~ A bit of joie de vivre, a comprehensive joy of life, with an occasional edge.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Real Nightmare Before Christmas

It's Black Friday.

You're off of work today, so you get up a little late. Still in your pajamas, you take a few minutes preparing your coffee, as you want to enjoy it today. You grab a quick bite to eat, take a cup of your fresh coffee and head to the couch, where you turn the television on... and that's when you see that it's Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year. This was also the day that you swore you would avoid, fighting the crowds, frequenting the busy stores and malls.

You hear the announcer explain how the term "Black Friday" originated in Philadelphia in reference to the heavy traffic on that day. Two people are now talking about the economy, and how the term has been used more recently by the media in reference to the beginning of that period in which retailers are "in the black" (i.e., turning a profit). And then they break to all of the sale ads.

You just can't resist. You put down that home-brew coffee, get into some clothes and hustle down to Target (or Wal-Mart or Kmart if you like), where you can join all the rest of the Black Friday bargain shoppers and see all of the things that everyone has already picked through and left in shambles. You can stop by the fast food section and get another cup of coffee to make up for the one you left, noticing that it looks rather like weak tea and has a distinctive odor that's definitely not that of fresh brewed coffee.

So you join all of the other Black Friday bargain shoppers, with your expectations of finding anything worthwhile diminishing by the minute. Within the first thirty minutes in the store, you've been bumped by four shopping carts, nearly slipped in the aisle once as you were trying to avoid some strange green liquid as it spread across the aisle, shoved by two kids who were running and shooting Nerf guns at each other, and narrowly escaped the flying projectiles from a barfing baby.

Black Friday... it's the real Nightmare Before Christmas... 

But bravely you weather it all, and continue your quest. And then you find that one single item that somehow doesn't have a torn box or look like it was trampled by earlier shoppers. Smiling, you take it and head to the register, though you're aware that there's sure to be a line.

There are lines at each register, and as fortune would have it, you get caught behind one of those shoppers with a full cart who also has two screaming and drooling infants with her, and then you hear her profane remarks about how badly everything sucks as she unloads her cart and smacks her kids. And as you wait for the cashier (a trainee, as luck would have it) ring up the items very slowly, you would feel a sense of light at the end of the tunnel as the shopper's last couple items go into the bags as she curses at her kids.

Then, just when relief is in sight, the shopper presents the cashier with her credit card, and there is a pause of a minute or so... and all of her purchases are declined. In a burst of profanity, the shopper whips out another credit card and the cashier helps her with it, because the line behind all of you is really growing now. The noises behind you sound like the buzzing of a distant hornet's nest that has been poked and is beginning to swarm. But what happens next is almost predictable at this point: that credit card is declined as well.

Of course now the shopper begins to loudly berate the credit card company, the economy in general, the store, foreign workers who have "stolen good American jobs," and the "incompetence" of the cashier, with rude expletives bursting forth in rapid succession, and variations of the term "suck" seems to make up about every fifth work. Alternatives of another "-uck" term are used at an increasing rate, and "duck" is not the expletive.

About then the trainee cashier bursts into tears, and the people behind you begin to yell at both the rude shopper with her screaming kids and the poor cashier, who is now really sobbing... and you're caught there, squeezed as if in a vice, right there in the middle of all this pandemonium.


You wake up and blink, startled to see that you're still there in your pajamas, and that you had just dozed off for a moment. So you take a sip of your home-brew coffee, smiling gratefully that it was all a nightmare, albeit a real one that many are going through at that precise moment.

You get up and turn on your computer, smiling as you go to that familiar Amazon.com bookmark. Yes, Black Friday shopping here is a lot more fun!

And yes, I'm right here, enjoying it all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Yes, we can!"

I saw a candle of hope lit in Chicago last night, and witnessed something that I thought I might never see in this lifetime. Then I heard the words flow forth...

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nations promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nations next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generations apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctors bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, We are not enemies, but friends, and though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we cant, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes, we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes, we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that We Shall Overcome. Yes, we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes, we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, We Can.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
~ President-elect Barack Obama, in Chicago, November 4th, 2008

Barack Obama's discourse has to be one of the best speeches I've ever witnessed. I parallel his words with those of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's that were delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. Dr. King's words were a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement, and President-elect Obama's words may well define a new beginning for our great country.

President-elect Barack Obama

"Yes, we can!" And yes, we will.

Friday, February 15, 2008


What has happened to our sense of values?

Was watching the news today and this evening, appalled by what I was seeing again, by history again repeating itself.

Steven KazmierczakOn Thursday, Valentine's Day, Steven Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action Remington shotgun he had carried onto the Northern Illinois University campus in a guitar case, stepped from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall, and opened fire on a geology class.

Kazmierczak killed five students and then himself.

University Police Chief Donald Grady said that the 27-year-old had become erratic in the past two weeks after he had stopped taking his medication. But that seemed to come as news to many of those who knew him, and the attack itself was positively baffling.

Investigators learned that a week ago, on February 9th, Kazmierczak walked into a gun store in Champaign and picked up two guns, the Remington shotgun and a Glock 9mm handgun. He bought the two other handguns at the same shop, a Hi-Point .380 on December 30th and a Sig Sauer on August 6th.

All four guns had been bought legally from a federally licensed firearms dealer. At least one criminal background check had been performed... Kazmierczak had no criminal record.

Most of us have seen this story plastered all over the media, so I'll go no further about it, but it did get me to thinking on multiple tracks; about history repeating itself, about media coverage, about my own beliefs in the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), and thoughts about why such things happen.

Had been writing an angry reaction to this entire story when I happened upon a friend's journal on this topic... and it stimulated another thought, and that had to do with values. This is the reaction as I posted as a comment, with a few additions:

Maybe if we who are parents would put down the remote controls to our television sets for an extra ten minutes a day and discuss values. with our children, it might make a difference.

It Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 2002 - click here for full viewreally wouldn't be all that hard to do. Values could come from many different sources... things that shaped our own lives when we were young; spiritual things if a religious family; our success (and failures, being honest); even silly pranks that we may have pulled at a young age (this from my son, who's reading this with me)... it's your own choice here.

Values are not chuckling over the latest episode of Family Guy or The Simpsons, or who was the best talent on American Idol. If one wants to find values to discuss from television, there's always the Discovery Channel, A&E, the History Channel and such.

Right now one of our local channels is running the film Hotel Rwanda, the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda, when almost 1,000,000 Rwandans where massacred in a 100 day period. You can see the trailer here, but it's a pretty brutal subject.

Click here for more on the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.

My son had seen the previews for this film, we talked about it (I've seen it before), and it was his choice to watch... and yes, we will discuss it later. It's been called an African Schindler's List, another film that he's already seen. And yes, this one will help shape his own values.

We agree on many things and differ on others, for he's always been encouraged from a very young age to not follow the crowd, but to shape his own opinions, his own sense of values.

Without values, we end up with situations like the tragedy we saw at Virginia Tech and the others that we've been seeing in the news. And values like this have to be taught from home, and not from our school systems.

It takes just taking a few extra minutes each day to do this, that's all.

The news today reported that Steven Kazmierczak's father, Robert Kazmierczak, appeared on the porch of his Lakeland, Florida home and pled for privacy, telling a reporter “Please leave me alone. I have no statement to make.” Reporters had been trying to contact Robert Kazmierczak after it was discovered his son was responsible for the killing of the five students before taking his own life.

The Polk County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department had been requested to notify Robert Kazmierczak that his son had died, and shortly after being notified Kazmierczak found several reporters in his yard.

He made a brief appearance, saying “It's a very hard time. I'm a diabetic.” Kazmierczak requested that the reporters leave, then broke down in tears and went back inside the house. It has been reported that he recently lost his wife as well. It's very difficult to imagine putting one's self in this grieving father's shoes.

From all that we know, all that has been reported, Robert Kazmierczak had instilled a sense of values within his son, so maybe my thoughts above are only a partial solution to this ongoing problem.

Many Larger view here.years ago, as young Marine, I took an oath that I would l support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and have lived by that oath... once a Marine, always a Marine. I was raised with firearms, and learned to shoot at an early age, skills that I proudly carried into my adult life. Was at a certain point fulfilled by my shooting skills as a expert and sharpshooter, both with pistols and rifles.

Times change, though, and I gave away my last personal firearm, a 9mm Beretta automatic pistol in the early 1980s as I just hadn't fired it in a number of years, even on a range.

But now my own beliefs in our right to bear arms as outlined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution are in grave doubt, and as a result of all of these wanton acts of firearm violence, am now looking more closely at the Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence.

Sometimes we all have to take stock and re-examine our own values.

And now I have a film and its values to discuss with my son...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Weather Prediction

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008 - It's official: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so there will be six more weeks of winter!

America's most famous groundhog emerged from his burrow his shadow shortly before 7:30 AM, saw his shadow, and that means that winter will last another six weeks. This occurred before a crowd of more than 30,000 people from as far away as Alaska and Texas, one of the largest crowds in the 122-year history of the event in the central Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. 

Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter.
According to lore, if the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2nd and sees his shadow, he will be frightened back into his hole, signifying another six weeks of winter. If it's a cloudy day, and no shadow, that means that means winter will end early. As luck would have it, the crappy weather of the preceding few days gave way to glorious sunshine.

Phil was taken out of a tree stump on a hill called Gobbler's Knob, and delivered his profound thought to William Cooper, President of Punxsutawney's Inner Circle, who organizers say is the only person in the world who can speak Groundhogese (the official language of the groundhogs). 

Cooper read a scroll containing the groundhog's prediction. It said: "As I look around me, a bright sky I see, and a shadow beside me. Six more weeks of winter it will be."

According to the tradition that may have links with the European festival of Candlemas, if the groundhog sees his shadow, it will mean six more weeks of winter. If not, there will be an early spring. This tradition may have been brought to the United States by German immigrants.

Here are the facts (with maybe a little fiction) regarding Groundhog Day:

  • Punxsutawney Phil weighs 20 pounds (9 kg) and is 22 inches long. Although groundhogs live for six to eight years, legend has it that Phil, who is named after King Philip, has been making predictions for over 120 years now, thanks to a magic elixir that he drinks every summer to get seven more years of life.
  • Groundhog, woodchuck, land beaver, and whistlepig are all names for the same rodent, the Marmota monax. Related to the squirrel, for the most part they eat green plants like dandelion, clover and grasses. They grow to weigh roughly five to nine pounds (2 to 4 kg) in the wild, but can grow much bigger in areas with fewer natural predators. 
  • Like many similar animals, groundhogs hibernate during the winter. They often emerge from their underground burrows in early February, when Groundhog Day is marked.
  • The groundhog has not seen his shadow only 14 times since 1887, compared to 96 times when he saw his shadow. There were no records in nine of the early years.
  • The buildup of marking this special day formed the basis of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott.

More info and photos at the official Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, and don't miss the FAQ about this internationally famous celebration.

And don't blame me about the prediction for six more weeks of winter... I'm only the messenger.

Note: Posted later on Buzznet, with comments.