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Monday, December 17, 2012

Atrocities Great and Small

     I have held off from writing about the Sandy Hook shooter because I didn't want to be included in the herd of bloviating bullshit artists that have infested the airwaves and newspapers since about thirty seconds after the event happened. I also needed to sort out my own grief so that this didn't turn into one long, primal, scream of rage. Rage is, I think, an appropriate response to the actions of the defective soul that committed such a heinous act, but it isn't very effective for conveying ideas.

     As a parent, I am heartsick over the loss of the lives of the children. Wanton slaughter of anyone is bad enough, but it is additionally horrific when it's children. Children represent hope for our future; the untapped potential that could be the next Einstein, Fermi, Edison, or any of a million other possibilities. For their lives to be cut short is to see all of that potential snuffed out in a matter of nanoseconds, it rattles our worldview, our security in the belief that all will be well when we are gone. To see the photos of those smiling faces and to know they ended up as bloody heaps lying on the school room floor, well the heartbreak is audible to the naked ear.

     Of course, not everybody was as heartsick and saddened as John Q. Public was; some were damned near ecstatic that a slow news day had finally livened up. We know this because almost immediately, we were inundated with speculation from the contemptible horde of talking heads that would sell their souls to be seen as 'relevant' in today's world. Instantly there were the incessant parade of experts speculating on 'who', 'what', 'where', 'why', and most tantalizingly, 'how'.

     Unfortunately, when The Moment had arrived, instead of taking a candid look at the root causes of the 'why', they all, to a person, reverted to the inane, stupid, little minds that they have time and again revealed themselves to be. How? Simple. Instead of waiting a period of time for the police to sort out the facts, they attended the initial briefing by the Chief of Police, and then the frenzy of speculation and hypothesizing began.

     Oh yes, there were the feigned looks of sadness and sympathy, the mewlings of "what a tragedy" and "how horrible". But the truth is, in this day and age in which professional news agencies are quickly being replaced by The New Media, where corporate camera crews are upstaged by anyone with a cellphone camera, the very idea that a crisis had arisen that required them to do more than sit at a desk and read a prepared script was, no doubt, a satisfaction bordering on ecstasy. The problem is that their 'examination' of the incident and the surrounding circumstances has become nothing more than boilerplate. They trot out the same, tired, theory every time some nut job has a microchip slip into overdrive; too many guns.

    They speak in bold, outraged, tones, their voice appropriately emphatic when they utter the words "assault rifle" and "automatic weapon". They labor to compare the  current event to the other bright spots in their journalistic lives; Columbine and Aurora. They tick off the casualty count like the score at a basketball game, delighting in each bloody corpse, and excitedly describing how each corpse was "...shot multiple times...". They breathlessly relay each new detail, each titillating tidbit, as it becomes available. And when nothing is forthcoming, they make stuff up as they go along.

     But it always comes back to the guns.

     On the surface, it seems reasonable to assume that guns are the problem. And surface is what the media is all about. We know from their endless analysis that there were twelve people killed at Aurora, thirty-three at Virginia Tech, twenty-six at Sandy Hook, and thirteen at Columbine. Eighty-four people killed in four separate incidents in which some evil individuals picked up a gun and set about to inflict murder and mayhem upon people whose only crime was crossing their paths.

     They conveniently leave out cases like the Happy Land Fire and the Bath School bombing, either of which are at least as heinous as any of the aforementioned incidents. The Happy Land Fire was caused by an individual named Julio Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez had followed his ex-girlfriend to the Happy Land Nightclub where, after getting into an argument with her, he was ejected by the bouncers. He returned later, armed with about a dollar's worth of gasoline and a match, and burned the place down, killing eighty-seven people in the process. That's more than all of the deaths at Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Sandy Hook combined.

     The Bath School bombing killed thirty eight children between the ages of seven to fourteen. The perpetrator was Andrew Kehoe, the school board treasurer who was angry about losing an election. His weapon? Dynamite and pyrotol; an incendiary substance that Mr. Kehoe had spent months planting throughout the school building. Get that? He had been planning this massacre for months!

     Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer and diesel fuel, the 9/11 terrorists took over the planes with box cutters, the point is this: Evil people do evil shit because they're evil. Period.

     The shooter at Sandy Hook didn't do what he did because the seductive power of a gun inspired him to do so, he did it because he was evil. The Columbine shooters did what they did because they were evil. Virginia Tech? Aurora? Happy Land? Bath Township? All committed by evil people.

     These were not people caught up in a crime of passion, nor were they soldiers suffering the fog of war. These people plotted, planned, and equipped themselves to do the maximum amount of damage in the shortest amount of time. Their whole plan was to murder as many people as possible so as to cause as much grief as possible, and then, as a final 'fuck you' they killed themselves, denying us the opportunity to see them brought to justice.

     On the other hand, they were the answer to the prayers of Democrat politicians all across the nation. Democrats had lost all of the momentum on gun control as a result of the monumental rejection of gun control as a crime control method. No one was buying into the tired, old, saw that gun control was a means of preventing crime, because the facts were proving otherwise; those cities and states where guns in the hands of the citizens were common enjoyed lower violent crime rates than those with restrictive gun control laws.

     Chicago was becoming a national joke due to the number of shootings they had every weekend, despite guns being completely illegal within the city limits. Outside of The Beltway, Washington D.C. is one of the most dangerous cities in the country. The crime in these cities was so rampant, that even the Mainstream Media couldn't avoid reporting it. So, when some evil piece of shit shoots up a movie theater or elementary school, there is a wave of delight throughout the DNC, because it means that they have a chance to become (there's that word again) relevant once more. Because in politics, you have to justify your existence by doing something. If you aren't in constant motion, the mundanes (that's you and me) might get the idea that government isn't really all that necessary. Once government is discovered to be unnecessary, the mundanes might get the idea to make government smaller. That means less money to play with. And money, despite political platitudes to the contrary, is truly what motivates politicians on either side of the aisle.

    As counter-intuitive as it is, the answer to evil people with guns is, good people with guns. Not the police or the military (although they certainly have their part) but Joe and Jane Average.

     One of the people at Sandy Hook that I will remember forever is one Victoria Soto, the teacher that hid her students in a closet and then put herself between the shooter and the kids.  I would rather that, upon seeing this vicious killer, Ms. Soto had blown his brains out with her legally concealed handgun and then led those children to safety. Instead, She was gunned down. Gunned down because of the refusal of the powers that be to acknowledge that evil people exist. They refuse because too much of their political power and too many careers depend on incidents like this for their continued prosperity. That is why, despite evidence to the contrary, despite the lessons of Israel and Thailand, those that shape and control the culture through legislation and media inflict institutional helplessness upon us all.

     Ms. Soto's blood is as much on their hands as it is on the shooter's.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fiscal Fatigue

    All I hear about is the Fiscal Cliff and how this country is going over it. To that I say, "Good." We have invested way too much time and wealth in assisting those that would loot this nation of its resources so that they may either continue to wallow in their miserable existence, or continue their opulent lifestyle. And sometimes, it's difficult to determine who is who.

    We encourage, dependence on government to the point where there are families who have spent generations on welfare. We reward failure in school, in business and in life. Some executive invests his company in something that eventually brings the company to ruin and he is given millions of dollars as a bonus. A company starts up by manufacturing a product that nobody wants, and the government gives them a bailout, costing the taxpayer billions, and they go under anyway. Later, it's revealed that the "bailout" was a thinly disguised payoff to a campaign donor of one stripe or another.

    Congress ignores or ostracizes people who tell the truth. and embrace the liars, charlatans, and con men that tell them what they want to hear. Moreover, they use voodoo economics and outright lies to create an atmosphere of panic, all in order to amass more power and influence for themselves.
Mencken said it best, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamoring to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    The infuriating thing is that, when someone, who is demonstrably smarter than all of them combined on the subject of Economics, explains reality, they act as if they heard nothing. Even worse, they think we are stupid enough to believe their bullshit. They make the often fatal mistake of confusing powerlessness with ignorance.

     It's a dangerous game. Powerlessness is okay when it's shrouded in the cloak of prosperity. Joe Average doesn't mind the games government plays as long as his quality of life remains unchanged. It's sort of the same philosophy as those people that live in the same neighborhood as a notorious gangster: as long as our neighborhood is safe, we don't care what he does. The problem for those in government is, they have begun diminishing the quality of life of those that live on Main Street, and when the Middle Class feels threatened, they can become dangerous. And when they finally decide enough is enough, there might be a bunch of government types going over the cliff with the economy.

    Maybe if a few go over, the rest will see the error of their ways. Let's hope we don't ever need to find out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Burning Question Has Been Answered...

And the answer is, "Yes, my countrymen are that stupid." If there has ever been a president that has been a greater failure, and a greater menace to our liberty, that got re-elected, I don't know who it might be. Between his rampant spending, his obvious cronyism, the utter contempt for our Constitution, the complete lack of anything resembling a foreign policy, and his ineptitude in stimulating the economy, it boggles the mind to think that someone of this degree of incompetence would be anywhere but the ash heap of history.

Yet, in what can only be described as monumental  apathy on the part of the Republican Party, they trotted out another bland, whitebread, Beltway Insider to run on the GOP ticket. There were any number of viable alternatives; Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul, Rick Perry.... and they come up with someone that is distinguishable from Obama only by the melanin content of his skin. Yes, he made all of the right noises during the debates, but no one actually believed that he believed in what he was saying. Especially since his record was so glaringly opposite of what he said.

Still, one hopes that seeming insincerity would trump blatant incompetence.

The next four years, if the last four years are any indication, will see the United States of America slide even farther down the path to financial ruin, social instability, and international irrelevance. The GOP is at a crossroads; either they can return to the conservative values that gave rise to their place in the American political scene, or they can take the place on the ash heap of history that had been reserved for Obama. Democrat, and Democrat Lite aren't really a choice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Election Follies

Well, the first debate is history and the GOP is feeling really good about themselves. Unless things change radically the next time Romney and Obama meet, we can glean these two things from this debate:
1) Without his teleprompter to do his thinking for him, Obama is an empty suit spewing platitudes. He had to constantly refer to his notes (the reason he kept his eyes down) and he seemed reluctant to engage Romney about anything substantive. His few referrals to his record were immediately thrown back in his face with a double dose of refutation.

I've said it before and I have seen nothing to dissuade me of this notion: Barack Obama is the product of marketing and polling, and nothing more. Someone in the Democrat Party did market research and decided that a smooth, articulate, minority candidate would win the election, and they were right. Since then, Obama has repeatedly proven that he is way out of his depth as President. His domestic policy has been a disaster and his foreign policy is imploding a little more every day.

However, when faced with a savvy candidate with substantial political and business experience, he folded like a cheap suit.

2) Ron Paul may not have won the nomination, but he definitely won the war of ideas. Mitt Romney mentioned free markets so much I almost thought that I was watching the Libertarian Party Candidate. His repeated assertions that he planned to give more power to the states and wanted the free market to be less regulated was simultaneously refreshing and infuriating. These are not new ideas, why did it take until this election for the GOP to embrace them?

One ironic note was when Romney stated that he didn't think that the government should have control of our healthcare choices. I could almost hear the tremulous voices of the pro-abortion bunch mewling about the irony of that statement. How murdering a baby can be considered "healthcare" is beyond me but, I'd be lying if I said I would be surprised to hear it.

Aside from that, Romney acted like he was President and Obama was the challenger. He challenged, corrected, and scolded, Obama whenever he tried to attack Romney's record.

Ultimately, tonight's debate was just the first of several, and to conclude that this is the way that all of the debates are going to go would be premature.

Still, after eight years of Baby Bush's milquetoast, "compassionate conservatism" and four years of Obama's bullshit, it was nice to see a candidate that was unafraid to confront the incumbent and take him to task on the issues.

I hope Romney at least sends Ron Paul a 'Thank You' card.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guns, Guts, and Aurora

     It happened again; some miscreant had some part of his brain slip into overload and decided to kill a bunch of people. And, as usual, he chose a place that he was certain he would meet with little or no resistance. And he was right. I don't know why this loon did what he did, and you know what? I don't care. This sorry pustule on the ass of humanity took it upon himself to murder 12 people and wound 58 others for no good reason, and as far as I'm concerned, we should save the taxpayers a bunch of money by marching him out behind the courthouse and putting a bullet in his brain.

     I can hear it already, "But McWopski, what about due process?" Well, we know he did it, and we know people died at his hand. Seems pretty cut and dried to me. And if he's insane? All the more reason to kill him. The last thing we need is an insane, evil, genius sitting around in prison thinking up new ways to cause trouble.

     And of course, the anti-gun crowd couldn't be happier.

     Chuck Schumer oozed out from under whatever rock he's been residing under and immediately called for a ban on magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. He was joined by The Usual Suspects, Diane Feinstein, Frank Lautenberg, and the rest of the "U.S. out of North America" crowd in attempting to control us. And make no mistake; gun control has nothing to do with wanting Americans to be safer. It has everything to do with control. Because if it were really about making us safer? They would work to see to it that every law-abiding citizen had access to, and training with, firearms. If guns are the problem, why is it that places where people are allowed, and even encouraged, to carry a firearm for self-defense have lower rates of violent crime than those places with Draconian gun laws?

     I also find it a little odd that these guys always seem to flip out when there is some piece of anti-gun legislation up for a vote. This time, it happened to be the ill-fated UN Arms Trade Treaty. Interestingly, it also happened to coincide with the investigation into Fast and Furious; another botched attempt to gain some positive publicity for the BATFE.

     Plus, I was reminded of another little tidbit by my good friend Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation; one of the worst mass murders committed by non-government entities in the United States was committed by one Julio Gonzales, who killed 87 people with about a dollar's worth of gasoline and a match. Yet there was no outcry to ban matches or limit the amount of gasoline one could purchase.

     Of course, there is the endless mewling about how we can't be certain that an armed citizen could have stopped the shooter. My response is simple; we can be certain of what happens when no one is armed; we've seen it time and again. Someone in that theater that had been armed would have stood a greater chance of stopping the massacre than the bunch of unarmed movie goers did. If you need to see how effective one armed person can be, look no further than  at Jeanne Assam. Had she not taken action to stop the shooter at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, he would have killed and wounded dozens. When an active shooter enters someplace populated by armed citizens, it is ludicrous to think that those that are armed won't act to stop him. Their lives are in as much danger as anyone else's, they just have the means to resist. Hopefully, they'll make a better account of themselves than the sorry eunuch that abandoned his fiance and children to their fate while he escaped.

     Make no mistake; anti-gun politicians are the worst kind of scum. They are amoral opportunists that use other peoples' tragedies for their own political gain, and those that support them are just useful idiots. As soon as the election cycle comes around, we would do well to send these back to whatever steamy pile of excrement that spawned them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Look Kids! Scenery!"

Yes, it's true; it is possible to overdose on scenery. We left Mackinaw City early the next morning and headed for the scenic coast of the Upper Peninsula. I wanted to get two things while I was there; pictures of the U.P. and a Pasty.

     For the uninitiated, a Pasty is, pure and simple, a turnover filled with a combination of spices, meat, and Rutabagas that is baked in an oven. Since I can think of no other use for Rutabagas, I have to believe that God put them on this Earth to be used in Pasties, and they are delicious. Make no mistake, I am fond of nothing so much as sampling the local cuisine of whatever locale I happen to visit. In the case of the U.P. pretty much everything involves the use of meat, potatoes, and whatever wild game happens to be in the freezer. And Rutabagas. So, when I went to the U.P. for the first time, I tried a Pasty, and quickly became a Pasty junkie. The problem is, the only place I know of to get Pasties is the U.P. That seems to be a long way to go to get one, so I will hold out for as long as possible and, when the cravings become too much, venture forth to the U.P. again.

     So, fortified with Pasties, we set forth West on Highway 2 to see the beautiful southern coastline of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And it was breathtaking. I never envisioned that the Great Lakes would look so majestic. It was a lot like the first time I stood on the beach looking out at the Pacific Ocean; I wished I had had the experience 20 years before (I suspect that that is much of the reason that I drag my kids all over the country; I want them to see more than I did when I was their age.)     Now, human nature being what it is, the novelty wore off in about three hours, which left another five hours to get to our destination: Minneapolis. So we drove along, gazing out the windows at 55 M.P.H.

     Some of the older readers of this blog will remember the 55 M.P.H. speed limit. It was created in the 70's in a misguided effort to force drivers to save gas. Then President Jimmy "The Peanut" Carter insisted that the lower speed would conserve energy since everyone would be driving slower. Somehow, the fact that there was no energy crisis escaped him. If you have ever driven at 55 for long distances, you understand when I say that the drive along Highway 2 at 55 was much like running in wet sand; you know you're faster than that, but you're held back by the condition of the running surface.

     There were numerous places I was tempted to stop and call a rest period (Bark River Knives topping that list) but, in the interest of getting back to a place with a sane speed limit, I pushed on. By the time we were ready to stop for the night, my euphoria about the U.P. had been replaced with disgust at having to drive well below the capabilities of my vehicle on a stretch of highway on which the time between curves could be measured with a calendar.

     So, I'll call it a wash; we got to see some new places, a LOT of scenery, and we had the chance to fill up on Pasties, but the 55 mile an hour speed limit was tedious and nerve wracking. We didn't get to see all of the people we would have liked to see, but we did get to see those we needed to see. I discovered that Michigan has much to offer, but it's stifled by the crushing unemployment and misguided fiscal policies.

     A piece of my heart will always reside there but, next year? Next year, we're going someplace we want to go.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Snickerfritz Takes a Wilderness Journey.

     Our journey continued to The Sleeping Bear Dunes in Northern Michigan. Now, to the technologically backward, it might seem like a simple task to look at a map, choose a route involving interstates, and driving to our destination. But, to a tech-savvy pair like Central Planning and I, it made more sense to follow the route chosen for us by our Global Positioning Satellite unit known as "Snickerfritz". We figured that, being as how satellites can see the world in much the way we see a map, it would be a simple task for Snickerfritz to guide us by the shortest route possible to The Dunes, whereupon we would have more time to frolic and play in the sand.

     However, we failed to take into account that the shortest route may not necessarily be the fastest route. Instead, we naively trusted modern technology to do our thinking for us and as a result, I saw parts of Michigan that I am certain have not been seen by people in a long while. In fact, even Snickerfritz's screen showed empty gray areas on either side of the road we were on. If your GPS unit doesn't know what's on either side of the road, this is a sure sign that you should stay on the road and keep going until you no longer hear the distant sound of Dueling Banjos.

     Still, we kept on, following the directions plotted out for us by Snickerfritz, and doing our level best not to panic. Despite the offbeat route, we finally arrived at the dunes near suppertime. Unfortunately, we had not taken into consideration that Michigan, especially Northern Michigan, does not necessarily adhere to the calendar with regard to seasons. For instance; while it was hot and muggy in Southeastern Michigan, in Northwestern Michigan, it was cold and rainy. Inquiries to Diswan and Datwan as to whether they were ready to hike the dunes and see the lake were met with resounding and definitive negative responses. Not that I blamed them; it was cold, windy, wet, and we were all hungry. So. we hung around the beach for a bit and then headed for Mackinaw City for the night.

     Make no mistake, the Northern coastline of Michigan is gorgeous and I can readily see why it would attract people to live there.Not my cup of tea, really, but I understand other people wanting to do it. Perhaps I wouldn't have been so hasty to bail out on Michigan if I'd known such places existed.

     Nah! Give me my dry, dusty, prairie any day!

     Soooo, once again guided by Snickerfritz, we made our way back to an area that the GPS recognized and drove across the upper edge of the Lower Peninsula to Mackinaw City. It was during this time that one of the harsh realities of Michigan hit home; if you want to see Michigan, you have to go to Michigan. No one "passes through" Michigan; if you want to see it, you have to make it your destination. The problem is that Michigan does a shitty job of promoting itself. They have a few, really stupid, "Pure Michigan" commercials that do nothing to recommend the place, and the trials and tribulations of Detroit eclipse anything else happening in the state, so no one ever wakes up in the morning and says, "Wow! I really want to visit Michigan." It's too bad because much of the state is gorgeous. In fact, as we proved the following day, it is possible to overdose on scenery.

Next: "Look kids! Scenery!"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Old Friends and The Birthday Lobster Massacre

     Arriving at the home of The Matriarch and The Handyman, it was a relief to know that we would be able to spend a couple of days where we weren't speeding across the state or trying to get to yet another relative's house. We dumped out luggage and whatnot near our sleeping quarters and settled in for the evening. We spent the evening catching up with each other and getting reacquainted. The Handyman told us of his plans to renovate his kitchen, The Matriarch brought us up to date on family and friends, and even The Skater surfaced from his computer to grace us with his presence. After a while, burned out from driving, and ready for a soft bed, we turned in and called it a night. Plans for the next morning was big doings; a trip to The Detroit Zoo, dinner with the family, and visits to old friends.

     The next morning, at my insistence, we had breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe Woods. With locations across the country, they have raised breakfast to the status of art. They make a dish called a Dutch Baby. When you first see it, you ask yourself, "Do I eat it or pray to it?" It is a plateful of delicious decadence and well worth the trip. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and, now that we were full to the point of discomfort, we were ready to walk it off at the zoo.

     The Detroit Zoo is one of the jewels of southeastern Michigan. First, the people in charge of the zoo wisely decided that the zoo most assuredly should not be in the city of Detroit. The reason being, back when the zoo was opened in 1928, the area was fairly unregulated and the presence of a finely landscaped zoological park was considered an improvement of the area. Nowadays, since Detroit has vanished, the Detroit Zoo provides a controlled environment for people to view exotic wildlife, as opposed to the uncontrolled environment that plays host to the wildlife that currently inhabits the former city. We also had the advantage of being friends with an employee at the zoo who was able to take time out of her busy schedule to give us an insider's view of the park. As a result, Diswan and Datwan were able to watch the penguins and the River Otter feed. She also gave us some tips on which animals would be active and which ones were hiding.

     One of the best exhibits is their new Lion exhibit. Instead of viewing the lions from behind a wall and across a moat, the new exhibit has a glass wall approximately fifteen feet tall. This enables people to observe the lions while separated only by the glass. It is exhilarating to be within inches of a 300 pound cat, and a relief to know that they can't get to you. Of course, Diswan wanted to hang out in The Penguin House. Don't get me wrong, I like the penguins, but the place smells like a fish cannery. Our group could only tolerate a few minutes at a time.

     Another favorite of the McWopski crew is The Reptile House. We have all become well acquainted with reptiles by virtue of being within driving distance of Reptile Gardens. Admittedly, Reptile Gardens is superior to the zoo, but to be fair, Reptile Gardens specializes in one group of animals while the zoo has examples of dozens of species. The budgetary considerations are less complicated and, Reptile Gardens being a for-profit business, the cash flow is a little more consistent. But the Detroit Zoo is an admirable facility, especially for a region that has seen as big a decrease of its tax base as Michigan has.

     So, after the zoo, it was time to head back to my sister's place for our annual Birthday dinner. Traditionally, since no less than four members of my family had birthdays in May, we gathered at The Matriarch's house and had fresh lobster for dinner, complete with melted butter, baked potato, and whatever else struck our fancy. I was interested to see how Diswan and Datwan handled seeing live lobsters cooked. I thought that they might get upset at the idea of eating something that they had seen alive mere moments before. I needn't have worried; years of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have taught the boys about the food chain and how some animals eat others to survive. I also explained to them that our ancestors did not scratch and claw their way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables. When dinner was served, I cracked the shells for the boys and they dug in like a couple of good little carnivores. The carnage was admirable and the dinner table looked like a lobster graveyard when we were done.

     Once dinner was done, I took the opportunity to foist my children off on to my sister and go visit my friend Pete. I've known Pete for a long time. We met while we were working in the Emergency Department of St. John Hospital in Detroit. He started out in X-Ray, and I was an ER Tech. Later on, Pete transferred over to the ER and Thank God for it. Someday, I'll post the "Employee Handbook" that I wrote for prospective ER employees, but for now, suffice it to say that the things we saw and experienced in the ER forged a bond between all of us that worked there. When the denizens of Detroit seemed like they were doing their best to flood our ER with blood, guts, and insanity, I had to look no farther than to my left or right, and Pete was right there next to me.

     Pete is also a Cancer Survivor. Having beat Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, he has proven to be tougher than leather. Unfortunately, he has the great misfortune of being one of only two hundred people in the world to have to face it twice. For that reason alone I wanted to see him. It just so happened that my visit would coincide with his girlfriend's daughter's birthday. This required the purchase of an appropriate gift, thankfully handled by Central Planning, and a short trip to his house. I went alone so as to be mindful of his health, since he had just started a round of chemo. I should have known better; he was up and around and in good spirits. Lymphoma doesn't stand a chance against Pete.

     I was there for about an hour, visiting with him and his family. They were all wonderful people and Pete is lucky to have such a support system. Especially Erica, the love of his life, since she consented to move in with him to help him through this time. I swear, when he comes through this, if he doesn't propose to that woman it will confirm in my mind that chemo causes brain damage.

     After visiting Pete, it was back to my sister's place to retrieve Central Planning and head up to Cloverleaf Pizza to meet a couple of other ER cronies, Dee and Kim. Dee and Kim had started out as ER Techs, and then moved on to become Patient Representatives. The Patient Rep is the bridge between the patient's family and the staff of the ER. Without them, the family would remain ignorant of the patient's status until the patient either recovered or died.

     In Dee and Kim's case, they did their job extremely well with an added flourish; they helped victims of domestic violence escape their abuser and get to a shelter. Generally, when a victim of DV arrived in the ER for treatment, they were accompanied by their abuser. The abuser would insist on speaking for the victim, be hesitant to leave her alone with staff, and become indignant when asked anything personal. The funny thing was, all of the things that they did in order to conceal their crime, were the very things that gave them away as the abuser.

     Enter Dee and Kim.

     Once it was determined that this was a case of Domestic Violence, the standard method was, one of them would find some pretense of separating the abuser from his victim while the other, having already contacted the shelter, would sneak the victim out the back to her transportation whereupon she would go home, pack, and go to the shelter. The abuser was usually none the wiser for at least an hour. By the time the abuser discovered that his victim was gone, she had already made it to safety. Dee and Kim had this routine down so well, I swear that they could have given lessons to The Underground Railroad.

     We met that evening and sat, reminisced, and drank an ocean of coffee and diet soda; a far cry from the days in which we would party far into the night. It was gratifying to see them again; I hadn't realized how much I missed them. Concluding yet another day of pleasant company, good food, and good conversation, we packed up and headed for my sister's place. We had a long day ahead of us.

Next: Snickerfritz Takes a Wilderness Journey.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Into the Wilderness

     Having said our goodbyes and packed the kiddies into the car, we set our course for Southeastern Michigan near where Detroit used to be. Yes, you read that right; where it used to be. You see, the signs are still in place, and there are still people residing inside where the boundaries are marked, but Detroit, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to exist. It's sad to see that the place once known as "The Motor City" and "Motown" is now just a depressing collection of empty buildings, desperate people, and the memories of former greatness.

     Oh sure, there are people that will tell you that Detroit is coming back. Thing is, though, I heard that while attending Finney High School in the Seventies. So far? No comeback. And despite the photos put out there by Public Relations flacks that make the distant observer think Detroit looks like this:

The reality is that that section of Detroit is very small. You will, of course, note that the photographer took this photo from the Canadian side. He probably didn't think one photo of The Renaissance Center was worth risking his life.

 The majority of Detroit looks like this:

As you can see, what was once Detroit is regressing back to wilderness, so spare me the optimistic platitudes. THIS is what fifty years of Progressive politics, Socialist policies, union influence, and government corruption has wrought. What was once a thriving, vibrant city is now good only as a backdrop for movies set in bombed-out warzones. Whatever connection I ever had to Detroit has been burned, bulldozed, and bankrupted out of existence.

     Which is why we were travelling to a distant suburb to visit my niece, The Surprise, and her family. The Surprise was so named because growing up, she was something of a Princess, in the negative sense. So, for her to grow up and become the formidable woman that she is today is, well, a surprise. She is married to The Seeker, a man that is in the throes of finding his way in the world as well as finding himself. His loyalty to The Surprise is unquestioned, and their hospitality was every bit as warm and welcoming as that of Central Planning's family.

     They have three adorable little kids, two girls and a boy that I can only refer to as The Swarm since I didn't really get to interact with them too much. Diswan and Datwan got along with them, although I believe that they were road-weary and burnt out on visiting relatives by this time. Still, The Surprise made the inspired decision to turn on a sprinkler and any and all conflicts were washed away as all of the children got soaked. The woman is a genius.

     The Seeker fired up the grill and set about cooking up some burgers, hot dogs, and kebabs. He claimed that it was his first time ever trying it, but I think he was sand-bagging. No one gets lucky enough to turn out food as good as he did their first time out. The burgers were done to perfection, the hot dogs had just the right amount of burn to them, and the kebabs were awesome; the vegetables crunchy and warm, the meat cooked through, with just enough spice.

     The only bad thing about the visit was the cloud of conflict that hung over us. Remember me talking about conflict among Sicilians? Well, my niece and her mother (my sister, The Matriarch) are in the midst of one now. I'm not sure how it happened, but both are angry with each other, both are hurt, and no one seems to know what started it or why. It's sort of a cross between the Chicken/Egg argument and the phenomenon of Paris Hilton being famous because she's famous. I wish they would just have a civil discussion (or as close as they can get) and hash it out. I tend to be like Switzerland in these things; heavily armed and inconvenient to get to. My heart goes out to both sides, but I've got my own family and issues to contend with. Other than that, and the fact that the weather was typical for a Michigan Summer; 95 degrees and 700% humidity, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

     With our bellies once again filled to the point of discomfort, we set out to visit The Matriarch and her bunch.

     The Matriarch is my sister. She is one of those infuriating people in that, whatever she decides to do, she does to the point of perfection, and is admired by one and all because of it. School, work, cooking, whatever, she masters it and her ability in whatever it is quickly exceeds those with more experience and training. Growing up, my mother had to work full-time running her business, so The Matriarch was always there for me, and spent much of her time getting me out of trouble with whatever school official I had managed to piss off that week. She always had a spare room for me to stay in, a meal to mooch, and a vehicle to borrow.

     I, being the quintessential Little Brother, did my best to make her miserable, make fun of her at every opportunity, and insure that her refrigerator never had an excess of leftovers. Whenever possible, I annoyed her suitors, embarrassed her in front of her friends, and provided a poor example for her children.

     Her children, being ever contrary, did not follow my example. Her oldest son, The Sailor, is off in The US Navy making America safe for Democracy. Or from Democracy. Or from terrorism. Whatever, he's serving his country, and doing a damned fine job of it. Oldest daughter is The Manager. She is in charge of all Emergency Medical Support, for either the branch of The Royal Saudi Family that resides in Dearborn, Michigan, or the events at Joe Louis Arena. I don't remember her title except for it being the same as as "The One In Charge" We've already discussed The Surprise, and child number four, a vivacious young lady I call The Gymnast is an office manager somewhere, with aspirations of becoming a Registered Nurse. Of all of The Matriarch's children, The Gymnast is the one that cracks me up. She has a talent for sarcasm, and a quick wit. She's fun to be around and seems to have it all together. Currently, The Gymnast is going out with a pleasant, hard-working young man I call 'Underwear' in reference to his inability to keep his pants pulled up. Underwear wants to own his own business someday. His preferred business will involve some sort of industrial machinery which, I'm sure, will be governed by OSHA regulations requiring him to wear a belt or buy pants that fit, so as to prevent him from snagging his underwear on some sharp, whirling, axle thingy that will drag him into the machine and grind him into a bloody mush of greasy meat and Fruit of the Loom shreds. Yes, he seems likable enough, but his inability to master the simple task of concealing his undergarments from public view makes me wonder if, instead of a girlfriend, he might need an attendant of some sort. Perhaps that's why The Gymnast is going to Nursing School. Hmm, I'll have to give this some thought. Finally, we have The Skater. Still in High School, The Skater is, I believe the Politically Correct term is "physically challenged". The Skater has lost the ability of perambulation and can only move long distances while perched atop a flat board riding on wheels.

     Tragically, his equilibrium is such that he can't roll in a straight line. This causes him to veer off course and he ends up scraping along curbs, flying down staircases, and losing his footing, causing him to repeatedly separate from his board. His erratic method of locomotion is best illustrated thusly:

My understanding is that he is actually in that clip somewhere, but Walleye Vision makes me nauseous, so I haven't been able to watch it long enough to find him.

     Then there is my Brother-in-law, The Handyman. The Handyman, as his name suggests, builds, fixes, and repairs stuff. He has an almost uncontrollable compulsion to remodel his kitchen every few years. He's about to do it again. I'm not sure how many times he's done it, but I'm willing to bet he's in the double digits. He's also one of those people that local politicians hate; he pays attention to what they're doing and then calls them on it when they do something underhanded. Moreover, he doesn't forget, he doesn't quit, and when you try to discourage or intimidate him, he gets angry and redoubles his efforts. Recently, he became  incensed enough to run for City Council himself. He didn't win, but he sure scared them. He's thinking of doing it again. I think he just likes to see that shocked and frightened expression on their faces when he shows up at meetings.

     As luck would have it, we would only be able to see a The Gymnast and The Skater as the rest of the kids have lives or something. In any event, this is what awaited us as we drove towards the last of the relatives to visit.

Next time: Old Friends and The Birthday Lobster Massacre

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Inferiority Complexes and More Food

     Engaging in yet another long drive, we drove half way across The Mitten in order to spend the night at The Sleep Nazi's house. By this time, I believe my butt was developing callouses and my hands were becoming permanently shaped to grasp a steering wheel. However, it was necessary for me to do most of the driving because Central Planning was actually working from her position in the passenger seat.

     It's true.

     Due to the miracles of modern technology, my beloved was able to conduct business while I did the driving. It reminded me a bit of "Driving Miss Daisy", although Central Planning is more pleasant than "Driving's" lead female character by several degrees. And, I must admit, it is something of a wonderment to me that, when I was a child and long trips were taken, you had two choices for entertainment; read a book, or argue with sibling. Work was something that ceased when we left and had to be caught up when we returned. Nowadays, Central Planning missed nary an email while we were on the road. Either that or she has found an imaginative way to game me into driving without looking guilty.

     And on the road we were, for several hours, arriving at the domicile of The Sleep Nazi at O-Dark-Thirty, without detours, thanks again to our Garmin GPS and the wonderful people that launched all of those satellites. Despite the late hour, we stayed up for a while and caught up on the news and events of our respective families. One of the things that was discussed was the relationships and politics between various family members, my father-in-law, and his new wife. Predictably, there were some hurt feelings, unsettled emotions, and unfinished business among the various factions, all of which could be settled if everyone just got together and screamed it out.

     That's the advantage of having grown up in a Sicilian family; what others see as yelling and screaming, we know to be communication. We yell, we scream, and in a couple of years everyone forgets about it. In order to ease our pain, we eat. That's why Sicilians, contrary to all of those stupid mobster movies, tend to be fat, happy, and loud.

     My wife's family is Dutch. Dutch people are nothing if not polite, reserved, and civil. They bottle up their anger and emotions until one day, they kill everybody and everything within a hectare around them. But they are also loving and forgiving. The typical Dutch method of conflict is to politely ignore it until they decide within themselves to forgive and forget. They completely skip over the yelling and screaming part. They are absolutely no fun at all to argue with.

     Nonetheless, we all sat and discussed the issues of the day well into the night, whereupon we turned in. When we awoke the next morning, we got the full tour of the house. One thing about The Sleep Nazi and Dr. Teeth; they are the epitome of The American Dream. They met in college where Dr. Teeth was completing his degree prior to entering Dental School, and The Sleep Nazi was studying to be an Art Teacher. They met, fell in love, and got married. Dr. Teeth became a Dentist and joined his father's practice, The Sleep Nazi taught art and sold paintings. She is a very successful artist on top of being a wife and mother. Their house is a reflection of all of that. They have a lovely place in the suburbs that is approximately seventy-five thousand square feet with twenty seven bedrooms and a bathroom everywhere that there isn't a closet. Plus, it has a finished basement.

     This requires some explanation; I grew up in The Mogadishu of the Midwest when it was still a blue-collar factory town. Our houses had two or three bedrooms, and those that scrimped and saved had a finished basement. By 'finished' I mean, indoor/outdoor carpet on the floor (because it was easier to replace if the basement flooded), a couch, television set (that was drowned out by the washer and dryer in the unfinished section), cheap paneling on the walls, and if they were really rolling in the dough, a wet bar where the local men could sit and argue about football. Dr. Teeth has redefined the concept of 'finished basement' for me. His basement is a whole other house, complete with kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom, and, of course, spacious (if not palatial) bathroom. All of this sits upon a beautifully manicured lawn, surrounded by other, similar houses. Even the wildlife needs a gate key to get in. All in all, it made me realize that I am waaaaay behind on the earning curve.

     Ever the gracious host and hostess, they opened all of this to two road-weary parents and their children who were on the brink of a psychotic break from being on the road umpteen hours a day for the previous three days. And they spoiled us rotten. The Sleep Nazi, despite her name, is nothing of the sort after a good night's sleep. She is warm, funny, and interesting. She also believes that guests should have their slightest whim acceded to; a trait that endears her to me no end. Since I am a coffee addict, my needs are many and she insured that the coffee never stopped flowing. Dr. Teeth never flinched at my children ransacking his house and pestering him with unending questions about....everything. All in all, they made the day enjoyable and relaxing.

     The Fireball and Long Drink of Silence arrived with food for lunch, Dr. Teeth, Long Drink, my FIL, and one of Teeth's progeny played Bocce Ball (!!!) on the back forty. The kids ran amok, the women did, well whatever they did. I was playing Bocce Ball. Later on, I repaired to one of the couches to read a book. A feat I was able to manage for quite some time before I was pelted with Nerf darts by one of Teeth's kids.

     Reading is an interesting phenomenon in Central Planning's family. They all do it, or I assume they did it at some point in time since they are all college-educated, but I don't know how they got it done. Anytime anyone attempts to read a book, some strange hormone is released into the brain of the nearest relative that compels them to ask the reader a question. Unfortunately, this trait has been passed on to my own children. Diswan and Datwan can sit and ignore me for hours on end, no matter what I or they are doing. BUT, should I crack open a book or magazine, suddenly I am required to answer all of the mysteries of the world at that exact instant.

     All of this to say that a good time was had by all, and the rest and relaxation was a perfect way to prepare for our next ordeal: visiting my family.

Next: Into the Wilderness.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Into the Belly of the Beast

     Picking up where I left off, Day 2 was pretty uneventful. We left the comfort of the Comfort Inn and headed back out on the road. This day, however, was the worst of the entire trip. Why? I can sum that up in one word: Chicago. Chicago is probably a great city, as far as cities go. I know that it is far superior to The Mogadishu of the Midwest where I grew up, but driving in and around it is a pain in the Fourth Point of Contact. First, there are the toll roads. Now, one of the things that has dimmed my enthusiasm for this trip is the fact that I have made it four times in eighteen months. During that time, the tolls have doubled, without any discernible improvement in the roads or traffic flow. Moreover, last time, I made the mistake of getting caught in The Loop, the highway that circumvents the city proper and, as near as I can tell, contains a perpetual traffic jam.

     Fortunately for us, our new GPS managed to route us away from that furball and took us a faster way. That is not to say that it wasn't a long, arduous drive, but at least we didn't have to go through the middle of town. Also, we managed to find one awesome Gyro's place; Chiggy's Gyros. They make a spicy gyro that is a little bundle of Heaven on pita bread. I mean, I love living where we live. The scenery, the people, and the environment are all topnotch. BUT, I sometimes long for some ethnic food. Something with spice and flavor. On the prairie, people think spicy food is food that contains salt and pepper. We do have a pretty good Chinese Restaurant, but a gyro is just a thing of legends to the plains people. Chiggy's, on the other hand, makes gyros the way God intended them to be made; fresh ingredients, hot, and too much meat to fit into the pita bread. PLUS, the spicy one is, well, spicy. It was sooo good, I made us turn around and get seconds. After that brief interlude, we continued on our way.

     We drove for what seemed like an eternity until we finally arrived at the home that my father-in-law shares with his new wife. Being exhausted, we unpacked our stuff, put the kids to bed, and went to bed ourselves. My in-laws, ever the cordial hosts, provided the most comfortable night's sleep we had had for a couple of days; soft bed, quiet room, and big, comfy, blankets. Which brought us to:

Day 3.
     We woke up, had breakfast, and went to the John Ball Zoo, where we met up with sister number three, The Peacemaker.

     There are a total of four girls in the family, whom I have titled in my own mind, in order of birth, Central Planning, The Sleep Nazi, The Peacemaker, and  The Fireball. My wife, Central Planning, is one of those people that just naturally, almost uncontrollably, organizes things. She has a spreadsheet to keep track of her spreadsheets. I can honestly say that my life would be a mess without her. The Sleep Nazi was christened that by her sisters. When it's bedtime, IT. IS. BEDTIME. And woe be unto the unfortunate soul that awakens her before she is ready, for her wrath will rain down upon them like ash from a volcano. Other than that, she's a sweetheart. Her husband, Dr. Teeth, is a dentist and is a joy to be around. He's charismatic, engaging, and fun. The Peacemaker is, as the name indicates, the one that irons out the disagreements between family members. She's also ordained as a Pastor (a process which had its own unique brand of BS thrown her way). Her husband, The Prof is a teacher. Being trapped in a building with dozens of kids all day is a small slice of Hell to me, but he does it and loves it. The Fireball is, ummmm, volatile. Most of the time, she's sweet, fun, and a hoot to talk to. BUT, occasionally, she blows up and the heat drives you away. For awhile. It's hard to stay away for long. Her husband, Long Drink of Silence, is perfect for her and a heckuva nice guy on top of it.

     Where was I? Oh! The zoo. The main zoo attraction (for me) was the pool where they had stingrays swimming around. If you stuck your hand in the water, were real still, and patient, you occasionally would feel one under your hand as it passed by. The problem was, this was a new exhibit and the stingrays weren't too crazy about the idea, so they stayed in a nice, tight, little circle out of everyone's reach. Diswan was mightily put out by this as he wanted to touch a stingray. Their evasion of his efforts made him more angry and upset, I think, about being rejected. I guess being rejected by a fish is a big blow to a ten-year-old's ego, so I took him aside and said, "How would you feel if a thousand people a day wanted to touch you while you were swimming?" He looked off into the distance for a minute ( I swear I could actually hear the gears turning) and replied, "Good point." My oldest is nothing if not logical. All in all, it was a good time, both ours and The Preacher's kids got along well, and it was a nice, relaxing experience.

     Afterwards, we all went over to The Preacher's house where she and her husband spoiled us with an abundance of awesome food and good conversation. The Prof, and I both enjoy movies and books, so it was refreshing to talk to someone with whom I had something in common. It was tough to leave (literally, I was so full that getting into the car was a chore.) but leave we had to. From there, we went to spend time with The Sleep Nazi and her husband, Dr. Teeth.

Next: Inferiority Complexes and More Food.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Family Togetherness and the Bataan Death Drive

     A week ago, I was afforded the opportunity to join my blushing bride, Central Planning, and the two boys, Diswan and Datwan, for a week-long "vacation." The truth is that there were still some loose ends to tie up from the deaths of our respective mothers, and since Her Eminence has the ability to work from anywhere there is an internet connection, it was decided that she should take the boys and use this as an opportunity to tie up those loose ends while simultaneously basking in the glow of familial warmth.
     As it happened, the powers that be at my place of employment, Big Box Destination Retail, allowed me a week off. It seems that the customer flow and product throughput had assumed the same characteristics as The Nile River during the dry season in that employees outnumbered customer count on three days out of seven. This resulted in the payroll costs soaring through the roof without any incoming profit to offset the loss. Management's solution to this was to send employees home early each slow day.

    In my department,  rather than play "employee roulette", it was decided to give one employee an entire week off. I, in a rare flash of insight, saw this as an opportunity to accompany my family on their trip. Initially, Central Planning was suspicious at my enthusiasm towards the  idea of me joining them. She offered me numerous opportunities to stay behind and enjoy the solitude and I, I must admit for the sake of full disclosure, was tempted to take her up on them.

     Normally, a long drive anywhere with Diswan and Datwan along results in me wanting to fling myself out of the moving vehicle. There is the inevitable "Are we there yet?" from Datwan, the constant bickering with his brother, the numerous stops for bathroom breaks (I finally beat that one. When we stop, EVERYONE goes to the bathroom regardless of protestations about not having the urge right then.), and the long, mind-numbing hours at the wheel listening to whatever happens to be on the radio.

     Much of my displeasure at long car trips has been ameliorated by the invention of the car-friendly DVD player. I am certain that if the identity of the inventor of this Blessed Device were made known to the public, his or her praises would be sung from the highest mountain tops, from sea, to shining sea, and he or she would never have to pay another bar tab as long as he or she lived, since parents around the world would line up to buy drinks. I keep a bottle of single-malt scotch handy should I ever encounter this Exalted One. It is because of that electronic marvel that silence reigns throughout the Chevy Blazer.

    So, armed with The DVD Player of Tranquility, a bunch of snacks, and the optimism of those with short memories, we set off for The Mitten. The first thing we noticed was the scenery; there is a lot of it on the prairie. Everywhere we looked was more scenery. Unfortunately, once we got a couple of hours East, it all looked the same. Endless miles of lush green prairie followed by, endless miles of lush, green prairie. For eight solid hours.

     We stopped off briefly at the Eastern franchise of Big Box Destination Retail to buy a GPS unit; the Garmin Nuvi 400. The voice that emanated from the GPS was immediately dubbed "Snickerfritz" by Datwan. I have no idea why he named it that, but it seemed inspired to me. Diswan insisted that it should be called "Helicoprion" which is apparently the name of some prehistoric shark. I don't know how he made that connection, but I have no doubt that it made sense to him. As it was, this little gem of technology would have supplanted the car-friendly DVD player in the Blessed Device hierarchy except for its infuriating inability to accurately locate Starbucks when I was jonesing for more caffeine. Thus, it must remain in Second Place until that deficiency is rectified.

     Inevitably, after being burned out on scenery, we needed to find a suitable place to crash for the night. Fortunately, Central Planning, utilizing her mad skills with a Blackberry, found us wonderful accommodations at Country Inn & Suites. We had a two-room suite that enabled us to separate ourselves from our progeny, thus insuring we all had a good night's sleep.

Next time: Into The Belly of the Beast

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ramblings on Racial tension

      Racial tension is increasing in America today. The Trayvon Martin shooting is but one of many catalysts. Another is that the general public, especially the general, white, public, is no longer buying into the approved meme of "black victimization at the hands of white racists." The rise and acceptance of African-Americans in politics and industry, has removed the sting from accusations of racism. In short, those that once claimed to be held down by 'The Man' have themselves become 'The Man'. It's tough to convince people that you are oppressed when someone that you claim as your own occupies the most powerful office on Earth.

     Moreover, it is ludicrous to point to one incident and claim that it is indicative of reality in America. If that were the case, and the news media were as honest and unbiased as it claims to be, there would certainly be grounds for accusations of racism but those accusations would more rightly be from white people towards African-Americans. African Americans are more likely to commit crimes against white people than the reverse. I make this assertion, not through the lens of a distant outsider, but as one who has been the target of racism, both personal and institutional.

     I grew up in one of the most racially divided cities in the nation; Detroit, Michigan. This divide was emphasized and exploited by then Mayor Coleman A. Young, a race hustler and scandal magnet that managed to stay in office from 1974 to 1993, largely by keeping African-Americans angry and suspicious of what he called "hostile suburbs" in order to retain their votes. His was a masterful use of the race card and manipulation of "Black Rage". His repeated accusations of racism usually coincided with reporters asking him tough questions about questionable practices or missing city funds, causing a typically craven Detroit news media to back off and leave the issue alone.

     In the Detroit of the 70's and 80's, the racial divide was glaring and tainted every aspect of life. Between the rising crime rate and the loss of jobs resulting from a shrinking auto industry presence, Detroit was becoming less and less desirable as a place to live. The final nail in the city's coffin was the implementation of busing, the practice of transporting schoolchildren far away from their neighborhoods to attend schools elsewhere. This created the phenomenon known as 'White Flight', the migration of people of European ancestry from urban centers to suburban centers. Modern thought attributes this to fear and suspicion on the part of white people towards minorities, my experience was that it was more a quality of life issue than it was about fear.

     Indeed, the dischord sown by Mayor Young and his cronies short-circuited any attempt to tie the region together through mass transportation or cooperation between city governments. The result was that Southeastern Michigan evolved into a group of city-states that were independent of the urban hub. they created their own infrastructure, public venues, and urban cultures. They thrived while Detroit began a downward spiral into poverty.

     African-Americans (in those less enlightened times, we called them 'Black People') moving into your neighborhood signaled the decline of property values and a rise in crime. The logical conclusion was to move to the suburbs. Venturing across that border made famous by Eminem was like travelling to a distant land of prosperity and safety. Across Eight Mile Road, people walked the streets without fear, stores stayed open after dark, bulletproof glass was virtually unheard of, and the police were viewed as the good guys. Strolling along the side streets, one was treated to a variety of manicured lawns bordering well-kept houses on well-lit streets.

     Simultaneously, in Detroit, it was rare that street lights worked at all, let alone light the streets. lawn care was something that few people did, and most large chain stores closed up and moved out due to losses as a result of theft and vandalism. The typical convenience store was more like an outpost in hostile territory, what with bars on the windows and the clerk being encased in bulletproof glass. These were prudent precautions as the Motor City was, at the time, The Murder Capital of the world; a title that Detroit has either maintained, or been in contention for, ever since I can remember.

    And the schools? I can only speak for the ones that I attended. The faculty at Finney High School was the biggest collection of drunks, ne'er do wells, and  perverts I have ever seen outside of a prison. Those few exceptions were completely overwhelmed by the influx of students from the inner city; a collection of loud, rude, undisciplined, rabble that had no interest in learning, and saw high school as an opportunity to hone their skills in intimidation and drug dealing. In the end, school was less about learning than it was about storage. By keeping us off of the streets, the school system at least minimized opportunities for juvenile procreation; the results of which usually ended up on the ever-expanding welfare rolls. To be honest, I suspect that fully half of my graduating class could neither read nor write at a high school level, if at all.

     Yet, if you talked to anyone in the Detroit City government, they would paint a picture of sunshine and roses. They would point to The People Mover, a multimillion dollar boondoggle that was falling apart even as it was being built, The Renaissance Center, a huge office bulding and shopping center on the river front (which is laughable because it was built largely by Ford Motor Co. funds), and Hart Plaza, a huge slab of concrete that includes a fountain, and say, "Detroit is on the rise again!" Meanwhile, neighborhood infrastructure was crumbling and street crime was out of control. Downtown development was Coleman Young's Potemkin Village, and he, like the Czars, grew richer while the citizens grew poorer.

     To someone like me, growing up in a blue collar neighborhood that was swiftly declining into ghetto-hood, it was baffling as to why the minority, which was now the majority in Detroit, could not see how the city was becoming unlivable. Or why they kept re-electing the most corrupt politicians to positions of power. It was even more confusing as to why the new majority seemed incapable of doing even the most elemental maintenance on their property and possessions (lawn care was virtually nonexistent, and it was as if housepaint was a rare and unobtainable element). The descent into ruin seemed to be embodied by the people as well as the city. In 1991 I, like many before me, threw my hands up in disgust and left the city without looking back.

     Today, Detroit is in ruins. The police and fire services are all but gutted, the city itself more resembles a war-torn Third World nation than an American center of industry, and crime is so rampant that I imagine one would be safer in downtown Mogadishu than in downtown Detroit. And those havens of prosperity, the suburbs, have become the recipents of the refugees from Detroit. Ironically, history seems to be repeating itself, as people are moving out of the suburbs to suburbs that are even farther away from Detroit, while those in closer proximity to The Motor City are themselves becoming smaller replicas of ruin and strife.

     All of this to say that, racism exists in America, but it is a two-way street and it is emphasized and encouraged by those that stand to make a profit from it while solidifying their own position of power and wealth. Moreover, those same individuals that have worked so hard to keep the hate alive, work equally hard to prevent us all from seeing the truth that is America; racism is a facet of American reality, but it is a tiny one and one that is easily eliminated. Racism in America is almost a footnote (unless you happen to be the victim of it) compared to how it is expressed in the rest of the world.

     In other countries, racial tension is a euphemism for hatred. In various African nations, racial tension leads to massacres, war, and genocide. In Europe, racial tension in Nazi Germany killed six million Jews. Racial tension in the Balkans of the 90's resulted in some of the most horrific atrocities ever inflicted upon human beings. Racial tension in Turkey resulted in the slaughter of a million Armenians.

     In America, racism is seen for what it truly is; collectivism in its most extreme. To indulge in the mental gymnastics that are required for one to indict an entire race for the actions of a few, one has to believe in the hive mentality. You must be willing to suspend the belief that two individuals that have the same outward appearance can be as different as night from day, and that physical characteristics determine thought and action. Here in America, such concepts are ridiculous to all but a few splinter groups that prefer to wallow in hatred.

     So why has America escaped the racial violence experienced by other countries?

     The answer is complex. The Second Amendment? Certainly a part of it. it's tough to oppress someone who has the ability to pick you off hundreds of yards away. As Robert Heinlein put it, "An armed society is a polite society." The internet? Absolutely. The old media venues no longer have a monopoly on the dissemination of information. The Racial Grievance Industry is subject to the same amount of scrutiny as any other public figure, and everything they have said or done is on the net, somewhere.

     But the simplest answer is prosperity. It is difficult to become angry when you are vacationing in Hawaii. Ginning up a movement based in hatred is difficult when those that you would target have a hundred and twenty other channels to choose from. Rioting in the streets on a hot Summer night is less preferable to sipping a cold beer next to your pool. In short, satisfied people don't act out.

     The road to racial harmony is the same that it always has been; protect the rights of the individual, protect the right of the individual to own and use property, and keep the government out of the way. That way, it is up to the individual to advance or fail according to his or her abilities and talents. Given a clear path to prosperity, most people would be too busy working to indulge in hatred.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dancing in the Blood of Trayvon Martin

The death of Trayvon Martin has brought to light a number of issues that have long been known but unspoken. First, young Mr. Martin's body was barely cold before the usual gang of race hustlers, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakhan, stampeded towards the nearest news camera to express their collective outrage about the incident. At face value, the rhetoric spewed by these hucksters would have one believe that Mr. Martin's death at the hand of George Zimmerman signaled America's regression to the racial policies of the Antebellum South.

Were the circumstances not so tragic, that assertion would be comical.

President Barack Hussein Obama who, you will recall, is an African-American, expressed his sympathies to the Martin family and his opinion of the situation. To evoke images of a racist past in the era in which African-Americans have risen to such prominence today, is to bring to question the motives of the players that are rushing to capitalize on yet another tragedy in a pathetic attempt to remain relevant.

Al Sharpton, more infamous than famous as a result of the Tawana Brawley Scandal, seems not to realize that his very presence invalidates whatever argument he supports. His continuous race-baiting and perpetual finger pointing at the white community exposes him as nothing but a whiny, contemptible, attention whore.

Jesse Jackson, whose racism has long been known, and whose lies are legion, is doing his best to reclaim those halcyon years when his threatened disapproval caused purses to open and money to flow into his pocket. A mere shadow of his former self, he resembles nothing so much as a boxer who has extended his career far beyond his prime and is now more of a testament as to why you should not fight.

And finally, Louis Farrakhan, the leader of The Nation of Islam and admitted catalyst of the murder of Malcolm X. Long a self-proclaimed enemy of this country, Farrakhan has made a fortune by spreading hatred and discontent, all the while cloaking himself with the guise of "religious leader." Regarded outside of his circle of influence as a kook with delusions of grandeur, Farrakhan nevertheless manages to gain the ear (and the cameras) of various news agencies, resulting in perpetuating mutual suspicion between the races, insuring that he maintains his position of power within the Nation of Islam.

Separately, these radical has-beens are just sad remnants of an era in which giants like Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X walked the Earth. They are much like the Japanese holdouts that appeared for decades after WWII; still fighting a war that everyone else had put behind them in order to get on with their lives.

Together, they serve as an example of all that is wrong with race relations; no one can let go of the past, no one can accept the apology of a nation that has repeatedly admitted its wrongdoing and has made a monumental effort to atone for it, and no one can be allowed to move beyond the old paradigm of white guilt and black anger.

Sadly, the entire controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin's death has resulted in one rather ugly development; the New Black Panther Party offering of a bounty for George Zimmerman 'Dead or Alive.' This, more than Mr. Martin's death, threatens to create animosity between the races that has not existed for better than thirty years. Forgetting for a moment that such a thing is illegal, to escalate the conflict on racial grounds has the potential to initiate the law of unintended consequences to a degree that would dwarf the worst events of the sixties.

Then again, not everyone would suffer from such a crisis. Indeed, such a crisis could launch Messrs. Sharpton, Jackson, and Farrakhan back into the limelight.

Of course, that could be the goal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Random Thoughts on Civil Discourse

    One of the great tragedies of our age is the loss of the art of civil discourse. No doubt, it is a result of the degradation of our education system, but whatever the reason, its loss is more than just a loss of a means of communication; it is the first step on the road to violence. There was a time when two people could disagree and remain friends. They could coexist with their conflicting political views because the world, their world, was so much larger than ours. They had interpersonal relationships with neighbors, friends, their children's teachers, and others. Not every disagreement became a matter of national importance. It wasn't necessary to win, it was only necessary to be heard. And to listen. Occasionally, some common ground was reached, and then there was harmony.

    Nowadays, it seems that everyone subscribes to the 'scorched earth' method of argument. If you cannot convince the other party to your way of thinking, they must be destroyed. Worse, there is a definite coarsening of the narrative. Whereas in the past, the discussion may have become heated, it was generally accepted that ad hominem attacks, name-calling, and personal insults were a sign that one had lost control and, by default, lost the argument. Today, it seems that such things are almost a weapon of first resort. Even in the political arena, it is not unusual to hear candidates smear one another in such a manner that, in another age, would have resulted in a duel.

    Above and beyond that, there is a double standard regarding who may say what. Witness the controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh's comments about Sandra Fluke. Now, it must be said that, whatever your opinion about birth control and who pays for it, Limbaugh's remarks were crass and uncalled for. Don't get me wrong, I admire Rush's ability to articulate an idea, and his abilities as an orator are excellent, which makes his foray into crude behavior all the more baffling. Perhaps he was being honest when he said that his attempt at humor fell flat. Whatever the reason, a man of his station should be above such pettiness.

    That said, there can be no question that, had someone of equal fame, but leftist political views said something similar, there would barely be so much as a rumble about it. I know this sounds absurd, but I have history to back me up. When Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a slut,  there was a brief furor, a quick apology, and it was over. And when Bill Maher referred to Sarah Palin as a "dumb twat" , the silence was deafening. In that particular instance, those that claim to be 'feminists' had a golden opportunity to become relevant again. Had they expressed the same degree of outrage towards Bill Maher as they are towards Rush Limbaugh, it would have proven that they were above the 'Left/Right' Paradigm. Instead, they have sacrificed their facade of objectivity in favor of supporting those that, rude and crude though they may be, are more aligned with their political beliefs than Rush will ever be.

    But I digress...

    Civil discourse in which two or more parties vehemently disagree requires three things; education, a quick wit, and a mastery of language. My absolute favorite example of this is an exchange between The Earl of Sandwich Lord Montagu and John Wilkes. The Earl, incensed at something or other that Wilkes had said, told John Wilkes, "You will die, sir, either on the gallows or from the pox," said Montagu. To which Wilkes replied, "That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

    Now, there can be no doubt that there was passion, hostility, and anger passed between the two, but the elegance of language in Wilkes' retort displayed a quick wit and a mastery of language absent from today. The closest that I can see from where I sit, is humorist P.J. O'Rourke. I love his assertion that, "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."

    Perhaps if the vitriol were delivered more intelligently, we could ignore who said what and concentrate, instead, on what was said.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Andrew Breitbart

Generally speaking, when it comes to the death of a celebrity, I'm indifferent. But Andrew Breitbart was different; Instead of taking the easy route and climbing on the pro-liberal, anti-American bandwagon that seems so prevalent in Hollywood and Washington DC, he stood his ground and faced down those that sought to demonize all that is good and right. Even though that that path would have rocketed him to riches as it has so many lesser men, he chose, instead, to get in the face of the elitists and expose their lies and hypocrisy for the world to see. He was, in many ways, the last of a breed of journalists that were more dedicated to the truth than ingratiating themselves with the rich and powerful.

Liberty has lost one of its champions, and we are all diminished as a result.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Mother

On February 20, 2012, my Mother went home to be with Our Savior. She went peacefully in her sleep, which is exactly how she wanted to go.

Life didn't give mom a lot of breaks. For one thing, money was a constant worry. When we didn't have enough, she stressed over it. When we did have enough, she constantly worried about losing it. The former was due to her being a child of The Great Depression. The latter was due to her losing her business as a result of the vagaries of IRS regulations. Nevertheless, she knew how to squeeze a penny until Lincoln screamed for mercy. Even more, we never wanted for a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, or food in our bellies.

Bad luck, bad men, and a bad back plagued her throughout her life. Yet, if I had to define her life in one word, that word would be 'perseverance.' My father abandoned us when I was a month old, making her a single parent long before it was socially accepted. Despite the hardship and stigma attached to our circumstance in the 70's, she still managed to raise my sister and I into decent people. She did this with love, sensitivity, and, in my case, a wooden spoon.

Much is made of the Protestant Work Ethic. My mother's work ethic made Protestants look like a bunch of layabouts. Many was the day that I saw her go to work at a job she had come to hate, even though her back caused her so much pain she could barely stand. Then, when she came home, she would take care of us and cook a meal.

Cook?  Such a bland way to describe what she did. In keeping with her Sicilian heritage, food was love in our house. And when she had the time and inclination, her spaghetti and meatballs were such that I'm willing to bet that Emeril would have wept with joy at having had the privilege to sample such a meal.  My mother could create a feast out of a pound of ground beef and a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup.

She also had a heart as big as all outdoors. I don't know how many Thanksgiving holidays involved setting a place at our table for someone that had no family or was too far from home to enjoy the holiday with their own family. It was never a question of 'if', just 'how many?' Some people adopt stray pets, my mom adopted stray people.

The overriding thing I observed about her was, no matter how many times her heart got broken, or how much pain she was in because of some ailment or other, or how big a financial disaster fell upon her, she never waivered in her belief that things would get better. Her faith was her rock, even before she came to Jesus. When she did, in fact, profess her faith in Jesus Christ, she at last found the peace that had eluded her for so many years. I am firm in my belief that her taking that step, combined with who knows how many of her prayers, led my sister, along with her husband and children, and I to make the same journey a few years later. It was a journey that resulted in me meeting the remarkable woman who became my wife and the mother of my children.

When she sensed that her time was coming, ever the planner and preparer, she set her affairs in order, made sure that we all understood her wishes and took steps to insure that they would be carried out with as little financial burden to her family as possible. That done, she turned and  faced her end, ready and without fear. On the morning of February 20, 2012, she went to be in the arms of her Creator. From where I stand, she did so having done her duty as a "...good and faithful servant." Though the world is diminished by her passing, we, who are her legacy, embrace all that she was, and all that she taught us, and we strive to pass those qualities on to our children. It is the best way to honor her memory.

Monday, February 6, 2012

4 More Years of Obama

Political predictions are always a risky thing. Unfortunately, I have a lot of evidence to support this one. The main one is the cowardice of the GOP. When Obama came out of nowhere, flashing his non-credentials as a "community organizer", the GOP should have been able to field a credible opponent and send Obie back to whatever community he came from. Instead, they simply looked at their roster at whose turn it was to run and we ended up with a feckless campaign featuring the unfocused and relatively unenthusiastic John McCain. The end result? We got President Obama.

It's the Standard GOP Playbook: While the Democrats find young, dynamic, and passionate candidates to run for President, the GOP sends up mostly bland, sterile, white bread, Old Guard, men that speak to their audience like the animatronic presidents at Disneyland. They hope to win on the strength of their ideas, as opposed to the sound byte, bumper-sticker philosophy that is the stock and trade of the Democrats.

The ideas are sound; the combination of less spending, smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes, and more liberty has proven time and again to be the path to stunningly fast prosperity. People with more disposable income will spend more money, start businesses, save more, and do all of the things that money makes possible, thus stimulating the economy. Every GOP candidate touts these ideas as their platform, as if they were the originators of them. But, in the long run, it becomes painfully obvious that they don't really believe in them.

When Bush the Elder announced "Read my lips; no new taxes!" Americans were encouraged. He seemed to be willing to advance the ideas set forth by Ronald Reagan who at least managed to bring about some prosperity and stem some of the growth of government while battling the spendthrifts of the Democrat-held Senate and House.

Then he raised taxes.

After a lackluster campaign, we had Bill Clinton inflicted upon us for four years at which time the GOP sent up Bob Dole; another bland, sterile, white bread Old Guard Republican whose campaign died in the womb, giving us another four years of Billy Jeff and his lefty-loony administration.

Things looked hopeful when Baby Bush took office. It was as the same feeling one gets when you're caught in the middle of the chaos of a bar brawl and the bouncers show up to break it up and remove the idiots. It seemed like the adults had returned to the White House and ended the high school house party that had been going on for eight years. George W. Bush spoke unabashedly of his faith in Jesus, America, Americans, and the principles of less government and free enterprise.

And then he went on to expand government, spend recklessly, and make government control on the people easier to accomplish, even though he promised it would be used with caution. A politician's promise, worth exactly what you think it's worth.

Which brings us to today.

Instead of finding someone that can speak to the people in such a way as to make them believe that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated, the GOP has fielded (with one notable exception we'll get to later) a bunch of clones. We have Newt, who claims to be a conservative, even though his record proves otherwise. Then, there is Mitt, whom I believe he will be the candidate because he is so completely bland, sterile, white bread,  and, a big plus, he is second generation Old Guard. Mitt will be The One, and he will lose. He will lose because he will attempt to out teleprompter the Teleprompter-in-Chief while attempting to explain how Romneycare is different from Obamacare (hint: it isn't).

The only true conservative in the mix is Ron Paul. Ron Paul is the only man of principle in the race; he refuses to take the government pension he is allowed by law, he refuses to vote for any tax increases whatsoever, and he believes in forcing government to work within the confines of The Constitution. Unfortunately, in this day and age of sound bytes and appearance over substance, Ron Paul is fighting an uphill battle. His shrill voice, his age, and his occasional stumbles over language work against him. Those that bother to look at his record in Congress can't help but be impressed by his consistency in voting. But, this is overshadowed by the fact that he has not managed to advance any of his bills to fruition. Part of this is because he has failed to ingratiate himself to The Machine, and part (most) of it is because the Old Guard GOP doesn't want to fix what's wrong in this country because for them it's not broken!

So steel yourself for this November. Mitt will run. And lose. Obama will continue us on our journey towards Socialism and the GOP, if we're really, really lucky, will finally learn that we no longer listen to what they say; we watch what they do. And then they will either start doing it or be replaced by a party that will.