend long.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice

Here are some thoughts about the year’s coldest season on this, its first day:

I love how it begins with evergreen boughs on mantles, lighted trees in village squares, carols on the radio, and people knowing that life’s greatest joys come from giving rather than receiving.

I love its chilly mornings when fog clings to the surfaces of ponds.

I love sitting outside on those mornings drinking hot black coffee.

I love watching Sarah try to catch snowflakes on her tongue during our winter vacation.

I love driving across California’s High Sierra between snow drifts so deep they soar above cars and turn roadways into tunnels of white.

I love walking through Appalachian forests that are barren of leaves but laden with snow, and therefore have the appearance of black-and-white photos come to life.

And finally, I love that I can spend a whole day outside in Florida without feeling the need to shower every hour.

So for those who curse the cold: Remember that every season brings beauty, so long as we stop to notice it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Real Saint Nick

History provides many examples of actual people who have, over time, become so melded into the popular imagination that we tend to forget they were real. Saint Nicholas is one of them.

Born sometime around 280 A.D. in the town of Patara, in what was then part of Greece but is now part of Turkey, Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was young. Having been raised as a devoted Christian, he spent his life using his inheritance to help those in need, and in addition to his charity he became known for harboring great concern for children and sailors.

Down through history, one particular story about his generosity has persisted. In those days, women whose families could not pay a dowry were more likely to die as spinsters than to get married. It is said that when Nicholas learned of a poor man who was worried about his daughters’ fate because he lacked money for their dowries, Nicholas surreptitiously tossed gold into the man’s home through an open window, and the gold landed in stockings that were drying by the fire. Much later, this 1,700-year-old story inspired the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney to receive gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve.

Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during the anti-Christian persecutions carried out by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Based on the stories of his life, Catholic tradition considers him a patron saint of children, orphans, sailors, travelers, the wrongly imprisoned, and many other categories of people. Churches were constructed in his honor as early as the sixth century A.D. Today, his remains are buried in BariItaly.

For generations now, kids and adults alike have used the names Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Nick interchangeably, without giving it a second thought. But there was an actual Saint Nicholas, a decent man who is obscured by commercial renderings of Christmas. We should not allow that fact to be forgotten, regardless of whether or not we are Catholic (and for the record, I am not).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Best Bolts

25 autumns ago the Tampa Bay Lightning took the ice for the first time, and there have obviously been many ups and downs since then.

With their 25th season now more than 25 percent complete, there are many ways I could commemorate the Bolts' 25th anniversary. I could do a post about their history in general; or one covering their 25 greatest moments; or one that covers their 10 highest points and 10 lowest points. I could do one about the greatest players in franchise history; or the greatest plays in franchise history; or the most overlooked moments in franchise history.

But I am choosing to do something a little different, because when it comes to hockey and my hometown team, I like to be a little different. Hockey is the most international of this continent's big four team sports, and in recognition of that fact, this post will recap the top three Lightning players from each of the countries that are widely considered to be hockey's "big six" powerhouses.

Because this is not intended to be a ranking of first-second-third, the players (and nations) are named in purely alphabetical order... although there are two cases where you will probably be thinking to yourself, "Hey, John clearly thinks this guy is a cut below the other two!"

And here we go.

Because so many Canadians populate NHL rosters, a list like this makes it almost unfair to limit a team's allotment to just three. As of two years ago (the most recent tabulation I could find), 48.6 percent of NHL'ers hailed from The Great White North, with the other 51.4 percent divided between more than ten different countries. For the Bolts, my "three from each" approach means stars such as Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuk, Dan Boyle, Brian Bradley, and Daren Puppa are getting left off the list... but I'm sticking with the approach nonetheless, and as I see it, Tampa Bay's top troika of Canucks is as follows.

Vincent Lecavalier

Vinny Lecavalier (to this day fans refer to him simply as Vinny, no last name needed) was drafted by the Lightning with the first pick of the 1998 draft and remained with them all the way to 2013. He helped lead them to Stanley Cup glory in 2004 and to the conference finals in 2011. He ranks as their all-time leader in goals, even-strength goals, and games played; and second all-time leader in assists, points, game-winning goals, power play goals, and goals created (go here if you care to read how that stat is calculated).

Lecavalier won the Rocket Richard Trophy by leading the NHL in goals for the 2006-07 season; won the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2008; captained the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 2008; and not to be forgotten, during the same year he helped the Bolts win the Stanley Cup, he was also the MVP of the World Cup of Hockey.

His double overtime goal in Game Three of the opening round of the 2003 playoffs kept the Lightning from falling into a 3-0 series hole against Washington, after which they proceeded to take that series and advance to the second round for the first time in history. His 2004 'tween-the-legs redirect of Andreychuk's shot, with 16.5 seconds left in regulation of Game Three against Montreal, is arguably the best goal in franchise history when you consider its difficulty, timeliness, and the fact it forced the game to overtime where the Bolts prevailed en route to sweeping that series and eventually winning the Cup.

And I haven't even mentioned the millions of dollars and countless hours of time Lecavalier has donated to start and sustain a center for pediatric cancer and blood disorders at All Children's Hospital, proving himself a community pillar of the first degree.

Martin St. Louis
The other all-world Quebecker from that Stanley Cup squad, Martin St. Louis, enjoyed a long run here from 2000 to 2014 that was almost entirely concurrent with Lecavalier's. St. Louis ranks as the Bolts' all-time leader in points, assists, game-winning goals, short-handed goals, hat tricks, and goals created; and second all-time in both goals and even-strength goals.

He led the NHL in points for the 2003-04 season and did it again in 2012-13, making him the oldest player to accomplish that feat (he was 37 compared to Wayne Gretzky doing it at 33) and also making him just the second player to do it nine seasons apart. In 2004 St. Louis won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player, plus the Lester B. Pearson Award for the league's most outstanding player as voted by the players. He also won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (for "sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability") on three separate occasions.

In triple overtime of Game Six against Washington in 2003, he scored the goal which delivered the first playoff series victory in franchise history. Then, in double overtime of Game Six against Calgary in 2004, he scored what is arguably the most important goal in franchise history -- forcing the Stanley Cup Final to Game Seven, which, as we all know, the Bolts wound up winning.

On January 13th of this year, St. Louis became the first player in Lightning history to have his number retired: An honor well-deserved by the undersized dynamo whose #26 now hangs from the rafters forever.

Steven Stamkos
He is only 27 and still in his prime, but that doesn't matter because Steven Stamkos absolutely belongs on this list. He has won the Rocket Richard Trophy twice, and over the last nine seasons is the only player in the NHL to record a 60-goal season. He has already passed the 600-point mark, and with 624 points in 616 games played he has done so at a greater than point-per-game pace. Stamkos holds the franchise records for most goals in a season and highest goals-per-game average in a career; and despite his youth he holds the franchise record for most power play goals in a career and is tied with Martin St. Louis for most hat tricks in a career.

But as outstanding as all of that is, the most tremendous thing so far in Stamkos's career is the simple fact that he inked a new contract with the Bolts last June when he was days away from becoming the highest profile player to hit the free agent market in years. Heavy hitting franchises from "traditional" and "big" markets were lining up to open their Brinks trucks and lure him to their cities. The richest franchise on Earth, the Toronto Maple Leafs, sought to make Stamkos the face of their team and the hockey savior of a city that proclaims itself the hockey capitol of the world. Their pitch was aided by appeals from Toronto's mayor himself and by the CEO of Canadian Tire, who promised bazillions in endorsement dollars in the event Stammer chose to take his skills to Canada's biggest metropolis.

Stammer, however, had other ideas. He opted to remain right here, and in order for the Bolts to remain a serious Cup contender (i.e., in order for them to be able to keep other big time players on the roster without exceeding the salary cap) he signed an eight-year contract that pays him at least a couple million dollars less per year than he could have gotten from another organization on the open market. For that, he instantly earned the title of GBE -- Greatest Bolt Ever -- even though his Bolts story is far from over.

This country churns out world class hockey players by the bushel, and the number of them who have played for the Lightning is so big that the names I had to leave off this list are surprising. How can I not include the stalwart Ondrej Palat? How can I not include Roman Hamrlik, the first draft pick in team history, whose 65-point campaign in 1995-96 remained the highest-scoring season by a Tampa Bay defenseman for 21 years? Well, this is how...

Petr Klima
Brian Bradley was the Bolts' first all-around offensive star, but Petr Klima was their first true sniper. His 15.5 shooting percentage during his four years in Tampa Bay is the second-highest career shooting percentage in team history, trailing only Stamkos and sitting 0.3 ahead of Nikita Kucherov Himself (whose to-date career is also four years).

Klima had already made hockey history before he joined the Lightning in 1993. Eight years previously, at the age of 20, he defected from communist Czechoslovakia by sneaking away from the Czech National Team while it was in West Germany and rendezvousing with Detroit Red Wings VP Jim Lite and assistant coach Nick Polano. They secreted him from city to city for several days to elude Czech police until they could get him on a plane and fly him to America. After four successful seasons with the Wings he was traded to Edmonton during the 1989-90 season, and went on to score one of the most famous goals in NHL history when he beat Boston goalie Andy Moog through the five hole 15 minutes into triple overtime to win Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals.

On March 27, 1995 -- four years to the day before I wed the lovely Erika -- I sat in the Thunderdome and watched Klima take a perfect outlet pass from Brian Bradley halfway through overtime, race all alone into the offensive zone, and flip the puck past Patrick Roy to give the Bolts a 3-2 win over the stinkin' Habs. Thirteen months later, in the first NHL playoff game I ever attended, he blasted a slap shot from the high slot that scorched the ice and banged into the net behind a Ron Hextall who had no chance. Petr Klima was a bright spot during this franchise's early and heady days.

Pavel Kubina
The Lightning went through a dispiriting down period in the late 1990's before rising to Stanley Cup prominence in the first half of the 2000's. Although forwards like Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards are universally remembered for leading the team out of the weeds and to the top of the peak, this feisty defenseman from a 400-year-old village in the shadow of the Moravian-Silesian Beskid Mountains deserves to have his name remembered just as universally as theirs.

By giving the Lightning an imposing force on the blue line, Pavel Kubina afforded their budding forwards the freedom to take the necessary risks to develop into offensive stars, and with his speed and hockey smarts he contributed mightily to the offense as well. Take a look at the franchise's record book and you will see that Kubina ranks fifth all-time in shots and in the top ten in assists, game-winning goals, power play goals, and short-handed goals. Plus, he ranks third in games played, trailing only Lecavalier and St. Louis. And lest the flurry of offense-related rankings mislead you into assuming Kubina was a soft, offense-minded defenseman, don't forget that he ranks second all-time in penalty minutes!

He is an automotive buff, and since retiring from the game that made him rich, he has simultaneously indulged his hobby and contributed to our local economy by opening Private Allstar Cars in Largo. Though born behind the Iron Curtain, he is now a Bay Area Man through and through.

Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal
I have no idea why people insisted on giving Vaclav Prospal the non-Czech-sounding nickname Vinny. Maybe they thought Vaclav sounds too much like a vampire. Maybe they just liked the way "Vinny Prospal" sounds. Or maybe they liked the idea of saying "Vinny passes to Vinny," since Prospal spent much of his time playing on Lecavalier's left wing.

At the end of the day, who cares why people started calling him Vinny? All that matters is that he was a productive Bolt who was proud to be a Bolt and loved every minute of the years he plied his trade while wearing a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater.

Though he played less than six full seasons with the team, Prospal ranks fifth in franchise history in total points (52 ahead of the man behind him); fifth in goals created; sixth in assists; and seventh in both goals and even-strength goals. Gotta love him.

When you consider how many hockey players hail from Finland, it's surprising how few Finnish stars have suited up for the Lightning. But that does not mean we've had no good ones over the years.

Sean Bergenheim
Although he played here for only one campaign (2010-11), Bergenheim was such a standout during that campaign's post-season that he will always hold a special place in the hearts of Lightning fans. Despite playing on the third line, he led those Bolts with nine playoff goals -- all at even strength -- including the lone score in their 1-0 Game Seven victory over the Penguins. He and Dominic Moore clicked with a maneuver in which Bergenheim would skate/drift into the right circle and Moore would feed him with a no-look pass from below the goal line, which he routinely converted by snapping the puck past goalies who had no time to discern what was happening.

Unfortunately, after sustaining a still-undisclosed lower body injury in the Eastern Conference Finals, Bergenheim missed most of Game Four and all of Games Six and Seven. The Bolts lost that series by a single Game Seven goal, and many people will always believe that our team would have prevailed in that series and perhaps won the Cup had he not been sidelined down the stretch.

Valtteri Filppula
This even-keeled and genuinely vampire-looking native of the city of Vantaa played a major role in returning the Lightning to contender status this decade. A slick passer with a crisp shot and knack for scoring at key times, his career shooting percentage with the Lightning is in the top ten and higher even than Lecavalier's and Andreychuk's.

However, Filppulla is best known for doing All The Little Things that are crucial to winning but don't show up on the stat sheet, things like poking the puck away from opposing forwards, deflecting opposing shots, chipping opposing passes off course, and winning puck battles along the boards. Filppula was above 50% in face-offs for three of his four seasons here and contributed 22 playoff points versus only four playoff penalty minutes. You could not compile a wished-for hockey roster without including a player like him.

Sami Salo
Much like Sean Bergenheim, this skilled defenseman did not spend anywhere near the lion's share of his pro career in Tampa Bay. Salo was 37 when he signed with the Bolts and wound up playing here for only the final two of his fifteen years in the NHL. Nonetheless, he had a significant impact because his reliable, two-way play solidified the Bolts' back end and returned them to the playoffs as they transitioned into a new era that could no longer include Lecavalier and St. Louis. Despite injuries, Salo played 73 games (regular season and playoffs combined) in his final season and opted to retire 19 days before his 40th birthday.

Two of the following players from the Land of the Firebird are no-brainers. Deciding who to tap for the third spot proved taxing, however. Here we go...

Nikolai Khabibulin
There was a span of time when Nikolai Ivanovich Khabibulin was arguably the best goaltender on Planet Earth, and fortunately for us, that was when he was wore the Lightning's sweater. While a member of the Bolts he also played for Team Russia at the 2002 Olympics and was named the best goaltender of those games. In 2004 he delivered Lord Stanley's Cup to our city(ies) by the bay with a stellar post-season during which he pitched five shutouts, recorded a .933 save percentage, and allowed opposing teams to score just 1.71 goals per game.

Khabibulin's performance in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best game ever played by a Tampa Bay netminder: After Brad Richards scored less than three minutes into the game, Khabibulin made the 1-0 lead hold up the rest of the night against a Calgary Flames onslaught that peaked in the final period when they outshot the Lightning 12-5. Turns out they called him "the Buhlin wall" with good reason.

Nikita Kucherov
Yes, he is only 24, but he is the best shooter currently playing in the NHL and is already one of the greatest players in franchise history.

A lefty born less than 90 miles from the Black Sea, Nikita Kucherov has the quickest release I have ever seen and expertly deceives opponents in multiple ways. He is deadly on both the forehand and backhand; is a premier passer as well as a premier shooter; and also plays sound defense. And he does not hesitate to battle for pucks in the corners or to bow up and physically challenge opponents who are trying to push people around.

Kucherov's goal and point production has increased every year he has been in the league, from 9/18 to 29/65 to to 30/66 to 40/85 -- and so far this season, a mere 30 games in, he has already racked up 42 points via 21 goals and 21 assists.

And, the man they call Kuch has made his mark not just in the regular season but also in the post-season, thus far having notched 42 points in 45 playoff games while going plus-20. His long-distance overtime rocket past Henrik Lundqvist in Game Three of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals is forever etched in Lightning lore -- as are his stick blade redirect past Corey Crawford in Game Two of that year's Stanley Cup Finals, and the fact of him scoring late goals to force OT in both Game Three and Game Four of their 2016 series against the Islanders, with 0:38 and 3:16 left on the clock, respectively.

Alexander Selivanov
This Moscow native is sure to be the most controversial inclusion on this list because his tenure here was so mercurial. His valleys often seemed deeper than his peaks seemed high, and there are many people who accuse him of not living up to his potential. Given the trajectory of the current season, there is at least one Russian presently playing for the Bolts who would stand a good chance of replacing Selivanov on this list if I were to compile it next year. However, I am compiling it today, based on what has already happened up to now, and Selly deserves to be recognized.

Alexander Selivanov had a wrist shot so wicked that some goalies still haven't seen pucks that blew by them them off his stick. He arrived on our shores 23 years ago, as a 23-year-old who had never traveled overseas and whose English was very limited. He had a ho-hum rookie season with 16 points and a minus-8 in 43 games, but his sophomore campaign (1995-96) was his breakout season and also the first one in which the Lightning made the playoffs. One of the most-forgotten facts in Lightning history is that Selivanov led that first playoff club in goals by a considerable margin, finishing with eight more than Brian Bradley and nine more than Petr Klima. In the franchise's first ever home playoff game, he scored the winning goal 2:04 into overtime by banging a rebound through the legs of Philadelphia's Ron Hextall.

If you want to focus on Selivanov's slumps, that is your right, and if you want to focus on him sometimes seeming to struggle in the communication and maturity departments, that too is your right. Nevetheless, you cannot write about the good times in Lightning history without writing about good things he did as a player, and I have to ask: When was the last time you moved to a foreign country where you didn't really know the language, and as soon as you arrived in that country you worked in a job where the public could watch and could constantly criticize your every move?

Sweden needs no introduction as a hockey power, and these three Swedes should need no introduction as hockey players.

Victor Hedman
Now in his ninth season -- and still only 26! -- this Thor-looking man is the best defenseman in team history. For years now he has been called on to defend against the best forwards that every opponent has to offer, and has routinely come out on top. Victor Hedman is a Norris Trophy finalist for a reason.

However, his two-way game is so outstanding that people whose hockey knowledge comes mostly from highlights might not even realize he's a defenseman. Hedman excels not merely in hunkering down in the defensive zone, but in turning the action in the other direction and triggering offensive rushes. He does this with pinpoint outlet passes, and by turning on his jets and carrying the puck downstream like a point guard. He quarterbacks the play in the offensive zone with such effectiveness that, in spite of his job title, he ranks fifth in Lightning history in assists (252) and sixth in points (319).

In other words, Victor Hedman lives by that famous axiom that the best defense is a good offense. Perhaps the best example of this came in the second round of the 2016 playoffs, when the Lightning went up against the New York Islanders and their all-world centerman John Tavares. Back in the 2009 draft the Isles had taken Tavares with the top overall pick while the Bolts took Hedman second overall. When they met in that second round playoff series, the two players were regularly matched against each other and Tampa Bay's Swede was superior to New York's Ontarian. Tavares scored in the second period of Game One, and from that moment forward managed neither a goal nor an assist for the remainder of the series, whereas Hedman rang up eight points including the series-winning goal.

Fredrik Modin
In my 2014 post celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Lightning's first Stanley Cup, I wrote: "With a lumberjack's work ethic and an uncanny nose for the puck, Fredrik Modin was the prototypical Swede. It was he who scored the winning goal in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, and it is worth noting that two years later he helped lead Team Sweden to its first gold medal of the Oympics' 'NHL Era.'"

I wish I was always that succinct, but I'm not, and today I feel compelled to add that Modin was both productive and responsible at every spot on the ice, offensively and defensively, able to outrace you in a speed game or outmuscle you in a chippy one, whatever the situation required. He ranks sixth in team history in shots, fourth in even-strength goals, and fifth in total goals. When he represented the Bolts at the 2001 All-Star Game, he won the Hardest Shot Competition with a blast that registered at 102.1 mph.

And since we are talking about greatness, I also have to point out that Modin is one of only 27 people in the Triple Gold Club -- which is to say that he is one of only 27 people in all of history, from all the nations of the globe, to have won a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal and World Championship gold medal. Select company, indeed.

Anton Stralman
After the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals ended with the upstart Lightning having come up just short against the dynastic Blackhawks, ESPN's Craig Custance wrote this about Anton Stralman: "The 28-year-old defenseman finally found a team that appreciates his subtle game. With Hedman, he teamed up to form a duo that effectively shut down the Blackhawks' biggest stars in this series when they were on the ice against them. The only problem was, they couldn't always be on the ice."

That might be the best brief summary ever written of Stralman's play, for which "subtle" is definitely the perfect adjective. Stralman might not have the blinding speed of Erik Karlsson, but he is quick on the puck and never gets caught out of position. He is smallish and might not deliver hits with the brute force of Radko Gudas, but he is strong as hell and knocks opponents off the puck while rarely getting knocked off it himself. He does not engage in dirty play like Duncan Keith, but he backchecks and battles along the boards with piss and vinegar.

Stralman's hockey IQ is through the roof and he does not hesitate to mentor younger players -- as evidenced by how he has aided in this season's startlingly rapid development of 19-year-old Mikael Sergachev, who has scored the game-winning goal in four of the Lightning's 22 victories to date.

Simply put, Anton Stralman is a hockey player's hockey player and company man's company man. Every team in the league would love to have him on its roster, and we are very fortunate he is on ours.

God bless America, land that I love! Yes, my own country -- from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam -- has also produced some stellar performers for my Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ben Bishop
Colorado-born and Missouri-raised, Ben Bishop made it to the pros after a solid NCAA career at the University of Maine. The Lightning acquired him by trade in 2013 and his impact was immediate, as he backstopped them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. Bishop ranks as the franchise's all-time leader in literally every single goaltending stat there is: save percentage, goals-against average, saves, shutouts, wins, and wins in a season.

His positive effect cannot be overstated. As a money goaltender, he contributed to the team's offensive growth by making his teammates confident about taking risks on offense, secure in their knowledge that he could bail them out if things went wrong. He is the best puck-handling goalie of his generation (sorry Mike Smith) and used that skill to turn the tables by directing pucks in what opponents would call the "wrong" direction, feeding outlet passes to teammates to start offensive rushes. After all, opponents can't shoot if it's you instead of they who is controlling the vulcanized rubber.

Unlike Nikolai Khabibulin, Ben Bishop never won a Stanley Cup while playing in Tampa Bay, but he was a two-time Vezina finalist and his excellence absolutely extended to the post-season. He got the Bolts to the Eastern Conference Finals twice and Stanley Cup Finals once and went 3-1 in games in which the Bolts faced elimination (injury caused him to miss the 2014 Montreal series and 2016 Pittsburgh series). In 2015 Bishop became only the third goalie in NHL history to pitch two Game Seven shutouts in one post-season, the others being Patrick Roy and Tim Thomas. That same year, during the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, he became the only goalie in NHL history to shut the Rangers out in back to back playoff games at Madison Square Garden.

The Lightning made the right business decision when they traded him after four years and handed the goaltending keys over to the much younger and equally talented Andrei Vasilevskiy, but still, it will feel a little strange if they win the Cup at some point in the next few years and Ben Bishop's name doesn't get engraved on it with them.

Ryan Callahan
Ryan Callahan's name, like Alexander Selivanov's, will generate some controversy by appearing on this list. My first impulse was to include not Callahan but Brian Boyle, due largely to the latter's clutch playoff performances and face-off expertise. A strong case could also be made for Shaun Chambers, the Bolts' best "defensive defenseman" in their fledgling years. But hear me out.

The main argument against our current assistant captain is that he missed most of last season (due to having his second hip surgery in eight months), and the season before that he was noticeably slowed by injuries that included a right hip labral tear. As a result, recency bias works against him because some people can't get past the thought of a man being largely invisible on the ice for two years while being paid an annual salary of $5.8 million.

But think about this: The main reason Bran Boyle played for Tampa Bay from 2014 to 2017, a stretch during which he made a huge impact in two deep playoff runs, is that Callahan reached out to him and convinced him to sign with the Bolts as a free agent. And even more significantly, Callahan also convinced Anton Stralman to come here as a free agent, and as we all know Stralman is now indispensable. This means that two key cogs in the Lightning machine that has been so successful this decade might never have played here if not for Callahan.

And by the way, Cally's on-ice game is far from shabby. Like the aforementioned Valtteri Filppulla, he is an All The Little Things kind of player who makes life difficult for opponents, and on top of that he brings an extra punch of derring-do by never hesitating to sacrifice his body to block a shot. In fact, he was such a shot-blocking machine in the 2015 playoffs, including the SCF, that if only one or two more Bolts had done the same it probably would have been the Bolts rather than the Blackhawks who ended up drinking from the chalice. Plus, if you think stuff that shows up statistically is supremely important, don't forget that Callahan rang up 54 points in the last full season he completed (2014-15).

Tyler Johnson
The 5'9" spark plug from Spokane made a splash as soon as he arrived, tallying 50 points in his first season and finishing third in the voting for the 2014 Calder Memorial Trophy (aka, NHL Rookie of the Year). One year later, he had arguably the best post-season of any player in the NHL during the Bolts' deep run to the SCF.

Tyler Johnson's 23 points in 26 playoff games led the league in 2015, as did his 13 playoff goals. One of the highlights from that run was his OT winner in Game Two against Detroit, which he potted after scoring one goal and assisting on anther in the final five minutes of regulation to erase a two-goal deficit and force overtime. Other highlights include the winner against Montreal with 1.1 seconds remaining in Game Three, and a natural hat trick against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the conference finals.

And Johnson is no one-year wonder, as evidenced by him churning out 17 points in 17 playoff games the following season, when the Bolts pushed the eventual Cup-winners all the way to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thus far in his Lightning career, Johnson has played in 47 playoff contests and accounted for 42 playoff points on a perfectly even 21 goals and 21 assists.

But all that is "just" playoffs. Overall, Johnson already ranks in the team's all-time top ten in goals, short-handed goals, hat tricks, goals per game, points per game, and goals created -- and in the top five in game-winning goals and plus/minus. No wonder the team recently signed him to a seven-year extension!

Well, that's it for now. It will be interesting to do this again a quarter-century from now and see how many of these guys are still on the list after the organization turns 50. Until next time: Au revoir!

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.