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Sometimes, movies for me are as much about the memory of who I watched with as they are about the movies themselves, and no movie embodied this more than “A Christmas Story”.

Its funny how we remember our parents, or how we think about them after they are gone. I don’t ever remember my father being terribly open about his feelings about the people he loved. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them; it was that he just seemed to take it for granted, and expected the rest of us to do the same. But those weren’t the only things that I recall about growing up with him. Phrases such as “No brain, no pain.” “Pain is nature’s way of saying don’t do that” and “No good deed goes unpunished were repeated so often in my home that they became automatic responses to certain circumstances and events…so much so that it became difficult to think of him in terms other than a gruff guy of few words and flinty sarcasm for the words that came. As a result, I remember hearing some of his friends speak at his funeral service, and wondering who it was they were talking about. But the single greatest character trait I recall was a real humbugism about Christmas. This would have made his love for “A Christmas Story” seem to be an anomaly unless you knew of his love of Jean Shepard stories.

When this movie was on, it was its own Christmas miracle, as my father would watch it, and laugh. Not chuckle. Not chortle. Not guffaw. LAUGH.

For years after his passing, I would watch the movie with him every year. Oh, I knew he wasn’t really there, but just the same, I felt that I could look over, and see him smiling and laughing, in what was for me, an unfamiliar attitude from him. And though I have sons of my own, I didn’t share this experience with them. It wasn’t something I could adequately describe, and I never wanted to feel compelled to do so. But each year, this echo of memory seemed to fade a bit more. Last year, I strained through the movie, to see Dad laughing, to hear him, and it was difficult. It wasn’t a good experience, and I was left feeling frustrated.

This year, when I sat down to watch the movie, I got nothing.
I let it play, and I listened. Darren McGavin was still the Old Man. Melinda Dillon is still Mom. But Dad wasn’t there. And I realized that even though I like Jean Shepard’s stories too, I watched it to spend time, as fleeting as it was, with the ghost of my Dad, and without him there, it is reduced to a story that I know too well, and that holds no new meaning to replace the one I’ve lost. As I watched the scene where Mom and the Old Man are sitting in the dark with a lit up Christmas Tree and the snow falling outside, I realized that this is how I want the memory of my Father and this movie to remain. A quiet moment with someone he held dear, saying nothing and everything in a setting where he could speak volumes without saying a word and still be perfectly understood.

I’m sad that I can no longer hear him when I watch this, and that no matter how hard I focus in my mind’s eye, I can’t see him just enjoy this story, and let his guard down completely. I still carry other memories. Other movies. Other experiences in which he chose to share something with us that wasn’t for everyone. But the lag in the echo grows longer with the years, and the echo grows quieter. I like to think that the silence in this movie is an indication that he is at peace, but I suspect that it has more to do with me finding peace with my memories of him, and the realization that I need to make such memories of my own with my sons. Maybe something to help them understand me when I am gone, as they so the same with their own kids. But in the interim, I’ll be looking for my own moment with my wife, in the dark before a lighted tree, with a steady snow falling outside.

The Unforgiven

It is difficult to understand why some things end up having an influence on us, but they do. This album is just such an influence on me.

I still remember the summer of 1988. I was strolling through my local Tape World, looking for something interesting, when I came upon this album on cassette. I almost hate to admit that I picked this album up because of the impression that the cover made on me, but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. What made this even more shocking was the fact that the image seemed so incongruous with my musical preferences at the time. The really odd thing is that I really loved this album, right from the first listen.

I don’t know if I could have described this album at that time. Age and mileage might bring me to the place where I would probably describe it as “Cowboys and Indians Rock, with a punk attitude”. Like the others in the handful of albums I had in heavy rotation in my car, I came to memorize every word and every note. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

But then, time wore on. CDs replaced cassettes in cars I owned, and while I still have this cassette in the garage somewhere, I haven’t been able to listen to it in years. I was surfing the web one evening a few months ago, and came to the band’s website, where I found and mp3 of a recent track they recorded a year or so ago, and the announcement that the album would be re-released in December with the single version of “I Hear The Call” and the new track, “The Long Run Out” added. I couldn’t order it fast enough, especially when Amazon was offering delivery on the same day as the release if you ordered Prime. There was a problem with my order, but it was resolved, and my copy arrived today. I could hardly wait for my ride home, and the chance to hear it at 11 through my car’s sound system.

I was not disappointed.

It was like riding home with old friends. Only it sounded better than it did. If these tracks weren’t digitally recorded, then they are among the best analog recordings I have ever heard. Age has changed my perspective on some of the songs, most notably, “With My Boots On” was very different this time, since the last time I heard it, my father was still alive, but overall, I was smiling and enjoying all of the imagery that the lyrics paint.

But what I didn’t know was the back story. It would have made the best episode of “Behind the Music” ever. Apparently, the band brought a very different sound to LA in the mid 1980s than the glam metal that was dominating the sound of the city’s clubs and record labels, and before long, they were being managed by Motley Crue’s manager, had a top notch lawyer, promotion, and they set off a bidding war among the town’s record labels. They were everywhere, playing gigs with various music legends, and living the life of rock and roll excess. And then, they imploded. One album. And one reunion show. And it was done.

But I will always have the memories. You can’t go home again. But you can visit 17 years old, and remember what it was like to have more attitude than wisdom. And that’s a good thing.

Godzilla_(2014)_posterWhen I was a kid, I used to LOVE Godzilla movies.  Sure I knew it was a guy in a monster suit stomping around on a set, crushing fake buildings and smashing another fake monster to hell and gone, but I still had fun watching them.  But as I got older, they lost their charm.  And then, really awful updates, like the waste of time that starred Matthew Broderick.  Still, boys will be boys, so I wasn’t surprised when the first time my son saw a Godzilla movie, he was hooked.  He started to borrow them from the library.  He would watch them On Demand.  And he would talk about them.  And talk about them.  And talk about them.

So last summer, when he suggested we go see the latest big screen outing of the gigantic lizard at the cheap show, my wife suggested that such a screening fell under my Dadly duty, and that I needed to take one for the team.  So we went.  And much to my surprise, I enjoyed it.

Last night, I watched the Blu-Ray version of this movie again, and again, I enjoyed it.

This movie will never win an Academy Award.  But at the same time, there is no reason to limit oneself only to movies that could.  The medium, at its core, is the exercise of telling a story.  The ones that do this well find a way to invest the audience in the story and in the characters.  That is why certain “franchises” are so successful.  And the latest telling of Godzilla does this in a way that managed to engage both a 14 year old and his 42 year old father.  The former with the unfolding of a mystery surrounding the discovery of evidence of something huge having recently left an underground cavern in the Philippines and the later with the sudden and startling “accident” at a nuclear plant in Japan that forever altered an American family working there, and separated the surviving members of that family with sorrow, regret, and inconsolable loss, which fueled an obsession which was to continue for 15 years.

I don’t think “horror” is the right word to describe the human’s eye views that the viewer is treated to with the unfolding tale of unthinkable monsters set loose upon the modern world.  But you do get to experience, however vicariously, the sense of terror and helplessness of the people in the movie dealing with the negation of technology, and the loss of control that comes with having most of the trappings of modern life rendered inert and useless, as gigantic beings thrash about and destroy the cities these newly primitive people live in.  You share in their wonder as the military very visibly attempts to prepare for the coming of such beasts, as nature itself heralds their arrival.  And I think that is the genius of this movie.  For two hours, it immerses you in the human experience of a world where humans are insignificant to titanic creatures that walk the Earth.  It is a world in which our dominance is swept aside as if it never existed, and suddenly, we don’t even rate as prey for the new masters of the planet.  This is a restoration of the wonders experienced as a child viewing a man in a monster suit, smashing and destroying a model city in to rubble around him, not by looking down, as we did when I was a child, but by looking up, and using the perspective to create a very real, and more tactile sense of terror.

GODZILLA

What I learned from Barry the Usurper’s speech:

1. Progressivism sees the ultimate aim of government as the removal or mitigation of consequences for those it has deliberately enslaved with gilded shackles.

2. Logic has no place in the actions of government. You MUST believe that deportation is physically impossible, but verification of tax status and criminal background checks for the very same people can be accomplished with the wave of a wand.

3. “New tones” and “civility” only apply to discourse directed toward the monarch and his prerogatives; he will be as insulting, as condescending, and as reckless with the truth as he likes. He may impugn the character of his opponents, and assassinate any character he choses without acknowledging that he never had a right to claim the moral high ground that he has. And if you expect something different, that’s your problem, not his.

4. Breaking the law should never be rewarded, unless the Monarch deems it proper to do so.

5. Redefining terms and words in order to rhetorically spin dross into gold is acceptable linguistic alchemy.

6. Claiming cover based on the actions of predecessors whom you have reviled and disrespected at every turn isn’t despicable and toxically ironic when the Monarch does it.

7. If Congress doesn’t pass a law that the Monarch wants, the Monarch can refuse to enforce the law that exists…and such a trick is capable of repetition.

When I was a young man, about a week or so out from high school graduation, my friends and I piled in a Suburban and went up north to Hammond Bay for a few days of sailing and fishing.  On the second day, we all woke up, and everyone was eager to get on the boat and do some sailing.  Except me.  I could smell rain, and I suggested that we wait.  After some grumbling back and forth, we agreed to go over to the port, and hang out there for a while.  I grabbed my fishing pole and went to the end of the pier.  I sat there, casting my line out, and slowly reeling it in, while watching the sky along the coastline to the north.

After about ten minutes, one of my friends sat down next to me and was doing the same.  We sat there, casting, reeling, and looking north, while listening to the sound of the reels and the rising waves.  Twenty minutes later, we could see a wall of rain about a mile off to the north.  The wind picked up, and a small power boat came into the middle of the harbor, dropped anchor, and zipped everything up.  “It’s raining pretty hard up there.” my friend observed.  “Yup.” was my only reply.  The casting and reeling continued for another twenty minutes.  The wind was blowing harder, the temperature had dropped, and the wall of rain was only a half mile or so away.   My friend looked up and said “It’s raining pretty hard up there.”  I looked up, and said “Yup.”, and continued to cast and reel.   Ten minutes passed.   Two more boats came in, and tied up, their passengers rushing off to their cars waiting in the parking lot.  The wall of rain was now less than a quarter mile away.  My friend stopped reeling, and stared at the rain as he said “It’s raining pretty hard up there.”  I stopped, and shivered in the wind as I regarded the rapidly approaching wall of rain.  “Yup.” was my only reply.

Three minutes later, a raindrop the size of a half-dollar slammed into my forehead, followed by another.  And another.  We got up and ran as hard as we could for the Suburban, but in the minute or so it took us to get there, we were drenched.

Why am I telling you this story?  Because our government is doing the same thing.

Just as it was utterly predictable that we would get wet if we didn’t react to the obvious threat, our government refused to react to the obvious threat of a terrible disease, and suspend air travel from the affected area in west Africa, and the inevitable happened.  It flew in with a passenger from the affected area.  And while that passenger has since passed, he didn’t do so without infecting Americans with a disease that has a 70% mortality rate, according to the new data from the World Health Organization.

The government, facing the obvious question, has decided that rather than stopping the flights now, it is imperative to keep these flights going, because stopping them will make us less safe from the virus.  This causes anyone with three brain cells and the knowledge that England and France (FRANCE!!!) believe otherwise to stifle a collective “That’s quite possibly the dumbest thing we’ve ever heard.” , but actually, this makes a perverse sort of sense when you consider that this excuse originates in the same town where not spending more on an agency or program than we spent last year is somehow a “cut”.

The fact is that a travel ban from West Africa would lead to questions about other immigration…and those questions would lead to questions about Enterovirus 68, which has killed several American children, and the emergence of which corresponds to the resettlement of all the “children” from south of border. (Unexpectedly!) and then people would be questioning an ideological touchstone of this Administration for reasons that could not logically be defined as “racist”.  And they can’t have that.  The illusion of the naked emperor’s resplendent garb is simply too precious, especially to the emperor himself.  Protecting the first failure, which ignores the wisdom of previous generations who saw the wisdom in health screenings as a condition of entry into this country, means committing more errors, which will, in turn, cost more American lives.

To combat this obvious failure, which would even cause Helen Keller to say “What the hell…?”, the meme has been floated that being  concerned about this silly, given that tobacco, alcohol, and obesity kill tens of thousands more in this country annually, so being concerned this government’s stubborn insistence to continue to allow people from affected areas to travel to this country and potentially infect Americans with a dread disease with a 71% mortality rate that heretofore was unseen among our population is somehow foolish “panicking”.  “Panic” is of course, hyperbole.   Panic is afoot in this nation today, but it is found in the offices of Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to the United States Senate, not among the average American who realizes that common sense and logic are being deliberately suppressed in favor of purely political considerations that have already needlessly cost the lives of Americans, and place countless others at risk

It isn’t panic that most Americans feel about this, it is ANGER.  Justifiable, controlled, and focused ANGER.

And when the response is to draw comparisons to other causes of death, such as from alcohol, tobacco, and obesity, they have a right to be even angrier, as the lyric “One of these things is different from the other/One of these things is different from the rest.” plays loudly in the radio of their minds.  The fact is that we are all dying, a  little bit each day, and for most Americans, these causes are also incremental.  They kill, but because they are patient, and slow, they feel like they are contributing factors, and not direct causes.  And more importantly, they are the result of choices WE make, not choices that our government refuses to make.   That is the difference, and it is an even greater irritant when we consider the steps that government takes to “protect” us from these incremental harms.  Minimum ages in order purchase the products.  Taxes to discourage purchase.  PSAs.  Fitness and nutrition programs.  Millions and millions of dollars spent annually to “protect” us from cutting off the years we would otherwise spend in wheelchairs, warehoused in a “home” somewhere, staring off into space, exhausting our resources, and more commonly, the taxpayers’ money, and yet this same government, afraid to threaten a source of new votes purchased with our money refuses to take common sense measures to reduce the number of Americans exposed to and infected with a disease that will cause fever, liquefied internal organs, seizures, and death while bleeding out of every orifice, all in a span of days.  That kind of dual-mindedness would hopelessly confuse Bob Arctor.

And when the government decides to do “something”, it is to appoint a political hack to “take the point” (and the blame) for an executive who’d rather be golfing, until it’s time to blame someone for the inevitable failures.

We have a right to be angry.  And they are the ones who should be panicking.

8

Cooper Wilson stood before the mirror, his thoughts making him too preoccupied to really pay attention to his reflection.  He absently tugged at his collar while he considered what he was about to do.  The throne speech had been simple, and direct.  The West, the King said, had grown complacent, and had allowed itself to hate the beliefs that had made the West different from the East.  The West allowed itself to be seduced by the idea that all beliefs were of equal value, and that humanity had thrown God off of his throne, without ever being cognizant of installing its own vanities in a seat that was never unoccupied, despite man’s best efforts.  And in a short stretch of time, the world that was characterized by those vanities became seared by them.  As a result, he was lifting the ban on Christianity, and would be instituting a new chaplaincy in the Commonwealth Military.

The days and weeks that came after seemed like a blur to Cooper.   While he did not have to handle to logistics of this new command within the military, he was nonetheless its head, and expected to see and be seen in this new role.  Many under his command were those who had kept the faith alive as an underground movement, from one side of the Commonwealth to the other.  And though many risked everything to shepherd their flocks, they came when the call went out.  Many of their stories touched Cooper, and many more made him feel ashamed, believing that in comparison, his faith was small, and their trust and deference to his authority, undeserved.  This feeling became that much more acute when he realized that he would, in the course of his duties, give orders that would undoubtedly lead to death for some of them.

“Are we ready?”

Lise’s voice snapped his eyes into focus, as he silently appraised his reflection, and thought to himself “You’ll do.”

He turned, and she immediately set upon him, taking it upon herself to straighten his tie, as a look of consternation fell across her face.  She brushed off his shoulders, stopping when she came to the old United States flag on his arm.  His eyes followed hers, and he said “Stop.  Please.  I feel self-conscious enough already without you staring at it.  Her eyes met his, and her lips pursed, then opened as if to say something.

“I think it suits you, hoss, and frankly, I think you have earned the right to wear it.”  Rick Gearhart’s voice boomed from the doorway.

Cooper nodded, and stepped in to the short hallway leading to the pulpit.  Before stepping out, he closed his eyes, and whispered “Lord, let me do no damage to it.”, and then he stepped out before a cathedral filled with men and women in uniform.

 

 

The most powerful word in the country today is… “Offensive”.

The words of a Facebook acquaintance hung there on the group page, taunting my mind away from a more basic Sunday morning meditation.   It worked, and my mind started milling the words, prompting my immediate rejoinder “If that were true, it would work for everyone, non?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to consider the “wrongness” that lead to the statement being made in the first place.  I realized that it isn’t about the rank hypocrisy that sees nothing wrong with an entitlement for some people to invoke “offense” as a means to stop discussion, debate, questions, behavior or beliefs they do not like, but is incapable of even considering that other parties might be offended by the discussion, debate, questions, behavior or beliefs of the those invoking “offense”, let alone capable of invoking “offense” themselves.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think being able to end all discussion, debate, questions, behavior, or beliefs by claiming to be “offended” is unhealthy for a free society, offensive to liberty, and childish in the extreme.   As long as it is impossible to have an honest conversation, because it will almost certainly “offend” someone, it will be impossible to address any issue of import.  It doesn’t take long before this will lead to financial impairment, social impairment, and impairment of national security. (See President Obama, Second Term)

But the really, really odious part if this is that I often hear “Offense” uttered like an incantation from many of the same people who speak of “reason” being superior to faith, and a basis for them to assume an intellectual superiority that they clearly haven’t earned, while they often put faith in “facts” that have expiration dates due to constantly changing nature of scientific paradigms.  The illogic of presuming that rights which are guaranteed by law are subject to override if only they can apply their completely subjective responses to the exercise of those rights would be laughable if it wasn’t pursued with such zeal and dedication.  Orwell himself couldn’t have conceived of the sheer scope of the vanity and delusion that have combined to impose a bizzaro-world rhetoric to such a degree that sincerity and directness are relegated to criminal status.

The saddest aspect to this current state of affairs is that too many of us allowed ourselves to be cowed by this practice, as if offending someone, or at least those granted a de facto privileged status by the arbiters of acceptability, is a combination of the worst sin and the worst crime that a person can commit.  The fact is that this extraordinary power and cancer on society wouldn’t be powerful at all if we didn’t let it.  But this requires a boldness to push back, that too few have the backbone to exhibit.  Start responding by saying “SO???”  Ask them to explain why they are suffering from the alleged “offense”.  Put the onus on them to prove why it should matter to you, and to everyone else, rather than giving what has morphed into a generic and reflexive complaint the presumption of legitimacy without the burden of proving it.  It is your duty as a citizen and a member of society to engage people who don’t want you to engage in an honest discourse.  It is your birthright to be able to do so without the threat of sanction by government, or those who want to destroy the very way you live, and censor your very thoughts.

STAND.  BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

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