Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Glass Castle

"Mom, this ham's full of maggots," I said.
"Don't be so picky," she told me. "Just slice off the maggoty parts. The inside's fine."

Last night, I finished reading Jeannette Walls' bestselling memoir "The Glass Castle." It's a remarkable book on many levels, none moreso than the author's matter-of-fact acceptance of, and personal triumph over, her difficult (to phrase it mildly) childhood.

So many people use misfortunes in their past as a blanket excuse in life. Their family was poor, their parents divorced, they weren't the favored child, they were deprived, etc., ad nauseam. All the pity party-goers should read The Glass Castle to learn how to identify a real childhood problem--and how to deal with it constructively.

I so enjoyed the author's comfortable and entertaining narrative of sometimes brutal circumstances that I went hunting for some footage of Jeannette Walls and found this captivating interview. Check it out when you have a few minutes. Can you imagine this charming lady ever feeling sorry for herself?

Although she never did enter the glass castle her troubled father had promised to build, Jeannette Walls certainly has arrived on life's sunny side.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Worst of All Ingratitude

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude

~ William Shakespeare

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stated that America’s intervention in the Middle East by “clearing the decks” with a “quick burst of violent action” had led to “the worst of all worlds”.

Really? The archbishop sounds a lot like atheist Christopher Hitchens and his laughable assertion that religion "poisons everything." Regardless of theological persuasion, or lack of same, sweepingly negative hyperbole appears to be a British thing.

Britain doesn't suffer many tsunamis, earthquakes, or famines. If it did, the good archbishop might realize that the most consistent first responder on the scene of any global disaster is that moral reprobate, the U.S.A. In 2006, charitable giving in the United States set a new record of more than $295 billion.

And by the way, Archbishop, the preservation of the English language in your country is in large part due to the bravery and sacrifices of American troops in WWII. Even though we haven't done much for you lately--you're welcome.

Anyone who thinks that the U.S. has created the "worst of all worlds" is on another planet.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Danger of Not Seeing Danger

The stories of militant Islamic fascism are easy to find, even in MSM.

An Iraqi man and his wife are beheaded, in front of their children, by jihadis. Why? For not praying and for wearing western-style trousers.

A teenager in Afghanistan is executed by the Taliban for teaching English to students.

A rape victim--victim--is sentenced to 90 lashes. But, because she speaks to the media about her case, her sentence is increased to 200 lashes and six months in jail.

We don't hear much media outcry about these atrocities. They are reported in the "5 W's" of old-fashioned journalistic terms: who, what, when, where, why. There is not much editorializing on the content of these stories by MSM. For a change, we get "just the facts"--what a concept! It seems that, as long as our enemies are committing the heinous crimes, discretion is the better part of journalism.

Where is the outrage from the pea-brained celebrities who see George W. Bush as a "war criminal"? (I'll let you find your own links to that nonsense). Where are the Code Pink and ACLU representatives when it might actually be worthwhile to hear from them?

There is a real danger in not recognizing the evil of our enemy. The peril comes not from our government, as the deranged among us would have us believe; it comes from a fanatical and deadly foe who would, given the chance, revel in an endless stream of American beheadings.

Most of us in the U.S. are guilty of wearing western-style trousers, speaking English, and traveling in a car with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. These are crimes worthy of a horrific punishment, according to Islamo-fascist law. It's dangerous for any of us not to understand that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Count Your Blessings

When I'm worried and I can't sleep

I count my blessings instead of sheep

And I fall asleep counting my blessings

When my bankroll is getting small

I think of when I had none at all

And I fall asleep counting my blessings

~ Happy Thanksgiving ~

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Gift of Goodbye

Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
~ Matt 24:42

Nicky and Diana have been longtime neighbors, moving onto our block soon after we did in the 1980s. Their two children were about the same age as ours, and the kids often played together when they were small.

Our kids all grew up, diverging in many directions, into different schools and circles of friends, eventually into their adult lives. We four parents were all still there on the same block, waving hello as we drove past each other, stopping to chat occasionally on a pleasant evening, a comfortable and familiar presence in each other’s lives.

When Pete died of cancer in January 2006, Nicky and Diana were at his memorial Mass and came to my house, offering help--being good neighbors, as always. We talked now and then about having dinner together, but we never quite nailed down the details. We’ll get around to it, we all said.

One evening a few months ago, I asked Nicky about the construction activity in his driveway. He told me he was converting the garage into an apartment for his mother. I told him that was so good of him, and that we need to set an example for our own kids. “We’re going to be there one day,” I said.

During the past year, I saw Nicky and Diana often in the evenings, walking their dog in one direction as I walked Riga in the other. Jack, their dog, always wanted to play, while Riga always wanted to run him off. So, we couldn’t linger long during these encounters. Being human, I sometimes felt a little twinge, watching them walk as a couple, since that part of life is behind me. As we smiled our greetings and continued on our separate ways, I would remind myself of all the blessings I still have in life.

I last saw them this past Saturday evening as they took their stroll with Jack, and I with Riga. “Have a nice rest of the weekend,” I called after them.

Another longtime neighbor came to my door on Sunday afternoon, to deliver the terrible news that Nicky, and his mother, had died in a car accident a few hours earlier.

The garage apartment, lovingly constructed, is almost finished. But it was not meant to be. Nicky’s children, who have lost their father and their grandmother together, will never see him grow old and in need of their care. He will never “be there one day,” as I had told him.

We should have picked a date and had that talked-about dinner, months ago. Human beings are foolish that way. We let ourselves believe we have limitless banks of time, forgetting that we are mortal, each of us destined to die.

The tragedy that befell my neighbors yesterday has underscored to me the precious value of being able to say goodbye. As hard as it was to watch Pete die before my eyes, I prefer it to watching him drive off, never to come home. There is no easy way to lose one's spouse, but for me, it was better to share those last difficult moments together.

If I see Diana walking Jack on some future evening, I’ll feel a very different twinge. She does not have the solace of knowing she said all she wanted to say to her husband, aware that his minutes were slipping quickly away. She did not know, as Nicky slid into his car yesterday, that they had already said their final farewell.

I'm sorry that she didn't have the gift of goodbye. It's one of those life blessings I remind myself of, one for which I’ll always be grateful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

American Actor

The viewer has to wait until the final minutes of the film to see Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe play a scene together in American Gangster. Fortunately for movie fans, the wait is well worthwhile.

These guys are my two favorite actors for solid reasons. I've loved good movies since I was a child, and I know a quality product when I see it--and feel it. From the gripping opening scene until the credits rolled, most of my breathing was highly truncated. Because of the actors, the story owned me.

And no one in Hollywood today owns a character the way Denzel does. I once heard renowned director Frank Capra say that the great Jimmy Stewart's gift was making the viewer believe that what was on the screen was actually happening. In our time, Denzel Washington has been touched by the same magic wand, and he humanizes the criminal Frank Lucas into a multi-layered man we can almost pull for.

Russell Crowe brings a similar intensity to his role and is completely believable as the relentless law officer Richie Roberts, who pursues Lucas for years. Crowe does fairly well with a New Jersey accent, although fuhgetaboudit--he'd never fool a local. And the film's numerous anachronisms can be distracting to the generation that remembers the life and times of the 1970s.

However, these are quibbling details. In American Gangster, director Ridley Scott sets a raw, realistic stage that effectively captures the seamy underside of metropolitan drug trafficking. In many scenes, you can almost smell the stink of the gutter.

But the actors portraying the two main characters, their lives running along parallel lines until the riveting collision of their respective destinies, are the whole show. Washington and Crowe, bravo to both of you. To quote a line Frank Lucas is fond of saying: "My man."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thoughts on the Seventh Soldier

A civilization is won or lost by those who fight to protect it
~ Victor Davis Hanson

The thoughtful among us will want to read every word of Hanson's article, "Freedom, Even from Fear." It is regrettably true that today's soldiers are the forgotten warriors of a spoiled and pampered American population.

I certainly count myself among the guilty. How often do I think about those who "preserve, protect, and defend" us as I flit casually about my daily business? Even volunteering as a Soldiers' Angel seems a weak return for what our armed services give for us.

As long-time readers know, I've been a Soldiers' Angel since early 2004. This, I feel, is the very least I can do to honor the service of our troops. Last week, after learning that my sixth soldier was safely on his way home, I signed up to adopt my seventh troop.

The e-mail I received with his mailing information contained a message from him, saying he would like to receive "beef jerky, sunflower seeds, playing cards." As is usual for all the troops I have supported over the years, he thanked me.

Think about that for a moment. He thanked me. "Thank you for all you do," he wrote. What exactly do I do, except live my life in secure comfort and freedom because of him and every other member of the military?

How do we rate such outstanding people in our military? It never ceases to amaze me. As Victor Davis Hanson concludes:

We should remember on this Veterans Day that some very young people — with long futures, in the prime of health, and at the center of their families — died for the rest of us. They lost their lives not just for us to watch an OJ outburst in Vegas or American Idol, but for the idea that we — most often not so young, not so hale, and not with such bright futures as our soldiers — could be free at their expense; free, not merely from being conquered or enslaved, but free from the very thought of it.

Freedom from fear. The asking price, from my seventh soldier, is a deck of cards, a package of beef jerky, and a bag of sunflower seeds. Only in America would you get such a deal of immeasurable worth.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Photo from Dept. of Defense website, November 11, 2007

Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell

From The Charge of the Light Brigade
~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Not much has changed over the centuries.

There are still military troops, human beings of uncommon strength and bravery, who step into the breach when called upon to defend and protect fellow citizens of their homeland. The sacrifices of these remarkable men and women can never be repaid, merely recognized, respected, and appreciated.

So thank you to all of our veterans, of all branches of the United States military, living and dead. Special gratitude from me to my grandfathers, my uncles, my brothers, my cousins, and my friends who have served in U.S. uniforms. Without you and your courageous dedication, Americans would not enjoy the life we have today.

Happy Veterans Day. God bless you, every one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Comfortably Stupid

If 9/11 was really an inside job, you wouldn't be driving around with a bumper sticker bragging that you were on to it.
~ Mark Steyn

We've all seen the bumper sticker in question. I've also seen it scrawled inside airport bathroom stalls and in graffiti on freeway retaining walls. "9/11 was an inside job."

The stunning stupidity of this statement is beneath debate to any thinking person, but it has recently become such a pop culture tagline that it deserves to be addressed--with brain cells firing.

As Mark Steyn rightly points out, if we lived inside a government that actually perpetrated such atrocities against its citizens, it is hardly likely that we would be allowed to roam the country trumpeting that fact. It's far more probable that the shiny black boots would be kicking in your door at midnight, if you sported such a bumper sticker within such a regime.

This raises another question that challenges the logic of the "inside jobbers." If you lived in such an oppressive system, wouldn't you want to get out? Wouldn't you be crossing into Mexico or Canada with your flashlight and backpack in the middle of the night, trying to escape the ruthless fascists at the helm in the U.S.A.? Yet it doesn't seem that the 9/11 conspiracy freaks are at all anxious to leave home. They're quite content to stay, arguably to convince the rest of us of the evil nature of our government--but more likely not to miss out on the next Walmart sale or to upgrade their i-Pods.

The "why do they stay?" question prompts yet another inquiry: If our government was such an evil, corrupt, conspiracy-ridden dictatorship, would it allow us to leave? Wouldn't we be stopped at the border, the airport, the train station, and herded off to those highly efficient "re-education camps" that totalitarian regimes seem so fond of? Yet there are uncounted thousands of Americans traveling every day, both in and out of the country, unencumbered--except for that pesky shoe removal at the security check-in.

If "9/11 was an inside job," who would want to live here? As Steyn also notes,

Fantasy is a by-product of security: it's the difference between hanging upside down in your dominatrix's bondage parlor after work on Friday and enduring the real thing for years on end in Saddam's prisons.
That's good food for thought. Unfortunately, the "inside job" crowd isn't very hungry.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Clintons are upset.

It seems that in the last Democratic candidate debate, Hillary actually got a hard question to answer. Furthermore, she had great difficulty answering it without looking and sounding silly. That is bound to be the outcome when you take both sides and try to argue each without giving away a real response.

Now the Clintons are up in arms, crying "no fair." She's the girl, and the boy are being mean to her. They're asking "gotcha" questions and practicing the "politics of pile-on," according to Clinton and her campaign. The translation of this outrage is that events are starting to deviate from Senator Clinton's carefully prepared script, an intolerable development based on her--and Bill's--indignant reactions.

Are interviewers really supposed to avoid any question that might upset Hillary? Should debate moderators tiptoe around any issue that brings out her nail-screeching shrillness, her strident defensiveness that reminds the entire country why we don't want to have to listen to Hillary for any further length of time, let alone a presidential term?

I think the hard questions have only just begun. You'd better buckle up, Hilly, strap on your helmet and learn to drive the crash course.

Get used to it, dearie. If you want to play in the big leagues, you've got to be willing to take some hits without worrying about your ponytail. Things are not always going to go your way all the time, and you can't always go running to your hubby for mop-up operations. You can't whine about being picked on because you're a woman when you don't like the question. Your best course of action will be to choose an answer and then stick with it, or be prepared for a challenge if you don't.

Just ask any guy in the race.