Two Years Down

Bill Maher: CNN, to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, is going to be replaying their original coverage of that day. Let’s just hope that President Bush doesn’t tune in and go "Oh, my God. They’ve done it again."

Real Time With Bill Maher, episode 4.13 (2006)

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A couple of years ago (two, to be a little too exact), Wife and I were doing our annual Pig Roast thing in the back yard. At that time, Wife was still GF. About midway through the festivities, I turned down the music that had been playing through our speakers and turned on a microphone I’d planted for the occasion.

I thanked everyone for coming and noted that I had an announcement for everyone. People have been asking about this, so we wanted our guests—friends and family, don’t you know—to be among the first to know that GF and I had gotten engaged, and that we’d set a date for the special occasion.

“And,” I continued, “we definitely expect all of you to be there. The date we’ve set is July 11, 2009.”

There was a moment of silence, and a little confusion. And then finally someone way in the back of the yard (to this day nobody knows who) piped up, “But…that’s today!”

That clock hasn't been correct since about an hour after we bought it. “Yes, it is,” I confirmed, and I stepped down off the deck and onto our patio. Pastor Lisa Arrington, who was at St. Luke’s Church nearby, had joined the party following the Saturday afternoon service and performed the ceremony right there.

Only a few people knew about the secret purpose of the party, and after the vows were spoken and several people had gotten up to say a few words of support, the party resumed. Go figure, we all got a little polluted that night.

There were several positive side effects of doing our wedding like this. First and foremost was having the happy presence of our family and friends without the bother of a Big Deal ceremony, or the pressure on the guests to dress up, or bring gifts, or anything else. We just went and got it done, and we did it for only a few hundred bucks total. If you count the cost of the patio and the pergola we’d installed (not specifically for the occasion but they sure came in handy), we were still under $3000 altogether. Money well spent.

Another plus was the ability of the party to bring our families together, not just for that day but for subsequent events and visits as well. Family members are making more of a point of coming to the Pig Roasts, so it’s turning into a multi-day event for the families involved.

Looking back, it's all good. On a related note, something that struck us as interesting was the level of commitment that our friends attached to the day. There are a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily commit to this sort of thing. Now, of course, some of them have distance issues, and others have scheduled events that they simply can’t miss (a friend of mine was also getting married that day—she got a pass). But for some people it was clearly a matter of “maybe we’ll come” with the unspoken subtext of “if something better doesn’t come up.” I don’t necessarily hold that against them; this is the way people are. But here’s the weird part: the people who heard about what happened at the party later on and who said to us, “Oh, if we’d know that you were going to do that, then we’d have come!”

I was going to turn this into a bit of a rant about people’s priorities, but I think I’m going to let that last one stand on its own.

Travel

There are a lot of places in the world on my “bucket” list.

I’m not an adventurer, not really, so it’s not as though I have any pressing need to, say, climb a mountain. Let’s face it, I get winded when I get up to answer the telephone. But I do want to see more of the world.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing an ad campaign that was pretty much everywhere. An image search wasn’t helpful, but in my memory there’s a kind of weathervane-looking object and the logo underneath: “See America First”. Apparently it was an outgrowth of a 1906 campaign that the train systems used to encourage travel to the West. I’m pretty comfortable with that idea. The United States is a pretty big place, after all: our climate runs from wintry most of the year to tropical; from lush growth to desert wilderness. I’ve seen a bunch of it, but I want to see more.

It’s kind of interesting to me how so many Americans are comfortable with traveling all over the USA but they get a little woozy at the idea of international travel. You’re going to Mexico? There’s so much to worry about, with the crime and the needing to know Spanish and all. It’s so different from, say, New York City. Heh. Africa? You need all those shots. Europe? You could find yourself driving on the LEFT. Canada? But, that’s like America, Junior. Even when it’s similar to us, we’re afraid that we might not be able to find a McDonald’s within a few blocks. That’s not really the case for me; I just want to see what else my nation has to offer.

crazy horse aerialI’ve been up and down the East Coast, thanks to my family’s Great Diaspora of the 1980s. I spent a weekend(!) in San Francisco; I think I’d like to go back there. I’ve been to southern Utah and at points in-between on the highway; I think I’d like to go again and actually be able to stay awhile here and there. I’d love to see Mount Rushmore and the still-in-progress Crazy Horse monument. I want to have a beer in Milwaukee, try to find the basement of the Alamo, have a steak in Kansas (Wife did this awhile back but she had it well-done, so it doesn’t count) and find out whether potatoes are all over the menus in Idaho the way crabs are in Maryland.

I need to devote more of my leisure time to this sort of thing; the overwhelming majority of my vacations are either to visit family or are quick “staycations” that do well for my budget but not my spirit.

That’s going to be a priority for me, before much more time has passed.

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If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

You Make the Call

Jack Sparrow: I'm dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly…stupid.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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This evening I realized that we were out of a couple of staples, so I headed down to the local SuperFresh, so that Wee One would have something for lunch tomorrow. It was one of those odd times when you go inside and it’s light out, and then you leave and it’s dark. As I got to my car, I was approached by a man. He told me a story about how he and a friend were installing a water heater on a street about a block from my house, and the job ran long and the guy paid with a check that they couldn’t get cashed and they were very low on gas and could I spare a couple of bucks?

I’m actually used to this sort of deal; it’s a common scam. Variations of it involve a need to get bus fare to get to thus-and-such location. Once, Daughter and I were in a rest area in Georgia when we were hit with the low-on-gas story. That’s when I came up with this response:

“Well…I don’t have any cash on me. But if you follow me to the gas station I’m happy to put a couple of gallons in.”

The guy in Georgia balked at the offer, but this guy went for it. I told him which station I’d meet him at and took off. He followed me down to the gas station and I put in $10 worth, which is more than I’d intended but still may not have been enough for his stated destination (Taneytown), given that they said they were practically on fumes when they got to the station. They thanked me profusely and offered me their information, or alternately for mine so they could make it up to me, but I let it go.

So maybe I got taken for ten bucks, maybe not. I look at it this way:

A little over ten years ago, I was in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City when I realized that A) It was after midnight and my monthly bus ticket had expired; and B) I didn’t have any money or credit cards on me. (I don’t remember why this was the case.) I had to ask a passing pair of strangers for two bucks so I could get home. They actually came through for me, but seemed suspicious when I didn’t head directly for a gate. I had to explain to them that I was going to the ticket vending machine for the bus ticket. You could give cash to the bus drivers then, but you got an attitude for it. At any rate, these folks came through for me and allowed me to go home, and if these guys were telling the truth, then I’ve finally paid the favor forward.

So was I a hero or a schmuck? You make the call.

Apology Tour

Blog posts often kick around in my head for awhile before I actually write them. This would be one of them.

There are invariably songs that connect us to our past relationships. Don't pretend there aren't. In the film High Fidelity, John Cusack plays Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list-maker. He visits the objects of one of his lists, his All-Time Top Five Breakups. The trips to each successive former girlfriend winds up being a tour of his midlife crisis, as he tries to explore the reasons for the breakups. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to confront some of my exes and try to finish the unfinished business, but I think this movie talked me out of it. I’ll tell you what, though: if you haven’t already, go to your Netflix and watch it. You’ll see exactly what a bunch of sad sacks guys are.

At any rate, here’s a taste of what I’d say to some of my breakups, in no particular order. I’m not naming names in this particular forum, but I may throw out a clue that the target may recognize.

  • You broke my heart, but in retrospect I realize that you were pretty broken, too. We were doomed from the start so it’s probably better that we never really got very far off the ground. I just wish you’d said something instead of letting me find out the hard way.
  • It’s telling that, after all this time, you still harbor so much resentment toward me. It sort of warms my heart that I’m still worth that much energy on your part.
  • We had a very rough breakup, but in the end I don’t harbor any ill will or hard feelings. And yes, I do have some good memories. In the long run you did well, and you Did It Yourself. Kudos.
  • I’m sorry things didn’t end the way I’d hoped they would. People have big mouths, and I was sick as hell the day I’d chosen to tell you (and you already knew). And the hell of it is, that wasn’t even the worst I’d done at breaking up with anyone.
  • Yes, I was bad, but kicking my broken limb wasn’t cool, even if you were angry with me. I’m glad we managed to get past that, though.
  • The last time we had contact was the day after Mother Theresa died. I wonder what happened to you?
  • We were the original On Again, Off Again couple. I was so easily distracted; I think it’s part of the reason that, in retrospect, I think I was kind of a jerk in my younger days.
  • My second Great Summer Romance started at the end of the summer and ran into October. I kind of wish you’d been more persistent (and I, less passive). We were both too neurotic to last, but it would have been fun for awhile longer.
  • One of the things that led to this post was the overwhelming sense that something bad had happened to you. I wrote you a letter but you never responded. I wonder why.

 

  • To the one I didn’t break up with: thanks for putting up with me.

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We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.

Remembering.

This was the cover of the New Yorker, 9/24/01. I still have a copy somewhere. The original doesn't have this much contrast between the foreground and background.

I still feel vaguely ill when I see these pictures. I was one of the people who—at first—was a little peeved not to see the ending of “The Celebrity Apprentice” back on May 1. But, of course, once the news of Osama bin Laden’s death came through, I (and, fortunately, most of America) stopped caring about Donald Trump and his games.

I’m not one of the people who actively cheered bin Laden’s death. I didn’t get a sense of closure out of it. I didn’t feel as though the world had changed back to its pre-9/11 state. But I did feel as though maybe a page had turned.

A short while back, I was goofing around with the Internet Wayback Machine and came across a piece I’d written a couple of months after that day in September. A friend of mine was assembling a website she’d called “Sorrow in America” and solicited pieces from a lot of people. Mine was one of the pieces she’d published. I reproduce it here with her permission. I can’t remember if I wrote the title or if she did.

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Visiting Home

In 1992, during an interview discussing fortieth anniversary of her reign in England, Queen Elizabeth described that year as the Royal Family's annus horribilus.

2001 will be remembered as mine.

In February my second marriage collapsed and I moved in with a friend until I could get my act together. The daily commuting distance from Long Island to Brooklyn, however, put such a strain on my finances that I was just about paying my bills, even though I paid no rent. I began making plans to move out of the New York Metropolitan Area altogether and in mid-July I finally made the leap, landing in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first time in my entire life that I'd lived more than 45 minutes' drive from the New York City line. I was now 200 miles from my ten-year-old daughter, I'd left my visually-impaired preschool students in the middle of their summer school program…I was running away. That's how some people put it, and there were times when I was forced to agree. But everywhere I turned there were reminders of failure and promises that weren't going to come true, and healing was impossible for me.

On Labor Day weekend I had my daughter with me and we were making plans for the next time she'd be down to visit with me. September 14 isn't so far away, I told her. She'll be busy with school starting and all that. It'll go by before you know it.

Of course, before we got to that day the world changed.

I remember being at work and we were in a training session when someone broke the news to us about what had happened. The trainers had little clue of what they were doing, so I was able to grab a computer terminal and see what was going on. This had to be a rumor. A bad one. Something in the realm of an urban legend, where it was just crazy enough to ring somehow true. CNN website? No access. MSNBC? Same thing. New York Times? Slow, but it worked. And Oh, My God it's for real. Opening multiple browsers and banging away at websites, trying to get in. Newsday was also slow but working.

The trainers droning on about a paperwork tracking software system that even they couldn't quite understand and chastising me every time they noticed that my terminal didn't look just like everyone else's. Word came in that one of the towers had collapsed. Apparently a training group in another room had given up on the training and was watching the television. We did the same, turning on the TV in our room.

Everyone in the room was startled and shocked. I was horrified, dumbstruck, numbed. It wasn't the same for them. For the rest of the people I watched with, it was a tourist attraction that had taken the hit. This was my home I was looking at, smoking and in ruins. When I was at work, those buildings were within sight. Whenever I'd driven back up to Long Island to visit my daughter, they were among the first sign of New York that greeted me as they peeked over the horizon before anything else. I was sickened, I was saddened, I was…was…there was something else gnawing at me beyond all this, but I couldn't figure out what.

The other building came down and I remember saying, over and over, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod" as the top of it started to go, that huge broadcast antenna tilting slightly to the side before the floors below finally gave way and the building collapsed almost straight down, joining its mate. Shortly after that, we got word that Baltimore City was shutting down. That was enough for us. We left the training center and headed home before we found ourselves among thousands of others trying to do the same thing.

Arriving home and turning on the TV and the computer at the same time. Still struggling with that last undefined emotion. Watching the footage of the second plane crashing and the buildings falling, over and over, as though they hadn't already been seared into my memory the first time I saw them. Looking for more information on the Web, suddenly remembering that other parts of the world have news websites, too. The BBC and The Guardian, both British sites, had much less traffic and were faster-loading. But I wasn't learning much new anymore. A big chunk of my home had been blown up. What more was there to know?

Calling my daughter. I knew she wasn't in Manhattan, but who knows. Getting the answering machine and leaving a message. It wasn't until several hours later that her mother (Wife #1) got through to me, using a cell phone because the land lines were so bollixed up. Talking to my daughter and telling her that I probably wouldn't be able to visit. Shit. Who knew that there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to come running when she needed me?

GUILT. I felt GUILTY that I'd left and now this happened. This was my punishment for leaving. "You don't want to be here?" asks Fate. "Fine, then I'll take it away." It's stupid, it's irrational, but it's how I felt. Still do, from time to time.

Going to work and pretending to function. What do these people know about how I feel? They never lived there. Going home and parking in front of the TV again. My roommate tiptoeing around me and asking me from time to time if: A) I'm OK, and B) If I'm sure I'm OK.

Flash forward a few weeks and I'm going up to see my daughter for the first time since all this happened. Some people who live within sight of the skyline are telling me that it's still smoldering, over three weeks later. Some tell me it's not. I'm not sure I can stomach this.

My entry into New York takes place at the Outerbridge Crossing, onto the southwest corner of Staten Island. Staten Island is the home of Fresh Kills Landfill, which was recently closed in order to be capped and whatever else they do with such things to make it habitable again. Fresh Kills was re-opened to give crews a place to bring, and then sift, the wreckage. From the Staten Island Expressway you can't see much of Fresh Kills, since the 'landfill' is now a 40-foot mountain lightly covered with grass, but it's an uneasy feeling to see those helicopters circling overhead…

As I pass Fresh Kills, the next thing I forget to expect is that trucks are bringing stuff to the landfill. The first truck I encounter is a flatbed tow truck. It carries a police car with its roof caved in. The hood has easily an inch or more of soot and ash. The next truck I pass has some random twisted metal on it. The third, a van with its windshield and front portion of the roof crushed inward.

The fourth truck looks much like the second, until some detail catches my eye and I realize that this one is not carrying random twisted metal. The whole thing suddenly comes together and I realize that it's the remnants of an utterly destroyed fire engine.

Only a few minutes later, as I cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I get my first look at Manhattan. The whole city looks…wrong, somehow. I know that the World Trade Center is missing, but Manhattan's skyline is several miles long. It shouldn't look wrong everywhere, and yet it does.

As I take the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway north, I'm treated to a front-row-center view of lower Manhattan. I don't see smoldering but I do see cranes. Their actual activity is, thankfully, obscured by some of the buildings that were spared. We hit a traffic jam and I'm left to stare at this image. I look to the right. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Citicorp, New York Life, McGraw-Hill…anything else I care to pick out is visible. I hold up one hand to block out the financial district. It's still looking wrong.

New York and I are miles and miles apart, yet still connected. The skyline that I grew up looking at is changed forever. I am changed forever. Annus horribilus.

Where I Bleed For Baltimore City Schools

Hilda Jones: Everybody should donate to the blood bank. What type are you?
Melvin Jones: Oh, the quiet type. I go to bed at nine o’clock, see a movie now and then, read some books, play checkers…
Hilda Jones: No! I mean what kind of blood have you?
Melvin Jones: Red.

Sailor Beware (1952)

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Today, despite it being my last vacation day for the time being, I went to the Puzzle Palace to donate blood.

I’d made the appointment awhile back, not realizing that it was also going to be a day that I wouldn’t be at work. Ah well, what are you going to do. Fortunately I’d set the appointment as being first thing in the morning, so the rest of the day would be available to me (even if I was working).

I nicked this artwork from the Frederick Red Cross. If my blood drops all looked like that, it'd be pretty cool. Also pretty creepy. Donating blood is a goodness, it’s an act of kindness, it’s a mitzvah. And the Red Cross Blood Services people are glad to have you come by and make the donation. Some quick facts:

  • A single pint of blood can save three lives.
  • Every two seconds, someone needs a blood transfusion.
  • 5,000,000 patients need blood every year. That’s just in the United States.
  • Less than 38% of all people are eligible to donate blood. If you’re giving blood, you’re special!
  • Making you more special: only 3% of eligible donors actually give blood.
  • Despite what they say on that HBO Show, blood can’t be manufactured. It can only come from donors.

OK, lecture over. The bottom line is, they usually go to some effort to make you glad you came. However…

…I’m on a phone list somewhere, so if it’s been awhile since I’ve donated, the blood bank will call and ask me to come in and donate. There are blood donation centers all over the place, so location-wise they’ve always been pretty convenient to me. The bad news is, when I make an appointment over the phone, it’s rarely kept. I’m treated like any other walk-in. So my expected one hour “door-to-door” time is usually two hours, or occasionally even three, which is totally crazy. Therefore, when the call comes, the conversation usually goes like this:

Blood Bank: There’s a critical shortage and we need your help blah de blah…
Me: I’m happy to donate; find me a blood drive please.
BB: Oh—well, uh, there’s a donation center in White Marsh and they’re open—
Me: No no, you don’t understand. When I go to the donation center, they don’t keep the appointment. Find me a drive, please.

Some of them are surprised by this, but they do find a blood drive and I go wherever they send me, which is its own brand of fun.

Baltimore City Schools has a drive every few months, and unless there’s a good reason I can’t, I’m usually there to donate. Oftentimes there’s practically a welcoming committee there, and you’re shepherded through the process and generally pampered, where they bring the beverage to you while you’re still bleeding out into the tubes. And usually someone from Central Office is around to make sure all is well and to give out some random token goodies, like some pens, or Post-it notes, or some such. This would be in addition to whatever the Red Cross happens to be giving away to the donors that day. It’s not a big deal but it’s a touch of nice.

What's fun about this photo, to me, is that so many self-portraits on the Internet involve a truncated forearm looking back toward the face. This is the reverse angle. I'm SO artistic! Today, however, was a little different. When I got there, they were still setting up a little bit; that’s okay, it’s early. Then the computer they use to check people in and do the health survey got a little wonky with the person ahead of me, then there was some other weird wait and I wound up being the only guy in the actual donation area while a half-dozen people piled up behind me. And at the end, the person taking my blood ran through the usual perfunctory speech in a perfunctory manner and pointed the way to the table at the end of the room. So I sat there alone, munching the chocolate chip cookies and watching them get other people started on their donations. Beverage? There was none. Nobody offered me one, nobody told me where one could be found (I’m a big boy; I can get my own if you tell me where they are). And nobody from Central was on hand.

Which is fine, given that I am, after all, on vacation and don’t need to talk any more shop than I have to.

We’ll Have A Gay Old Time

Barney: I do not support this!
James: What? Gay marriage?
Barney: No, Marriage!

How I Met Your Mother, “Single Stamina” (11/27/06)

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I’ve had numerous gay friends in my adult life (in my high school life, too, but they weren’t telling then), but recently I had the chance to attend my first gay wedding.

Tom Toles is an editoral cartoonist for the Washington Post, and he's got a deadly sense of irony. Click the picture to see more of his work.

The grooms in question are friends of ours who live nearby. They moved in about a year ago, and announced a short while back that they were getting married.

The catch, of course, is that in Maryland, you can BE married to someone of the same sex, however you can’t GET married to them. Maryland will recognize a marriage performed elsewhere, though. Maybe this was a “small steps” increment which went over better politically, I don’t know. But OK. So they made plans to go out-of-state and get the “official, legal, piece-of-paper” wedding done and over with, and then they arranged to have a bigger deal among family and friends here at home.

Wife and I have plenty of experience with throwing the big parties at home, so they came to us and we gave them some advice, some of which they took and some which they didn’t. No harm, no foul either way: it wasn’t going to affect their relative success or failure, you know?

The “official” wedding took place during the day on Friday, in what I’m sure was an extremely Federal-looking building down in Washington, DC, with only a few friends and family in attendance. By Friday night, however, the party had already begun. I’d been at a friend’s house, working on his computer, but when I got home at about 10:30 I heard Wife’s voice carrying from their back yard, so I strolled over. That launched two hours of drinking and chattering, after which Wife and I went home. We were told later on that some of them were up until 3:00.

The Big Day itself, we were running back and forth, helping them to get their stuff together and putting some of the last details in place for the event. They’d invited people to come over mid-afternoon, then there’d be another ceremony, in front of all their family and friends (those who were able to come, at least), and then the wild rumpus could begin.

arbor At one point Wife asked where the ceremony itself would take place, and someone pointed to a spot at the back of the yard. “Oh, that’s so plain,” she said. “We have to do something about that.” She and I had recently been kicking around the idea of purchasing an arbor for the back yard, so we decided to finally pull the trigger and make the purchase, assemble the thing and put it in their back yard for the ceremony. It looks kind of like the one to the right, except ours is made of metal and can be staked to the ground. Fortunately for us, assembly took only about twenty minutes. We carried the completed arbor to their back yard, which they thought was great. Then we ran back to our yard and grabbed a couple of plastic urns in which we’d planted flowers, and flanked the arbor with them. For a final touch we grabbed a pair of the dozen or so tiki torches that were around the yard and put them to either side as well. Instant Wedding Canopy!

This did NOT appear on top of their cake; they thought that this, or something like it, would look stupid. Instead they had an acrylic heart with their names and the date inscribed.  The ceremony was great, and I think this particular couple, upon sealing their vows with the kiss, received the longest sustained applause of any wedding I’ve been to. And, of course, the after-party was fantastic. Not only because this particular event had a higher-than-average percentage of good-looking women to scope out, but (also) because I think we made ourselves a few new friends that weekend.

The next morning we went over and I made breakfast for something like fourteen people (who were all drifting in, one at a time, as they woke up), and we got in a little post-party chatter before everyone went back home, or wherever their destination was for the day. And a great time was had by all.

To cap this post off, I’m reproducing the piece below. Despite my research, I couldn’t nail down the source.

Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Un-American

  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Best Wishes to the Happy Couple! And thanks for bringing our stuff back!

We Remember.


Chris Griffin: I was going to school, and this guy won't let me.
Peter Griffin: Oh yeah? Him and what army?
Chris Griffin: [points to soldiers in street] The U.S. Army.
Peter Griffin: Oh, that's a good army.

Family Guy, “E Peterbus Unum” (7/12/00)

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Hover your mouse over the photos to learn a little more about them.

War of 1812

The original Star-Spangled Banner pre-restoration) that flew over Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write what is now our National Anthem. The War of 1812 is the only war on American soil that involved Baltimore to any important extent, and the Battle of Baltimore is considered to be the turning point in the war. Go visit the Fort and be fascinated.

The Civil War

Graveyard of soldiers' graves in Savannah, GA, taken in 1865. The Civil War was 150 years ago and the memorials still feel very "our side" and "their side". p

The Spanish-American War

This is a stereogram of a 21-gun salute to soldiers who died in the Spanish-American War. Taken in 1899.

World War I

The World War One Museum is located in Kansas City, MO. Did you know that there is no national monument to World War I, and that the reason for that lack is bureaucratic bickering? As of today, we have exactly one living veteran of World War I in the US. Frank Buckles is 109 years old, and still lobbying for a national memorial.

World War II

This is the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, which opened a couple of years ago. It's located at the far end of the reflecting pool opposite the Lincoln Memorial. For all the visitors, it's a very peaceful place. Many people sit on the edge of the water and put their feet in, although they're discouraged by some of the signage. But in a way it's a form of communing with those to whom it's dedicated. There's a lot of detail that can't be captured in the larger photographs.

Korean War

Korean War Memorial. A short walk from the others, and yet it feels unfortunately overlooked. Coincidentally this is called "the forgotten war". There are 19 statues; when reflected in the wall making 38, as in the 38th Parallel.

A detail from the Korean memorial. The number under the boy's leg is 54,246.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Perhaps THE quietest place in DC. Look also for the statues dedicated to the soldiers and the nurses. The tour guides are great at this one.

Persian Gulf War

This is a detail from a larger memorial in Rochester, Minnesota, called the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial. It opened about ten years ago.

Iraq War

Proposal for Iraq War Memo
rial, Symbolic Transposition of effects of war in Iraq to the U.S. and England: 10 Downing St., Parliament, U.S. Capitol and the White House (detail), 2007, Sam Durant. This image comes up most frequently when you do an image search for an Iraq memorial.

Thank you all for your ultimate sacrifice.

My Food Is Holier Than Thy Food

Stanley Tibbets: [corrupting the Gestalt Prayer] I was put on this earth to do my thing…and you were put on this earth to do your thing…and if, by chance, our things should…meet…well, that’s groovy.

Foul Play (1978)

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Lots of people in the world appear to be able to agree with the basic tenets of “live and let live”, with the obvious exceptions. Your right to swing a fist ends where my nose begins, and so on. It doesn’t matter to me what you do with your life, so long as nobody is unnecessarily hurt. As Lazarus Long reminds us, “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful – just stupid).”

tigerbrit There are folks out there, however, who insist upon shoehorning some portion of their life into others’, posing it as some form of moral superiority. A good example of this would be back in January, when the Tiger Woods thing started to really break open. “Fox News Sunday” anchor Brit Hume commented that “[Woods is] said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'" In other words, My god is better than your god. That’s some strong stuff, coming from a guy who’s working on the Lord’s Day of Rest.

Frankly, I have no problem with people who hold a given point of view. I have many friends who are devout Christians who may express things as “God’s will” or feel that they’ve been blessed by something, and that’s fine. Whatever gets you to the next day is all right, in my book. I also have Jewish friends of all stripes, from the ones who walk to Temple all the way up to the ones who come to my house because I make a great shrimp boil. And if they express things in those terms, well that’s OK with me too. This may be a result of me growing up in a town that was probably half-Christian and half-Jewish at the time. Either that or I just happened to have a lot of Jewish classmates. If I find myself in Synagogue, I wear a yarmulke and do what’s needed. If I’m in church, I sit when I’m supposed to and I stand when I’m supposed to. My attitude is pretty much “Don’t jam it in my face and we’ll get along fine,” and that philosophy has carried me a long way, thanks. It never hurts to respect the other guy’s custom you know?

But this post, believe it or not, isn’t (strictly) about religion. So, before it veers into "some of my best friends are Jews" territory…

Most of you know by now that I stage a Pig Roast every year. It’s a fun little gathering that My Child Bride and I hold, “little” being defined rather like the wedding scene in the film Easy Money:

The point of the Pig Roast is to gather friends, co-workers and family together in one place for a day or so. Sometimes people come a long distance and stay in the area for a couple of days; those folks have the most fun, I think. I know of a couple of rather tight friendships that began at some of my parties, so for some they’ve been life-changers. So while a roasted pig is served, and is sort of the “centerpiece” of the day, it’s not really the point. As I noted above, I do have some friends who don’t eat the pork. I have others who don’t eat meat at all. These folks do not go hungry at my parties, any more than the people who don’t drink alcohol go thirsty. This fact, I stress repeatedly.

Having said all that, what I don’t understand is when someone feels compelled to RSVP something along the lines of “I’d come but you’re cooking a murdered animal and I can’t abide that.” This is an exaggeration, but not by much. Look, I get that you don’t eat meat but if you’re going to avoid every situation where meat is served then you’re going to be running in awfully small circles. And you’re certainly not going to convince me, or most of my friends, to come over to your side of the fence with inflammatory language, any more than Tiger Woods would be convinced by Brit Hume’s comments. So I’m not really sure what the point of expressing it that way would be, other than to express some sort of moral superiority gained through diet.

There are people who don’t really like to see the pig roasting. That’s fine, I get that. It’s especially odd-looking when you first put it over the heat. It’s one of the reasons that we cook it in the alley beyond the fence; you have to make a bit of an effort to go see it. See? I have some sensitivity.

The part I don’t get is, if I invited the same group of people to, say, a Christmas Party, it’s not as though I’d get a bunch of people declining to come “because we don’t believe in Jesus Christ and can’t be around people who do.” I did once make the mistake of inviting a Jehovah’s Witness to a birthday party; their reply was a polite “no, thank you.” I didn’t get a sermon on the reasons why JWs don’t celebrate birthdays (it’s an interesting reason, though). So why the proselytizing on this subject? I don’t know.

I’ve spent a long time composing this post because I don’t want to anger anyone or hurt feelings but I realize that in the long run, that’s probably impossible. I will say this: this is not directed at either AW or LM; you handled it just fine so far as I’m concerned. But there have been a couple of other people…wow.

This is not going to get into a debate on the merits of vegetarianism vs. carnivorism or omnivorism (and I promise I’ll delete any comments which do go that route); the fact is that, unless you’re growing literally everything that you eat, you’re contributing to the death of animals. Do you think someone walks ahead of the combine swatting mice and rabbits out of its path? However, what I’m unclear on is why this particular group of people feels it necessary to couch their reply to a party invitation in rather rude terms. Come on, people, I just thought it would be fun to hang out for an afternoon.

The English Language is At Hope

Carter Tibbits: Whoa! Whoa! Stealing to impress your father! You know, Rory, I run a program for at-risk youth, such as yourself…
Paul Hennessy: He's not at-risk!
Carter Tibbits: If I had a dime for every parent who ever said that…

8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (2/25/03)

————————-rosa franklin

I heard a news item yesterday that state Senator Rosa Franklin, a legislator in Washington State, apparently feeling the pain of her less-fortunate constituents, is proposing that children or families who are currently considered to be “at risk” have to bear the unfair burden of a pejorative term used about them, specifically: “at risk”. Her suggestion is that it be replaced by the softer, more positive, almost New Age-y, “At Hope”.

See, this is why Washington State hasn’t made any significant contributions to the nation since Cobain blew his brains out.

Franklin apparently nicked the idea from the name of a national organization called “Kids at Hope”. Oddly enough, the director of that group isn’t thrilled with the idea because KAH is more inclusive that just the poverty-stricken.

Now, I understand the need for some political correctness these days. Sometimes a word will become pejorative and no longer acceptable. “Retarded” is one of them. It’s become a catch-all and a word so laden down with meaning that many jurisdictions have begun to abandon it. So, “retarded” is out, “intellectually disabled” is in. Parents who would balk at their child being considered mentally retarded are perfectly all right with their child being “intellectually limited” or “intellectually disabled” or even a “slow learner” (a handy phrase we like to use for the youngsters with the low IQ who don’t meet the standard for retardation intellectual disability).

But “at hope”? No.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a semantically null phrase. It means nothing whatsoever. For whatever faults it may have, “at risk” (which replaced “disadvantaged”) at least has some kind of meaning behind it. Something needs to happen to these youngsters, because they’re at risk of some kind of danger, usually multiple kinds. So there’s a certain necessity in the vagueness, because some kids are at risk of abuse, some are at risk of hunger, some are at risk of violence, and some are at risk of all of the above, or perhaps even something else.

weneedfoodAnother problem is that it’s misleading. If you hear that a child is at risk, you’re likely to take some action if you can. If they’re “at hope”? Hey, help is already on the way; what do I need to do? Nothing, that’s what. So my suggestion to Senator Franklin is that she concentrate on something that matters, not intellectually disabled (heh) stuff like this.

Ooh, and here’s an interesting detail: as of 2008, only 20% of people living in poverty (in the US)are children. (Details can be found here.) What are we supposed to call the other 80% of those people?

In the end, the difference comes from what we actually do for these folks, not the labels we apply to them.