Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Record Player Debate

"Just take those all records off the shelf
I'll sit and listen to 'em by myself"
- G. Jackson, T. Jones - sung by Bob Seger

I watched bits and pieces of the Democratic presidential debate a few nights ago--bits and pieces being the operative phrase. If there was a coherent strategy for future policy offered by any of the participants, I missed it.

But I happened to be watching when former VP Joe Biden advised parents to play "the record player" to increase children's vocabulary. Perhaps that's good advice; right there, "record player" is a term that kids today would need to learn. It could double as a history lesson, leading to a discussion of leisure listening habits in the golden days of yore.

Of course, Twitter was on fire with comments and wisecracks about Biden's unfortunate reference to the turntables of old. My laugh-out-loud moment came when I saw the tweet appearing below:

Nothing against the former vice president; how could you not like "Uncle Joe" Biden? But I think he'll have lots of time to devote to his record collection after the Democratic convention next year.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Revisiting a Favorite

I was hunting for a movie to watch last night. Is it just me, or is Netflix charging more money for less content? After about fifteen minutes of scrolling in vain to find a decent show, I retreated to the "Search" feature and looked up my favorite actor, Denzel Washington.

There it was, from 2010, one of my favorites from my favorite--The Book of Eli. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. It's the story of a lone road warrior in a post-apocalyptic world who believes he is called to preserve the Bible from extinction. The scenery is grim, the action is violent, and the story is riveting. Even knowing the ending--which, as a repeat viewer, I did--it's a fast-moving two hours.

In Hollywood's golden age, the renowned director Frank Capra cast James Stewart (another of my favorite actors) in the leading role in such classic films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life.  I'm paraphrasing, but Capra once said in an interview that Stewart had the ability to make the viewer believe that the action was happening at that moment, on the screen.

I agree with Capra about James Stewart. For our current times, I would choose Denzel Washington as the actor most gifted with the ability to convey that rare sense of presence. A quote often attributed to screen great Spencer Tracy says it this way: "Acting is fine. Just don't get caught at it." In my opinion, Denzel Washington never does.

Monday, September 02, 2019

The End of Summer

It doesn't really matter what the calendar says or what the weather does; Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer. I've seen a lot of summers in my life, and their conclusions all share certain commonalities.

 Below are a few I always notice:
  1. The days seem to grow shorter in the fall more quickly that they grow longer in the spring.
  2. Parents are delighted at the prospect of having the kids back in school all day.
  3. Children never agree that they've had enough vacation and it's time to go back to school.
  4. Every family seems to be shopping for school supplies on the same day.
  5. Back-to-school traffic jams, with swarms of kids darting into the road from all sides, are always heart-stopping.
  6. It will be a week or so before pencils and notebooks are available on store shelves again.
  7. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas plans suddenly become topics of conversation.
  8. September is a terrific time to find extra space for your blanket at the beach.
  9. There may still be a heat wave or two, but people say it's "the fall."
  10. Everyone expresses disbelief that "this year is going by so fast."
Even in sunny Southern California, the seasons wax and wane. Bidding farewell to summer is always one of the year's most wistful moments.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Glimmer of Hope

The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.
~ Margaret Thatcher

I read about 22-year-old Morgan Zegers' new nonprofit organization, Young Americans Against Socialism, and felt that warm hopefulness that only good news can deliver.

Young Americans Against Socialism is a very good idea whose time is long past due. Americans touting the benefits of socialism have no idea what they're talking about. They were born and raised in the United States, a land of plenty, a haven of comfort, freedom, opportunities and advantages undreamed of throughout the overwhelming majority of human history. Their way has been made easy, largely by the fruits of capitalism. For the most part, they don't realize how much they are risking by flirting with the stringencies of socialism.

Young Americans Against Socialism. YAAS. Yes!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Reveling in Reading

I'm so tired of the news, aren't you? It's just downright depressing. This is summer time, we should be enjoying ourselves. So let's talk about books!

Aside from instilling in me a devotion to Christianity, the best thing my father ever did for me was teaching me to love reading. Dad was a natural teacher, and starting in my toddler years he used bedtime stories as cleverly disguised lessons. By the age of four, I was a beginning reader. As I got older, I started reading on my own before bedtime, and I've never stopped. Reading is my sanctuary, my therapy, and my continuing education.

For the past few years, I'm usually reading several books at once. I haven't read multiple books simultaneously since my college years as an English major; but, hey, I'm in my sixties now. So many books, so little time. The advent of the e-reader has facilitated this multi-reading experience; I'm usually toggling downloaded books along with hardcovers and paperbacks. It's great fun.

For decades I would read novels almost exclusively; but now, I find I'm leaning more towards non-fiction. I think this transition manifests a need to learn all I can before I begin forgetting everything I ever knew. That's just my theory. Anyway, below are a few books I've enjoyed since June:

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner
This is a novel that doubles as a history lesson. It's the story of a German-American teenager whose family is sent to an internment camp during World War II. She forges a lifelong bond with a Japanese girl in the camp, and the tale unfolds around their enduring friendship. Written in the first person, the story is told with impressive historical detail and haunting poignancy.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

This is a grim documentary of a forgotten and shameful period in early 20th century American history. The abuses and crimes that were perpetrated against the Osage people are sickening and horrific. But the author gives some very late justice by bringing the atrocities to light.

Knowing: Memoirs of a journey behind the veil and choosing joy after tragic loss, by Jeffrey Olsen

I'm a bit of a nut on near-death experiences (NDEs), and this was the most dramatic one I've found. How do you go on living after half of your family has been killed in a tragic accident? The author, armed with insights from the mysterious beyond, explains how he rebuilt his life.

This summer I've also reread a couple of books I especially love:

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

Before I went to see the recently released movie, I wanted to refresh the story in my mind. It was like revisiting an old friend. (Kevin Costner sounded very much as I had imagined Enzo would.)

A Grief Observed, by C.S.Lewis

When a former coworker was recently widowed, I recommended this book to her. It was my guidebook the year my husband died. I read it several times then and reread it again last month. I doubt it's possible to read too much of C.S. Lewis.

Below are books in progress now:

The Egg and I, by Betty McDonald
I remember seeing this hardcover book in my parents' mahogany bookcase; I'm reading it on my Kindle. A lighthearted classic from the mid-20th century, it wouldn't be published today--too politically incorrect--but if you have a sense of historical perspective, it's quite enjoyable.

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes, and Politics, by Charles Krauthammer

This book groups thirty years of Krauthammer's writings into sections of what is important in life. I miss Charles Krauthammer--his calm intelligence, quiet confidence, and wry humor. This book is like bringing him back for a one-on-one visit.

Books up next ~

Knowing that I love to read, friends often loan me books. The two below are "on deck" on my nightstand:

Eve: A Novel, by Wm. Paul Young
Young is the author of The Shack, which I read when it was first published. I enjoyed it, so I'll give Eve a go.

House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

It's been quite a few years since I've read a Picoult book, but I trust my friend's "thumbs up."

With several pairs of reading glasses stashed both upstairs and downstairs, it appears I'm set for happy reading straight through Labor Day weekend. May you be so fortunate.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

More Questions than Answers

One must look both along and at everything.

~ C.S. Lewis

There is nothing to be gained by expounding upon the national horrors of this past weekend.  Too many people are doing far too much talking. There's plenty of blame, accusations, insults, hatred, and anger on the airwaves, eclipsed only by the amount of stupidity contained in the diatribes.

None of the rough words are going to accomplish anything useful to help the country find its way through to peace. Nothing I see indicates that any of the bloviators care much about the victims. The dead and wounded amount to mere, convenient fodder for various left-wing political agendas. It's a sickening situation. How did we get to this awful place?

It's very easy to blame the president--too easy. The deterioration of our culture has been in progress for quite some time, long before Donald Trump was in the White House. In all the frenzied news coverage, nobody mentions that there were twenty-four mass shootings under President Obama's watch. Why is that, I wonder? I don't mean to imply that the two dozen shootings were Obama's fault, any more than El Paso or Dayton are Trump's fault. That's too one-dimensional, too simplistic of an explanation. Something much deeper is going on in America at a fundamental level, an illness that is eroding our societal foundations.

What has brought us to this dark point in our history? Obama's 2008 election coincides roughly with the birth of the smart phone and the dramatic rise of social media. Could that be the reason? God and religion have been systematically eradicated from the public square in recent decades, and "Nones," people who don't identify with any religion, are increasing. Does that fact contribute to our cultural rot?

How about impact of the 24-hour news cycle, the fractured family structure that so many children grow up under, the lack of courtesy, respect, and community we feel for one another compared to a half century ago? What about the lack of consequences for wrongdoing in so many public schools today?

I'm fairly certain that numerous contributing factors have brought us to this sad and frightening time. I just wish I knew what they are.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Seeing Stars and Bars

I am often asked “Why do Southerners still care about the Civil War?”… Because it is unique in the American experience. Defeat was total, surrender unconditional and the land still occupied. ~ Tim Heaton

When it comes to the current controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag, I find that I am able to understand both points of view.

By today's intolerant cultural standards, that probably makes me a racist. Nevertheless, I can see both sides of the argument.

First of all, this flag is part of our national history. I realize that the Nazi flag was part of Germany's history, also, but I'm talking about the United States at the moment. Our country fought a long and bloody internal war over two opposing ways of life. We weren't pursuing global conquest; we were tearing each other's throats out, brother against brother unto agonizing death. In fact, it was the bloodiest war in our history. The rift was entirely within our own nation--a violent, devastating family fight, so to speak. The northern states fought under the Stars and Stripes; the southern states fought under the Stars and Bars. Every soldier was an American. I can understand why those Americans whose ancestors died and/or suffered because of the Civil War (also called the War Between the States, or--popular with Southern citizens--the War of Northern Aggression) would want to commemorate that sacrifice by flying the Confederate battle flag.

And there is always the question of First Amendment rights. If "freedom of speech" includes the right to burn an American flag, why is simply displaying a Confederate flag an illegal act?

On the other hand, the economic system of the South incorporated an intrinsically evil institution--slavery--and displaying the Confederate flag affirms approval and acceptance of that evil and the centuries of human misery than resulted from it. In addition, the Confederate flag symbolizes a fractured nation, a country destructively divided against itself. Hoisting such a divisive symbol isn't a good idea, particularly in our culturally hysterical and politically hostile atmosphere.

So where do I stand? I say no, please don't fly that flag. We're all Americans, a century and a half past the end of that bitter conflict between the states. Let's put the "United" back in front of "States" and keep all of us together under one flag.

But if it means that much to someone to fly the Stars and Bars--well, theoretically, this still is a free country. Go ahead and fly your antique flag. I'll ignore you; but I wouldn't try to stop you.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Game of Numbers

There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Not everyone is into signs and omens, and that's fine. But if you're not, I'd like you to consider some statistics from the baseball game that the Houston Astros played on the night they celebrated the Apollo 11 moon mission.

It was July 22, 2019, a game observing the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11. The Astros (their name is a play on the word "astronauts," of course) wore caps emblazoned with the Apollo 11 logo. They were paying homage to Houston, their team's town and home of NASA mission control, in honor of the historic moon landing.

The setup is important; thanks for bearing with me.

On to the game stats:
  • Houston won 11-1
  • The 11th run scored during an interview with Rick Armstrong, son of Neil "first man on the moon" Armstrong
  • There were 11 men at bat during that inning
  • It was the 11th win for Houston pitcher Gerrit Cole
  • Cole struck out 11 batters
  • Yordan Alvarez hit his 11th home run
If the recurring numbers in the statistics are all coincidences, then the moon is made of green cheese. Probably 11 gazillion pounds of it.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Yearning for the Moon

We ran as if to meet the moon.

~ Robert Frost

"We came in peace for all mankind."
Fifty years ago today, I sat in my parents’ living room just before 11:00PM Eastern time, watching breathlessly as Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module’s ladder and into history. I remember it like it happened last night.

For anyone old enough to remember living through them, the 1960s were a fraught and fractured decade. In many ways, that time was more perilous than today’s political polarization. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western world stoked the fear of nuclear war. The Vietnam conflict raged and grew more bloody and controversial, inciting a bitter and passionate anti-war movement that divided and demoralized the entire country. Between the fall of 1963 and the spring of 1968, three national leaders, all full of hope and a promise of better tomorrows--President John F. Kennedy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy--were all brutally assassinated, shot down in their prime.

The Civil Rights movement caused terrible social unrest, violence, and many deaths. In 1965, the lingering curse of racial strive erupted in destructive riots in Watts, a Los Angeles neighborhood.. Race riots continued in Detroit in 1967, and in many U.S. cities throughout the decade.

In 1968, almost exactly one year before the moon landing, there were violent riots in the streets at Chicago’s Democratic presidential convention protesting the Vietnam war. Demonstrators, as well as news reporters and doctors who had come to assist, were beaten and gassed by police. In the 1960s, it seemed as though America would never be at peace, either at home or abroad.

Throughout this turbulent decade, 1960-1969, one shining silver thread ran its unifying way throughout the dark tapestry of domestic angst and upheaval: the NASA space programs. The initial Mercury program was proof of concept that we could put astronauts into space and orbit around the earth and see them successfully return. The Gemini program, with its dramatic “space walks,” followed as practice and preparation for astronauts who would actually visit the moon. The Apollo program had the actual moon landing as its mission; it was not without its tragedies. But the U.S. persevered in its mission; that's what Americans do. The vast majority of Americans in the 1960s, despite all their dramatic differences of opinion, were enthusiastic supporters of the space program. It seemed to be our national candle in the darkness, a light we could all see and focus on together.

It was in 1961 that President Kennedy had pledged to put an American on the moon by 1970. It happened. Americans reached for the moon, and we touched it. It is an enduring achievement of which every American should be immensely proud.