31 December 2014

A 2014 Adieu Haiku

I haven't posted a blog in months. Ostensibly, it's because I hit a snag in my Favorite Things list with "X," but the truth is, I've just had other things on my mind. I've typed a couple of entries, but nothing that sounded worth reading to my own ears, let alone anyone else's. Maybe I'll get back to the keyboard seriously, but for now I'm gonna try something nearly mindless for a little while. Haikus.

Two Thousand fourteen.
Haven't blogged in seven months.
Haikus in fifteen?

01 June 2014

A few of My Favorite Things: W is for Wrestling

Not the overblown crap Vince McMahon has been putting out for the past 30 years, I mean the old days, when they pretended it was real. I remember going to the matches on Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum with my dad in the mid-70s, watching classic feuds like Jerry Lawler versus Jackie Fargo for the AWA Southern Heavyweight Title.
One of the earliest "high-flyers," Bill Dundee teams with Tojo Yamamoto to beat the hated team of Dennis Condrey and Phil Hickerson with the help of a classic "knocked out ref revives just in time" stunt.

Recognize "Terry Boulder" cutting a lousy promo here?
Memphis wrestling in the 1960s and early 70s was promoted by Nick Goulas. Goulas was a notorious cheapskate at a time when wrestlers might be very local celebrities, but had no power over their own careers. They drove themselves, often long hours and hundreds of miles, to widely scatterred shows and carpooled to save money. The promotion was taken over in the mid-70s by Jerry Jarrett, who formed the Continental Wrestling Associationn in 1977. By the early 1980s, Vince McMahon was leveraging the emerging cable TV market via to promote his budding World Wrestling Federation. McMahon was the first promoter to lose any pretense of wrestling being "real." I remember watching Saturday Night's Main Event, a primitive, scripted broadcast of one of WWF's live shows in the early 80s. It was (and mostly still is) a caricature of old school wrestling. You could always tell when it was time for a commercial because something would happen to stop the action. "While they sort this out, we'll take time out for a few words from our sponsors..."
Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee had some of the greatest matches in pw history:
And made an even better tag team, who could forget the original (of many) Tupelo concession stand brawl?

And the famous Lawler/Terry Funk "Empty Arena" match?
For a while in the late 1990s, WCW gave Vince's WWF a run with the NWO/Mute-Sting" gimmick.

Vince claims to have had a telephone conversation with Ted Turner when Turner bought the Georgia territory: Ted - "Guess what, Vince? I'm in the rasslin' business>" Vince - "That's nice, Ted. I'm in the entertainment business."

Unfortunately in the eyes of old school fans, Vince's watered down, mass marketed pablum played. Not that it didn't have it's moments.
One of the better retirement speeches.
The farewell (sort of) of one of the greatest.
Man, that dude could cut a promo.
Who they got now? Daniel Bryan? Sheamus? Wade Barrett? They couldn't lace these guys' boots.
Or cut a promo like The American Dream.
AH, the good ole days... gone.

22 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: V is for Valor

I grew up in Memphis riding and eventually driving on a portion of Tennessee State Route 204  known as Singleton Parkway.  It runs from Macon Road north to Hwy 385 near Millington.  It is named in honor of Sgt.Walter Keith Singleton, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for combat action in the Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province of Vietnam, during which he was killed on 24 March 1967.  Singleton risked his life to save wounded comrades pinned down by an enemy position in a hedgerow.  Singleton seized a machine gun and single-handedly assaulted the enemy nest, killing 8 and clearing the position, being mortally wounded in the process. 

Tony K. Burris earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on “Heartbreak Ridge” during the Korean War.  Despite being wounded several times, he led multiple assaults on Hill 605, deliberately exposing his position to draw enemy fire and direct return fire.  He died personally leading a charge, throwing his last grenade and rallying his unit to capture the position.  One of 28 full-blooded Native Americans to receive the Medal of Honor.

Benjamin Kaufman, one of 22 Jewish-American Medal of Honor Recipients, received the award for action in the Argonne Forest, France on 4 October 1918 during World War I.  Despite being temporarily blinded by a gas shell and forced to evacuate to a field hospital, Kaufman borrowed a uniform and returned to the fighting,  single-handedly capturing an enemy machine gun nest with one arm and an empty pistol.

But you don’t have to be a soldier to display valor.

One of the most iconic images of the 20th century is a lone man, armed only with a couple of shopping bags, standing in front of a line of Chinese T59 tanks in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.  Known only as “Tank Man,” Tank Man his identity has never been conclusively proven, nor is his ultimate fate known.  Some observers report that he was hustled away by the Chinese government’s euphemistically named “Public Security Bureau.”  Others claim the two figures who led him away were merely part of the protest crowd.  Whoever he was, Chinese government had, according to eyewitnesses, ordered tanks to simply plow over such protestors before, having a very utilitarian view of its citizens, so it was a pretty risky move.   Perhaps it was the open forum and tank commander’s knowledge of the presence of many international observers and cameras that spared his life.  Perhaps it was the bravery of the tank commander alone.  His fate is not known, either, but worldwide recognition of the Chinese crackdown could not have pleased the Chinese high command.

Reese is two years old.  At an age when a typical child’s greatest challenges are potty training and learning to operate door knobs, Reese is receiving chemotherapy for a brain tumor, discovered in May 2013.  Reese is the April Patient of the Month at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.  Hang in there, Reese.

11 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things:U is for Ulster

Ulster is the traditional name of the area of the United Kingdom now known as Northern Ireland.  About a thousand years ago, I traced my ancestry back as far as I could and hit upon a fella named John Stafford, who was born in Ireland in 1721 and came to Virginia in 1754.  That’s about all I know about him, but I fixated on that small factoid to decide that I’m Irish.  Never mind that it’s 9 generations back.  And I have no idea where in Ireland John came from, but since I’m protestant, I decided he must have been from Northern Ireland.

Ulster was one of the original firths (fifths) of ancient Ireland, known as Cúige Uladh in those times.  Northern Ireland today remains a part of the United Kingdom and the site of bloody, sectarian violence with the predominately Catholic Republic of Ireland over religion and independence.  It was formally created in 1921 by an act of Parliament prior to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.  The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 made it largely self-governing, and the violence of the mid-late 20th century, marked by the activities of the terrorist Irish Republican Army and its more mainstream political wing, Sinn Fein in response to anti-Catholic and anti-republican discrimination by the predominantly Anglican unionists, has largely subsided.  Of course, it’s not as simple as all that, but those are the high points.

Its most prominent symbol, used by both republicans and unionists, is the Red Hand of Ulster.  Legend holds that the kingdom at one time had no rightful heir.  It was agreed that a boat race would be held and the first one to touch land would be king.  One of the contestants was said to have severed his own hand and thrown it on shore, thus winning the kingdom.  

06 April 2014

Special Update: A to Z Challenge

If you stopped by looking for the "A to Z" April challenge, I must offer my humble apologies.  Time simply got away from me and I just don't have enough of that precious commodity to devote to the effort right now.  I'm still working my way through the alphabet with my "Favorite Things" theme, and hope to wrap that up soon.  My twitter feed will feature a number of bloggers that are in the challenge, so keep an eye out there, and good luck to the scores of bloggers participating this year!

04 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: T is for Tea

Camellia sinensis.  Its leaves were likely first brewed in the Shang Dynasty in China sometime between 1,600 and 1,046 BC, but tradition points to a much older origin, with Shennong, the traditional father of agriculture in Chinese lore.  Long thought (not without modern scientific confirmation) to have medicinal properties, it became known as a pleasant and stimulating beverage owing to its caffeine content.

It is perhaps the most Southern of beverages, excepting perhaps bourbon, and simply must be consumed with another Southern staple; cane sugar (the four basic food groups of the South are butter; brown sugar, cornbread, and bacon).  It’s virtually all I drink.  The recipe is simple, but exacting.  A glass of unsweetened iced tea and a packet of sugar is NOT sweet tea.  Real sweet tea cannot be made once it’s cool.  You have to put the sugar in while it’s hot. 

Sweet Tea (1 gallon)
2 cups boiling water
1.5-2 times the number of tea bags it says on the box (make it strong)
1.5-2 cups plain, white cane sugar (no substitutes)

Brew the tea as normal, but let it steep longer (you want strong tea).  Remove the tea bags (squeeze them out, don’t waste the liquid in the bags) and add the sugar while the tea is still hot.  I bottle it straight and refrigerate it; adding ice waters the tea down, but I like it very strong and very sweet.  It’s not quite syrup, but it’s sweet.

(Full disclosure: I use a fake tea-flavored enhancer like Mio (heresy!).  It’s not great, and certainly not real sweet tea, but for just one person in a household of 4, there’s no room in the fridge for a jug of tea, and I drink a LOT of it throughout the day.  The convenience is just too good to pass up.  And yes, I know the fake sugar (sucralose) is no better, and maybe worse, for you than sugar, but I can’t carry around a five-pound bag of sugar to make it one glass at a time) 

31 March 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: S is for Sense

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.  And we don’t actually live in a “democracy,” we live in a republic, but that’s here nor there for this discussion. But for all our faults, we’re still closer to getting it right than any civilization our size in recorded history.  We’re just so darn polarized.  Of course, that’s because all the people on the other side of the argument are stupid.  No matter which side you’re on.  That’s what it boils down to.  We have so little regard for the opinions of others.  Actually, that’s not true.  We have GREAT regard for the opinions of those who agree with us.  So much so that we usually blindly take their statements as fact.  And when they are proven irrefutably to be wrong, they were merely “inaccurate,” or “misquoted.”  Whereas the “other” side, when they’re wrong (which they are by definition), they’re intentionally obfuscating with nefarious intent (lying).  Or they’re stupid. 

Discussion is healthy, bickering isn’t, and most political discussions these days are just bickering.  I don’t see anyone on either side of the aisle bringing us together anytime soon.  We seem to be all fresh out of statesmen.  We desperately need a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Reagan, even a Bill Clinton, who at least knew how to be reasonable and make a deal with those who disagreed with him.  

Still, it amazes me that we’re debating some of the things we’re most partisan about, when some aspects of it seem to be such common sense.  Here’s a few:

1. Oil and gas production.  We are a carbon-based-energy economy, and that won’t change anytime soon.  For now, today, we have to “drill, baby, drill.”  Yes, we must invest in alternative energy.  The oil will run out, perhaps not in the 20 years some alarmists predict, but it is a finite resource.  The Earth isn’t making any more of it.  Furthermore, and this astounds me that people don’t seem to understand this, we have to drill where the oil is.  We can’t “move” the oil from, say, the ANWR, to a place we’d rather drill (downtown Detroit comes to mind).  And as far as alternatives go, the safest, most reliable source we currently have on the table is… nuclear power.  It is abundant, clean, and if managed with some reasonable level of oversight, safer than fossil fuels.  It can work, if we’ll recognize that the well documented “disasters” almost always occurred from preventable causes, and conversely accept the fact that government is the necessary oversight body with the power and resources to effectively force Machiavellian corporations to take all the necessary safeguards to minimize the risks, which are perfectly manageable with a little common sense. One promising alternative may be thorium.  But no one will research it because you can’t make a weapon out of it.

2.      Immigration.  Call it “amnesty” if you want, but deporting 11 million people and telling them to come back in the right way is not a workable solution.  The problem isn’t that they’re here, so much as it is that their consuming resources without sharing responsibilities.  The nation exists for its citizens, and that comes with the responsibility to contribute to the good of the society under whose blessings you prosper.  Make a law that’s comprehensible and can be followed, then enforce it, but that law has to include a path to citizenship, which out to be the goal for both sides.  But as a well-known legal proverb says, “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made prolonging the problem.”

3.      Gun control.  A firearm is an inanimate object.  It has no will and no conscience.  If the trigger is pulled, it’s going to send a projectile in a straight line at an extremely high rate of speed.  But the responsibility for that projectile lies with the handler, not the firearm.  No gun ever hurt anyone without the intervention, or careless lack thereof, of a human being.  It’s a tool.  One with the potential to prevent harm or to cause it.  Handling one is a great responsibility, one that most reasonable adults are capable of assuming.  But many are not, and there must be some way to protect the rest of us from them.  Some common sense restrictions on firearms ownership and handling are perfectly reconcilable with my constitutionally guaranteed freedom of ownership.  One of those is a background check.  And for a background check to be effective, it has to include all information relevant to making a reasonable decision.   The piecemeal system we currently have is not effective, but the answer is to fix the system, not impose blanket restrictions on the law-abiding.  We make you take a test to drive a car; I’d be okay making you take a test to own a gun.  And for those who don’t like the Second Amendment; change it.  The Constitution provides a perfectly valid method for doing just that.  It’s been done 27 times, one of which directly repealed a previous amendment.  Your problem is not enough people agree with you to change it.  But they’re stupid, of course.  Which apparently means more than half of us are stupid.  Reading the news, I’m not sure I’d dispute that.

4.      Fiscal Responsibility.  Deficit spending, in the long haul, is unsustainable.  I’m not a math whiz.  I failed College Algebra three times before finally getting a grad assistant I could understand and getting a “B.”  I got a mercy “C” in Elementary Calculus, something I had to have to graduate.  But I can do basic math.  If you spend more than you make, eventually, you can’t even pay the minimum payments on your credit cards.  If your bills are more than your income, you have some variation of two choices: decrease your bills; increase your income.  If you’re a government, there seems to be a third option: do absolutely nothing.  That’s not technically true, they’re not doing nothing.  They’re steadily running up the credit cards.  But for now, interest expense (about 6.5% of the 2013 federal budget) pales in comparison to spending.   Social Security is the biggest Ponzi scheme ever devised.  The payout is unsustainable and increasing at an incredible rate.  In 1940, there were 159 taxpayers funding the system for every one recipient.  In 2010, it was 2.9 to 1.  If the average annual benefit is about $14,000 (and it is), each of those not-quite three people must contribute over $4,800 a year to maintain the status quo.  That would make just this one tax the 4th largest item in my monthly budget, behind rent, food, gas, and child support.  And the numbers don’t get better going forward.  While employment remains stagnant, 10,000 new Baby Boomers turn 65 every day.  Most estimates say a couple retiring in 2014 will incur a quarter million dollars in healthcare expenses during retirement, and with costs and life expectancies both rising, the problem only gets worse.  As for increasing revenue, of the 239 million tax returns filed in 2012, only about 268,000 of them show more than $1 million in adjusted gross income.  If you took a million dollars from every one of them, it would amount to just over 30% of the estimated $882.7 billion Social Security spent in fiscal 2013.  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid combine to account for 47.9% of all federal budget outlays.  By comparison, the official US budget for fiscal 2013 allocated $672.9 billion for the US military; 17.7% of total budget outlays, and the US Dept. of Education had a budget of $71.9 billion; just 1.9% of the total.  Completely wiping out the Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, NASA, the National Intelligence Program, the Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Administration would fund less than 30% of the Department of Health and Human Services.  All $3.45 trillion of this amounts to what I recently laughably heard called “Draconian Republican austerity.”  So when Bush spent $2.9 trillion in 2008 it was “irresponsible,” but when Obama spends $3.45 trillion it’s “Draconian austerity??”  
What should be cut and what shouldn’t is open for debate.  The fact that we spend unsustainable sums of money shouldn’t be.

5.      “The Russian Bear Awakes and Remembers His Claws.” Or “You Can Go Home Again…If You Have Automatic Weapons and Armored Personnel Carriers.”  Ignoring signs for years that Vladimir Putin wants to, as the man who inspired my blog, Mike Bratton, recently said, is “trying to get the band back together,” the western world has looked on in bewildered impotence as Russian Troops (sorry, Vlad, nobody bought the “military surplus” routine) just forcibly lopped off the southern 1/4th of a sovereign country, almost without firing a shot.  Despite explicit, unequivocal statements in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Vlad rode in on a white Russian horse to “save” the ethnic Russians suffering under the iron boot of… wait, that was Viktor Yanukovych who sent snipers into the streets.  Now the same depleted military that was unable to save Yanukovich is unable to save Ukraine. Ask Neville Chamberlain how much repeated assurances of non-aggression and restraint mean.  And don’t think you can brush me aside by calling “Godwin,” the parallels between Crimea/Sudetenland are patently obvious.   Furthermore, at least a sizable portion of Crimea doesn’t want to be saved from Russia.  As unfathomable as I find it, many of these ethnic Russians WANT to be Russian (Soviet) again.  Perhaps not the overwhelming majority that Putin claims in the “free and unhindered” referendum held under occupation with only two choices, niehter of which was “remain in existing Ukraine,” but likely a majority.  And in his 18 March speech should have removed all doubt in all but the most delusional minds.  It’s a shopping list.  “This is where we’re going next.  These are Russian territories, and we will regain what was robbed and plundered from us.” Trans-Dniester, eastern Ukraine, part of Kazakhstan, Byelorussia and Estonia are next, and he may be more justified there than in Crimea.  There’s real evidence that some of those places really are discriminating against ethnic Russians where lingering anit-Soviet sentiment is strong.  The speech is replete with references to “Russian military glory” and “inseparable part[s] of Russia.”  But most troubling, he may be right about some things.  One of the foundational principles of post-feudal government is the right of the people to remove a government that does not suit their desires and institute a preferable one.  And he’s right that we tend to be selective in our support for this principle.  The Colonies did just that in 1776.  The Confederacy did just that in 1861 (although that didn’t work out so well for them).  And Kosovo did it in 2008.  Russian troops, or should I say, more Russian troops, are massing on the borders of eastern Ukraine, conducting more “training exercises.” (“It’s a training exercise,” “we have no intention to cross Ukraine’s borders or engage in any aggressive actions,” “We do not want Ukraine’s division.”  Who in their right mind believes this??  “Don’t want Ukraine’s division… any more than we’ve already divided it.”  The question is: what can we do?  The answer, unfortunately, is “not much,” if we even want to.  Our leaders piously lecturing Putin about “21st century behavior” are laughable, and that’s just the reaction we’re getting.  Nothing short of direct military intervention is going to stop Putin, and current US leadership certainly doesn’t have the backbone, and probably not the support of the American people to do that.  Iraq and Afghanistan have left us broke and isolationist.  How little has changed since World War One a hundred years ago, or since 1938, or since Russo-Georgia in 2008.  I’m not saying we should march in with troops, I’m simply saying that’s what it will take.  Russia has the stomach, if not the economy for it.  Putin’s speech lauded the “bloodless” nature of the recent upheaval.  It’s likely to stay that way, and Russia’s USSR re-incarnation is not likely to stop as long as it stays bloodless.  Such is human history, such is human nature, and that hasn’t changed much, either.

28 February 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: R is for Rest

Rest.  Something most people take for granted.  You lay your tired ol' bones down at night, you sleep, it’s as simple as that.  But for me, it’s not, and it never has been, as long as I can remember.  No matter how exhausted I am, I’m going to lie there for a half hour, maybe longer, unable to simply shut off my brain and go to sleep.  And I guarantee that I’ll wake up at least twice a night, at least by 4 am, often unable to go back to sleep, sometimes sleep surfing all night long.

I’ve tried so many different things.  I’ve eliminated caffeine after noon.  I tried eliminating it altogether, but couldn’t function and got headaches.  Now I limit myself to one or two servings in the morning, never after lunchtime.  I tried Ambien, but it gives me serious memory issues.  I’ll forget entire conversations that take place after taking the stuff.  Not that I talk that much to begin with, but I’ll forget not just what we talked about, but forget that the entire conversation took place at all.  I’ve tried melatonin, currently up to 60mg a night.  The only effect seems to be that I’m groggy when I wake up in the middle of the night.

I even went for a sleep study a couple of years ago.  I got myself hooked up to all kinds of wires and “slept” on camera.  The results?  The first time, I “slept” for 8 minutes.  That’s 8 minutes out of 8 ½ hours.  Although I didn’t lie “awake” all night, I only got down into REM sleep for 8 minutes all night long.  My oxygen levels dropped as low as 70%.  I snored.  Not bad, but enough to restrict my airway.  So they prescribed a CPAP machine; a 50 pound muzzle that blows hurricane force winds up your nose all night. I used it for about 3 months.  The results?  I stayed “asleep” for about 2 hours then tossed and turned the rest of the night, REMming for maybe 3 hours total, never longer than an hour and a half at a time.  I put the thing on its lowest setting, adjusted the straps as loose as I could and still get a good seal around my nose and mouth.  It’s loud.  It’s obnoxious. It’s uncomfortable.  It would keep my wife awake, and there’s no sense in both of us being awake all night. And it made no appreciable difference in my sleep patterns.  I still sleep off and on, and only about half of the night.

So what do I do?  The answer at this point seems to be: live with it.  Sleep poorly.  Fight to stay awake during the day and stare at the ceiling from 10PM til midnight.  The only thing I haven’t tried yet is a “hard reset” of my body clock.  Basically, you deprive yourself of sleep, sleeping one hour a night for a week, following a strict regimen of bedtimes to try to force your body onto a set schedule.  IF you survive, you should be so absolutely exhausted that your body will surrender and sleep at whatever time it’s allowed to.  If you don’t have a heart attack first.  Or a stroke.  Studies show these are the consequences.
Such wonderful choices.  And what happens the first time I don’t keep that boffo new schedule?  Am I back to square one?  Did I go through all that pain and agony for nothing?  At this point, the status quo looks like the least undesirable option.  At least I can stay awake to write my………

21 February 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: Q is for Quiet

Although I was born the third of a three children, I grew up as an only child by adoption.  Also being socially awkward, I didn’t have a huge number of friends as a child or an adult, and as a result, spent my share of time relatively alone.  The only time I like loud noise is in the truck on a sunny day with “Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring blaring, or Saturday nights at the dirt track in Lebanon.  Chaos can get overwhelming quickly.

I value times of quiet and peace.  Unfortunately, for me, silence does not exist.  I suffer from tinnitus, commonly known as ringing in the ears, largely due to those Saturday nights at the dirt track without ear plugs and the aforementioned 80’s music.  If I list closely, I can hear three distinctly different tones; high, middle, and one in between.  If I could get a bass tone going, I could have a quartet.
I can generally ignore it, but it’s never not there.  If I think about it, I can hear it even above normal conversation.  It’s not so bad that it interferes with life, usually, but I’ve already noticed a marked drop off in my hearing.  It makes it difficult to pick up conversation if there’s a lot of background noise.  I find myself looking right at someone, watching their mouth move but having no idea what they’re saying. 

The worst part is, despite the advertised “miracle cures,” there’s really nothing that can be done about it.  If you concentrate on hearing it, it’ll drive you insane.  The only consistent relief to be found is to drown it out with background noise.  My preference is rainfall rather than pure white noise.  A fan works pretty good, too.  But for the most part, you just have to live with it and try not to think about it.  

14 February 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: P is for Polk County

Polk County  (named in honor of 11th president James Polk) was founded in 1845 by the Oregon Provisional Legislature,  the precursor to the Oregon Territory.  It occupies the west bank of the WillametteRiver at Salem and stretches westward into the Coastal Range, and is home to Laurel Mountain, the 4th highest peak in the CR and the wettest place in Oregon.

Politically, it is a counterbalance, leaning slightly Republican like much of Eastern Oregon across the fulcrum of the heavily blue I-5 corridor from Eugene to Portland.  The current population is a little over 75,000 and has shown population growth in every census taken since 1860. It is overwhelmingly white (89%), and married (57%).   It is predominantly rural and agricultural, with a median income of just over $42,000.  Just .42% of its area is water, and it is strongly delineated between east and west, the eastern half of the roughly square 744 sq. mile county being mostly river-delta farmland, while the western half is heavily forested foothills of the CR.  The county seat is Dallas (named for Polk's VP George Dallas), formerly known as Cynthian (or Cynthia Ann), a settlement along Rickreall Creek

It is host to the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge and a portion of the Siuslaw National Forest.  It is home to 29 places on the NationalHistoric Register, including the former site of Fort Yamhill, an antebellum military outpost boasting Civil War generals Phil Sheridan, Joseph Hooker, and Joseph Wheeler among its roll call.  The original blockhouse can still be seen in the town square of Dayton.  

05 February 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: O us for Oregon

I moved to Oregon from Tennessee in July of 2007.  I settled in Salem because that’s where I found a job, but I quickly discovered there was a lot more to commend the state than its capital, which the rest of the state treats like a red-headed stepchild.

By far, my favorite Oregon native is my wonderful wife, who I met in April of last year.  I can’t imagine life without her and it was worth everything I went through in my life to get where I am today.  That Oregon City native stole my heart and I’ll never get it back (not that I want to)!  She’s the perfect fit for me!

When Southerners think of Oregon, we usually think of trees and mountains, not noticing that two-thirds of the state is high desert.  The farthest east I’ve been so far, though, is Sisters, and then only for a few hours, so my Oregon experience is green.  I love Salem’s geographic symmetry, poised right on top of the 45th parallel, a full 10 degrees north of my native West Tennessee.  This means longer days in the summer, but longer nights in the winter.  Along with its proximity to the Pacific, it means a more temperate climate, and the Coastal Range breaks up most of the storms that roll in off the Pacific.  No tornados and low humidity make it a welcome change from the muggy South, where a severe thunderstorm is an every-afternoon possibility from March through November (although I do miss sleeping through a good thunderstorm).  White sandy beaches and waist deep snow are less than two hours away in either direction, and my Love and I spent a recent Sunday afternoon strolling along the beach in sunny 50+ degree weather, despite not leaving the house until noon and having to be back by seven.  We revisited the site of our August wedding, watched the waves crash on massive, coral and mussel-covered rocks, wrote our initials in the sand, and sat by a log with a good book for a few relaxing minutes.

30 January 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: N is for News

I’m a news junkie.  I cruise multiple websites often looking for what’s going on in the world.  I almost never watch TV news, and these days almost never read a newspaper, although I still like them, especially when I’m traveling.  But the local paper is a Gannett clone and not worth the time or expense, and the web just makes it too easy to gather information without wasting trees.  I scan a variety of news sources from a variety of viewpoints.  My usual sources include CNN, FoxNews, The Oregonian, The Wall Street Journal, and for a bit more of an international perspective, Reuters.  My sports fix is usually Sports Illustrated, especially Peter King and Don Banks for NFL coverage. 

But my favorite source is The Week magazine.  Published, as the name implies, weekly, The Week reports a striking variety of articles on business, politics, economics, entertainment, and life interest stories.  Its format is simple: Take an issue; briefly explain it; give multiple (usually) opposing viewpoints; let readers make up their own minds whose arguments they find compelling.  While I (not surprisingly) usually side with more conservative commentators, I like hearing what the “other side” has to say, if only to confirm that I disagree with them.  But occasionally I’m confronted with a compelling argument from a liberal viewpoint, like gay marriage.  Or I’m struck by the weakness of a conservative argument, like direct reductions in food stamp benefits to needy families.  In either case, I believe it is healthy and desirable to know what people are saying, particularly those who disagree with you, and to be able to defend or amend your own arguments when confronted with well-reasoned discussions.  The Week doesn’t always present those; sometimes the commentators quoted are partisan hacks; but they’re always informative and entertaining.  And their website is mostly available to non-subscribers.  I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like their news too sanitized.  The death of civil discourse in this country is tragic, and sources like The Week are a step toward stemming the tide of partisan rancor and arrogant ignorance.

What’s your favorite news source?

“The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill 

19 January 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: M is for Memphis

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Memphis.  I was born in Helena, Arkansas but moved to Memphis at a very young age, so although I prefer to tell people I’m from “West Tennessee,” I always have to say “around Memphis” for them to know where I’m talking about.  My favorite town is Arlington, the little eastern suburb I lived in before moving to Oregon in 2007, but I spent most of my life in Memphis. Although I love the life I’ve built here in the Pacific Northwest, and would never consider moving back, the Mid-South will always be “home.”

Memphis is a study in contradictions.  It’s the home of two of the largest, most respected children’s hospitals in the world: Le BonheurChildren's Hospital, and St.Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  It’s largest university, and my alma mater, The University of Memphis, is a perennial basketball powerhouse, and a perennial football dog house.  It’s a political nightmare, having the distinction of electing a city councilman; having him go to prison for taking bribes; getting out and being re-elected; and being convicted of taking bribes AGAIN! 

The music scene is legendary, most notably blues.  Musical legends getting their start in Memphis include  Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, B.B. King, and, of course, Elvis.  Beale Street is one of the most popular destinations in town, but music isn’t the only draw.  The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is one of the largest and most prestigious events in the world of ‘Q.  I often discourse on barbecue styles with Yankees and other foreigners I encounter out here.  Carolina, Kansas City, and Texas all claim rich barbecue heritages, and their distinctive styles all have their merits.  Other than being the wrong animal over the wrong wood at the wrong temperature with the wrong sauce, they’re fine.

Memphis is situated on a natural bluff above the east bank of the Mississippi River, hence its nickname; “The Bluff City.”  Its first notable inhabitants were of the Mississippian Culture in the late first millennia AD, followed by the Chickasaw tribe.  Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto passed through the area in the mid-16th century.  Its flood-proof location made it an early transportation hub, and the convergence of Interstates 40, 55, and (eventually) 69, as well as the world-wide headquarters of FedEx, keep that distinction alive today.  Until it was overtaken by Hong Kong International Airport in 2010, Memphis International Airport was the busiest cargo airport in the world.

Memphis was founded in 1819 by John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson.  Its transportation advantages made it a cotton mecca and a strategic asset to both North and South during the Civil War.  At the time, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was the only east-west rail connection in the newly-formed Confederacy.  Memphis fell to Union gunboats in June 1862 and remained in Federal hands despite numerous raids by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.  A series of yellow fever epidemics in the late 1870s cost the city 75% of its population and caused it to briefly lose its charter. 

An example of Memphis’ contrasts may be found in the fact that Travel + Leisure Magazine named Memphis one of its top ten "Dirtiest Cities," for widespread, visibly littered public spaces,[22]  while it made Forbes Magazine’s 2012 list of the top 15 cities in the United States with an emerging downtown area.

Memphis is in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and home to the international headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. Although predominantly “Christian,” virtually all faiths are well represented.  It is strategically located atop four fresh water aquifers, the largest of which is estimated to contain over 100 trillion gallons of soft, pure water.  The river delta soils to the south in Mississippi and west in Arkansas and abundant water sources make it ideal cotton and rice growing areas, and those crops vastly dominate agriculture in the Mid-South.

Memphis history is darkened by a racially charged sanitation strike in February, 1968 and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of that same year.  Racial tensions continue to run high, with the predominantly black population of Memphis contrasting politically and economically with the predominantly white suburbs of greater Shelby County.  The gritty inner city neighborhoods, depicted pretty well in the movie “The Blind Side", contrast with Shelby Farms, the largest urban park in the United States after New York’s Central Park.

During the early heyday of professional wrestling, Memphis was one of the pioneer cities, with Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum hosting all the biggest names in the “sport” as they passed through taking on local legend Jerry “The King” Lawler for one iteration or another of the “World Championship.”  Lawler’s most widely publicized bout was likely against comedian Andy Kaufman in April, 1982, after which he famously slapped the comedian on the David Letterman Show.  The arena also hosted concerts by The Beatles, The Jacksons, Judas Priest, and, of course, Elvis, his last being in July 1976, a little over a year prior to his death.

One of these days, I want to get home again, but I’ll settle for a visit.  No way do I miss the heat and humidity that beset Memphis from March to October!

Where is “home” for you?

08 January 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: L is for Legends

Some of my favorite literature is myth, folklore, and legend.  I thought I’d spend a few minutes exploring a few of my favorites.

When I was a kid and didn’t have much money (as opposed to now being an adult that doesn’t have much money), my favorite store was the used bookstore where I could buy and swap cheap paperbacks.  And one of the earliest books I remember reading (along with Alan Dean Foster’s series based on the characters from “Star Trek”) was “Limbo of the Lost” by John Wallace Spencer.  Spencer’s ground-breaking book did much to popularize the notion of the “Bermuda Triangle,” but the myths and legends of the sea go back almost as far as recorded sea voyages.  One of the greatest stories is the  “Mary Celeste,” a brigantine found abandoned (outside the “Triangle,” however) but otherwise under sail and in sound, if unkempt, condition in the Atlantic Ocean in December 1872.  Although one lifeboat was missing, there was no sign of the crew of seven, she had ample supplies of food and water, and the crew’s belongings were left untouched, as though the crew had simply vanished.  No trace of the crew or explanation for their disappearance or inexplicable voluntary departure was ever found.  (Interestingly, the “Mary Celeste” was originally built as the “Amazon” in… Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia.  Lots of Spencers in this blog, eh?)

Although it might be the most mysterious, the Mary Celeste is certainly not the only “ghost ship” in seagoing lore:

“The Caleuche" is said to roam the coastline of Chile.

 "The Flying Dutchman” is said to be a portent of doom to any sailor who spots her ghostly passage.

Flaming ships are popular, too, as the Young Teazer and the Eliza Battle are said to reappear in flames near the site of their fiery demises.

Another of my favorite subjects growing up was the land-based legend of Bigfoot.  My early reading days (the early-mid 1970s) would have been shortly after Roger Patterson’s famous “Bigfoot” film; a shaky, grainy bit of celluloid that depicts… well, let’s just say opinions differ as the what exactly it depicts, but the legend is firmly entrenched in myth and folklore.  “Sasquatch,” “Bigfoot” “Skunk Ape,” “Yeti,” “Abominable Snowman,” “Yowie” or whatever you want to call it, people have been reporting sightings of a tall, hairy bi-ped, usually omnivorous and nocturnal, sometimes violent, always reclusive.  Thousands of people in remote areas of the United States, mainly the Pacific Northwest, but also such places as Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida, report encounters with the creatures, or more commonly, inexplicably large footprints.  While many of the sightings are made by seemingly credible people, I consider a lack of remains a formidable deficit in the evidence department.

One of the most enduring Christian legends is the Holy Grail, supposedly the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, and later used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch and preserve the blood of Christ as he helped inter His body following the Crucifixion.  Joseph is said to have sent the cup with his followers to ancient Britain, where it became central to Arthurian folklore.  The tale was probably corrupted by the Celtic mythology of a cauldron endowed with magical abilities.  While space does not permit an exhaustive interpretation of the unlikelihood of the existence of the Grail, let alone any sort of mystical powers thereunto, I offer a few common sense reasons to entertain doubts:

1. It was a borrowed cup.  The “Last Supper” was held at the eating table of one of Jesus’ followers, since He Himself owned no property (no cups, either).  The cup He used was, in all likelihood, gathered up with the other dishes when the disciples left, probably by a servant or female household member, washed, and put away like all the other dishes.

2. Blood coagulates quickly after death.  Since Joseph presumably didn’t undertake (no pun intended) to bury Jesus until after He was dead, draining the blood would have been difficult for a layman, and rendered him ceremonially unclean.  Further, nothing in Jewish tradition would have offered any advantage or logic to collecting the blood of any deceased person.  Remember that this was prior to the Resurrection, and most of Jesus’ followers still didn’t understand His promise to return from the grave.

3. One of my favorite movies is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”  The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is outstanding, and the script is excellent.  Two of the best lines in the franchise occur within the Grail Room.   One is when the Nazi officer chooses a very elaborate, ornate cup, and pays a dear price.  In a great understatement, the elderly knight states:

“He chose poorly.”

Making his own choice, Jones chooses a simple bit of pottery, likely still too fancy, but it’s Hollywood, not seminary, so, meh.  He wisely remarks:

“That’s the cup of a carpenter.”

4. There is within the heart of man a need for something bigger than himself.  Rejecting the idea of the true Creator, he will deify his world in a pantheistic attempt to fill this void, and he longs for something tangible to express the intangible.  God knows this, and it’s one of the reasons why second of the Ten Commandments forbids relics/idols, which inevitably become the focus of our worship.  Thus, while I find grail literature and other relic fictions like Stephen Lawhead’s “Iron Lance” and “Black Rood” entertaining, they are certainly not desirable, and I’m sure were not intended to be used, for biblical instruction.

What’s your favorite legend/myth?