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If it could go wrong, it did . . .

Welcoming committee in Banff - Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Our welcoming committee in Banff.

…except when it mattered.

With a tip’o the hat to that rode-hard-put-away-wet cowboy crooner cum hippie, Willie Nelson, I’m:

“On the road again,
I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”

But this time to Canada for a family reunion with the Reist’s, a branch from my dad’s side of the clan.  We’re going to spend a weekend together near Didsbury, a farming town of about 5,000 north of Calgary.

I’m traveling with my chronically peripatetic sister, Linda.  In a rental car, we’ve front loaded the reunion by several days to first go down the east side of the Continent’s spine from the Calgary to Glacier National Park.  Then turning west over the Divide and heading north through Banff and continuing to the iconic Fairmont Hotel on Lake Louise.  Then crossing the Divide again for the reunion before taking in the last day of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede.

A comedy of errors.  That wasn’t so funny.

But this little story comes with a sub-plot that, infuriatingly, just keeps on giving.

It began early in the morning when Linda flew in from her home in Albuquerque to DIA where we were scheduled, we thought, to catch a Frontier flight together to Calgary.  But when she got to the gate she was told that the plane had already left.  And that Frontier wouldn’t have another flight to Calgary for three days.  Information that she immediately communicated to me while I was in my Uber to the airport.  Talk about that sinking feeling.

“But,” she continued, “I might be able to get us on another airline that leaves this afternoon.  But it’ll probably cost more.”

“Well, what choice do we have?” I replied.  “We’ve got all the other arrangements made.  I think we have to take it if you can get it.  But I wonder what happened?  I have it right here on my calendar that we should have had plenty of time to catch this flight.”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think the travel agent messed up and didn’t send us the notice of the change.”

“Great.  And, of course, it’s my travel agent.   Well,” I sighed, “you better get the tickets.  I’ll deal with the travel agent later.”  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I will.  ‘Cause those tickets, purchased at the last possible moment, cost so much that you couldn’t get me to confess how much even if you put thumb screws on each of my fingers.  And toes.

But wait.  There’s more!

When we got to the rental car desk in Calgary, the hits just kept coming.  I’d forgotten my driving glasses-didn’t really need ’em to sit in the Uber on the way to the airport.  And it didn’t seem quite fair to have my sister do all the driving.

Seriously abashed, I had to call my understandably resentful wife to have her ship them to the Lake Louise where I could take up the slack for the last few days of driving duty.  And, at the time, it seemed like a good plan.

Until, that is, I got this text from my wife:  “Took the glasses to the UPS store.  $165.09 to have them shipped to Canada!”

“Oh, my Lord!” I exclaimed as I stared at the little letters on my phone.  But my sister didn’t seem much surprised:  “Lake Louise is remote.  There aren’t any airports around there.  I just hope they get there in time.”

But wait!  There’s still more!

From Calgary, Linda drove us back across the U.S. border to Glacier National Park.  There, we planned to spend a night and then take a ride in one of the famous open top “Red Bus Tours” that navigate the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to see the spectacular peaks, glaciers and wildlife.  To make sure we were on track to be at the proper bus stop to answer the early morning “‘Board!” we scouted out the area after dinner at the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge where our table overlooked the lake and the rugged peaks beyond.

While on the road the next morning, we got engrossed in one of the several nourishing conversations that occurred during the trip.  Since Linda moved away from home for college when I was a kid-and she never lived in Denver again-this was the most time we’ve spent together for decades.  As she drove us down the winding two lane highway that followed a powerfully sinuous river coursing beneath pine clad slopes, we talked about war, peace, Christianity and my relatively recent conversion to near pacifism.  So, rather than going just a few miles to the turnoff to catch our bus, we, completely absorbed, drove miles by it before she realized where we were.  And so we missed the tour altogether!

Oh, well!  All’s well that ends well.

Turned out, however, that it wasn’t altogether a bad thing.  The drive back up across the Canadian border to our next layover in the tiny tourist burg of Radium Hot Springs on the west side of the Divide pretty much burned up the day even without our “going to the sun.”  And even though the summer days that far north are anything but short.

True, the glasses fiasco continued to plague us for a few days; something, said the email from DHL, about getting a tiny pair of glasses across an international border.  So Linda was at the helm for the rest of the drive.  And I gave up and just told DHL to “return to sender.”  Which they did.  Has to be about the most expensive round trips that a pair of glasses has ever made.

But at least they were there to greet me when I finally made it home.

 

 

There’re no atheists on the back of a . . .

BRAHMAN BULL!

Jim Lovell is one of three men that, for years, has led the Bible study that I attend on Wednesday mornings.

Jim’s an interesting guy.  He grew up on the Baptist buckle of the Bible belt of western Oklahoma.  Somehow got to Denver where he joined the Evangelical Presbyterian church I attend.  Before moving on to, of all things, the Wellspring Anglican Church.  Which, never fear, is affiliated with the charismatic Rwandan Anglican Church.   And isn’t even within sniffing distance of the “all smells and bells” churches of its English brethren.   I’ve been to Wellspring-and I like it, too.  So do my daughter and her family-they’re members.

Jim runs a successful, high-end residential construction company.   During the 2008 financial collapse in the building market, Jim defiantly said this about the mortgage meltdown’s impact on his business:  “I refuse to participate!”  And, as far as I know, he didn’t.

Size doesn’t matter.  But heart does.

Jim has a grandson, Nathan Hatchell, who’s a little wisp of a guy.  But all muscle and sinew.  And a winsome smile that he tends to hold back for company.

One of the first things I noticed about Nathan was his clothes.  Stove pipe blue jeans-of course.  White western shirt with the tricked out yoke and pearl snap buttons.  But it was the belt that really caught my eye: a shiny buckle about the size of a tea cup saucer.  Big enough to cut the kid in half if he wasn’t careful when he stooped over to pull up his cowboy boots.

Sooner or later, it came out that Nathan attended a university in Oklahoma that offered rodeo as an intercollegiate sport.  And that Nathan rode Brahman bulls for the program.

Now, I went to the rodeo when I was a kid here in Denver.  And the bull riding was always a highlight of the evening.  Especially when the clowns scampered out to lure the bulls away from the cowboys who’d been twisted like pretzels before being thrown in a heap to the dirt on the coliseum floor.  I was always astonished when those skinny guys stood up, dusted off their chaps with their cowboy hats, and swaggered over to join their buddies ringside.

The rest of the story

But it wasn’t until the time, years later, that I happened to get a seat right above the shoot where they loaded the cowboys onto the back of the animals that I really understood what bull riding is all about.

Peering over the railing, I was there with my own now young son.  Each cowboy went through a similar ritual as they climbed into the shoot.  Watching them get on the back of the bull made the biggest impression on me.  It was like trying to get your legs around a heaving, infuriated Volkswagon bug that was blowing snot out its nose.  The rider then tightly wraps a thong around his hand that, in turn, gripped a handle that was strapped around the bull just behind its shoulders.  To more securely anchor his leather clad “riding” hand, the rider alternately tugs on the thong and pounds on his riding hand with his free hand.

Now ready, he lays back on the bull’s haunches, gives his hat a final tug and then raises his free hand over his head.  With that, he gives the guy handling shoot a curt nod.  The gate swings open.  And the now even angrier bull explodes into the ring.

A good comparison?  Think of the condemned man nodding to the hangman to drop the trap door.

This isn’t your father’s bull rider

But to actually meet a bull rider?  Not ’til I met Nathan.  And what’s more, he isn’t your average bull rider.  He’s in the running to be the national intercollegiate champion.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve only met Nathan once or twice in passing on a Wednesday morning; he wouldn’t know me if he saw me.

But there’s a nice article here about him in the Rodeo News magazine.   He comes from a bull riding family but it wasn’t all smooth sailing; his dad rode bulls before going to work as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields.  But there’s no mention of a mom; Nathan was bounced from home to home as a kid.  The article also discusses the sport’s occupational hazards: broken jaws and death as if they were all in a day’s work.  Which they are in this “profession.”

For obvious reasons, it’s the kind of sport where you grow up in a hurry.  Just out of college, Nathan’s engaged to be married this fall.  He’s also looking to join his grandfather’s construction business and, perhaps someday, take it over.

For a kid, he’s wise beyond his years:  “Follow the Lord and your dreams will follow you. Everybody is chasing their dreams, but I’m chasing the Lord and my dreams have come to me. Don’t let anything set you back from that.”

Nathan, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Now, if I could only do it as well as you have.

 

 

 

 

On the water front

750x450 Scotland

The Lord still inhabits the praises of his people

Last winter my sister, Linda, and her husband came to Colorado for a visit.  Don’t ask me how, but they managed to wedge it in amongst all their other globe girdling trips.  As I’ve said of them before, throw a dart at a map of the world.  And they’ve probably been there.

Over dinner, they mentioned that they were going to Scotland and England this spring with a group of friends.  I took the opportunity to invite myself along.  Graciously, they didn’t let the opportunity go by.  Even though she introduced me to her friends as “my brother who tells corny jokes.”

So here I am in Scotland in the little seaside town of Oban, staying at the Alltavona B&B. My hostess tells me that in Gaelic the name means “beside the water.”  Which is appropriate; I’m watching the ferry go by no more than 200 yards from my window.

Today, however, I’d had enough of the “cozy” 8 seater van, counting sheep and lochs, tasting whiskey, eating bangers and mash, and watching three thousand foot peaks go by that are all above timber line because we’re so near the arctic.  So I stayed behind while the rest of the gang jumped on a small boat to go to an island to see puffins.  Not my thing.  It’s time for me to fire up the blog and reflect on the trip.  Not to mention that I consider sea sickness, to which I’m so prone, a fate worse than death.

Rosary beads aplenty

I asked our hostess about an internet cafe.  She was puzzled, “We have internet here.”  I assured her that I preferred to work in a coffee shop.  “Well, in that case, why don’t you try the chocolate shop?  It’s just down the way.”  So I walked down the bay, crossing the street a time or two, trying to avoid getting run over by looking the wrong direction.  And there it was: the Oban Chocolate Co.   The coffee was good.  So was the scone and jam (too early for chocolate).  But the internet connection was terrible.  So, after some futile fiddling, I headed back to the Alltavona.

Halfway there, the bells of a squat, stolid church began clanging; it’s Wednesday morning here and time for mass.  Even if far from musical, the bells were, at least, the real thing.  I walked up a few stairs and went through the doors behind a couple of elderly ladies.  Finding a place to sit was absolutely no problem.  To describe the interior as austere is an understatement.  Roughly quarried from the grey, volcanic rock of ages that underlays so much of this part of Scotland, the charcoal stone was only broken by the white lines of mortar that bound the structure together.  Sun streamed through simple windows, faintly stained rose.  The church had been built during the lean days following the end of World War II.

The tiny congregation in the cavernous structure was just finishing the rosary as I sat down.  Several participants fingered their beads from where they prayed on wooden kneelers.  Soon, a priest began saying the mass.  His homily was brief.  And even forgettable.  But it was a welcome sabbath from days of restless movement, of random historical fact strung on random historical fact.

Brendan and Kenneth

I paused for a few minutes to read about the church when the service was over.  The bells that had summoned me to worship were good Catholic boys: Brendan and Kenneth.  The church is named after St. Columba, the Irish evangelist who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century.

Christianity’s never been a popularity contest.  Consider what they did to its founder.  But no more could it be extirpated by hanging Jesus on a cross than it could be stamped out by a scant attendance at a Wednesday morning mass.  Like the resurrected Christ himself, the Church is built for the ages.  And the long haul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Romancing The Stone . . . er, The Tom

750x450 turkeys (1)

Stock photo of turkeys

Getting under the hood

My son, Byron, and I went turkey hunting a few weeks ago in central Nebraska a couple of miles west of the little town of Wolback (population 257).

It was a guided trip with Gobble and Grunt Outfitters.  While by no means cheap, for city slickers like us a guided trip represents the best chance to get one of these gorgeous, tasty critters.  And also get a peek under the hood of a rural way of life that we, otherwise, have become almost entirely disconnected from.

Let’s cut to the chase

Might as well get right to it:  I got one bird; Byron got skunked.  But only because mine was the only bird we saw that we could legally take.  Mike, the owner of G&G honored their guarantee and invited Byron back, gratis, later in the season to try again.

Toward the end of the first day, our guide, Nick, set us up  in a “double bull” blind about 10 yards away from our three decoys on the edge of an alfalfa field.  After the obligatory crow calls to see if we got a quick response from a nearby tom, the three of us climbed into the blind. Where Nick then started using a mouth and slate call to imitate a hen and attract a love struck gobbler. 

And sure enough, there came the unmistakable “oble, oble, oble” behind us and to our left.  At which point Nick really got after it, yelping, purring and cackling to signify an amorous hen.  And a then switching to the frantic gobble of a strutter angry that a rival was muscling in on his harem.  As the responses drew closer and closer, time seemed to stand still.  Although my heart certainly didn’t.  Until, finally, what looked like a gaudy bowling ball appeared no further than 10 feet to our left.  Strutting like a little Napoleon, he turned to the right straight in front of us and sashayed forward to challenge our tom decoy.  Where he met his Waterloo.  See the instant replay above.

Country kitchen

We got back to the “hunting lodge” as the sun sank into a reddening western sky.  The home of Mike’s parents when it isn’t being used for guiding, the walls were covered with the heads and racks of huge white tail deer. Side tables displayed monstrous, stuffed gobblers.

Ray, the cook, lives in Wolback.  Apologetically, she told me that her grandfather was a “moonshiner” in town back in the ’30’s.  And about a tragic night years ago when her dad, and a sizable percentage of the town’s youth, were killed in a car wreck caused by the kids drag racing down the highway.

Of German stock, she’s a firm believer in carb loading.  Dinner that night was mashed potatoes and noodles garnished with a smattering of cubed beef and thin, gray gravy.  And some very tasty home-grown sweet corn that Mike’s wife raises and freezes.  Don’t let me forget the dinner rolls.  Or sheet cake dessert.  Did I mention the tossed salad sitting next to the Dorthy Lynch dressing?

Roger and his son, Hunter, a couple of good ol’ boys from Arkansas, shared our dinner table.  After hearing how their guide had driven nearly 400 miles that day in a monstrous Dodge Ram crew cab to get them three birds, I asked Roger, “what do you guys do?”

“We do baseole.”

“I’m sorry,” I responded, “what did you say?  Base hole?”

“No.  Base OIL.  We reprocess used OIL.”

“Oh.”

The Wicked Witch

After dinner, all 8 or 10 of us went out on the south facing front porch where more big pickups occasionally roared by on Highway 22 before they crested a rise and slowed into Wolbach.  Every room in the cabin was wired for radio. Occasionally the country western music and ag reports were interrupted by severe weather warnings about a storm cell boiling up to the west.  Coming from our right, lighting brilliantly flashed time and again, making the the branches of the bare, early spring trees in the front yard stand out in stark contrast.  And the black clouds overhead swell white.

I looked, but never saw Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West riding by on her broom.

Grease.  And gumbo.

The heavens opened that night.  And reduced the majority of the back roads we used the next day to a vicious combination of grease.  And gumbo.

Our guide, Nick, also piloting a huge pickup, was a last minute addition to the guiding crew because two of Mike’s regulars had medical emergencies.  Responding to an SOS sent out over Facebook, Nick applied, got the gig, and drove nearly straight through from his usual happy hunting grounds in New Jersey.   He only made it to Nebraska a couple of days before the season opened.  Which wasn’t enough time to really get the hang of the back roads that ran like rat mazes through this vast, rolling country.  Especially when Nick had to keep us on greasy roads and steer clear of ditches and deep ravines with one hand.  While holding his cell in the other.  And stealing looks at its GPS maps.  My seat belt remained buckled, my knuckles were white.

By the end of the day, the mud was caked on so thick I expect you’d have to take a hammer and chisel to it.  Before you went to the car wash.  But for all that, we never saw a bird we could shoot.

Strange fruit

We came up empty again the next day.  But it was at least under sunny skies and roads that were slowly drying out.

That afternoon, Nick set me up in the blind on the edge of a field of cut corn with a line of trees to my back.  He and Byron took off on foot to see what they could scare up in a heavily wooded ravine to the west.  Just emerging buds shrouded the tree tops in a faint green mist.

Time moved at a different pace.  During the three or so hours I sat out there in a folding chair, my shot gun pointed out over the field, maybe four cars went by on the dirt road to my left.  Traffic isn’t measure in vehicles per hour.  It’s per day.  And your average kindergartener could count that high.  A squirrel’s repeated “chrrrrrrs” was big news.

Several weeks before, record rain on top of a heavy snow pack had turned usually placid creeks into raging torrents in that part of Nebraska.  The evidence was plentiful on the far side of my field that ended at a row of trees before plunging into a stream that, again, was scarcely more than a trickle.  Trees from upstream that had been uprooted and swept away were piled up, helter-skelter, against the trees that were still standing.  Ten feet up in those branches, and who knows how much farther above the stream bed below, shreds of plastic fluttered in the gentle evening breeze.

As the evening shadows stretched across the field, I heard that “oble, oble, oble” again, to my back and up a woody draw.   My heart raced.  I strained to get a look.  But never saw anything. Byron and Nick walked up to the blind and we packed up.

Time to head home.

 

 

Project Sanctuary Redux

Project Sanctuary Bus at Snow Mountain Ranch

What is impossible for man is possible for God

Well, here I am again.  At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars.  Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.

Much is the same.  Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies.  Plenty of opportunities to unwind:  ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit.  Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.

And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat.  The Post Traumatic Stress workshops.  The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions.  The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.

A Well Oiled Machine

Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.

One of those was the Johnson family.  The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse.   His wife is Felicia.  They live near San Antonio, Texas.

My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.

“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”

“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade.  But my mom home schools us.”

“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well.  How many brothers and sisters do you have.”

“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut.  “And you guys all drove up here?”

“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”

“Amazing.  And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”

“I want to be a farrier.  We have a horse and I like to work with them.

“Not easy work,” I said.  “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone.  I cut myself.”

But wait.  There’s more.

That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.  

“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids.  And that you have a blog.  How in the world do you do it all?”  

Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”

“I have a blog also,” I said.  “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”

“It’s about Christian homeschooling.  And I post once a week.  Here’s my card.”

“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read.  “That’s a good one.  I’ll definitely take a look.  Here’s the card for my blog.  With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”

Life with an open hand

In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy.  He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill.  Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions.  I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.

Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.  

Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children.  Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right.  And Protestants had it wrong.  “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception.  And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits.  It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives.  Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”

Mike’s argument impressed me.  But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child.  The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me.  And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.

I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics.  But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours.   One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith.  One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones.  A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them.  A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top.  But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” 

 

Censorship and social media

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Who says the ADL dictates what we see on the Internet?

You’ve heard, no doubt, of the “snowflake” meme.  It’s a term describing usually left-leaning college kids and a vast assortment of minorities who’ve either never heard of, or forgotten, the playground rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones.  But words can never hurt me.”  Snowflakes demand shelter from unpleasant words and other realities.  College administrators and fellow enablers often go along, creating “safe spaces” where those oh-so-tender sensibilities won’t be offended.

To which I say, yeah, that nursery rhyme might be a bit rough.  But, believe it or not, life can be a bit rough.   Get used to it.  And, at the very least by the time you’re a young adult, you should’ve developed some pretty stout psychic callouses.

Safe spaces?  Or thought crimes?

Okay.  You’ve heard about the college campuses.  But you probably weren’t aware that there’s an organization out there doing its best to transform the entire internet into a “safe space.”

It’s called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish pressure group that’s the self-anointed sheriff of internet “niceness.”  Or, more accurately, an enormous, well funded posse that, on occasion has taken the law into its own hands to achieve it’s ends.

Consider, for example, an incident that occurred in my home town, Denver.  What began as a petty dispute between neighbors, one Jewish, the other Catholic, over unruly dogs  rapidly escalated into a blizzard of civil and criminal suits involving charges of anti-Semitism and counterclaims of defamation in the Quigley vs ADL case.

The Aronsons, infuriated by the Quigley’s dog, and on the advice of their ADL attorney, violated federal and state law by tapping the Quigley’s wireless phone.  The ADL attorney then held a press conference claiming that the phone transcripts demonstrated that the Quigley’s were “vicious anti-Semites.”  The attorney repeated the accusations on a radio talk show.  Using the ADL provided transcript, the local DA piled on against the Quigleys with a criminal case.

The Quigley’s denied being anti-Semites and counterclaimed for defamation, asserting they’d been ostracized by neighbors and even had to sit through a sermon denouncing them at the Catholic church they attended.

The outcome of this mass of suits, counter suits, and criminal charges?

The Federal court found that while the Quigley’s, perhaps, didn’t use “nice” language to describe the Aronson’s in their illegally recorded private conversations, the Quigleys  weren’t anti-Semites.  The court hit the ADL with a $10 million punitive damages penalty in the civil case.  Bear in mind that punitive damages are awarded, in part, according to a defendant’s ability to pay.  Didn’t I tell you the ADL was well endowed?

The ADL’s origin myth?  Or its history?

While the ADL proclaims that it’s mission is to ride herd on the internet for all aggrieved groups, it’s primary focus since its 1913 founding has been combating anti-Semitism.  And, as the Quigley case demonstrated, it can be aggressive to the point of lawlessness in doing so.

But the Quigley case pales in comparison with the 1913 Leo Frank case from Georgia.  (To provide a sense of the significance the ADL attaches to the case, the organization’s website devotes 10 pages to the Frank story.)

Frank was was a Jewish factory manager who was convicted of the murder of one of his employees, thirteen year old Mary Fagin.  Frank’s legal team, which had virtually unlimited financial resources provided by Jewish groups all over the nation, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the jury that either a janitor or night watchman, both black, committed the crime.  Frank was sentenced to be hanged, but the Georgia governor, after a series of appeals that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, reduced his sentence to life in prison.  Enraged Georgians, including a former Governor, took matters into their own hands, abducted Frank from prison, and lynched him.

Does the ADL ever rest?

The very lengthy Wikipedia account of the Leo Frank case begins by stating that, “Today, the consensus of researchers on the subject holds that Frank was wrongly convicted.”

An even lengthier examination of the Frank case is found on “The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection“.  It reaches the opposite conclusion.  Ron Unz, the man behind The Review and the author of it’s Leo Frank article, is a libertarian-leaning Jewish businessman who unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California in 1994.

While both accounts of the Frank case leave leave little doubt about its complexity, there is one odd fact that apparently separates them:  wherever I was, I could easily get online to view the Wikipedia account of the case.

Not so with the Unz version.  At a coffee shop, The French Press, where I frequently blog, I was denied access to the specific Unz article dealing with the Frank case.  When I attempted to open the article, I got a message about a something called a DDoS.  So, rather than taking me to the Unz/Frank article, my computer just kept grinding away, promising to take me to the site later.  It never happened.

Had the ADL persuaded the coffee shop’s internet provider, or some other entity, to target the Unz article?  No idea.  But what happens when you click on this link?

The Czarina of the internet

Brittan Heller, profiled here, is the young woman who’s the ADL’s “director of technology and society.”  Heller, in other words, is the ADL’s designated snowflake protector.  She sued and won a cyber-harrasment suit against an internet provider that failed to block messages from individuals who were harassing her.  A book recounting her experiences is given to content screeners at places like Twitter. “Screening” is a rapidly growing field that employs thousands looking for content that offends the sensibilities of the ADL and other snowflakes.

I note, in passing, the irony of the key role Jews have played in dramatically expanding First Amendment protection for pornography.  Which efforts have been glowingly portrayed in the book, Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture by Josh Lambert, academic director of The Yiddish Book Center.  So, I guess, anything goes with obscenity.  But watch out for those anti-Semitic, sticks and stones!

The internet and the Constitution

Now, understand, I’m no First Amendment or freedom of the press scholar (even if I did scrape through a middling law school decades back).  But I am aware that there are adequate legal remedies if defamatory material makes its way through the internet pipeline.  That the ADL is perfectly aware of these remedies is obvious from it’s own multi-million dollar blunder in the Quigley case.

“But that’s different,” you say.  “The government isn’t censoring content on the internet.  Facebook, Twitter and Google are private companies.  They’re the ones doing the censoring.”

But aren’t these internet information companies more like mere conduits, through which flow vast amounts of data, usually from other sources?  Most of which is unobjectionable.  But, admittedly, some of which is vile.  Perhaps a reasonable comparison would be, “Should electric or water utilities monitor the activities of their customers, either private or commercial, and cut off service to those that hold views that offend the sensibilities of snowflakes?”  I doubt that even the ADL would advocate such draconian, unenforceable measures.

And, if that’s so, why should the ADL and its fellow snowflakes be given a veto over what sluices through the internet’s aquaducts?  Or, if you like, its sewers?

The short answer?  They shouldn’t.  And like your local power company, they should service all comers. Regardless of their political views.

 

 

 

 

 

Indoctrination.

Or entertainment?

Well, here we go again.  Yet another retrospective on a film I saw while trapped, eyes wide open, on the flight to Greece last spring.  It was the wildly popular and critically acclaimed, The Shape of Water.  The possessor of the ultimate in Hollywood’s Good Housekeeping Seal of PC approval, it won Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards.  Not to mention cleaning up in a bunch of other categories.

Oh, that I could have slept.  Or, with apologies to Mrs. Browning, How do I dislike thee?  Let me count the ways.”

Creative?  Or an assemblage of weary PC tropes?

For the few of you that may have missed it, the story revolves around a sexually intimate relationship between a young, mute cleaning woman, Elisa, and a lizard like sea creature.  Only in Hollywood.

But, I have to confess, right off the bat, that I’ve probably made my first mistake.   Bestiality probably isn’t a weary Hollywood stereotype.  Yet.  But give it time.  With the success of Shape, who knows what kinky delights show biz, even now, is conjuring up for us?

The really bad guys.

As everyone knows, a gang of bad guys is de rigueur in a red blooded Hollywood production.  And, in the case of Shape, the gang is-horror of horrors- a 1950’s era nuclear family:  husband, wife and a couple of kids.  And believe me, there’s plenty not to like about the Strickand family.

The husband, an Army Colonel, is a knuckle dragging Cold Warrior whose preferred method of “interrogating” the sea creature is chaining him up and poking him with a cattle prod.   Now, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I’m no fan of our bloated military:  here and here.  But the depiction of Strictland’s character is nothing more than a one dimensional caricature of the villain in a black hat.

The wife?  A ’50’s era house wife whose bouffant hairdo matches her empty head.  And the chubby, boob tube watching kids?  Put it this way:  the world would be a be a better place if these brats were both unseen and unheard.

But the most serious charge against the Strickland mob? They’re heterosexual.  And exemplars of “white privilege”.  So, in the all seeing eye of Hollywood, there’s no need for a trial: the entire gang is guilty by definition.

And the good guys?

No, that’s not a trick question.  It’s as easy as is seems.  Figure out who the bad guys are.   And then look for their opposites.

In père Strickland’s case, it’s Giles, the sensitive, oppressed homosexual who helps Elisa free her sea creature lover from the clutches of Colonel Strickland.

And the antipode of Strickland’s wife?  The sensitive, oppressed black cleaning lady who joins forces with Elisa to let my sea creature go“.

I like movies.  Just not this movie.

As you’ve gathered by now, I watch quite a few movies.  Most often Netflix choices while I’m working out on the elliptical in our basement.  Movies are among the most transparent windows into our culture that are available to us.  But the movies that I usually favor tend to be years, even decades, old.  Give me Hollywood’s Golden Era almost every time.  And movies made during the Golden Era are, perhaps, most revealing in showing how far Hollywood has fallen.

And Shape is, indeed, transparent.  Transparent in its distortion of institutions like marriage and family that have served as the bedrock of civilization for millennia.  Transparent in its contempt for the regard that most Americans still, at least in theory, have for these institutions.  And, therefore, transparent in its contempt for most of its audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Decline And Fall

750x450 northern lights

North To Alaska!  I’m goin’ north, the rush is on.

In fall of 1975, after graduating from CU Boulder with a European history degree, I headed North to Alaska to find my fortune.

An intrepid friend of mine, Jimmy Gray, had done it.  A few years before, he’d gone to Alaska’s North Slope and gotten a job working on the oil pipeline.  Like everyone, I knew the working conditions were brutal:  long hours, isolation, frigid temperatures. But, working on the pipeline paid more than almost anything else someone like me could do.  And, if you didn’t blow it, in a year or two you could have a sizable nest egg.

And, that’s what Jim did: his few years on the pipeline gave him a financial kick start on life.

But, for me, no dice.  By the time I got to Anchorage, for every unskilled job opening on the pipeline, there were at least 10 applicants cooling their heels in the union hiring hall waiting for a call that never came.

So, I went to plan B.  First, driving bus for the Anchorage school district.  And then, when school let out, driving taxi around Anchorage during the night shift-it was still dark at night when I first got to town.

The land of the midnight sun.

500x600 decline fall

Ever tried to work the night shift and then sleep during the day?  It isn’t easy; if I got five hours of sleep after driving taxi for twelve hours at night, I felt lucky.

So, I had plenty of time to read.  And I spent most of that time reading the second volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It’d belonged to my dad; his neat, cursive signature is still just inside the cover of both volumes.

Originally published about the time of the American Revolution, the book spans centuries and thousands of pages.  While modern scholars may quibble that it’s outdated, to a babe in the woods of history like me, it was a work of astonishing scholarship.

The man on the white horse.

At this point, decades on, do I remember much of what was in those thousands of pages? Not really.

But I do remember this much: the vaunted Roman Legions, which had originally conquered most of the known world during the time of the Republic, played a big part in bringing down the Empire.  Why?  Because the Legionnaires and their generals that had started out being the servants of the Republic wound up being the corrupt and cruel masters of the Empire.  They were better at court intrigue than at keeping the barbarians at bay.  Again and again, they made and unmade emperors. Sometimes in a matter of days; 193 AD is known as The Year of the Five Emperors.

And the very size of the empire became it’s Achilles heel.  With a frontier that stretched over thousands of miles and three continents, border incursions and wars were never ending.

History repeating itself.  Except on steroids.

Now, the American empire dwarfs the Roman empire.  And we suffer from many of the same distempers.

In eastern Europe we poke the nuclear armed Russian bear by pushing NATO right up to the Russian border.  In the South China Sea, rather than minding our own business, we delight in bearding nuclear armed China.  And this is not to mention our perpetual wars in the Middle East.

But, astonishingly, our own southern border remains a leaky sieve to a region rife with drugs and the murderous gang warfare that has left nearly 300,000 dead.  And anyone who has the temerity to suggest that the border be walled off is “racist”.

But did you see the news?  Trump is pulling US troops out of Syria.  Now, if he could just man up and do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Those tribal, dark-age regions have been at war with one another for millennia.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  So, yes, Virginia, I guess there is a Santa Claus.

For the love of money.  Blood money.

Our enormous military establishment has very little to do with national security.  And much more to do with money.  We spend more on arms than the next seven nations combined-several of whom are our allies.

And now the military is proposing that we spend morelots more.  Enough so that we can not only continue, indefinitely, to fight the low intensity wars in the Middle East that have become back page news.  But also to “rearm” to fight major conflicts against countries like Russia and China.

So, the defense contractors and their lobbyists will be on easy street.  As will the generals and admirals.  And their obedient political pets in the US House and Senate.

But what happens if we, the people, dare try to turn off the spigots?  Who knows?  But when a general on a white horse-or tank-comes riding into Washington, DC demanding that the gravy train start rolling again, don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little things

750x450 mountains

And when they loom large

Decades ago-back in the ’60’s and ’70’s-I was quite the outdoorsman.  Technical rock climbing.  Big game hunter.  Fly fishing.  Winter camping.  Fourteeners.  Backpacking and mountain biking.  The Colorado Trail, which I regret to say, I never completed.

For a host of reasons, primarily age and normal wear and tear, that’s all come to an end:  this getting old stuff isn’t for sissies.  But it was fun while it lasted.  And, looking back on it, I was fortunate to get out in one piece.

One of the guys I did a lot of those adventures with was Henry Gibb.  Always upbeat, a dark bushy beard, a Vermont backwoods transplant, Henry was indefatigable.  Try as I might, I couldn’t keep up with him.

One winter, we decided to ski into 14,421 foot Mount Harvard, spend a night at the base, and climb the peak the next day.  Hardly anything about the trip was short of crazy.  A night in a ramshackled mining cabin that did nothing to keep out either the snow or bitter cold.  Henry breaking trail up the steep side of the valley at the crack of dawn, trying our best to warm up after a long night shivering in our sleeping bags.  Despite the lodge pole pines that grew thick as grass, at one point the snow slumped, giving off a resounding “whoomp,” making us uncomfortably aware that an avalanche was not beyond the realm of possibility.  And which, if it had run, would have ground us up and spit us out.  Not to be found ’til spring-if then.

Nonetheless, we made the summit before noon on what turned out to be a blue bird day.  Need I add that we had the place to ourselves on back in those days?

To save the planet

Henry had, on occasion, what I considered eccentric views.

“You know,” Henry began as we drove south along the frigid waters of the Arkansas River in my used, ’65 VW Bug, “I’ve been thinking how much better it would be if we were all a lot smaller.  Say, six inches tall.”

“Interesting idea,” I replied, eye brows raised, looking over briefly while still trying to keep us from plunging into the river. “But, how would that make things better?”  Knowing Henry, I expected it had something to do with the environment.  But this one was a puzzler.

“Well,” he answered, “think of how much less we would need in terms of natural resources.  The water.  The air.  The steel and copper.  Everything.”

“True,” I said, “but it’s pretty hard to see how that’s going to happen.”

A prophet without honor

But wouldn’t you know, Henry pretty much nailed it.  At least in Hollywood.

During one of the apparently interminable legs of my flight to Greece last spring I was desperate for any sort of diversion.  I managed to stumble on the movie Downsizing with Matt Damon.  And what to my wondering eyes did I see but that Henry’s wild idea has been translated onto the silver screen.  Not that the film made any money.  Or that it got great reviews.  But nonetheless, the film’s premise was exactly what Henry suggested: shrink humans to clean up the environment.

And, who knows, perhaps Henry will someday nail it in the real world. Stranger things, I suppose, have happened.

750x450 trail sign

The ties that no longer bind

It’s been years-no, decades-since I’ve been in touch with Henry.  I miss those hair brained adventures.  And not just for the adrenaline jolt.  But for the camaraderie that those experiences engendered.

I feel largely at fault for the rupture.  It was, I’m sure, politics.  And probably, to some extent, it was my bipolar illness talking.  At times we had angry disagreements.  About what specific issues?  Who knows?  And who cares?  But I leaned right.  And Henry leaned left.  And the ties that bound us first frayed.  And then broke.

And so, Henry, where ever you are, here’s My Grown Up Christmas List for you:

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list

(With, of course, a tip ‘o the hat to Amy Grant.)

Just because we can . . . does it mean we should?

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Ever heard of vivisection?  It comes from Latin words meaning “alive” and “cutting.”  It’s the practice, in other words, of cutting living creatures.  Sounds pretty creepy.  And for that reason, the term’s largely fallen out of use.

But the word can also refer to what many of us have experienced as the beneficial effects of surgery.  What, after all, is surgery except “cutting” on “living” creatures?

But when H.G. Wells uses the term in his unsettling, 1896 science fiction novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, vivisection takes on a much more sinister meaning.   At it’s most basic level, the story describes Moreau using vivisection in a series of cruel experiments to “uplift” animals to something approaching a “human” state.  In other words, changing a creature into something it wasn’t meant to be, something unnatural.

Now, Before Our Very Eyes . . .

Vivisection is back in the news.  And, for our purposes, high school sports.  Articles and reports abound (here and here) about males “deciding” they’re females.  And then going out and cleaning up in sporting competitions against real females.

It’s true, for a number of reasons, most of these male to female “reassignments” don’t involve surgery.  First, surgery’s expensive (up to $50,000 and not typically covered by insurance).  It also looks pretty gruesome-but, to be fair, to an untrained eye like mine, most surgeries probably look about the same.  Nonetheless, in 2016 there were about 1,500 male to female surgeries.

Chemical reassignment via hormones is probably more common-but the changes are less comprehensive, limited to things like muscle mass and facial hair.

The Sports Problem.

750x450 girls soccer silhouette

My problem with all this “gender reassignment,” at least in regards to high school sports, is that I don’t want my granddaughters to be forced to compete against what are really someone’s grandsons.  Like this state champion track star who if, with “her” square jaw and mustache, is a “girl,” then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

If my granddaughters take after their parents, they are likely to enjoy sports.  But to throw them in against boys, who are naturally bigger and stronger, in sports like soccer, lacrosse, and track isn’t just unfair.  It’s dangerous.

And it becomes outrageous when kids, whose birth certificate identifies them as a “male” can simply, on their own say so, declare themselves “females.”  To what end?  So they  can compete on a playing field that’s not just tilted?  But pitching wildly.  And then perpetuate the fraud by scooping up college scholarships which, under Title IX, are intended to be awarded to women?  (Don’t get me wrong-I’m not a big fan of Title IX. It’s resulted in the elimination of some 400 college sports programs that mainly attracted men.  That is, real men.)

Which makes me wonder:  how’s the #metoo movement going to handle this ploy to make women go to the back of the bus?

The Conceit Of The Far Left.  And Right.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in history.  Millions died at the hands of governments in the grip of savage ideologies which were determined to remake human nature in their own, brutal image.  The Nazi’s Übermensch.  The Soviet’s New Man.  The penalty for failing to fit the mold?  Death.  On a mass scale.  Thankfully, though the cost in blood and treasure was high, those cruel idols were overthrown.

However, now, well on into the 21st century, it seems the lesson of the impossibility and undesirability of fundamentally reshaping human nature has yet to be learned.  Except, this time, rather than concentration camps, gas chambers, and the Two Minutes’ Hate, individuals are remaking themselves. With vivisection.  Or chemicals.  Or the bare assertion that they are what they aren’t.

But It Doesn’t Stop There.

Did you see this story?  If you accept it, North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, has spent billions attempting to clone an army of “super soldiers who will obey his every command.”  The article goes on to say that the hermit nation has a long history of human cloning experimentation.  Kim is also trying to insure his own immortality by cloning himself.

And Kim isn’t alone in the pursuit of super soldiers.  It’s an arms race that many, much more “advanced” nations, including ours, are engaged in.

And you thought Dr. Moreau was crazy.

So, just because we can, does it mean we should?  And even if “we” decide we shouldn’t, how do we keep this genie in the bottle if the “we” doesn’t include us all?  Will my grandchildren be forced to compete against “super” kids not just for athletic prizes?  But also for places in college?  And the work force?

Or, God forbid, on the battlefield?