Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's time for a confession. One I've kept to myself for a long time, but I just can't find a reason to suppress any longer.

I completely love Christmas music. And uh-oh, what do you know -

"Well sure," someone said to me when I told this to them, "it's after Thanksgiving now, it's okay to listen to it."

But that's not what I mean. I love Christmas music. All the time. From New Years Day to New Years Eve. I love just about every kind of Christmas music. I love the old stuff, I love the new stuff, I love Christmas raps and Christmas song parodies. I love the songs about Jesus and the season, and the stuff about Santa and reindeer. About the only songs concerning Christmas or its indices I don't enjoy are "The Christmas Shoes," (maybe the most unnecessary song ever written) and anything wherein Santa is at the beach because that's soooo zany.

A sand snowman? Too wacky for me, Caillat.

No, I can listen to Christmas music with almost the same enthusiasm as I would Guns n' Roses, or Journey, or anything by the Muppets.

This is the greatest thing ever.

Maybe if there was good Hanukkah music out there I could include some of that, but whoever is in charge of our media conspiracy decided that our most popular songs about the holiday would just be lists of famous Jews..

This one keeps getting left out for some reason.

So all I wanted to do today was talk about some of my favorite Christmas songs, and share what you'll hopefully find to be some pretty good renditions of them.. Be warned that this post is going to be pretty video and link-intensive, but I'm sure we'll all have a good time at the end. So grab some hot cocoa, warm yourself by the fire, and, as I know we need it now more than most years, let's all share some holiday cheer.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I don't know how, and I don't know when, but whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, I will make this a country where no parent ever has to worry that their child might not come back when they send them off to school.

I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

5 Reasons Joe Biden Won the Vice Presidential Debate

On the eve of the second Presidential debate, or Debate 2: Bate Harder, the results of the Vice Presidential confrontation a few days ago are quickly being forgotten. Here at Hofstra, campus is an absolute maze of news cameras and Secret Service, all focused on the two Presidential candidates. In my opinion, now is the perfect time to refresh our memories as to what exactly happened in the last debate, which people seem to be having trouble deciding who won.

Some very reputable and trustworthy news organizations are touting Paul Ryan as the winner. A number of polls indicate that the public considered it to be a tie. I think a lot of people with those viewpoints don't really know what "debate" means. Here's why it's pretty indisputable that Joe Biden scaled Ryan's harrowing widow's peak to become the clear victor.

5) He Was a "Bully"

A number of people keep pointing out that Biden continually interrupted Ryan, acted condescending by laughing, rolling his eyes, and smirking as the VP candidate spoke. The most overwhelming assessment of these actions were that Biden was "a bully."

So what's a bully, exactly?

A bully is what we call someone we see beating up somebody who can't defend themselves.

I do remember Biden stuffing Ryan's shirt with crud.

Neither of the candidates were completely honest up there, though Ryan did perhaps a bit more stretching of the truth than Biden. Joe did what Obama was not willing to do during the first debate - get up and in Ryan's face when he started lying. The most widely held reason people think Obama lost the first debate despite the fact that Romney told 27 lies in 38 minutes is that the President looked like he was floundering out there. His poise, his demeanor, his tone all bespoke a man who didn't want to be where he was. Romney, on the other hand, went on the attack, and no matter what he said, he looked good saying it.

Now the tables are turned. Biden put up a clear message of "I'm not putting up with any of that bullshit," and hammered back at Ryan on every point the Congressman tried to make. If Biden was a bully, it's because he made Paul Ryan look weak and ineffective by comparison. Detractors latched on to his attitude and confrontational demeanor because it's not like they had a lot of ammunition to hit back with otherwise.

Come to think of it though, Ryan does work out a lot.

4) He Looked Like a Human Being

                                                                               Image Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Paul Ryan is given credit for maintaining his composure and appearing dignified while accepting the beating he received. People have been pointing to his steadfast refusal to blink as a sign that he was doing a better job connecting with the audience. Biden's relaxed posture, eye-rolling, and laughing weren't "Vice Presidential," and so Ryan took that battle.

This is why we can't have nice things.

But if you go back and watch the video, you see a lot of Ryan staring ahead, grim-faced, while Biden enacts more or less the same body language Mitt Romney had in the debate he "won." The only difference being that Biden actually threw in some human emotion and reaction.

The people who want to make this argument are trying to have it both ways. If Obama is stoic and professional, he loses against a more animated and aggressive Mitt Romney. When Ryan is exuding the physical responsiveness of a coma patient whenever he's not speaking and Biden presses the assault, he's a bully and Ryan is "Vice Presidential."

Biden looked like a person who couldn't believe what he was being made to argue against. Ryan looked like he was trying to keep every muscle flexed at once throughout the entire hour and a half.

Even - especially - his face muscles.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Out to the Ballgame

As I mentioned last time, I've wanted to talk about sports for awhile. As baseball season winds down, football season picks up, and hockey season is cancelled, it seemed like a good time to broach the topic. Now, this is normally the territory of fellow Gentleman Max Nova, but as I seem to carrying the banner solo for the time being, I'll step in where he would normally fill the gap.

Besides, he only talks about soccer, and that's lame.

Don't be bringing that noise in here, Max.

This summer I was given a challenge. Follow a sports team. I should clarify; I have "teams," I guess, and like pretty much anybody else they're the teams my family told me to like. My ancestry dates back to New York since the hipsters of the day were telling everybody how New Amsterdam was just so over, so the Giants, the Yankees, and the Rangers have been pretty much all I've ever been required to pay attention to for the sake of familial obligation. Actually, nix the Rangers from the list. No one in my family cares about hockey.

No, for the sake of this challenge, I was given two very specific rules. First, I had to follow a team. Watch their games, learn their players, and keep up with their standings heading into the playoffs. I thought that would be pretty easy; I'd just keep up with the Yankees. Then came the second rule. No Yankees. The Yankees, I was informed, don't count. It's not really being a sports fan if you follow the Bronx Bombers, for reasons I'll get to later (since I didn't understand at first myself).

So at first I thought, "okay, I'm living on Long Island, the heart of Mets territory, I'll root for the Mets." Then I quickly had the follow-up thought "why would I ever, ever do that to myself?" A better candidate immediately came to mind - the boys from my adopted state of Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles. Also, since the Yankees used to be the Orioles, I thought this was a clever work-around of the second stipulation.

Those pinstripes aren't an accident.

Now, the Os have had a fantastic season. At the time of this writing they're still in the playoff race, had just as good a year as the Yankees did, and gave me some really good moments and good stories.

They also made me realize why I will never, ever be a real sports fan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Texts From My Father

I'm going to give you a brief introduction to my dad. My father is a person who, on the same day he gave me a copy of The True Believer and emphatically insisted I read it, happily displayed the new "Proud Tea Party Member" hat he received at the county fair.

So that pretty much covers everything you need to know for this.

I'd wanted the first time I wrote about Dad for These Gentlemen to be the story of how just this summer we went to a ball game together for the first time. It was going to be part of a larger sports-related post I've been working on for awhile, talking about making a dedicated effort to follow a team this summer, tying it back into my mentioning of the Orioles in my post about Otakon, and making a number of other observations and witticisms. Oh, it was going to be a great post. It'll still come, eventually. After yesterday afternoon happened though, it's taking a back seat.

I woke up yesterday morning to find I'd received a text message from my dad, with the following instructions. "Watch CSPAN2 1030AM this morning, discussion to follow."

My first impulse was immediately to just send back "sorry, don't have TV in the dorm," but for whatever reason, I decided to check CSPAN's website and sure enough, there's a live stream of all their programming. I looked at my schedule for the day. Reading, some volunteer work, and then maybe working on that aforementioned sports post. It was already after 10, nothing I was going to do was going to get started in the next 15 minutes. I waited until 10:30 rolled around and saw that there was some book talk going on, with an author deceptively named John Goodman touting his plan for health care reform. I watched the brief interview, sent my dad a text reading "anyone who says we should open up insurance across state lines is arguing for universal health care and doesn't realize it," and left it at that.

Then, compelled my reasons unknown to me, I kept the stream open. A reflexive groan escaped my lips as the segment ended and the next speaker came on. Dinesh D'Souza, talking about his new book, where he lays out exactly what a second term for Obama would look like. I decided to listen for awhile, but turned it off as soon as he broke out the "you didn't build that" line everybody with any kind of anti-Obama agenda has been ripping out of context for the last month or so. Man, I was glad my dad wanted me to see the book guy and not D'Souza.

So yeah, the next text I got back was "What? Did you see D'Souza?"

Just to sum up, D'Souza's latest argument is that the President has shaped his entire life and ideology through his father, whom he met once, 40 years ago. Not only that, but that his father had a friend who was an anti-colonialist (and Obama never met him at all), and so this friend influenced Barack Sr., who in turn influenced the President, and so now he's a rage-filled anti-American socialist who wants to tear down society. You know, I totally get that from his speeches, I don't see why so many other people don't hear it. The crux of D'Souza's contention comes from the fact that Obama titled the memoir he wrote about Barack Sr. Dreams From My Father. By saying "from" instead of "of," D'Souza posits, he means he's . . . you know what, it's easier at this point to just say D'Souza's entire argument is preposition-based and leave it at that.

What followed was a back-and-forth with my father I found noteworthy enough to record for posterity. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Conventional Wisdom

Several years ago, I had the chance to go spend a weekend in Toronto with a good friend of mine who was there for grad school. It just so happened that the Toronto Fan Fest was happening at the same time I would be there, and a favorite webcomic artist of ours, Ryan Sohmer of Least I Could Do, was looking for booth babes. As my friend is both a) a babe, and b) happy to let people give her things in exchange for being able to admire her, she applied for and got the job. This meant that we both got to go to the convention, and I wandered the floor taking in the sites while she hawked books while wearing a chain mail bra.

This was the first time I'd ever been to a convention for anything. Several friends of mine had sung the praises of New York Comic Con, and I'd heard of a few others happening in places I'd lived, but I never had the time or inclination to actually attend. Also, throughout much of college I was in a phase of my life where I was very concerned with my outward persona, so letting people know I read comic books? Watched anime? Had - gasp - seen all of Star Trek? These things were not topics I brought up outside of the presence of two or three friends from high school, why would I intentionally go to a convention advertising my interest in all that nerd stuff?

I'll tell you why, because that nerd stuff is awesome.

Walking through the convention in Toronto, being inundated by booth after booth from major comic book companies, indy film studios, costume makers, video game companies, artists, designers, - this place really had it all - I was struck by how many amazing things I loved they'd managed to cram into one place. Even more amazing, all those things I loved, there were people walking around in costumes dressed up like the characters from them! That's a thing you can do?! Before that point I'd always imagined "dressing up for a convention" was for people who had a Starfleet uniform in their closet.

I was wrong. I was stunned by how accurate and well done these costumes were. Everybody was there; there were Spider-Men, Batmen, Jokers, Ash's from Evil Dead, people from anime, people from movies, whole groups of people in coordinated costumes walking around. A patrol of Storm Troopers was walking the halls. Street Fighter characters would assume fighting poses for mass groups of photographers. People in steampunk outfits wandered around next to cylons. This place was like nothing I'd ever seen.

And I knew as soon as my friend and I left the floor that day; this is something I wanted to do.

At least once, sometime in my life, I wanted to get a costume, go to a major convention, and just walk around.

Unfortunately, as time went on and my Toronto experience faded, it seemed like that goal was going to be lost to me. The opportunity never really arose, and I never put much time into seriously pursuing it. I would bring up the idea from time to time, but usually the case was had neither the time or the money to put an outfit together, I didn't know whom I'd want to dress up as, there wasn't any convention conveniently nearby, or some combination of the three. Ultimately, I had pretty much forgotten the whole idea.

Until earlier this summer, when I got a phone call from my friend Matt.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Talk

"Son," I called into the next room, "would you come in here, please?"

"Coming!" His reply made me sigh unconsciously. The falsetto squeak of my young teenager's changing voice was just another reminder of how quickly time goes by. "What is it, Dad?"

"Put your game down," I told him, and he could tell right away I was using my "serious" voice. I remembered having the same feeling of anxiety he was feeling whenever I heard that voice from my own parents. Fortunately - or unfortunately - for both of us, I wasn't going to yell at him, or question him, or punish him.

No, as his sixteenth birthday loomed, and soon he'd be taking girls to prom, asking to stay out all night with friends, and driving his own hovercar, it was time to have "The Talk."

I gestured for him to come sit next to me on his hoverbed. "Son," I began, clearing my throat, hoping my own nervousness wouldn't show through, "it's time we had a talk."  I gave him a meaningful look. "THE talk."

"Aw, Dad," he hung his head down, kicking his feet, "We have the googlenet, I know about sex and stuff."

"I know, but it's not enough to just know the mechanics. Pretty soon you're going to be going out with girls or attractive robots, and I've got to make sure you understand there's a big responsibility that comes with it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well son," I took out the box I'd been sitting next to, the awkwardness of the moment startling even me. "if you're going to have sex, you've got to use a condom."

"Daaaaaad!" He was just as embarrassed by the whole thing as I was, but I knew this was important.

"This is important," I pressed, letting the box of hovercondoms float next to him, even while silently wondering if maybe mankind had gotten overzealous with hover technology. "Sex is a wonderful thing, but it can carry some heavy consequences. If you're not careful, you can get a girl pregnant."

"What?" He seemed genuinely shocked. "Babies come from sex?"

"It's true," I affirmed, "but these will help prevent that from happening."

He took the box and looked it over, quickly putting it to the side, clearly feeling uncomfortable. "Okay, okay, use condoms, I got it. But, why, Dad? I thought women could choose when they can and can't get pregnant?"

"Oh ho ho," I laughed heartily at the youth's ignorance. "No, son. And don't say that around women, it's very offensive. See, they have no control over it - unless they get raped."

"Really?" He seemed confused, but I could understand why. No one had really thought that way until Senator Akin, many years earlier, had brought light to the scientific fact.

"You see, son, when a woman really gets raped, she secretes a certain secretion and keeps herself from getting pregnant."

"What do you mean, "really" gets raped? And aren't you thinking of ducks?"

"Well, to answer the second question first, we all used to think so, but a very smart man named Todd Akin, who was a Senator in Missouri, showed us all we were wrong using testimony from a real doctor. When he first said he heard that from a doctor, even I thought he meant like, a chiropractor, or maybe someone whose last name just happened to be "Doctor," but no, it was a real, actual doctor. And he taught us all a valuable lesson about how women get pregnant. If a woman is forced into having sex, she can't get pregnant."

"But - how does that work? If babies come from sex . . . "

"Ah, but going back to your first question, a woman's body is an amazing thing. If she doesn't want it, her body will shut down the baby-making stuff and she'll be alright. That's why, thanks to Senator Akin, we outlawed the morning after pill. It was just one more way for women to think they could have sex without consequence."

"Wait a second," my son said, mulling that over in his teenage head, "there are other ways to prevent pregnancy and we outlawed them?"

"Of course," I said, "sex is a huge responsibility, and making it safer for everyone involved just encourages more of it. Since we know women who are legitimately raped can't get pregnant, it means that all those women who had abortions or took emergency contraception were lying about being raped in the first place. And that's terrible son, rape is a horrible crime and those women are bad people for lying about it."

"Is that really true?" He seemed more confused than ever. I felt bad for him - I knew this was a lot to take in, and a young, hormone-addled mind could become overwhelmed by all the science.

"Hey, Senator Akin was on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, so I trust him to know what he's talking about. It was thanks to him that we finally got rid of birth control being covered by health insurers and passed that Constitutional Amendment banning all forms of abortion."

"So, so . . . " I could hear the gears turning in his head as he tried to wrap his head around it, "women have no right whatsoever to choose when they want to start a family? If they want to have sex, it's all up to luck?"

"Luck and condoms, son," I told him solemnly, "luck and hovercondoms."

"But . . . Dad, that sounds really, really unfair to women."

I shrugged. "I used to think so, too," I recalled, "because no matter how strongly I felt we should be focusing on making a nation where women had enough options that they'd never feel like abortion was all they could do with an unwanted pregnancy, I knew at the end of the day, it wasn't my choice to make. But since Senator Akin made it clear that way of thinking just encourages women to lie about rape, I had to change my mind. That's why you wear a condom, son, every time." 

That wasn't the whole truth, though, and if nothing else I wanted this talk to be thorough. "But," I started to clarify, "if you maybe find a girl with enough money to pay for her own birth control, then it's okay not to use protection."

"Really? But . . . aren't there like, diseases that come from sex?"

Now, this was an important question, and I wanted to make sure that my son and I were on the same page here. I looked him square in the eye, putting my hand on his shoulder. "My boy," I was using my "serious" voice again, "you know I'll love you no matter what, right? No matter what, I'll always be proud of you, and I'll always support you." He nodded, though he was clearly confused. "Son, are you gay? Or . . .hoversexual?"

"No," he said, shaking his head, "I know I like girls. I mean, I REALLY like girls."

"Good," I breathed a sigh of relief, since that made this next part of the talk a whole lot easier. "In that case you've got nothing to worry about, since you can't get AIDS through heterosexual sex."

"Is that true?!" He exclaimed, looking more surprised than ever.

"It is," I assured him. "If you were gay, we'd have to talk about all kinds of safety precautions and preventative measures, but as long as you stick to girls you'll be okay."

"Wow," he was trying to process everything he'd just learned. He took the box and looked it over, the flush of embarrassment coming back to his cheeks. "Okay, okay," he said, his teenage irritability surfacing, "I think I get it. Can I go now, Dad?"

"Alright son, but remember everything I said today."

"I will, I will!" He dropped down to the floor, scooping his game off of the dresser. He stopped at the door, looking back at me with a smile. "Hey," he offered meekly, "thanks, Dad."

I smiled as he walked back out into the hall. Parenting is a big challenge, but knowing I'm sending my kids out there with the right information made me feel pretty darn good about myself.

When it comes time to tell my daughter how it is, though, I think I'll leave that up to her mother.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guest Gentleman: Libertarianism

Today's post comes to us courtesy of K. Cerqueira, an educated gentleman who will today teach us a little more about the philosophy behind Libertarianism.

"There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal." - Hayek

Quick philosophy lesson kids, you've probably heard this one. Say you're standing next to a train track shortly before a fork junction. On one side, 5 people lay tied up, and on the other side there's this fat guy. There's a switch in front of you that you can pull to flip the fork, sending the train to kill the fat guy while saving the other 5. What do you do?

Well there was this guy called Kant who didn't precisely have an opinion on this question (it was devised later by dumber philosophers who write useless papers for a living, in between giving puerile lectures at diploma mills) but he did have this to say about it: every action you take should be in accordance with some universal law which is applicable in all situations. A set of such universal moral laws is called a deontology because it proscribes a set of duties. So if your deontology says something like, thou shalt not murder, then the particulars of the situation, i.e. the very contrived way in which the consequences are set up, don't really matter. You'd be killing a guy by pulling the lever, so you can't contradict yourself by doing so. There are further complications in this example but we aren't philosophers playing fucked up language games, so let's keep it simple.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


At the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman later identified as James Holmes kicked in the emergency exit, threw down a smoke grenade, and created the worst mass shooting in American history. 12 dead, dozens more injured. There are no words of condolence strong enough, no way to empathize with the victims who were in the midst of the horror.

Those injured in the attack included a 3-month-old child and a 9-year-old girl. Most of the patrons of the theater that night were teenagers or young children and their parents. Children as young as 6 lost their lives to an incomprehensible act of violence. It's the kind of insanity that, struggle as we might to make sense of, more often than not we simply can't.

Not that we won't try. The news cycle will be dominated in the days and potentially weeks to come by coverage of the shooting. James Holmes will be picked apart by the press. His friends and relatives will be interviewed, and those interviews replayed on a constant cycle. The survivors will be heavily sought after to retell their harrowing stories of being inside the theater when the shooting began. 

They'll wonder about drugs. They'll wonder about the internet. They'll wonder about the influence of violent comic books, video games, and movies. They'll do anything to find out what makes Holmes tick.

And of course we'll see the conspiracy theories. It's a plot by the government to suppress the Second Amendment. There's a method to the madness. That makes it easy to explain, easier to digest. We can't understand how someone could behave in such an inhuman manner, so we create a story. A planned act, a shadowy conspiracy - that sparks the imagination. That gives us a narrative we can break down and comprehend.

Because it's just easier than facing up to that there is insanity in the world, and insanity does things we can't understand. Having a reason we can wrap our heads around somehow makes us feel safer than facing the reality that some things are beyond our understanding. Especially when it seems we hear the same story repeated a different way so many times, over and over again. Aurora. Fort Hood. DC. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Columbine.

Inevitably, the conversation will take a turn towards gun control. Questioning how we can prevent this from happening again in the future. For the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, there is little we can do at this point except offer our sincere prayers and sorrow. For the future, maybe there is something we can do and maybe there isn't, and that's what I'd like to spend a moment talking about now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Corel and the Magical Instant Insurance Policy

"Dammit," I swore, realizing that the touch screen on my phone had once again become completely borked for no reason. What had been working fine an hour earlier had inexplicably decided to cease acknowledging any touch anywhere on the screen except the bottom, and insist that I was ALWAYS pressing whatever was on the bottom. After preventing it from sending out twenty or so blank text messages, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to go get it fixed. Counting down the days in my head once again until my contract runs out and I toss this thing away forever, I sighed and drove out to the phone store in the mall.

Despite the line being long, they managed to shuffle through the people ahead of me quickly. This was a relief as I recalled the previous two times something had gone wrong for no reason with my phone and I'd needed to wait in line for an hour before I was even seen. Soon I was at the counter, and next to me was a woman who appeared to be in early middle age, but perhaps aged a bit more by the two children with her. While her son, who was perhaps as old as 6, sat somewhat quietly by her side, her daughter, a tiny blond bottle rocket who couldn't have been much older than 3, was talking up a storm to no one in particular.

"So yeah, we should be able to put on a new touch screen," the guy behind the counter explained. "Let me just go make sure we have this model."

While he was in the back, the 3-year-old managed to get herself out of her stroller and hopped up into the chair beside me. "Spin, spin!" She shouted towards her mom, who was talking with another sales clerk about buying a new phone, and began twirling around in the chair. "Spin, spin, spin," she sang, as her mom tried her best to ignore her and finish what she was doing.

The guy helping me emerged from the back, a package in his hand. "Got it," he declared, "we can go ahead and put this on for you, but it will cost $35."

I strummed my fingers against the counter. "Are you sure about that price? This is the third time I've had to come in and get this phone fixed since I got it, and it's always the touch screen. I haven't gotten it wet, I don't pound on it, it just stopped working."

"Yeah, I can see it's in good shape," he conceded, "but you don't have any insurance on it or anything. Even the 1-year plan is gone. I can't give you a $35 part from Sprint and then not charge you for it, because then the store eats the cost. Well, hold on, let me check to see what I can do."

He then went to do the same thing I would do when I worked in insurance, or a few retail jobs I held. Pretend to check the computer and actually just reread all the same customer information, arbitrarily clicking your mouse now and then, so you can say with more authority and some empathy, "Yeah, I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do."

But when he started looking at the screen, the girl spinning in the chair next to me suddenly stopped and looked right at me.

"Hi!" She effused.

"Hi there," I returned.

"What's your name?"

"I'm David."

"I'm Corel."

"Nice to meet you," I smiled at her. She turned away, giggling. The guy behind the counter cracked a smile as Corel turned back around.

"You can't touch me," she declared, shaking her head.

I put my hands out towards her, pretending to struggle against a force field surrounding her. "Ghhhhhhaaa . . . nope, you're right, I can't."

"I can touch you!" She shouted, and promptly slapped me in the shoulder.

"So you can," I replied, but as she moved to hit me again, my cat-like reflexes moved me out of the way. She swung again, mightily, but I was too quick for her. This went back and forth for a bit until she finally got a solid strike in.

"Ahh, you got me," I lamented, clutching my stricken shoulder.

"Corel!" Her mother, attention finally drawn, rounded on her daughter with the kind of constant low-simmer anger only a parent can display. "You can't just push people you don't know!"

"But it's David!" Corel protested instantly.

"Yeah," I told her mom, "we go way back."

At this point the woman helping her mother was laughing loudly. The clerk helping me and the girl beside him were both unsuccessfully trying to stifle their own mirth. Corel's mom was so taken aback she gave up the fight almost instantly, shaking her head. "Just sit still," she said finally, knowing she wasn't going to win this one. Corel's attention was already drawn to someone outside, and she shouted that he had a weird hairstyle, causing everyone to start laughing all over again.

"Hey," the guy helping me said suddenly as I turned back to him. "Tell you what - don't tell Sprint, but I'm going to give you insurance on this phone - for just today, and then take it back as soon as we get this new touch screen on."

"Wow, really? Okay, yeah, let's do that."

"Just come back in 45 minutes, it'll all be taken care of."

So I went and had lunch, came back, and a few minutes later my phone was as good as new. No charge to me whatsoever.

Thanks, Corel.

Incidentally, Corel and her mom were back in the store at the same time I was, only this time a very disgruntled Corel was strapped firmly in her stroller, angrily demanding "Let! Me! Out!" Sorry, Corel's mom.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Romney Reward

I've been spending a portion of my summer thus far working for Organizing for America, the campaign to re-elect Barack Obama. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job, I was under a strict media blackout - a restriction that included blogging. Fortunately, after weeks of speaking with my supervisor and looking to renegotiate exactly what it is I do, I'm now able to write somewhat freely. My campaign work is still off-limits (honestly, it's not that exciting, they just don't want anybody even remotely associated with the President saying something stupid to the media), but I'm allowed to use this and other public forums to discuss my opinions about the upcoming election.

So here goes. First off . . .

I am not a Democrat.

I'm registered as a Democrat. I've voted for Democrats in the past. I share a lot of ideology which is commonly held to be "liberal" in nature.

I am not a Republican.

I've supported Republicans and conservatives in state and local elections. I share a lot of ideology which is commonly held to be "conservative" in nature.

With that in mind, I had one person I usually looked towards as a role model for politicians. John McCain.

However, in November of 2008, as I stood at the voting booth staring at the two names in front of me, I was locked in place.

John McCain, whom had been a hero of mine for almost a decade. A veteran, an established politician, and a good man with a long history of working for what he believed in. A long-serving Senator with a history of working across party lines on important subjects, rising above petty politics, and connecting more than any other candidate with actual issues and the concerns of America.

Barack Obama, who . . . was handsome?

Then I looked down at the Vice Presidential nominees. Joe Biden, a Democratic analogue for John McCain. Well-spoken (as long as he doesn't speak too much), experienced, well-respected, and deeply involved and dedicated to working with fellow members of Congress, regardless of their political affiliation, in order to do the work that needed to be done.

Sarah Palin, who . . . was pretty? Or was that Tina Fey?

Barack Obama pitched a good game. He never had any of the "gaffes" media outlets scour every speech for along the campaign trail. Just by virtue of his being black he represented a paradigm shift from the establishment of American Presidential politics. Whenever the mud was slung his way, he seemed to rise above it. He inspired people with his presence, got millions of young people out to the voting booths, and had everybody talking about his meteoric rise.

However, it was all predicated on a keynote speech he gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After that he had a single, somewhat unremarkable run as a Senator from Illinois, and then immediately rode the wave of public interest built up around him all the way to the Presidential nomination. All in all, he hadn't really done much, he just talked a lot.

McCain got down and dirty. He steamrolled over Mitt Romney in the primaries with every attack on his record and character he could come up with. When the general election came, he let campaign ads run demeaning Obama's character, his friends and associates, and his experience (justifiably, in that last case). He played on the fear of terrorist attacks and illegal immigrants taking over our jobs. He allowed people associated with him paint Obama as a non-American Muslim.

He did everything I never thought he would do. He became a typical dirty politician. He abandoned decades of good work in Congress so that he could ensure his nomination, and once he had it he couldn't back down from those platforms. His loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 primary taught him a lesson - you want to be President, you play ball with the Party, and he never let that go.

But the fact remained - I knew John McCain was the person he was, the person I had admired, and I believed that once in office he'd do an about-face, flip off Bush's neo-cons, and run the White House the way he wanted to. I didn't know anything about this Obama character.

Yet, I checked his name, not McCain. Because under John McCain's name was Sarah Palin.

At the time of the election, McCain was 72 years old. Being President is an incredibly stressful job. The thought of John McCain dropping dead one day in office and Sarah Palin becoming President of the United States was not a reality I wanted to encourage, even taking into account the potential face-off with Putin.

Sarah Palin represented something I didn't want in office. Forget the idea that she was uninformed or ill-prepared, or even the notion that she only got the nomination to try and woo Hillary supporters. As Vice President (or President!) Sarah Palin stood for . . . whatever it was the party told her to stand for. She never demonstrated an original thought or idea, she never strayed from popular talking points, she never tackled anything that the Republican party, and specifically the most conservative elements of its base, didn't have a prepared statement for. I didn't want this woman anywhere near the White House, and she cost John McCain my vote.

I think time proved that to be the right decision for other reasons, as I've written about before.

So now it's four years later, and this time around Mitt Romney wisely sat back and let his opponents destroy themselves before calmly marching up the wreckage of their campaigns to claim the Republican nomination. It's still some months out from Election Day - though closer than you think - and so far I have yet to see anything from Romney that sets him apart from Sarah Palin. The man makes me think someone had a powder somewhere in a package that read "Instant Republican Nominee: Just Add Water" and they just doused that thing.

He hasn't deviated even one syllable from party-line rhetoric. He hasn't expressed a single idea which could be controversial to his constituent base. He hasn't done anything to make himself seem like an individual running for the highest office in the land instead of a mouthpiece for the monolithic entity backing him.

But let's put that aside. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Mitt Romney was the greatest possible candidate available. Let's ignore Bain Capital, his own Health Care reform in Massachusetts, his stance on the middle class, all of it. I want you to imagine the most perfect Presidential candidate you can think of, and then pull the image of Mitt Romney over it.

He still shouldn't win.

Here's why.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Margaret Pratt

The evening of June 20th, perhaps late enough to be called the early morning of June 21st, after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, Margaret Pratt passed from this life and returned home to the side of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She was 80 years old, and had been suffering a great deal following a protracted battle with cancer. Three years ago, the doctors told her she had 6 months to live, but she continued to survive, and to thrive, up until the day she couldn't anymore. She passed peacefully, having been surrounded by her family for weeks on end. 

Margaret Pratt was my grandmother, and I was blessed enough to be able to spend the last few weeks of her life by her side. In that time, I learned more about faith, what it really means and what it really looks like, than I had ever known.

I have known people of great faith throughout my life. I have known rabbis and priests, nuns and ministers, Christians and Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and pagans, all with their own take on what it means to be faithful. With my grandmother, I realized the difference between someone professing their faith, telling you about their faith, and someone showing you their faith. She always held on to everything I wrote and encouraged me to write more, so, I'm going to write about that. About her. I don't know if I can aptly put it into words, but I'm going to try.

Before she died, I went to a number of sermons, and as is usually the case found that the Lord had put me where I needed to be. The things I heard all seemed to illustrate a fundamental point about the life of my grandmother. I'd like to share a few stories from that life, how they tie into the services I attended, and how, at the end of her life, she showed me what true faith really means.