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The Lion’s Share

The Lion's Share

People around the world are revolted by the actions of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer who while on a hunt in Zimbabwe, was involved in the killing of a lion. Not just any lion as it turned out, but Cecil, one of the most popular lions in the world and a tourist attraction for Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Cecil would have been safe had he remained on park grounds but he was allegedly lured out by Palmer’s guides, who tied an animal carcass to their jeep bringing the lion out onto the property of the ironically named Honest Ndlovu where Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow and 40 hours later finished off with a high powered rifle. Palmer then beheaded the lion and skinned him, taking them back to the United States as trophies.

Cecil, named after British businessman and imperialist Cecil Rhodes (for whom the British colony of Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe, was also named), was noted for his distinctive black-fringed mane. He often let tourists come within 10 meters of him to take photographs. Current estimates that the loss of the lion will cost Zimbabwe well over $10,000 a day in tourism revenue.

Cecil and another lion, Jericho, had GPS collars affixed to them by the Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It was they who were alerted that something was wrong when Cecil’s collar suddenly stopped sending signals on July 1. When the carcass was discovered, the GPS collar was missing and has as of this date not been found.

Comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel put my feelings succinctly when he said that he wasn’t against hunting; if you’re doing it to put food on the table, to thin out the herd when the population can’t be supported or for cultural reasons. However, to shoot an animal just to hang it’s head on your wall or drape it’s skin on your rug is abhorrent. Over the last couple of centuries we have hunted literally hundreds of species into extinction and many more to the brink, including the African lion of which less than 30,000 still roam in the wild.

Some might say and with some justification that nobody mourns for the animals that the lions kill, including Cecil, but Cecil nor any of the other lions killed anything for any other reason but to survive. They kill for food, or to defend their territory – that’s it. They don’t kill to display carcasses, or to compensate for small dicks. All of the people I’ve known who have gone hunting have gone hunting to get food – deer, elk, moose. Nobody I know hunt bears, or mountain lions, or anything else. They consume what they eat.

Killing for “sport” is wasteful and cruel. There’s other reason for it other than to satisfy some sort of egotistical urge. There have been far too many photos posted on Facebook pages of smug, happy white faces posing with the animals they have killed. Folks like Ted Nugent, who have come up in support of Palmer, have no conception of what they are inflicting on the environment. Perhaps in order to qualify for a hunting license, you should first be hunted – put in a forest without any weapons, and then allow the inhabitants to press a button which will napalm the whole mother flicking lot of them. It would be no great loss.

In any case, even Nugent would have to admit that Palmer’s guides used illegal methods to bag this lion. They have been arrested and charged in Zimbabwe already. Zimbabwe is already calling for Palmer’s extradition. Palmer himself has gone into hiding, having closed his dental practice and issuing statements of apology.

Sorry, no can do on accepting the apology, Walt. You need to be accountable for your actions. I think the only way he can redeem himself is to go to Zimbabwe and face the legal system there. Palmer claims that he wasn’t aware that anything illegal was going on; I find that hard to believe but he should be allowed to have his day in court and prove his innocence or have its lack thereof proven by the prosecution.

Of course, being a hunter used to taking down animals with weapons they don’t have any sort of defense against, the odds might not be to his liking. Maybe if we make sure that the prosecuting attorneys are either mute or only speak Aramaic and provide no interpreters than maybe the odds will be a little more like what he’s used to. Or do we have to nail them to their chairs as well?

In any case, even though the Internet has moved on to other things to get its panties in a bunch about, the Palmer-Cecil case remains disturbing on a lot of different levels. I’m not sure what sort of extradition treaty we have with Zimbabwe but I imagine that the United States government would be fairly reluctant to have a citizen, particularly a white professional citizen, delivered up to an African nation to face their justice system and, let’s face it here, the courts of Africa are not known for their fair and impartial proceedings. In fact, it might be more fair to say that the courts are Africa are more notorious for their corruption. Of course, American courts are far from perfect as well.

Besides that, the message that seems to be getting sent by those that agree with the Palmer supporters is that American hunters should be free to go to any sovereign nation anywhere in the world, hunt down their animals with impunity and by whatever means necessary without fear of consequences. That simply will not do. Did Palmer break any laws? I can’t say – I’m not an expert in international law or the laws of Zimbabwe specifically. He may well not have broken any laws over there, in which case he should be acquitted which I would expect to happen with the world watching. However, I do believe that there is an accountability issue here and many of those who are screaming that Palmer should be left alone are the ones who scream loudest about accountability when it comes to birth control and poverty. Dr. Palmer should go to Zimbabwe once more and be accountable for his actions, although I suspect he has no intention of doing so. I’m guessing his plan is to hide out in whatever rathole he is in and wait it out until the outcry dies down (it already has) and re-establish his practice once again, resuming his life where he left off. It’s a cowardly move if that is indeed his intention. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me; a man who would kill a living thing from a distance for no other reason than to hang its head on his wall as a trophy seems to have a deficiency of courage and morality.

And In the End…

and in the end

The Beatles were one of the great rock bands of all time, and they are a band I listened to throughout my life. Most of those who are familiar with me personally know that John Lennon is one of my all-time heroes, but it is surprising that the single lyric that I believe is the most beautiful and most important written in the 20th century was penned by Paul McCartney. It’s from the Abbey Road album and is simply put “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What a beautiful sentiment. Even now, nearly forty years after I first heard it, just listening to McCartney warble it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m an old softie in that regard.

And it is wrong. It is as hopeful a line as ever written but for most of us, there is an imbalance. Some of us take far more love than we make. Now, I don’t view this as referring to the act of making love; I believe it refers to love given and love received. Now, there are plenty of people who are close enough to balanced to make the line true for most, but when you think of Donald Trump, do you think he has given as much love as he has received? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ellen de Generes? Or even John Lennon?

Lennon was far from perfect. He wrote a song as hopeful as “Imagine” but on the same album  he excoriates McCartney with “How Do You Sleep.” The preaching of love and tolerance on one hand doesn’t mix well with the savaging he gives his old writing partner. I guess it’s easier to love people in general than people in particular.

Still, the sentiment is one to be admired. When I go out, I would like to have given more love than I receive. It’s not a desire to be a martyr or anything like that – trust me, I get plenty of love – but the world needs love, as Burt Bacharach – and John Lennon – have written. These days especially. Love seems to be in short supply. We may mock the hippies for their “peace and love” attitude, but I have to tell you they weren’t wrong on that score. Not that I’m ever going to embrace patchouli oil – that stuff stinks!

And I know, it’s so much easier said than done. I’m guilty of growling that people suck when I see them behave selfishly on the road, or elect another Republican to office. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration, particular in an era when it feels like selfishness is encouraged and selflessness ridiculed. When being generous and kind is made fun of as a sucker’s game, we’re in trouble as a species.

That’s why we all need to take a step back. I don’t know if you believe in karma, but I do believe that the attitudes we send out are reflected back to us by the world. If you believe the world is out to get you then it likely is. If you believe that the world is a beautiful place then so it is. Sure, that’s not going to insulate you from getting burned – no matter how much love you send into the ether there will always be those who return harm. That’s the nature of the game folks. None of us are exempt from emotional hurt.

And yet what defines us is how we react. Do we lash out and say “Screw everybody, I’m hurt and now I’m going to hurt others instead of getting hurt” or do we get back on the horse and send out our love? Which one do you think makes the world a better place?

And that’s what it boils down to. Do we want to make the world a better place or do we just want to bitch about what a horrible hard place it is? It begins with us. We can’t force others to open the hearts and send good feelings into the world; we can only do it ourselves. We can’t legislate compassion but we can experience it. Rather than blaming the poor for their troubles, we can find ways to make their lives better, either through education or finding them work. Instead of getting angry at climate change deniers, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprints. Instead of complaining about politicians, we can actually go out there and find a candidate who is worthy of our support and go out there and vote for them. Talking the talk isn’t enough in this day and age; we have to walk the walk.

And in the end, we can show our love in all sorts of ways, using the skills and talents we are given. Singing a song out loud can brighten the day of someone who needs a pick-me-up; taking out some ice cold sodas to a bunch of guys working out in the summer heat is one way of spreading good karma even if you don’t believe in it; trust me, the act of doing someone a solid is enough to make you feel good for hours.

Lennon did write “All you need is love” and like McCartney he was wrong in that assessment; we need more than love. But we do need love, all of us. We crave it; we wither without it. A kind word or gesture can be as healing as medicine. Hugs can be the stuff of wonderful memories and can color our perception of life and the world around us. Some people write off serial huggers as kooks, but I think that I’d rather be kooky than rational in that regard.

The ills of the world are many and I don’t have any illusions that giving out more hugs and being kinder in general is going to cure many of them, if any. Maybe it’s just a karmic version of shouting into the abyss but by God I’d rather shout into the darkness than cower at it. There is far too much fear and anger and not enough love and compassion. I have to believe the world would be a much better place if we all just made the attempt to be sure that the love we make is at least a little more than the love we take. Isn’t it worth a try? The other way doesn’t seem to be working.

A Tale of Two Flags

A Tale of Two Flags

There have been some changes in the United States and they can both be symbolized by two flags; one, the Confederate battle flag – the old stars and bars – and the rainbow flag that is the symbol for the LGBT movement. For the latter, the Supreme Court established that individual states could no longer enact laws that prevented couples of the same sex from marrying.

The former is more complicated. In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina in which a white male entered a Bible study meeting in an iconic African-American church and shot nine people to death, including the Pastor who happened to be a South Carolina state senator, state governments around the South – Republican state governments at that – came to the realization that the symbol of the battle flag was more negative than they at first thought. Pictures of the killer holding the battle flag seemed to cement the relationship between violent racists and the Confederacy.

All of a sudden, the movement picked up momentum in amazing time – South Carolina, which flew the Confederate battle flag over a monument on State Capital grounds, has already run the legislature through that allowed it to remove the flag from the grounds of the Capital. Kentucky announced it was looking into doing the same. The governor of Alabama went so far as to remove the flag personally without any input from the state legislature. Even Mississippi, whose state flag includes the Battle Flag, is looking to make changes. Just a few weeks ago one would scarcely have thought it possible.

I think what’s stunning about this is not just the speed at which this change of attitude is taking place, but also that it seems to be coming from both directions, the left and the right. Sure, there is some righteous indignation coming from a certain segment from the South who maintain that the battle flag isn’t a symbol of racism but rather a part of their heritage.

Yes, the Confederacy is a part of the heritage of the South but hopefully not the legacy. You could also say the same thing about the Swastika; sure, the Nazi regime in Germany was a lot different than the government of the Confederacy but both of them stood for morally untenable positions. You don’t see Germans waving around the Swastika (for, among other reasons, that it’s illegal) but it is part of their heritage too.

And why should anyone be proud of their Confederate heritage? This was a government that largely benefitted slave owners – who only made up about 2% of the population – because the South perceived that this was the economic engine that made the South prosperous when, in actuality, it didn’t. It only made the 2% prosperous. In the meantime, while the North was building factories and improving technology, the largely agrarian society of the South was doomed to failure from the get-go. They simply didn’t have the resources and the industry to survive in the 19th century world economy. The government of the Confederacy – again, largely made up of the slave owner segment – sent their boys out to be slaughtered for an economy that benefitted only them that they intended to ride out to its inevitable conclusion, by which time they’d have bled the economy dry. Does that sound familiar? (*KOFF* Oil! *KOFF*)

I have friends who have been complaining about the rush to take down the stars and bars and before they get all over my liberal ass, let me clarify a few misconceptions I’ve seen in some of their social media posts. The first is that nobody is trying to obliterate the Confederate battle flag from the face of the Earth; the only complaint is that it shouldn’t be flying from state houses or government facilities. Technically, the Confederacy was a foreign government separate from that of the United States; you don’t see the flag of Spain flying over the state capital of Florida, or the Union Jack from the capital of Pennsylvania, right? The only flags that should be flying on state-owned properties are the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the particular state that the property belongs to.

I also tend to agree that digitally removing the Confederate flag from the General Lee stunt car from The Dukes of Hazzard is going overboard. The message here is to separate the state from the Confederacy; flying their flag implies tacit approval of the aims and philosophy of the Confederacy, which would include the subjugation and enslavement of Africans. I wouldn’t dare to speak for the African-American community, for whom the battle flag represents some very different feelings than those of the white sons and daughters of Dixie, but I would guess that flying a Confederate flag on state property would feel much like a slap to the face. In case anyone has forgotten, the Confederacy lost that war. they shouldn’t get to display their flag as if they won. And incidentally, respecting the courage and loyalty of those who fought for the South during the Civil War is a far different thing than embracing what they fought for.

I do find it…not interesting so much as inevitable…that the same people complaining about the eradication of their Confederate heritage by those gosh darn libtards are those complaining about the Supreme Court ruling that states could not enact laws that infringed on the rights of same sex couples to marry. In other words, the same folks who are complaining that Liberals are forcing their values on them are complaining that their values are not being forced on the LGBT community in regards to marriage.

Fortunately, they are in the minority. The majority of the country recognizes that granting the LGBT community the same rights and dignity afforded to straight couples when it comes to marriage doesn’t diminish the institution; if anything, it enhances it. Nobody – but nobody – can come up with a single concrete way that a gay marriage has any effect on a straight marriage. None whatsoever. Frankly, in an era in which relationships dissolve at the drop of a hat and more than half of all marriages end up in divorce, any chance to increase the amount of love that is generated in this country can only be one worth taking. We need all the love we can get around here.

God and Country

God and Country

The Christian right these days is fond of proclaiming that here in America there is a War on Christianity. Isn’t it bizarre how the media likes to portray everything as a war – a War on Drugs, a War on Women, a War on Christmas…can we please just have a War on Media Wars? Anyway that aside, the Christian right is fighting back against what they perceive are assaults on their liberty to worship as they choose by left-leaning progressives and the Obama Administration.

Some of these have taken the form of laws meant to allow merchants or businessmen with certain religious principles (which are meant to be Christian – God help a Muslim who wants to run his business by Sharia law) to not be forced to do things against those principles by law. That’s all well and good, at least on paper, but the practice of it is more insidious.

The brouhaha in Indiana over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the surface sounds like overreaction; after all, 16 states have laws like it (including my own home state of Florida) and there is a national policy in place as well, signed into law by former President Clinton. However, the way that the RFRA was worded seemed to permit discrimination against LGBT citizens of the Hoosier state. Suddenly there was a ruckus as businesses in Indiana, concerned that they would have trouble attracting LGBT employees, began to complain and threaten to scale back their operations in Indiana as well as outright remove them.

The outcry was so loud and so deafening that governor Mike Pence hurriedly signed into law a revision of the legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens on April 2nd. However, there are similar bills similarly worded being discussed in state legislatures around the country, as well as an onerous bill in California (which to be fair is not going to receive any serious legislative attention) that would require all LGBT citizens to be put to death.

The right has been more successful in pushing through legislation that makes it harder for clinics that offer abortion to be viable. Texas has now fewer than five clinics serving an entire state of millions of women and there are states that are essentially putting restrictions on clinics that make it impossible for them to operate. The religious right is trying – and succeeding – in legislating abortion out of existence. This isn’t because there’s a glaring medical or legal need to do so; it’s because it’s against their religious principles. That brings up the question that our founding fathers wrestled with when framing our constitution; when do the rights of religious practice become more important than the rights of others whose values differ?

The answer that our founding fathers came up with was “never” and for 200 plus years our government has operated on that principle. However, the religious right now feels it necessary to force their values onto the nation as a whole. My values are that a woman’s body is her own and that decisions regarding whether she should carry a child to term is also her own, that workers have a right to organize and negotiate with the management of businesses on their own behalf and that LGBT citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections as straight people. So why are the values of Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Rick Scott more important than mine?

Well, because people continue to elect them and to elect state legislatures that believe as they do. But do the people get to trample the rights of others just because they believe it is okay to do so, or because their religion tells them that they should? Our constitution says no. Our founding fathers, many of whom were deists and not evangelical Christians, also said no.

The problem I have with the RFRA and the religious right dictating anti-abortion laws is that it emboldens wackos like the guy in Michigan whose auto repair business now gives discounts to open carriers and refuses service to the LGBT community. I don’t live in the area but I would choose not to take my car into his place of business in any case because not only do I not agree with his views, I’m pretty sure that people who do what he has done cannot be trusted to be competent at their jobs. I have a right to believe that way, after all.

But the guy certainly has a right to believe however he chooses. I would never threaten him with anything other than taking my business elsewhere; he claims he is getting death threats (which I find somewhat unlikely; the LGBT activist community has been notably non-violent) which is extreme. Nobody should die because they believe differently than you; that’s ISIS-like.

However, I do call on him to be consistent. If you’re going to deny service to those who the Bible says you should shun, then you need to deny service to those with tattoos; it’s forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 19:28). Also, he should deny service to divorcees; forbidden (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:6). Those convicted of stealing (Exodus 20:15), or adultery (Exodus 20:14); also forbidden. And I’d check your customers breath for ham; that’s forbidden too (Leviticus 11:7-8). Usury is forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), so that would exclude most in the financial industry. And actually, those who carry guns should probably not get the discount either; after all, the commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and what other use is there for a gun other than killing? And if you say “It isn’t for killing, it’s a deterrent” than you should be able to carry a replica of a gun that doesn’t actually fire. After all, it’s a deterrent, right? Not something you’re actually going to use to murder somebody?

The point is that it is unlikely that most people who are Christian believe that a pork-eating tattooed divorced bank manager is someone that should be discriminated against. So if that’s the case, if we don’t accept that everything in the Bible is (no pun intended) gospel, then maybe the LGBT and abortion things shouldn’t be either?

Your Tax Dollars

Your Tax Dollars

One of the crux differences between the left and the right is how our taxes are spent. The left believes taxes should not only be used for the needs of government – defense, statecraft, infrastructure and so on but also for social programs as well. The right believes that taxes should be as small as possible and pay for the bare minimum to keep the United States strong and prosperous. Social programs should be left to charities.

Often when I get into discussions with my friends on the right about things like Obamacare, food stamps and welfare, eventually they will inevitably say something along the lines of “not with my tax dollars.” All right, then. That leaves the question; what should we spend our tax dollars on?

Of course, there are those who say we should not pay taxes at all but that simply isn’t realistic. It takes money to pay for necessities, such as embassies and ambassadors, for the military and their equipment, and simply for making sure things run properly, or at least relatively properly. So let’s assume for the moment that we all want a military protecting us, diplomats negotiating trade agreements for us, roads to drive on from place to place and air and rail traffic transporting people and goods across the country.

For my part, I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on free healthcare for all. I’d like a European-style health care system that treats everyone regardless of their economic status. I’d love to cut out the insurance middlemen who serve no function at all except to make money for themselves. I’d like to see a healthier population, one who visit doctors instead of Emergency Rooms for basic care. I don’t want to see people dying because they couldn’t afford treatment. There is something so basically, disturbingly wrong with that last that it can’t even be expressed.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on eradicating hunger, particularly among children. No child should have to go to bed hungry. No parent should have to hear their children cry themselves to sleep because they haven’t eaten anything all day. No retiree should have to face a choice between paying for their medication and their food. This is a land of plenty; why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it?

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on educating the young. Our future depends on having our next generations prepared to compete globally. Our children should be learning to think innovatively, to be inspired to learn particularly in science and mathematics. Our children should aspire to create things that will make the world a better place. We need to improve our schools and their facilities. Our teachers shouldn’t have to be paying for school supplies out of their own pockets. They should be compensated for the additional time they put in. They should also be held accountable for their performances as our students should be held accountable for theirs. We need to market education as a means out of poverty, a means to elevate not just individuals but entire communities. We need to involve parents directly in the education process but not just parents; the entire community. Businesses should be made to understand that they’ll only benefit from having a superior education system in their communities as it will turn out superior employees for them further on down the line.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on space exploration. As Robert A. Heinlein once said, the Earth is far too fragile a basket to put all our eggs into, especially when you consider what we’re doing to despoil it. We should be exploring the local solar system and sending probes into the furthest reaches of space as we’re doing but we should be doing more of it. The technologies that have developed from the space program have fueled our economy for the past half a century; imagine what we come up with in the next fifty years.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on rebuilding the infrastructure. I want to see good-paying jobs created to repair bridges and highways as well as constructing new ones. I want to see AMTRAK converted to a high-speed rail system that links the entire continent. And while we’re talking about jobs, I want to put some of my tax dollars in re-training the work force so that they are more computer savvy and able to do the jobs that are in demand. Those who have the abilities and the desire to change their lives should be given those opportunities, even the education to go into much-needed fields like engineering and medicine. I’d also like to see my tax dollars spent on helping students get college loans at reasonable rates that won’t put them into enormous debt before they’ve graduated that will take them decades to repay.

My tax dollars should go to a more sane military spending program. We are spending money on tanks and battleships we don’t need. I’d rather see that tax money go to the Veterans Administration that takes care of our soldiers, sailors and airmen after they’ve defended this country. I want our veterans to have the best medical facilities administrating the best care possible; I want them to have college programs to help them re-start their lives and give them a chance to prosper after their time in the military has ended. I want my tax dollars to go to the actual people putting their lives on the line for our country, not to the makers of helicopters and tanks who have oversold their products to our military and now want to keep their factories running even though their products aren’t needed anymore. The dynamics of the marketplace should apply to them too.

In short, I don’t mind paying for things that benefit people that actually need them. I have an issue with paying taxes that support people who are already rich by making them richer, by giving corporations making record profits tax incentives and loopholes to the point where they’re getting refunds while the deficit continues to be an issue. I want my tax dollars to mean something besides a dollar sign. How about you? How do you want to spend your tax dollars?

The Guardian Heart

There are all sorts of hearts in this world. Some are cold and hard, impenetrable and insulated from any emotion, good or bad. Others are soft and tender, feeling every little thing that comes their way. However, a precious few seem destined to help those who need it, giving what love, peace and protection that is to be had to all that heart encounters. They exist to give, often without any expectation of recompense. I call these guardian hearts.

I’ve haven’t had the fortune to find many of these in my 50 plus years of travels on this Earth. Part of the reason for that is that not only are they unbelievably rare but also that those who possess these tend to have a limited shelf life. These are sensitive souls who feel things so much more keenly than others do, and often they come with their own special demons. I can’t say that all of them burn brightly and flicker out, but that is often the case. That’s why when one is encountered, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to nurture and preserve those who possess one.

Sometimes, I’ve run into them not so much directly but by proxy; they can be recognized not just by what they do but by those who are touched by them. One such guardian heart belongs to a gentleman by the name of Scott Stapp.

Some of you may recognize the name. Yes, I’m talking about that Scott Stapp. Lead singer of Creed. Yes, yes, the “Arms Wide Open” guys. No, I’m not crazy. Not about this anyway.

Creed was never the most fashionable of bands and they took a whole lot of critical lumps. Stapp’s vocal style is a bit over the top, I’ll admit. The band has a hard rock edge but a very strong patina of Christian faith. They may not necessarily always be overt about that faith, like a Stryper for example, but nonetheless they weren’t shy about it either and bands with a message of faith tend to make mainstream critics uncomfortable. Their upbeat lyrics tended to make the bloggers snarky. Nothing brings out the snark than a message of hope, after all. That kind of thing never made sense to me; not everybody has to be the Smiths. Of course, it became fashionable to bash the Smiths too. I think it basically becomes fashionable to bash everyone. That’s just the culture of destroy everything we touch that we live in these days. It’s so much easier to bring down than to build up which is one of the things that makes the guardian heart all the more special.

Stapp grew up here in Orlando (went to Lake Highland Prep if I’m not mistaken) and formed his band among friends at Florida State. The market at the time wasn’t receptive to straight ahead rock bands and they had trouble finding gigs, often having to create them themselves in restaurants and in other venues. Their powerful live shows and Stapp’s soaring vocals and immense presence got them noticed and after they recorded an album for $6,000, they found a label as well – Wind-Up Records who remixed the album and sent it back out into the world. That album would be My Own Prison and would generate four number one singles on the Billboard rock charts, the first debut album to accomplish that feat.

A second album, Human Clay brought even further success and a Grammy for “With Arms Wide Open.”  While preparations were underway for touring for their third album, Stapp was involved in an auto accident which would eventually help get him hooked on prescription pain medicine, in addition to his already growing dependence on alcohol. The tour eventually went on but was something of a disaster, leading to a show in Rosemont, Illinois at which Stapp was admittedly intoxicated and was accused (and later sued for) being so incoherent he couldn’t remember the lyrics to a single song. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed, incidentally.

With tensions between Stapp and the band intolerably high, the group broke up. Stapp started a successful solo career while the rest of the band reformed as Alter Bridge. However in 2009 they reunited and released their fourth album, Full Circle which brought back the band’s fan base, and which spawned another triumphant tour. However, plans for a fifth album were abandoned after once again Stapp and the rest of the band had another falling out. While Stapp has kept the door open for a further Creed project, guitarist Mark Tremonti has been less hopeful about any more touring or recording by the band.

Since then, Stapp’s drug use and alcohol abuse have spiraled out of control. In November 2014, his wife Jaclyn filed for divorce after receiving bizarre messages from her husband, taking custody of their two children as well as his son from a previous marriage. Later that month, Stapp posted a video to his Facebook page stating that he was homeless and living in a Holiday Inn with severe financial issues. He has also made several 911 calls that alluded to him being chased by people who wanted to kill him.

It seems likely that Stapp is suffering from mental illness; there are some who believe he may be Bipolar. There is no doubt that his life has unraveled and he is facing some of the most darkest days that anyone could ever face and he seems to be doing it alone.

You might be asking yourself here what makes this man worthy of attention. After all, he’s just another drug-addled rock star that had it all and blew it, right? Well, that would only be part of the story.

Stapp has a history of giving to those in need. He began his With Arms Wide Open Foundation in 2000, giving aid mainly to needy children not just here in the states but around the world. In 15 years the foundation has donated more than a million dollars to various causes mostly related to children in crisis. Eventually he renamed his charity the Scott Stapp foundation; there is currently another organization using the Arms Wide Open name to battle childhood cancer which so far as I know is not affiliated with Stapp’s charity. Stapp has donated a portion of ticket sales to his foundation for years; all of the proceeds from the “With Arms Wide Open” single went to his charitable foundation. While it is largely inactive now due to Stapp’s difficulties, it has made a difference in a good many lives and largely under the radar.

But that’s not what qualifies Stapp in my book for the truly high praise. A good friend of mine, whose husband at the time worked as a monitor engineer for Creed’s road crew, told me a story about how her daughter had gotten very sick, to the point where doctors felt she wasn’t going to make it. She called her husband and pleaded with him to come home to say goodbye to their child. When her husband told Stapp what was happening, not only did he give his crew member leave to be with his family, he also found out about the little girl’s condition and discovered that there was some cutting edge research being done at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He arranged for the girl to be flown to Baltimore where she was treated and eventually recovered and is alive to this day because of Stapp’s intervention, which he paid for out of his own pocket.

That’s not a story many people know about, and I only heard about it because I know the girl’s mom. When Stapp’s troubles became public, she asked me to write something about him, something that maybe he might read one day and hopefully get from her a return on the gift that he gave her – the gift of love that led to life. I don’t claim to be close to Scott Stapp, nor do I claim to really be able to even have any sort of understanding of what he’s going through. Normally, I’d just wish him well and hope for the best.

And yet there’s that story, a little girl alive today because of his direct involvement and hundreds and thousands maybe millions of people whose lives today are better not just because of his charity but because his music inspired them to hope for better things and maybe even find them. Lives like his that touch so many lives that way are to be treasured and preserved. I do hope that he can find his way off the precipice that he is on to a safe place to land and gets the help that he needs. His kids deserve to have their dad around. His friends deserve to have him back. HE deserves the happiness of a life well-lived. I hope his guardian heart remains strong and beats hard for many years to come.

Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Little Things Matter

Little Things Matter

The devil is in the details, or God is in the details, depending on who you ask. Little things mean a lot. The things that sometimes we tend to overlook in favor of the big picture are often the things that make the picture big. Details matter.

Anyone can have a relationship with another human being, but it takes hard effort to make it work. One must learn to compromise and value the other persons values, sometimes ahead of one’s own. One must develop a thick skin and understand that things said in anger or in irritation don’t necessarily mean much. Maybe they are indicators of how that person really feels, but do they indicate something that is worth fighting over? Clearly one must use a clear head to consider such matters.

Da Queen and I have had what is by all accounts a good marriage but if anyone would say it’s easy, it’s because we make it look easy. The truth is, we irritate each other all the time. Sometimes we miscalculate the other’s mood; other times we get pissy and deliberately irritate the other or look to pick a fight. There are times I honestly don’t know what the hell I’m saying or doing and yet I say or do it anyway and afterwards I wonder if there’s some sort of alien parasite inside me, manipulating me to do and say things that I know are wrong. I think we all feel that way sometimes.

That’s why the ability to forgive the other’s transgressions becomes a big thing in any relationship. Even though your feelings are hurt, you just have to get past it and move on. There are times I’ve legitimately felt bad about what my wife has said to me in a moment of anger but I realize that it’s just a moment of anger. Occasionally, something leaks out that has to be addressed; when that happens it should be done as calmly and as rationally as possible. Of course, some couples need to fight things out – that works for them and it might work for you. Da Queen and I are far too sensitive for such things. We tend to work better when we’re discussing things as rationally as possible.

But it’s not just about the negatives; it’s about creating the positives. Taking the time to do things for the other indicates that they are important to you. They don’t have to be grand, expensive gestures. Little things can mean a lot; picking up her favorite snack when you’re at the store without being asked. Doing a chore around the house that she doesn’t expect. Making his favorite meal when he’s had a bad day. Things like that can make all the difference between a successful relationship and a failed one.

Making the effort can go a long way, even if you aren’t necessarily successful. There are times when my disability prevents me from finishing a chore around the house but my wife appreciates that I’m at least trying to help out. There are other times when she gets involved in a project that seems to take all her concentration – my Queen can be a bit obsessive about projects. That’s okay; I know that is just her nature and generally speaking her projects tend to be about good things, things that make us or other people happy. It’s hard to argue against that although there are times I have to gently remind her to take a step back. She’s the kind of person who needs to be mentally occupied at all times.

It’s not just your romantic relationship this should apply to; friends, family and colleagues should get the same consideration. How nice is it when someone brings a box of bagels into work unexpectedly, or when you’re invited over to a friend’s house for a night of movies and pizza? Isn’t it wonderful when you feel included and important? That’s a feeling you should pass on to others and FYI it’s the kind of thing that gets that feeling passed back to you more often.

However, this kind of behavior means that we have to think about others instead of just about ourselves. In fact, it means putting others above yourself. In this day and age where selfishness is encouraged and self-centeredness rewarded, that’s not an easy proposition to undertake. However, it is the right thing to do. It is the right way to be. It doesn’t mean you have to be Gandhi. It doesn’t mean you have to donate half your income to charity. It doesn’t even mean you have to spend hours you don’t have at the local soup kitchen. It just means you have to take a few moments out of your day to be considerate to others. It means occasionally thinking about what you can do to make others around you happy. Maybe it means spending twenty bucks at Dunkin Donuts. Maybe it means buying your wife flowers from a roadside stand on your way home from work despite there being no occasion to do so. Maybe it means just means making a list of DVDs you’re getting ready to sell and letting your friends pick and choose the ones they want first and then giving them to them.

I personally think if we all did just one considerate thing a week – just one – the amount of good it would do would be amazing. Can you imagine what America would be like if everybody committed to doing one considerate thing a week for others? Maybe people would be less stressed because there’s a constant barrage of considerate things coming their way. Maybe the divorce rate would go down because couples are feeling more appreciated within their relationship. Maybe this country would end up being a better place to live in.

Clearly that’s a best case scenario and likely getting the world to change is pretty much like trying to get the sky to turn purple but why not try? Our actions are solely within our own control and nobody else’s. If we all made that commitment who knows where it would lead? Wouldn’t it be great if we at least tried?

The Bikini Dilemma

The Bikini Dilemma

It is a bit of a dilemma that women face. On the one hand, there is a push for them to be attractive physically. On the other, there’s a demand that they remain modest and chaste. If you’re going to save yourself for marriage, probably best not to show too much skin, right?

The beach becomes the great equalizer. Where else but at the beach are we urged to shed as much clothing as possible? Where else is it acceptable for a woman to be out in public in essentially a skimpy bra and panties and not be thought of as some kind of randy slut?

We are a nation of double standards particularly when it comes to women. We use the sexuality of women as an advertising tool; sexy women are used to hawk beer, guns and cars. We show the ideal of beauty to be thin  and the height of fashion to be the skimpiest of clothes. We tacitly urge women to be sexual, then brand them degenerate when they are sexual. We decry abortions yet we have been whittling away at the assistance that we give to single mothers when it comes to raising a child by themselves.

So what are young women to think? Well, let’s be frank – young women really aren’t encouraged to think at all. We give them a set of parameters to live their lives within and when they express some sort of opinion, we either ignore it outright or call them bitches for having the gall to say something. That is, when we acknowledge that they said anything to begin with.

We admire their nurturing side, their forgiving natures and their compassion and play those aspects of the female psyche up thus implicitly declaring that they should be submissive and obedient. We expect women to be the ones to give in over and over again even though they may know that giving in is the wrong thing to do. Say nothing and live a longer, happier life. Let your husband or boyfriend make all the decisions and keep your mouth shut.

So we dress them up in bikinis and take pictures of them on the beach. We give them skimpy dresses to wear in the clubs so that guys will notice them and dance with them. Everything targeted at women seems to be all about keeping them in a certain position in life.

Of course, the feminist movement tried to put an end to all that. Empowering women was a goal that in almost 40 years has been an ideal that has been achieved with qualified and somewhat uneven success. In some ways the radical feminists have established a different role for women – but a role nonetheless. It is the antithesis of the happy housewife, a role that establishes women as strong, ferocious and smart. Women who can stand tall and speak their mind. Women who can be leaders rather than followers. Leaders who are dominant rather than submissive.

The trouble with these roles is that I haven’t met a woman yet who wants to follow a pre-ordained set of parameters to live their lives within. No men either, truth be told, but in the second decade of the 21st century, women seem less inclined than ever to want to fit into a box of rules. Most of the women I know tend to blend qualities of both roles I just mentioned while adding qualities of their own. The women I know are sexual and chaste, submissive and strong, loud and quiet, self-confident and unsure, nurturing and self-involved, joyful and joyless, hard-working and lazy, driven and content. In short, the average woman fits no mold. In fact, I put it to you that there is no such thing as an average woman. Every woman is an individual with her own way of doing things. Even in societies where women are literally second-class citizens you will find women who chafe at their roles and women who are content to live the way they have for thousands of years. You can’t fit everybody in the same cookie cutter. The communists discovered that a long time ago.

So no wonder men have such a hard time figuring women out. Women do their own thing and they don’t necessarily follow the most logical paths, although some women of my acquaintance are the most sensible people I know. The one thing I do know about women is that they are each and every one beautiful in their own way. And they look absolutely divine in bikinis. If you want to call that a dilemma, I suppose that’s as good a word as any.

Left Behind

Left Behind

It has become predictable. The President proposes something, does something or supports something. The conservatives let out a howl, screaming how his actions or proposed actions will destroy our economy, wipe out what little respect we have left in the global community, further erode the Christian values that built this country, and as the late George Carlin might have said, “infect your soul, curve your spine and lose the war for the Allies.”

In fact, it’s something of a joke. Even when President Obama does thing that the right wants, things that they are clamoring for him to do, they find a way to make it an awful, terrible thing he’s done when he goes ahead and does it.

Take the recent exchange of five Taliban members from Gitmo for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, for example. He was the only American prisoner of war being held by the Taliban. Getting him back to the United States was a priority now that we are preparing to withdraw our troops from that country. The United States has always had a standard that nobody gets left behind. Our military lives by that rule and sometimes, dies by that rule. President Obama understood this and his team tried to negotiate a release with the Taliban to get Bergdahl home.

When a proof of life video was received by the military sent off alarm bells as to the deteriorating condition of Bergdahl, the consensus from the Obama administration was that recovering Bergdahl was an immediate and urgent priority and the deal was made.

This did violate the law. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 clearly mandates that all prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay require a minimum 30 day notice to Congress, and the President did not do that. The President cited “unique and exigent circumstances” for not complying with the law, feeling that the health and safety of the soldier was more important.

Of course, the right went bananas. Republican congressmen have called for a Benghazi-like hearing on the matter and some voices on the right are calling (again) for Obama’s impeachment. Rather than celebrating the return of one of our own back home, they are instead attacking Bergdahl, questioning whether he had deserted his post and even implying – or saying directly – that he’s a traitor.

First of all, none of this is germane to getting him back home. If he did violate military conduct, then court martial him – but do it here. Let American rule of law apply to American soldiers rather than Taliban law. You would think that the right would be on board with that right?

Wrong. Many have expressed the belief that “Bergdahl got what he deserved” and that he wasn’t worth the price that was given up for him. Some commentators have questioned his father who had grown his beard out as a sign of solidarity for his son and looked somewhat like a mullah. Then again, put a Turban on Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and so does he.

The hypocrisy here is that we all know that if it was George W. Bush who had engineered the transfer, the right would have been singing the praises of the deal. They would have praised Bush for proving that “America never forgets its own” and praised his strength as a leader. Would the left have raised an outcry in that same situation similar to what the Teapublicans have done? I honestly don’t believe they would have.

We are politicizing everything these days and everything has become if you will excuse the expression, black or white. As in when you’re on the right, everything that Obama does is black and everything that opposes his actions (or inactions) is white. The same cannot be said of the left who are as likely to criticize the president in many cases as praise him.

I don’t think President Obama should have signed the NDAA of 2014. I think he should have sent it back and reminded Congress that in order for a President to be effective, he needs to be able to act decisively when a situation calls for it. However, once he signed the law he should have adhered to it. While I agree that the safety and well-being of our soldiers takes precedence, the President should be censured nonetheless for failing to give Congress notice that he intended to exchange those five prisoners. Certainly, the administration was aware that the Taliban was insisting on those five; in fact, portions of the story broke in mainstream publications including the Wall Street Journal late last year before negotiations broke down. Congress could have been notified that the potential that these prisoners might be exchanged for an American prisoner of war and that when the exchange took place it would of necessity be without a whole lot of time for notification. That would have satisfied the law and if the President so chose, he could have also mandated that criminal charges be leveled against any member of Congress or their staff who leaked the information to the media as it might endanger the life of the American soldier in captivity.

I also find senators who grandstand about “not receiving information” about the situation and call a press conference to complain about it – while skipping a briefing session designed to give them information in order to call that press conference – reprehensible. I’m looking at you, Senator McCain. And while we’re at it, is there some kind of competition for King of Hypocritical Politicians that you’re trying to win? Because you’ve been contradicting your own statements regarding not only the Bergdahl situation but things like gun violence and the VA scandal as well. Try to remember that the things you say are pretty much recorded non-stop – so rather than parroting the party line, try sticking to your guns. However, in fairness, you have worked with Bernie Sanders in getting a bill written that might actually help veterans so I will give credit where it is due.

Getting back on point however, let’s just remember a few things – the soldier we’re talking about is an American citizen who volunteered to go and serve his country. Whether he was the worst soldier ever or a Medal of Honor winner, his country still owes him a debt and the least we can do is everything in our power to bring him home alive. If Bergdahl violated his oath, if he walked away from his post, let him suffer the consequences of it but let those consequences be determined by a military tribunal, not a politician or political commentator to leave him with the Taliban to rot. That is a distinctly un-American thing to do.