Monday, March 31, 2008

To the Burglar on the Lawn

The only reason we met is because I had forgotten my cell phone. Again.

Since I was only 5 minutes away from home, I turned around and went back to get it. That's when I noticed you sitting on my neighbor's lawn, scoping out the neighborhood.

At first, I thought you were just a neighborhood kid, and you were simply hanging out. But my neighbor is a neat freak! This guy is so anal retentive that the neighbors have nicknamed him Mr. Clean. If even a leaf blows onto his lawn, he is racing out in a panic to dispose of the unsightly monstrosity before it gets too comfortable. And that's why you stood out like a sore thumb.

All I could think was "Uh oh. If Mr. Clean saw this guy, he'd fall down in an apoplectic fit and I think it'd be the end of him."

So, as I was leaving my house, I slowed down to tell you to move along. When you looked up and I saw that I was looking at a fully mature 40-something black man, I rethought it.

Now, we do have a black family that lives in the neighborhood: We're not some kind of KKK enclave. But I know all my neighbors, and I don't have any that look like you. Your taste in clothes makes you stick out a little more than you should.

Far be it from me to suggest anything that would make your job easier, but from what I see in the movies, the average house burglar wears pretty nondescript clothes. You, however, apparently want to be the trend-setter.

You were sporting baggy knee-length white shorts with cool sayings scrawled all over them. You had a dark t-shirt and baseball cap, but most tellingly of all, you were carrying a faded black knapsack with you. So at this point, I knew you were either homeless, or those were your burglary tools.

You saw me grab my cell phone, turn around, and come back. Yeah, yeah, I shouldn't have been so obvious, huh? But by then, I didn't care too much. Even though I have an alarm system, a sufficiently motivated crackhead might try to get in, and I have no desire to fill out reams of police reports after I shoot you.

Sure, you were probably just waiting to check everything out before you broke into my neighbor's house. But I really would prefer it if you would just take your trade to another neighborhood altogether.

I liked how you got up and casually sauntered down the street. And when you stopped at the end of the street to just look around, you were as believable as a graduate from the William Shatner School of Acting.

That was the last I saw of you. The police who came out agreed that you were getting ready to break into Mr. Clean's home, so they've stepped up the patrols here.

My neighbor was quite surprised to find out that you were at all interested in his home. I was too. You see, I know something that you don't know: Mr. Clean is a very stingy man, and I am sure that there would have been nothing in there to steal. I'll bet the most expensive piece of jewelry that his wife owns was bought at WalMart.

But after everything happened, I've had a change of heart.

The Cleans have this really loud, obnoxious parrot. Every morning, he screams as if he's a girl being mortally wounded. He drives my dogs crazy, and he prevents any of us from sleeping in in the mornings. That damned parrot is the biggest source of noise pollution in the neighborhood.

So if you come back, I'll look the other way, as long as you take the parrot. Heck, bring a U-Haul and if I have time, I'll help you load it up. But if I don't see the parrot go too, the deal's off and I'm calling the cops.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reformation in the Catholic Church

I recently wrote a piece for Helium, and am sharing it with you here:
It has been said that the only true reformation of the Catholic Church was the Protestant movement. However, the Protestants didn't actually "reform" the church: They simply left it (rather noisily).

The Catholic Church then proceeded to kill, maim, and torture those very Protestants, thus illustrating the fact that the Catholic Church has never exactly been open to the concept of change or loss of power.

But is it ready to change NOW?

Recently, Father Hans Kung of Germany was stripped of his authority to teach at Catholic universities for questioning church teachings. He is merely one of many Catholics who disagree with classic Catholic teachings. These so-called "Cafeteria Catholics" pick some teachings they agree with, and disregard others. Although this may be convenient for Cafeteria Catholics, does the Catholic Church view them as true Catholics?

Apparently not.

Father Emile Blaser, a former general secretary of the Bishops Conference in Africa, is now the director of the Catholic Radio station, Radio Veritas. Upon the new Pope's ordination, he recently wrote "I can't see the church changing its approach under a new pope."

Dr Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Rome, agrees. Dr. Gregg has made a study of Pope Benedict XVI's theology, and says "Pope Benedict XVI will continue the authentic interpretation of Vatican II that John Paul pioneered. There will be a clear, strong intellectual proposition in defense of Catholic orthodoxy."

Therefore, a discussion about change seems to be moot. And yet, there is always the possibility of change, isn't there?

So: What's on the table?

Women in clergy, non-celibate priests, marriage and annulment, sex (in marriage) for procreation vs. sex (in marriage) for fun, the definition and hierarchy of certain sins, and much more.

The problem is that the Catholic Church's dogma is based primarily on the belief that the Pope is infallible in his proclamations and judgments. This belief exists, despite much evidence to the contrary.

Examples include (but are not limited to):

1. Pope Liberius (Pope from 352-366). Liberius initially rejected the Nicene Creed, choosing to believe that Jesus Christ was lower in rank than God the Father. He later changed his mind.

2. Pope Vigilius (Pope from 537-555). Vigilius famously claimed that he had been misled by the devil on an important interpretation of Scripture.

3. Pope Honorius I (Pope from 625-638). Honorius made a statement on Jesus Christ's character that was later condemned as heretical by the Council of Constantinople in 681.

4. Pope Leo II (Pope from 682-683). Leo openly declared that Honorius II (the Pope who had served before him) had undermined the faith of the Catholic Church.

However, the official doctrine of Papal Infallibility is relatively recent. It was formally affirmed only in 1870, at the First Vatican Council, and at the time there was much argument over it.

Right now, for the Catholic Church to reverse any decision is to tacitly admit that the Pope is indeed NOT infallible, which would rock the very core of the Catholic belief system.

So if the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is ever reconsidered and reversed, the Catholic Church will have a great deal more flexibility in its future decisions and choices. Until then, to make any changes to the Catholic faith would be to contradict that very faith itself.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Big Brother is Watching in More Ways Than You Can Imagine

Yesterday a story broke in the Seattle Times that once again reminds us that Big Brother is watching.

Because the feds are concerned about dirty bombs and nuclear materials being smuggled into the USA, they have developed a new device that is extremely sensitive to radiation. This device can be aimed at passing cars and, if it goes off, the feds can pull over the car and investigate further.

Recently this device came to light when a car was pulled over which contained a cat with cancer. The cat had undergone radiological treatment three days earlier.

The car had been going 70 miles an hour.

I am a big opponent of the Patriot Act and the constitutional rights that it violates. And yet, I am having a hard time getting worked up about this new type of detection. Perhaps this is because I can see no reason why an average citizen would be riding about with nuclear materials.

Although there are people who could also set off this detector, I suspect it would be the minority. I don't want a minority's rights violated in any way. However, as long as the feds let these citizens go after its been determined that they don't have bomb-making materials, I can see little harm done.

And yet, someone undergoing radiation therapy might also be smoking pot to alleviate their symptoms. What if the feds find marijuana in the car? Will that person go to jail simply because a radiation detector went off?

Don't get me wrong - I hate illegal drugs with a passion. But at the same time, it makes me queasy to see how many different ways the government can find to worm themselves into our homes and our lives.

I don't believe in the adage that you give up some freedoms for safety. On the other hand, we are living in a country that is increasingly having to ask where we draw the line.

Perhaps we would all rest more comfortably if the government would share what their procedures are each time they pull over a car that is registering a level of radiation.

Perhaps we would rest even more comfortably if we knew what else they were using to spy on us.

Or... perhaps we wouldn't rest at all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Religion and Barack Obama

I just ran across a fantastic post defending atheism on Craig's List (of all places!). I've known such thoughtful and intelligent atheists and he represents them well.

The only flaw I see is where he writes "According to a 1997 statistic, only 0.209% of prisoners incarcerated in the United States identify as atheists. Since atheists currently represent roughly 14% of the overall U.S. population, this is a significant indicator of the "morality" of the modern atheist."

If he had ever worked with the prison population, he would never have made such a statement. It's amazing how many inmates 'get religion' when they find out the benefits associated with it (extra time to go worship, people to fool, etc.).

And as I read it, I thought "Wouldn't it have been better for Barack to have been an atheist?"

I respect atheistic beliefs much more than I respect the beliefs of Barack's pastor, Jeremiah Wright. I respect atheistic beliefs more than I respect the beliefs of the muslim school that Barack went to as a child.

Sure there are the hostile atheists who attack other faiths with a lack of couth and grace. If they blaspheme the God I worship, I consider them to be the scum of the earth. After all, arguments can be made without attempting to deliberately wound and offend. And yet, is Jeremiah Wright any better?

In a recent speech placating the electorate, Barack asked how many of us ever disagreed with our pastors on something (the 'moral equivalency' argument). Barack's attempt to compare his pastor to the pastor of a decent church is like comparing a papercut to a decapitation.

I've been to many churches and heard many sermons. In fact, upon calculating it all, I think I'd already heard over 2,000 sermons by the time I was 18!

And yet, I have never heard a pastor use the word nigger. For that matter, I've never heard the matter of race ever come up except for the occasions when a pastor preached that there are no differences between the races and we are to love each other regardless of skin color.

I have never heard a pastor rail against a political candidate.

I have never heard a pastor cussing like a sailor from the pulpit (saying God damn and hell and using other swear words.)

Most pastors realize that they're role models and they are supposed to be an example of how we should all behave.

So, as the famous saying goes, what would Jesus do? Let's compare:

Jeremiah Wright preaches hatred and racial division. He swears from the pulpit.

Jesus never preached against the Romans (although the Jews had been conquered and lived under Roman rule). In fact, Jesus famously told us to turn the other cheek and told us to pay our taxes and obey the laws.

Jesus also taught that we should live in peace with our enemies, and gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke: This parable is told by Jesus in order to illustrate that compassion should be for all people.

Obviously Jeremiah Wright doesn't really believe in either Jesus or the Bible. What a shame that Barack considers him to be 'like an uncle' and claims him as a spiritual advisor.

Barack would have been better off as an atheist.

Please don't try to sell me the concept of the "African American" church being any different than the "Caucasian American" church. I've been to both. And, although I'm not black, I have been told that we supposedly believe in the same God. If we believe in the same God, then there should be no such glaring differences.

And my churches have all been of mixed races; black, white, latino, asian, and more. And yet I've rarely seen a white person attending any predominantly black church. Why? Because honkeys aren't welcome.

So if Jeremiah Wright is a racist, and preaches hate from the pulpit to such a degree that even Oprah Winfrey left the church...

Then what does it say about Barack Obama?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My House

Although business is tough right now, the economy's scary, and life's uncertain, my house is getting a makeover. It's a process that's been in the works for YEARS.

Five years ago, I bought a large, old home with 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a square footage of over 3200 sq. ft.

The kitchen had appliances that belonged in the Disney World Carousel of Progress ride. It seemed like it was perfectly preserved as if it had been never used since it had been installed in the early 1960s. The former owner proudly told me that this was the first solid-surface cooktop ever made. I could well believe it. And the moment that I purchased the house, it was out in the garbage the very next day.

We gutted the kitchen, leaving nothing but plumbing and electrical connections. Then we redesigned the entire kitchen, expanding it into another room, adding limestone tile counters and new appliances, new mahogany cabinets, and stone tile floor. There are still some details left to do, but it's a far cry from the original Time Warp Kitchen.

In the house, walls were ripped out, rooms expanded, and tomorrow I get french doors for my study. My son (Mr. Spock)'s room has been completely re-done and it now looks as high-tech as any SciFi geek could want it. My bedroom is converted from a garage, and is massive - with tile floors, and plenty of room for my king-sized bed (which holds me and three small dogs every night).

I'm excited, and that's why I'm writing about this. The end is in sight~! And as soon as it's finished, I'll provide pictures (in another month or so). Meanwhile, I'm just delighting in the glory of a home. At one time, I could never have afforded a house of my own. I have been blessed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why We Should Not Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

In the past, I've enjoyed celebrating St. Patty's Day because it meant eating corned beef and cabbage. I'm an extremely light drinker (1-2 drinks a month) and could go without drinking altogether. So, truthfully, I don't look for excuses to drink - let alone drink beer that's been pumped full of artificial dyes to turn it green.

But even if you don't drink, it's fun to go to a local dive where you can mingle with other people who don't want to stay at home. St. Patty's Day is an excuse to dress and act extravagantly, eat foods you don't normally eat, and drink more than you should. (At this point, I'm sure many of you are nodding vigorously and asking "What's wrong with that?")

St. Patrick's Day sends two wrong messages:

1. Irish people are drunken sots.
2. We celebrate diversity.

Let's tackle the first one. Sure, you know someone who's Irish who isn't a drunken sot, but deep down inside you know the stereotypical image. If we're trying to get away from stereotyping races and cultures, don't we wish to discard this?

Are all Scots miserly? Are all Mexican immigrants illegal? Are all blacks criminals? Are all rich white people snobs? Are all convenience store owners Indian? ...well, OK, I might give you that last one (kidding!). But you get the picture.

Well what about the second? Don't we see t-shirts and bumperstickers everywhere, commanding "celebrate diversity!" Why, there's even a month set aside in which we're preached at incessantly to celebrate it. Celebrate it how I don't know, but we're supposed to be celebrating it continually, it seems.

OK, who went to civics class when they were in 7th or 8th grade? Let me see a show of hands! Remember how our teacher kept driving home that the USA was one big "Melting Pot"? At the time, there were many of us who didn't even know who or what our ancestors were. We only knew we were American.

Sure, some of our ancestors didn't assimilate right away. And in New York, we still have Chinatown and Little Italy and other separatist enclaves. But the truth is that our ancestors understood a powerful truth. They might have lived in Little Italy, but they still worked in America, and to be useful citizens, they had to learn English and American customs.

Almost everyone who came to America loved America. They may have come from all over the globe, but they were loyal to the country that gave them the opportunities they couldn't find elsewhere. Most of these early immigrants had entered legally and came with their own sets of morals and values that were still based on Christianity. Generally, these morals and values were common throughout the USA at the time, and it was these values that provided the true glue that stuck us all together.*

Now we look into the pot and we no longer see a fondue. Instead, we see a swirling, seething mixture of unidentifiable chunks. We are no longer a melting pot: We are now a rather horrid stew.

Abraham Lincoln once said "A nation divided against itself cannot long stand". Ultimately, it doesn't take good old Abe to tell us this. We know it if we are blessed with common sense. And yet, we are more divided than ever.

There is strong evidence that we are sinking into increased lawlessness due to a lack of religion which serves as "Big Brother" even when the law isn't around to enforce good behavior. Much of our lack of cohesion comes from the lack of loyalty to our fellow man. This loyalty is taught in many of the major religions which have been abandoned today to the Cult of Self.

(Incidentally, I have friends who are atheist and swear they have their own moral codes that they rigidly stick to, but I always ask "Then who do you answer to when you break your own rules?" They shrug and admit it's a flawed system.)

Of course America isn't alone in leaving religion behind. There are many countries that have sunk even lower than we have.

It is today's Cult of Self that keeps us diversified. Most Americans today secretly believe that they are more special than their fellow man. We have neglected Christ's admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves and believe we should love our neighbors a little more than we love our 99 cent chicken nuggets.

For those of you who are browbeating yourselves at this moment, please stop it immediately. The fact that you are taking this at all seriously means that it doesn't apply to you. In fact, some of you are probably overdoing it.

So who are the people who do not love us as much as they love themselves? Some of them are the illegal immigrants, who believe that the ends justify the means. They think we're a bunch of rich, spoiled pigs who are keeping all the goodies to ourselves. They believe they're entitled to help unload a little of the perceived American largesse.

Others are the legal immigrants who refuse to adapt. Many of these legal immigrants fly their former country's flag, speak their former country's language (and expect us to accomodate this), and tell us how their country is superior to America for so many reasons that they've lost count. Why they choose to stay in America is beyond me.

Finally, we have our own citizens who do not appreciate the freedoms and opportunities to be found in America. Although they have no knowledge of their ancestral countries, they cling to them like a drowning man clings to a raft. In order to make up for their own shortcomings, they focus their hopes and dreams on a mythical place that would, in all reality, be very unpleasant for them to adapt to. People who indulge in such fantasies speak longingly of the motherland (see Barack Obama's Church for one example).

Celebrating St. Patty's Day is no longer pure, innocent fun. In our modern times, diversity has become divisive. Do we really wish to encourage it further?

*Please note that there are other religions that teach similar concepts (as Christianity) and thus their cultures were/are also easily assimilated into American culture. Some of those religions include, but are not limited to, Judaism, Buddhism, Bahaiism, Hinduism, Lamaism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Adolescence Hits

My friend Doozie and I were catching up recently. I emailed her a recent problem I've been having with my son and then I realized that perhaps YOU can help me.

Because my child has an IQ that is 1 point higher than Einstein's, his version of adolescence is weirder than anything I've seen. His father and I both have high IQs but nothing can prepare you for waking up one day and finding out that you have Mr. Spock sitting across from you at breakfast.

Yes, Mr. Spock. My son, in his rebellion, is behaving like a Vulcan.

I have never seen anything quite like it. He has become more logical, more reasoning, and more adult than most adults. But his logic and reasoning are in appearance only for, as I'm sure you understand, he's still a child. After all, he's only 14 1/2. Oh yes - he's right more than he's wrong. But even if he's wrong, he will not be swayed.

As he gets angry, he gets colder. Even the temperature of the room seems to drop, as if Mr. Freeze has just walked in. There is no appealing to him, there is no reasoning with him. He KNOWS he's right, and will not be moved.

When *I* was a teenage jerk, I was hot-headed and openly rebellious. However, while Mr. Spock is openly rebellious, he develops this rigid exterior and a face that looks as if it's chiseled out of stone. I don't know how to get through sometimes!

And getting a kid who towers over me to obey me is (so far) still working. But barely. And that concerns me greatly.

Here's an excerpt of what I wrote to Doozie:

"He was absolutely perfect until this last month when puberty hit. Now he's a rude Mr. Spock (Star Trek). WTF??? I don't get it. My mom thinks he's behaving this way because he's learned to bottle up his emotions due to all the divorce crap that my ex put him through (very possible).

Sometimes he's back to being my 'twin' and we have a marvellous time, (NOTE: I'm not saying I'm being his "buddy" but that we have always been so much alike and seen eye-to-eye) ...but he can 'snap' on a dime. However, Mr. Spock's 'snapping' is different than anything you've seen. He gets very 'grownup' and peers down his nose at me (he's taller now) and tries to correct and parent ME. He also flat out says he disagrees with me now about certain things and says it very coldly. HOW DO YOU DISCIPLINE THAT???

I have told him I don't like his attitude, but it's a tough one to pin down and inexplicable. HE says it's not the hormones influencing him, but it is (he's got all the other signs). My dad says at this age they have 3-4x the hormones they have at any OTHER age and obviously it's true, but this is Super High IQ Rebellion and a tough one to nail down and punish.

Last night he was coldly disagreeable to my mom in front of others at Bible Study and was all 'weird' during the whole thing (squirming, fidgeting, not listening to others) so I made him apologize to Mom and she was all grandmotherly and said it was OK.

I said "Mom, it's not OK - you don't understand you were just insulted!!!" Then I told Mr. Spock to go apologize to Dad and he REFUSED TO.

So, I hissed at him "GET IN THE STUDY! NOW!" and in the study we had it out. I was mad, of course, and he was (of course) Mr. Spock. Which made me MADDER.

He told me he had nothing to apologize for. I said "YES YOU DO." He said he wouldn't go do it. At this point, I tried to be my fiercest and drew myself up to his nose, and wagged my finger in his face, and declared that I would make his life a living HELL if he didn't. So, he resignedly went out and pulled Dad aside.

Thankfully, Dad gets it and agreed with me, because when Mr. Spock got him into a private conversation, he and started it out by saying "Well, Mom says I have to apologize to you."

And Dad said to him "This is no way to apologize!" Then Dad said, "Apparently we need a little talk" and DAD got on Mr. Spock.

Mom is being totally a grandmother and doesn't get that this is Mr. Spock being rebellious. Dad and I get him better... but this is going to be a weird adolescence."

SO, here's the summary: In my family, it is agreed that he should not be punished for being cold or analytical. However, 'attitude' is really what he's displaying (though not overtly). It's tough to pinpoint 'attitude' when it's delivered with cold precision.

However, It IS agreed that he should be punished for outright rebellion (such as refusing to do something) although he is, of course, entitled to disagree about other things.

After he IS punished (by grounding) he still maintains he's not sorry and he was right. He will sometimes concede he was wrong in the WAY he said something, but will not apologize for anything else.

Mom (who currently counsels) thinks I need to concentrate on winning his heart and that forcing him to a certain mold will be ruinous. However, she does agree that grounding is necessary when there's outright defiance. She felt that this particular situation didn't merit my response, but she hasn't been parenting this kid all his life. I know him. I know he was being snotty.

Dad gets it, but (like myself), he is left with more questions than answers. In the past I haven't had to discipline him much. Mr. Spock has been spanked maybe 3 times in his entire life, and grounded more frequently, but over all, he's been The Perfect Child.

Zen's son grew up to become an abusive, drug-using, lazy, rude loser who can't get off his butt to even change a light bulb. Even Zen hates him (and says so). I know that Zen's son is an extreme example, and I don't seriously think that Mr. Spock will be anything like him, because Mr. Spock has better morals and has had better examples. Still, I don't know what could go wrong and that worries me.

I don't counsel women on family matters any more, and I'm way too close to this to be properly analytical. Additionally, I don't recall encountering this before (although there is similarity to my own adolescence). I would like some objective opinions.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boss Hog's Gate

A bunch of us went to the The Strawberry Festival recently. I've written about it before. The Strawberry Festival is an annual event in Florida that everyone should see at least once. It's like the State Fair, but the entire theme is strawberries.

You can strawberry crepes, strawberry waffles, strawberry kabob (dipped in chocolate), strawberry lemonade, strawberry icecream... well, you get the picture.

One of my friends has Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a weird disease, which (over the many years she's struggled with it) has caused Linda to alternately go blind for a year, live in a wheelchair for a number of years (now she walks again), have weak spells, etc.

Linda is currently relatively healthy, but she still has her spells and she knows her limits. She enjoys life and is always trying to drag me off to different places, but she also knows when she needs her rest. Linda's primary difficulty is the fact that she might experience some sort of attack while she is out and about. She doesn't worry about it, however. "The Lord's got this one," she always says.

But Linda loves getting out and about. Despite her MS, she is one of the most adventurous of all my friends, so she was an obvious choice to invite to the festival and she actually drove the five of us there.

While we were at the Strawberry Festival, Linda separated from the rest of the group. We wanted to do see Robinson's Racing Pigs. (If you would like to see them, click on the video below).

Linda wanted to go to some awful yodelling gospel music concert, and we told her we'd join her after the races. So, after the races, we headed for the stadium.

Guessing that Linda would prefer the handicapped section to the bleachers, we headed for the gate which led to the handicapped section. My son and I walked past a policeman at the gate and were suddenly stopped by a loud shout.

"HEY!" the fat policeman hollered. "What are ya doin?"

I looked, and realized that the area was both for the handicapped and special seating (to get closer to the awful, yodelling gospel group).

"We're looking for a friend," I answered Boss Hog.

"Wahl, then, ya kin look fer her outsahd the gate," announced Boss Hog.

"Not really," I said, "She's handicapped, it's a big stadium, and there's no way I can see who's sitting there if I'm a hundred yards behind them, looking at their backs."

Boss Hog was angry. "Wahl now," he stated impressively, "I don' know who yer think ya are, but this is mah gate. And ah don' like no one gettin' one over on me."

"Gee," I said hotly, "I didn't realize this was your gate. I didn't see your name on it anywhere. I'm just trying to find my friend!"

Now Boss Hog grew red and agitated. "FINE!" he snapped. "But jest you. T' others kin stay outsahd the gate."

"Whatever," I said, and motioned for the others to wait. My son and I turned and went to look for her but Linda was no where to be found.

I came back to the gate and joined the others. We decided to walk over to the bleachers section to look for Linda. Happily, that was open to the general public, and we found her there.

We joined Linda to listen to country music that was only slightly more melodic than a cat scratching a blackboard while having its tail pulled. While we sat there, wincing, we watched Boss Hog stride impressively about below, mingling with other deputies who also apparently took great pride in guarding the ramps and gates from onslaughts by commoners.

God help the poor souls who might try to get past the fine deputies of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department. And God help anyone who wants to go through Boss Hog's Gate.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Small Claims Court

Remember my faithless friend (Zen), the deadbeat tenant who left the premises a horrifying mess? Well, today we went to court.

My witnesses included the lady who helped clean and work on the repairs after Zen and her tribe (her dope-smoking son and his girlfriend) moved out. I also had the handyman who had repaired everything, and the new tenant who had seen the place in good condition prior to Zen moving in, bad condition the day after Zen and her tribe moved out, and restored to good condition once again.

Zen brought her sister.

I produced expert testimony and truthful witnesses as well as receipts and dates.

Zen produced invalid arguments which had nothing to do with the claims.

Zen owed me $1050 in back rent, over $1050 in back rent due to the mobile home park, and over $2800 in materials and labor to restore the home which she and her tribe trashed. In fact, she owed me even more than that, but I wanted to do the fair and honorable thing and only go for the minimum expenses which she incurred.

When I first filed, I mistakenly filed for a judgement of $4100. The total came to over $5100. However, I told the judge I would be happy to even just recoup the $4100 rather than go through any elaborate refilings and enlisting the witnesses all over again.

Zen repeatedly blathered on, asking inane questions and continually disregarding the judge's instructions to stay on point. Zen didn't care whom she annoyed, however: She was determined to try to prove that I was dishonorable in some way.

Although I never quite understood what Zen was driving at, I am guessing she was hoping that the judge would believe that I was some kind of bully who had forced her to live for 9 months in an upgraded trailer with a rent-to-own agreement. (Prior to that, she drifted from one hotel room to another, dragging her son from one hotel to the next).

Oddly, Zen kept emphasizing what great friends we had once been, which only made her look even worse. I'm not sure what she hoped to gain by it, but that made it quite obvious that she had been taking advantage of our friendship, and I was still not being spiteful about it.

Zen's arguments were patently transparent, and her self-serving lies and self-indulgence shown through like rays of sun through a plate glass window.

Her sister's testimony didn't help her at all. Her sister's bias was obvious (which was strange to see, as Zen had repeatedly told me in the past how very much she hated her sister and found her to be controlling and sanctimonious). I guess in this case blood is thicker than water.

So now we sit back and wait to see what the judgement will be. The judge will be issuing a written judgement which will be mailed to us. I am hoping I will get even more than I asked for, but I doubt that she will grant me that. So, I will be content with what I can get, and chalk up the remainder to a lesson paid for.

What's that lesson?

Don't overextend yourself to friends, and trust no one. From now on when someone needs a handout, I'm busy that day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Expensive Drinks

I've mentioned Rosie's Diner before. It's a great neighborhood hangout where many of us will go for a good, cheap meal before we hit the links, hit the job, or try to figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

It's a local dive that feels like home. You can walk in the door and hear someone call out to you, while the owner gives you a friendly wave and heads over to you with your favorite drink.

You're allowed to pick where you want to sit, but most of the time the restaurant's packed, so seats are at a premium. No worries: If you can't find a table or a booth, there's always the lunch counter.

My friend John and I met there for breakfast one morning, and later on in the day he realized he'd left his expensive $350 Revo sunglasses behind. This week, when we were able to get around to it, we stopped by Rosie's for those sunglasses and a drink to go.

John had called ahead, and Rosie was happy to produce all the sunglasses they'd recently collected. None of them were the Revos. But luckily John looked up and saw them perched on a shelf nearby. "Up there!" he said, and he pointed behind Rosie.

"These?" asked Rosie, handing them to him.

"Yes, thank goodness!" said John. "These are expensive!"

"Really? They don't look so different to me," said Rosie incredulously.

"Yeah," John said. "To the tune of about $350!"

"In that case," joked Rosie, "You owe me a finders' fee. That'll be $100, please."

John answered, "Oh yeah? Then you'll have to work it into your regular costs!"

They laughed it off, and John ordered a couple drinks to go.

Soon Rosie reappeared, carrying two styrofoam cups filled with soda. She carefully put them down next to the register, and rang up the charge. She looked up from the register.

"That'll be $100, please," said Rosie.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Marine Who Killed the Puppy

Yesterday we were treated to the story and accompanying video of a Marine tossing a beautiful puppy over a cliff to its death.

Some psychologists are weighing in on this by justifying it. We're told that this can be a reaction to the stress of having your life constantly in danger: In order to feel that you have some control, you attempt to dominate smaller and more helpless beings.

Aren't those very reasons shared by wife beaters everywhere?

"They're on such a power trip about what they're doing that it doesn't dawn on them how disgusting it is," said said David Spiegel, professor and associate chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine. "A person can get set to such levels of psychological arousal that ordinary life can seem kind of drab, and the only way to keep yourself feeling kind of good is to do things that are dangerous or anti-social."

I don't have my doctorate in psychology (it's in another field), but I was a counselor for a while and I am trained in general family counseling from a Christian perspective. What Spiegel says makes sense to me. And yet, there is something missing.

What is missing is the fact that there are many, many men and women in our armed forces who are not abusing others and are not tossing defenseless puppies over the cliff and laughing about it as they do so.

That takes a special kind of monster.

The kind of monster who's grip on reality was never strong. The kind of monster who will be a danger when he's re-admitted to American society.

And we should also worry about his compadres. People who are willing to witness (and even encourage) abuse are no better than the perpetrator. People like that aren't merely dim-witted followers. People like that also get a subversive thrill from the deed. They are a typical example of the type of men who won't actually rape a woman, but will watch her being raped.

Cheryl Araujo was the rape victim whose story was fictionalized in the movie The Accused (which starred Jodie Foster). She was raped in public on a pool table while patrons watched: Some even cheered her abusers on.

These particular lookers-on have the same weak, bullying mentality as the patrons in the pool hall. It allows others to do the dirty work while they revel in the aftermath. They are able to stand back and say (with great self righteousness) "But *I* didn't throw the puppy over the cliff" or "But *I* didn't actually put the noose around that black man's neck."

Such blind mob mentality concerns me, and it should concern you. It needs to concern us as a nation because these are the type of monsters that will eventually come home to America.

Are all service men and women of this loathsome character? Of course not!

But we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that there will be some people who didn't have a strong moral backbone to begin with, who got to explore killing and abusing when they were overseas on assignment. We need to start asking what the military is doing to screen our troops when they come home, so that further atrocities can be prevented.

And, of course, we need to discover who these particular Marines were, and we need to deal with them harshly so that they are an example to other troops and a signal to the world that we do not condone such soulless monstrosities.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Candidates: Who Will Win?

I haven't written much on the candidates because, frankly, everyone else is. There is little left for us freelance hack journalists to write about. And unlike many bloggers, I try to have very high standards. I attempt to report truthful facts and if my opinions are my own, I don't tout them as irrefutable.

So far, "opinions are like buttholes..."

You know the rest of the saying, right?

"...everyone has one."

But now I'd like to weigh in.

Currently we're down to three candidates (I'm not going to bother tackling the independents). Oh yeah, Huckabee's still hanging on, but everyone knows that he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell to win the Republican nomination. The current speculation is that he's hanging in there in order to influence the party in some nominal way. Perhaps he's hoping to sway the platform a little to the right.

Good luck with that, Huckabee. The neo-cons have taken over the party and "The Little Man" is expendable. He's only catered to during election times, and it's through lip service only. Reaganism is dead, cash is king.

McCain (with his lovely yet strained looking wife) is taking the nomination. This, despite his blatant cronyism and repeated lack of impartiality which has been demonstrated throughout the years (and reported by the much-maligned but accurate New York Times).

The fact that George Bush Sr. is endorsing McCain should be a death-knell to his campaign. It's obvious that an endorsement from Sr. constitutes one from Jr. also. McCain should have begged the Bushes to stay as far away from him as possible. However, we can now truthfully say that in the political equation, McCain = Bush. There is no discernible difference of any note.

Then we have Obama Drama. Barack's supposedly taking his party by storm. We are treated to sound bites of hysterical females, adoring crowds, and a rather shrill wife who is intent on preaching that the youth of America need to enter public sector jobs rather than aspire to anything in corporate America. This, despite the fact that the Obamas make tons of money by having the right connections. They have hardly become the classic public servants that they're preaching about.

Michelle Obama tells people that they wouldn't be this successful if Barack hadn't written and sold 2 books. Baloney. My father is a very famous and highly accomplished author and there's no doubt that it supplemented his income, but authors don't make that much money unless they get massive blockbusters and movie deals.

Nope: The Obamas made their dough because of their education and connections, pure and simple. They gloss this over when speaking to the masses because it doesn't make them seem as accessible. It's hard to get an audience to identify with you when they sit down to do the math and realize that your family is making 10 times what their family is bringing in.

This blatant hypocrisy is obvious to the educated, but I suspect that Obama's target audience has a lower education than Hillary Clinton's followers do.

Another thing that bears out my belief that Obama's audience is generally poorly educated: Obama doesn't have a strong platform and doesn't tackle the important ideas. He's never impressed us with his great political savvy, his economics package, or his plans for border security. Nope! Instead we are told he's going to simply talk to every world leader (despot or not), and he's going to play nicely with others. His speeches are full of easy-to-agree-with platitudes and have the cadence of a tent revival meeting.

We're also told that Obama will tax us so greatly that we'll begin to speak longingly of Jimmy Carter. Now that is a sobering thought for those of us who remember those times of sacrifice. I would like to ask Obama why he is so intent on raising taxes instead of lowering spending. Sadly, both parties seem to have forgotten that practice.

Finally, Obama is potentially a Muslim. I've had alert readers that have pointed me to sites attempting to disprove this, but many people are not as familiar with the Muslim faith as I am (I've personally read the entire Koran and much of the assorted commentaries which are considered to be as important as the Koran itself).

Under the Muslim faith, it is perfectly OK to deny your faith and even practice another until your goals are reached. It could be that you feel your life is threatened, or perhaps that your political aspirations won't be realized if you admit to the faith. That's OK, say the devout Muslims, if lying about it temporarily will give you a greater chance to practice or spread it in the future.*

Under such beliefs, a Muslim can attend a Christian church, tell the world he is a Christian, and then make the conversion to Islam after he assumes office.

What about Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton is the candidate for the thinking Democrat. Her policies and ideas are sound and detailed. She's obviously given world matters a great deal of thought and could hit the ground running once she was elected.

But Clinton has some downfalls. One is her husband, Bill. Many people cannot think of Bill without the assorted scandals attached to him (because of Bill, we can talk about women who can "do a Lewinsky" and cigars became unfashionable in a relatively short time).

The Clintons are also tarred with the 'Insider' brush. People who are already good and sick of Bush (current Gallup approval rating: 31) and Congress (current Gallup approval rating: 23) don't want to see any more insiders.

Additionally, there are the men who are threatened by a strong woman and view her as shrill and perhaps subliminally feel that she is emasculating. I don't agree with this but although "we've come a long way, baby," we apparently haven't come far enough.

Hillary has no real plans to deal strongly with the illegal immigrant matter. Instead, she has a modified amnesty program that she would institute. She also has a record of being very anti-Christian and anti-military. We're still a nation that generally prides ourselves on the "God and Country" theme and these are tough pills to swallow.

However, Hillary would end the war and bring the troops home to a nation that is financially and emotionally drained by a war which we feel we could win, but don't want to. She also would be stricter than Obama in her dealings with world leaders and would not blithely waltz into the den of a despot. She displays none of the naked naivete that Obama shows in this matter.

However, Hillary and Obama are neck-in-neck. Every time a 'Super Delegate' defects, they make headline news. We're down to the wire. It now looks increasingly likely that Obama will win the Democratic nomination. What does this mean?

Studies show that (in general) Democrats are more highly educated than Republicans are. And in the Democratic party at this time, Hillary's got the intellectuals and Obama's got the rest. So, if Obama takes the nomination, where will the educated Democrats go? Will they join the relatively mindless masses that are caught up in Obama Drama or will they turn to McCain? After all, McCain is an acknowledged friend and colleague of Hillary's, and most people know that his beliefs are more closely aligned with her beliefs.

With the Republicans, we're dealing with a different set of people entirely. The educated Republicans range from Bill Buckley wannabes to Ann Coulter followers. They tend to vote Republican no matter what, as the alternatives usually have policies and beliefs that differ greatly from their own.

The uneducated Republicans tend to be the "good ole boys". These "good ole boys" are a throw-back to the deep south and the Jim Crow laws. Will they be willing to elect a black man to the Presidency or will they vote in another neo-con? My bet is that they will be voting for McCain.

To sum it up:

It's beginning to look as if the race is down to Obama vs. McCain. If intellectual Democrats cross over to vote for McCain, Obama will be the loser: He will not pick up many Republican votes, but he stands to lose many Democratic ones.

The country is facing a choice. Is it going to be "Four More Years", or even worse? I believe that the future is going to deliver McCain as President of the United States, and the lesser of two evils.

* Bukhari, vol. 4, book 56, no. 3030; Muslim, vol. 4, book 32, no. 6303; Qur'an 3:28; Ibn Kathir, vol. 2, 141-42