Monday, July 06, 2015

Slavery, the flag and the war

Is this flag offensive to you? It is to me. And with all the debate surrounding it's use of late, I thought it a good time to put my views on slavery, the flag and the Civil War out there.

Sadly, it took our country more than 100 years to recognize African-Americans as fully-ordained citizens. From being viewed lower than livestock during the first half of the 1800's to finally receiving equal rights in the 1960's, our treatment of our black brethren was shameful, at best. And slavery remains a stain on the fabric of our nascent history. It took a young kid from Indiana only one viewing of the "Roots" miniseries on NBC in the 1970's to realize the wrong that had been done to them. I was sickened by images of young female slaves being dragged off and raped by their white overseers. The miniseries made me angry, sad and sick to my stomach.

Likewise, the flying of the Confederate flag stirs up those same feelings, for when I see it, I imagine it's user being the most vile of southern racists, stuck in a pre-1960's mindset of intolerance and hate. That is what the "stars and bars" represents for many Americans. For that reason, alone, it is offensive and should be taken down from statehouses and halls of justice. And just what "heritage" does it represent, exactly? A southern heritage of intolerance, injustice, inequality and white privilege? Quite a heritage, I must say. And if, to you, it's nothing more than a battle flag of the failed experiment called the Confederate States of America (CSA), then why fly the loser flag at all? In most battles, the tattered flag of the losing army, in this case the CSA, is lowered and the victor's flag raised. The Confederate flag represents all the wrong things--losing, at best, and hate, at worst.

Finally, I've grown very tired of the Southern revisionists who would have us believe that the Civil War was not about slavery. It was only fought over issues like autonomy, states' rights and independence.

So was the issue of slavery really a catalyst for war? I think it was. So does this article from So does Christopher Dickey, who wrote of the radical southerners and successionists, "Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves—black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union." And I agree with him. Slavery was the economy of the South. Successionists wanted to preserve their way of life, a life made entirely possible by slave labor and the crops they harvested for market. Dickey purports, "The hunger for that fresh territory and the slaves to work it was insatiable...More land, more slaves, meant more money and more power to dominate the federal government and make it support people who wanted more land, more slaves and more money." In Dickey's view the South was a "slavocracy" because, as I've always argued, their economy was built on the backs of slaves. Thus, the preservation of that economy and the war they fought for that aim was, in fact, a conflict to preserve slave ownership, plain and simple. Yet, as the article in points out, revisionists have always tried to paint it as something else. All of their vain attempts to veil the true intent of the Civil War, using terms like "state's rights" and "preserving our heritage," is just wordsmithing to remove slavery from the vocabulary of war historians. Some of us are smart enough to see through that flimsy veil, even when modern-day racists raise it in defense of things, like the use of the Confederate flag.

That's my .02 on the issue. And please, quit telling me to revisit the history books. I'm quite well read, thank you.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Week from hell

Sorry but please allow me to vent...from my bench in the Tampa airport...where I'll probably spend the night.

I should have been hitting Louisville on I-65 in the next hour. Instead, it would appear I've headed the wrong direction. Let me backup to Thursday of last week to give you the full picture of how Karma's working against me.

The brakes on my Volvo went totally AWOL after picking my girls up from school. I managed to turn a potentially dangerous accident into a laughable fender bender. In fact, my girls and I laughed at our dumb luck. We were not harmed and their safety is my utmost priority. My car needed rear brakes last November, but short on the $500 needed I put it off. Now, I'm faced with a $1,000+ repair bill which is near what the car is worth. It is sitting at Vol-Car awaiting those repairs.

I didn't really have time to worry about the Volvo since my mom had major surgery scheduled and I was planning to go up and support dad this week. My car was definitely secondary. Mom made it through surgery and a partial day in ICU, but the wait on Tuesday was killing me...and I hated that I was not there. But I also knew that two of my sisters were there for her and dad.

My trip was planned for today so that I could help dad with his move to a smaller, more manageable house for him and mom as she navigates the effects of terminal illness. I really wanted to be there tonight. As you know from my intro, that's not happening.

Stuck in Tampa for the night, I only have funds to get back to Tallahassee tomorrow. Very bummed. Majorly disappointed.

I went round and round with Dollar Car Rental from Monday til this morning...always an issue with their debit card policy. I found a great round trip airfare from Tampa for less than the drive up ther in a rental, so I called a cab to get me from Tallahassee airport to the waiting RedCoach that brought me to Tampa. Bus fare was about equal to a tank of gas so that was cool. What wasn't so cool was RedCoaches' bus breaking down during a stop at USF, one half hour short of my airport destination. Split an Uber fare with another stranded passenger and finally made it to TPA just before 5pm. Problem is the Expedia fare that led me down here--which I could not book online due to traveling with cash in hand--was MUCH less than what I could actually fly to Indy on using cash at the counter. They wanted $350+ just to get me there. So travel plans now scrapped, I'm blogging from the arrivals area of Tampa International reflecting on this week from hell.

I'm very thankful that all the people I love most in this world are safe. That's the main thing. Mom is recovering and my girls are safe at home. I just hate the cruel tricks and curveballs Karma has thrown my way...and not sure what I did to deserve it. It's been an uber stressful week and I just wanna sleep in my own bed tonight.

---UPDATE 05/28/15---
Come to find out that part of my debit card troubles stem from a Hotwire reservation that I cancelled and even received email confirmation stating that my card wouldn't be charged. It was. What's more, the hotel that declined my card last night put a pre-authorization hold on my card that neither they or the credit union are willing to do anything about. I had both parties on the same call just now, each pointing the finger at the other. SO FRUSTRATING! I've run into problems every time I've tried to use my debit card this week. Good thing I carried some cash with me. So over this trip and this stressful week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SMDH, Hoosier State! GEEZ!!!

I'm going to post a parable of sorts. You know parables...the Bible is full of them.

Well, in this parable a 500-lb man goes to church/synagogue/temple/gathering everyday that they assemble. And after every assembly, this man drives his oversized vehicle to the oversized buffet at his favorite restaurant. While gorging himself on unhealthy foods, sending his blood pressure through the roof due to clogs in his arteries, he forgets that the plate which passed before him at assembly was largely empty. When it was passed, the assembly he attends was raising funds for starving children in East Africa. And though, he had a wad of cash in his front pocket, he let the plate pass by without giving it a second thought. While he consumed massive amounts of fried food at the buffet trough, another kid in Africa starved to death.

In this parable, you might say that the 500-lb man is a glutton. You might also note that there are plenty of Scriptures about gluttony. I haven't researched it on, yet, but I'd bet there are AT LEAST AS MANY references to gluttony as there are to, say, homosexuality. Yet, I've never seen one buffet, one church or one segment of the population picketed, singled out, ridiculed or "exposed" for their sinfulness because of gluttony.

Recently, the Hoosier State, that I'm sometimes ashamed to call home, passed a law allowing businesses to discriminate. And it's not gluttons they are targeting, but homosexuals. They aren't telling the world's greatest hypocrites to take their business elsewhere. Fornicators? WELCOME! Adulterers? Come and spend your hard-earned cash. But "the gays" better just keep on walking. Apparently, that sin trumps all others. And the guy in our parable is welcomed at church and the buffet line with OPEN ARMS.

Hoosier lawmakers, I'm ashamed of you. I really am. Why must you thrust our state back into the 1950's? What gives religious people--business owners or otherwise--the right to discriminate based on ANYTHING? And if you're going to call a spade a spade, well then let's get all the fornicators, adulterers, liars and gluttons lined up and labelled, as well. I hear the Germans still have a few of those yellow stars laying around, somewhere!

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Thursday, March 05, 2015


Let me just say that I'm not a gun rights advocate. I've never owned weapons of any kind, unless you count the rustic bow and arrow I made in Indian Guides. I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually fired a gun.

That said, I find some humor in memes like the one below that was recently posted to social media by an old acquaintance of mine.

I mean, just the image itself is comical. It's 2015 and you're posting pictures of our very first President from some 230+ years ago and what he said about bearing arms. Do you really think George Washington could foresee some disgruntled Montanan with an arsenal that would make some third world countries salivate? He wasn't advocating the individual rights of citizens to stockpile grenade launchers, automatic rifles or weapons of mass destruction. That's simply ludicrous.

I know there are some gun rights nutjobs that foresee a looming zombie apocalypse and so they have to be prepared, but for the sane among us, we trust our government and our military to protect us from national threats, and our law enforcement and National Guard to protect us locally. We have no real reason to suspect that zombies, or any other threat, will be travelling neighborhood-to-neighborhood or door-to-door wreaking havoc.

We don't live in 1776 among tyrants with their own militias. We don't have towns waging mini-scale wars against each other. Nor are we going to devolve into some third world country controlled by nomadic warlords anytime soon.

And how long has it been since we settled our individual disputes with guns anyway. Even people from Oklahoma to California don't draw weapons in the street to settle disputes anymore. Well, maybe if you live in Compton, but that's another culture altogether. This isn't the Wild Wild West, people. We settle disputes through our court system, not through vigilante justice.

So why do we blindly defend the 2nd Amendment, written in a different era by men who were forging a new government, as if it means every Joe Blow in 'Merica should own 20 guns?

Author Michael Waldman has studied the 2nd Amendment and has a keen perspective on what the original framers were aiming for. "But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there's simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias." (His full interview with Mother Jones is here).

We call them our volunteer National Guard now. They are the only militia we need. That is, unless you are some coked-out conspiracy theorist who believes our government--by the people, for the people--is so corrupt that it's out to kill us off one-by-one. Our government is NOT some other-worldly synod made up of cyborgs and Sith lords. They are just plain old citizens like you and me. Likewise, our "militia" is made up of mom's and dad's who sign up to be weekend warriors and stand ready to defend us.

Again, this isn't 1776, so for someone to post the meme above to Facebook is truly laughable to me. I'm really not scared that the British are coming. Nor am I worried that Blountstown is going to get so disgruntled with the way Tallahassee is running this state that they are going to take up arms and march down Highway 20 to bombard our city. At no time now or in the future will I have the need to take up arms against my brother over some land dispute. No, we will not be choosing weapons and marching any number of paces. I may choose to slap him with a pair of white gloves, but then it'll most likely just end in us rolling around on the ground, slapping and yelling profanities at each other. Ah, the good ol' days...but I digress.

We are a civilized nation. We've invested trillions into our national defense. And at the local level, we have armed security called Guardspeople and law enforcement officers. They are well equipped to defend us. So unless you live in Compton, do you really need that AK47?

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Grandma Jesus and you

Since writing about Hashbrown Jesus last week, I've gotten a lot of positive response about that post. My family especially liked it. I went back the next evening for a late night snack and to see if I could catch HJ's real name (it's Gary, btw), but he wasn't working. My waitress, however, was there and she verified his story--his name, how he lives, how long he stays and works the grill at Waffle House every year.

As I reflected on that today, I remembered meeting Jesus on Christmas Day last year. Yes, just one month and one day ago. She walks the Earth, known to her contemporaries as Ms. Annie, but she lives and serves in a part of town known by locals as Frenchtown. I'm going to call her Grandma Jesus because that's what she has been to hungry people at the holidays for seventeen years.

And just like HJ, you'll find her among the downtrodden, the outcast, the poor and the marginalized because she, but for the grace of God, is one of them. We are ALL one of them. But we don't realize that in stooping down to serve, we get more out of the encounter than those we mean to serve. And do you know why? Because THOSE people are Jesus!

Did He not say that when you give your coat to warm a homeless person, you are in fact helping Him? I take those holy texts very literally. I know that when I fill a cup with water at the homeless shelter, I'm not doing it for nameless vagrant with the smelly clothes, the mussed hair and the dirty fingernails. I'm doing it because I look into that person's eyes and I see the face of the Divine.

If we will go hang with the homeless, the destitute, the prostitute, the marginalized in our society, we will see Jesus. Why are so many waiting for trumpets and a second coming? He's here, already, and He told us to be on the lookout. He's not carrying any cross this time, except the one we label Him with--homeless, beggar, queer, freak...(insert any label you want, here). He'd certainly appreciate a dollar, a warm meal, a friendly smile or someone to wash His dirty feet.

Will that someone be you?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Evaluating Birdman

I was captivated by this movie from the opening scenes, the witty dialogue between actors Keaton and Galifianakis and the drum-centric soundtrack (note: the drummer makes a few cameos throughout the film). In fact, I'm going to have to say that this is my most favorite movie soundtrack EVER! The jazz drum soloing seemed to fit the movie perfectly, but more importantly it suited my tastes to a "T."

But it was more than witty banter and cool drums. This movie struck a chord with me that is still resonating in my innermost self. I likened it today to the way the movie "Dead Poets Society" stuck with me at age 21. This was the middle-aged version of that movie.

Obviously, it's resonated with many movie-goers and cinema critics, alike. Which in itself is quite funny, since the movie takes a scathing look at snobby, theater critics. It also seemed to this movie-goer to be an autobiography of Keaton's real-life career. It's not a stretch to see his Birdman persona as the Batman he portrayed, ironically, the same year that "Dead Poets Society" was released (1989).

But it was more than autobiographic. It was emotionally stirring and hit WAY TOO CLOSE to home. A middle-aged man struggles with the path his life has taken. You know, us 40-somethings love to take stock at the supposed midpoint of our lives (as if we're all going to live to the ripe old age of our mid-80's). He's frustrated with his career path and attempts to reinvent himself, pouring himself completely into what he sees as a more worthwhile pursuit. Aren't we all taking stock and trying to gauge what exactly our legacy will be?

More importantly, he reassesses his relationship with his estranged wife/significant other, his daughter and his current female friend/co-star. His daughter, played by a personal fave, Emma Stone (those eyes! those cheekbones! that wicked smile!!!), is a complete mess, thanks in part to her father's absence in her life. You know, girls need their daddy's quality time. He's pretty much cut to the quick by her in one scene. The look on Stone's face is priceless after she realizes what she's done to him with her sharp tongue. It's quintessential Stone. She's a great actress, just by her facial expressions.

And this is where I'll note what a stellar job the casting director did. Not only did the casting director do her absolute best, she chose some of my favorite actors, including Stone (as noted above) and Edward Norton. I have loved his innocent-yet-devious, childish mug ever since I first saw "Primal Fear," in which he played an angelic-demonic altar (alter) boy. Zach Galifianakis has to be my absolute favorite comedic actor of the millennial era. His muted antics are a perfect fit for the film, much like the kick-ass soundtrack. As I said, his reparte' with the lead man in the first 10 minutes had me laughing out loud. He's just a funny guy and his timing is spot-on! I'd love to see the outtake reel of he and Keaton, who is very funny in his own right (I submit "Mr. Mom" as Exhibit A).

So casting, music, storyline...everything was right with this picture! I didn't even mind the quirky ending, which was reminiscent of "Big Fish" (2003, Ewan McGregor). No, I left the cheap theater very pleased and entertained. Introspective, but in a good way. Seeing much of myself in Keaton's exterior character, Riggan Thomas, and "Birdman," the low-tenored voice inside him. The war he raged with himself, the demons he fought, were all too real to me (more than I'd care to admit, but I think I just heard a cat let loose).

I'd recommend this movie to any guy my age. I'll bet any of you 40-somethings who were once moved by Dead Poets will be equally entranced, moved and amused at this movie. I'll probably own it on DVD one day, but who knows. I don't own a copy of Poets. Maybe it was just the right movie at the right time. Still, go and see for yourself. I promise you, if you are a drummer, you will dig the soundtrack!

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

I met Jesus today...

...He was flipping orders of scattered, smothered, covered hash browns at the local Waffle House. Didn't catch his human name, but he's the graveyard shift grill cook there.

We struck up a conversation over my plate of browns, topped with scrambled eggs and thick, warm sausage gravy. I found out he has a "real life" down in south-central Florida where he runs a number of fresh produce stands. But six-months out of the year, Hashbrown Jesus lives in the woods...amongst the homeless.

I came to this divine revelation simply by asking about and old, homeless lady I had the honor of sharing breakfast with at that same counter only a month ago. It was Christmas morning and I found the only seat at the service counter, next to her. Wondering how this frail, little widow survived the cold nights of early 2015, I asked Hashbrown Jesus how she was doing.

He informed me that "Martha" (we'll call her Martha for this article), was doing fine and had been accepted into a home for women. At Christmas time, it had rained for days and Martha had complained to me that her tent had sprung a leak, so I dug up some dry things to give her to keep her warm. Well, come to find out, HJ was now the proud occupant of her tent and he'd secured it with a new tarp over the top.

He's one of the homeless who live in the woods near I-10 and US 27 here in Tallahassee. I don't know the precise location of the woods, but I suspect there are a good number of transient residents therein. I know of one other elderly lady whom he looks after while he's in town.

"I live as a homeless person, by choice," he tells me at my early morning breakfast. That way, he says, he can identify their needs, help them and relate to them better. If that's not being Jesus in the most real of ways, then I don't know what is.

And come to think of it, it's no surprise to me that we'd find Jesus out there in those woods amongst the homeless in modern times. We might also spy him frequenting a bar, a synagogue or the solitude of the trails around Lake Lafayette. Needless to say, he wouldn't have a home. He's not of this world.

Neither is Hashbrown Jesus. Who leaves the comfort of home for six months out of the year to live in the woods of north Florida where the December-January temps often dip into the 20's overnight??? "I keep warm with a small Coleman cooker. You know the kind with the green propane bottle?" I could just picture HJ huddled over a small fire, warming his nail-scarred hands over the blue flames on those wintery unFlorida-like nights. I imagine he has those ladies closeby him, sharing the warmth.

That conversation with HJ will stick with me for a long time. I am a better person for having met him this morning. I was both humbled and blessed by the encounter.

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