Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas, 2018!

Merry Christmas, 2018!

When we lived in Omaha, we dreaded the coming of winter.  My theory is that people raised in cold climates adjust better to warm climates than vice versa.  Growing up across the river in Hampton and Newport News, we did have some very chilly times over there.  Why, I remember one cold spell, when I was in elementary school, where there was snow on the ground for an entire week, with temperatures as low as seven degrees Fahrenheit.  Wow!  I thought that was cold!  But nothing had prepared me for northern winters.

My very first week in Pittsburgh, in an afternoon in January of '77, I discovered what cold really was.  I was waiting on a street corner for a bus to take me back into town after a trombone lesson in the suburbs with a symphony trombonist.  It was a bright sunny day -- a bit breezy, gusts up to about 35 mph, with temperatures down around 25.  That is, 25 below.  I was wearing a suede leather coat that was good down to about 25.  That is, 25 above.   I missed the bus back to town, and the next one was due by in an hour.  It was a very educational hour.  Though a born complainer, I swore I'd never, ever, complain about how hot it got, never, ever, again.

(But... well, I did.  Once.  It was about four or five years later, in Phoenix, AZ, in August, and our Air Force band bus' air conditioning broke down.  No excuse, but just sayin'...)

All that to say this:  we've been in Virginia Beach now for almost twenty years.  But we still shiver at the thought of Omaha winters, where the temps can settle in at well below zero for weeks on end.  Coming here, we'd laugh when everybody complained about temps in the thirties.  Hah!  As my dad would say, I can take that on my eyeball!  Thirty-five degrees is short-sleeves weather in the Midwest!  I kept thinking the locals here were sissies, right up until, after a couple of winters here, I became one.  A sissy, that is.  

Last New Year's Eve, I was delighted to suffer Nebraska winter yet again.  I performed in a New Year's Eve concert with the Plymouth Brass in Lincoln, an hour's drive from my old stomping grounds in Omaha.  I got to visit my friends, Tom and Mary Salem.  Tom is that rare oddity, or odd rarity:  an ex-boss who's still a friend.  :)  That's a rare commodity, right there!  Also got to visit with many other friends, including a couple of my old Warwick High School band buddies, David Newton and his wife, Donna Limburgh Newton.  Anyhow, Nebraska spent the entire week reminding me of the biggest reason we left.  It was coooooolllllddddd.  How cold was it?  It was so cold, politicians had their hands in their own pockets.  It was so cold, Kim Kardashian was wearing clothes.  (Bah-dum-bump!  I'll be here all week.  Try the veal.)  Welcome back to Omaha, Lee!  Here's what you've been missing.  I rented a little Kia Soul for the few days I spent there, and though it's a nice little car, it's shaped like a storage bin.   Having a boxy car means stopping a lot for gasoline, and outside pumping gas was not where anyone wanted to be.  On the night of the concert, Tom and Mary rode down with me to the concert in the boxy little gas guzzler.  Great concert!  Lots of fun!  I had to catch the night owl shuttle just a few hours later, so it didn't make sense to go to sleep.  When I dropped off the rental car (that's one Soul I didn't mind losing) at the Omaha airport, it was 25 below -- Omaha's way of saying, "So long!  Come back, y'hear!"   Laid over in Chicago at 7 AM, heck with Starbuck's -- I found a Chili's and drank beer until I boarded the plane for Norfolk.  Now, I've been known to drink a beer or two, but -- honest -- never before 8 AM.  Until that trip.  With no sleep, I absolved myself because it seemed like 34 o'clock, plus it always helps to think of beer as liquid cereal.  Breakfast is the most important meal, after all.  Sorry, kids, you won't find this on aisle nine next to the Froot Loops.

Debbie had retired from teaching in August of 2017, but one of her old principals moped that she couldn't find a replacement, and, like Al Pacino in "The Godfather", "Just as I was breaking free, they pulled me back in!"  It worked out nicely.  The money paid for Debbie's new flute, and probably a few of my evening martinis.  But we knew last year would be her last year teaching.  So we changed a few other things.  We'd been eyeballing a nearby over-55 neighborhood for a while, named West Neck, and when opportunity knocked, we took it.  Or got taken by it.  Our realtor was very efficient and sold our house in just three days, for $5 grand over our asking price.  And now we have a new address and everything.  We did lose some square footage, and I really do miss our old sun room, where we'd watch the trees and the rabbits, the raccoons and the possums, the robin-eating hawks and the occasional snake, all while drinking mind-altering martinis.  But our new digs are nice and warm and cozy, and only about three miles from where our house was.  We're even closer now to the great eastern Virginia swamp.  The horseflies are so big, they have to use runway lights.  During spring and summer, the ponds are crowded with cormorants and turtles; there are snapping turtles in the area, but we haven't seen one yet (one of our neighbors has).  Our new community comprises several distinct neighborhoods.  We live in one of the two condo neighborhoods, "Codgerville" and "Geezerton."  At 6 AM every morning, we all walk out to the street, clasp hands, and chant, "Get off our lawn!"  There's a famous retirement community in Florida named The Villages, very much like this place but on a much larger scale.  However, in The Villages, they often sell their cars and buy golf carts.  Here in Codgerville, we have to keep our cars, though maybe some of us shouldn't.  A couple of months ago, one of our neighbors turned the corner and drove into West Neck's decorative brick gate.  That's vandalism, senior citizen-style.  Graffiti is for punks and whippersnappers.

We've moved a lot, but we're still not used to it.  This time, Debbie had the help of the New Life Church Women's Folly Support Group, who together with Debbie did all the packing.  The moving company sent over four very strong young men -- our realtor, Karen, had some sway with the moving company and told them, "Send us your A team."  Work can be enjoyable when others are doing yours.  Boxes piled on boxes piled on boxes.  But that's Debbie's strong suit.  Very organized and efficient, that woman.  My job is to make the martinis and tell her what a great job she's doing.  I'm sort of the morale improvement officer.  We hired the Geek Squad at Best Buy to install the TV and sound system on the wall -- best money ever spent.  We have a dozen or so electronic devices, all connected to this one little easy-to-use remote control.  YouTube gives us symphony concerts right here in our living room.  They even have some old Homer & Jethro tunes from my humor-deprived childhood -- still love those corny jokes.  They were kinda the Weird Al Yankovics of country music back in the day.  Beautiful, inspired lyrics such as:  "Her teeth are like the stars above, because they come out every night."  

Speaking of YouTube, there's an a'capella country group named "Home Free" that has a terrific YouTube presence.  Home Free is five guys who just sing, no instrumentalists, but are able to make you think you're listening to a band play.  They are very good!  The week after Thanksgiving, I took Debbie to hear them perform in Richmond, about two hours up the road.  Then we ate the best ribs on the planet at "Buz & Neds BBQ", and on the way home, visited a historical site here in southeastern Virginia named Bacon's Castle.  It's an interesting story.  Rewind back to the 1670s.  Virginia was a British colony.  There was a man, named Nathaniel Bacon, who was unhappy with the colonial government, which was corrupt, and -- probably more to the point -- didn't drive away the Native American tribes.  Bacon got a few hundred men together and they took matters into their own hands, starting a war against the Indians, and that meant trouble as well for Governor Berkeley.  A rebellion ensued.  Bacon's Castle actually belonged to a rich farmer named Arthur Allen; Bacon's men had commandeered Allen's house and hunkered down, and drank all of Allen's wine while they were at it.  But things didn't end well for Mr. Bacon; he died of dysentery before their dispute with the Governor was settled.  Lord Berkeley promised a reprieve for the remaining men if they'd lay down their arms and take a loyalty oath.  But anyone who understands government won't be surprised to learn the Governor hanged 29 of the men anyway.  Bacon's Castle is billed as the oldest English-built house in America -- built in 1665, remodeled in the 1840s.  It's interesting how the architecture had changed during the intervening years.  A house built in 1600's Virginia would look a lot like a house built in 1600's England, with low ceilings and small windows -- anything to keep the heat in.  However, by the 1840s, Virginians had figured out that Virginians suffer hotter and more humid summers than Englishmen, so the add-on parts of the house sported tall ceilings (about eleven feet) and big windows.  

Resuming our drive home, we passed by Smithfield, famous for its hams and pork products.  An unusual juxtaposition, that -- driving from where Bacon died right past where bacon is cured.

This Christmas season, Debbie and I wish you the greatest happiness as you come together with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Deliverer, the One who gave the greatest gift of all.  For, greater love has no man than to lay down His life for His friends.  Unto us, a child was born; unto us, a Son is given.  Keep the Christ in Merry Christmas!


Lee and Debbie

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Conflict of Moral Visions

Insighful article, here:

The writer, Phil Christensen, says,
Trump Haters, you have a binary problem. Or perhaps, I should say that your problem is a binary way of seeing the current political landscape in general, or President Trump in particular. It’s love or hate. There’s no room for nuance, there’s nothing in between. Not for you.
And then he really gets scathing:
The Left Discovers Morals.
Insisting on restraint and respect will get no argument from me. Of course if you gave this one a pass, don’t expect me to buy into your new-found morality....
Read the whole thing.

Just one quibble: the Left is very moralistic and always has been. The difference is that they roll their own moral code, rejecting all that came before them as primitive gibbering. Why heed a book containing wisdom that's ages old? and way outdated? That's so silly! Instead, take these silly notions we invented, like, yesterday.

It's a fundamental distinction. While the Good Book says that God is unchanging and that the Word of the Lord shall abide forever, the Left's book needs rewrites on an hourly basis.

To contrast further: Christian theology claims that the Lord has all power and authority over all of Creation. Having established His moral authority, He instructs us on how to adopt His own moral perspective and put it into practice. In the Christian paradigm, morals are about relationships, and specifically about building the same quality of relationships that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have with each other. Maintain a loving relationship with the Lord ("Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, and mind") and also with our fellow man ("Love thy neighbor as thyself"). This is the Lord's will, and doing the Lord's will is our commandment.  If morals were Einsteinian physics, the Lord's will is our constant, and everything else -- our thoughts, behavior, position, circumstances -- are the variables that must bend to accommodate the Word of the Lord. Situations may change, but the basic principles are bedrock: always do that which shows the most love for the Lord and your neighbor. It's an impossible task, and at times it seems thankless, but it's our task nonetheless. Paul says patience is the first attribute of love, but when I'm in my car, I can't even stop myself from being impatient with other drivers. But the Lord forgives, He admonishes, He corrects, He prepares a table for us. He loves us in spite of our rebellion, for reasons known only to Him.

Compare this to the cramped moral world of the Left. What new morals did they invent for us yesterday?

Well, the Left talks a lot about helping the poor, but at the end of the day, they advocate an economic system that seems better designed to create more poor people. The important thing is, before you build anything, you need to ask the Left's permission.

The Left talks about having compassion for Jack when he thinks he's Jill, or vice versa, but we must never bring up the horrible fact that transgender suicide rates are off-the-charts high, nor do they consider we may be dealing with a mental illness. Like the Left's morals, gender is arbitrary, and reality must bend to accommodate this insight. There are 57 genders, like Heinz's sauces, and there will be more tomorrow. The more complicated, the better. The point is, now you have to ask the Left's advice about how to address someone, or suffer their judgment. And if it were simple, why, you could figure things out on your own, and we can't have that.

The Left talks a lot about fairness, but then they reveal their strategic brilliance by never specifying what fairness means -- the better to christen any resultant change as an improvement. Years ago, to be fair meant to accord the same rights and apply the same standards to everyone. Today, it means giving preferred groups a leg up, in order to, you know, make up for past injustices. But somehow, the quest for cosmic fairness always winds up looking just like political favoritism. I can't think of a single terrible thing the white man ever did to Native Americans that justifies giving preferential treatment to a rich white woman like Elizabeth Warren. But that's only because I'm not a leftist, and therefore I lack a leftist's moral authority. The point is, now we have to ask the Left whether there's some microscopic injustice Elizabeth Warren suffered because Andrew Jackson slaughtered Cherokees two hundred years ago. Only the Left can decide these things; you can't.

The Left ardently defends the freedom of the press as long as they think it means them, but brazenly challenges our laughable conceit that freedom of speech applies to the rest of us too. Dissent is the highest civic duty until the Left is in charge, but then once they are, well, hey, you know, hate speech isn't free speech -- and your speech always becomes hate speech when you disagree with the Left. I'm not allowed to offend others with my speech, but they can scold me for holding such outdated, outmoded, and offensive beliefs. Well, that offends me. Do my feelings count? No, of course not. If I want to know what I'm allowed to say, why, I had better ask my betters -- namely, those on the Left.

Even the Constitution itself must bow to the Left's whims and whimsies. Show of hands: who believes Democrats would be whining today about the Electoral College if Hillary had won that but lost the popular vote? Me neither.

The sole certainty in an uncertain world is the Left's moral righteousness. The sole constant of Leftist morality, their tenet of faith, the one thing they'll stick up for 100% of the time, the hill they're willing for the rest of us to die on, is just this: they are our moral superiors, so let them run everything. They'll make a better world for us. They promise.

That's not even a principle. It's too arbitrary to be called a principle. We'll call it a notion: the Left gets to have all the power it wants, and they want all of it, every drop of it. William Buckley used to call liberals "shower adjusters" because they want to reach into your shower and adjust your water for you. He meant that as an ad absurdum, but these days it seems more scary than absurd.

Invoking the physics analogy again, if our only constant is that the Left must own all the power, then everything else -- truth, beauty, reason, evidence, love, honor, even reality itself -- must become variables. We let Bill Clinton's peccadillos slide because it was just about sex and, besides, he's a Democrat; however, the Stormy thing ought to end Trump's presidency! Obama said you can keep your doctor, but Trump tells lies! Hillary okayed selling 20% of our uranium reserves to the Russians and the Russians sent a check to the Clinton Foundation, but Trump! Russia! Collusion! Obama literally herded and corralled newsmen, but Trump is mean to journalists! Obama scolded the Supreme Court in person at his State of the Union address, but Trump attacks our established institutions! The only way to square these circles is to announce solemnly, but seriously, that squares are circular and you deplorables and irredeemables are just not wise enough to see that.

When I was in school, the medieval Christian notion of "the divine right of kings", based on some of Paul's comments about how the Lord puts our rulers in place, was widely ridiculed. Also the notion of God-given rights. How quaint. The Flying Spaghetti Monster loves us! But, funny, when we removed Christ, somehow we didn't forge ahead to the Greater Day, free of want, that was promised to us by leftist eschatology. Instead, we reverted back to the more primitive, pre-Christian divine god-king paradigm. Evan Thomas said the news corps was reluctant to criticize Obama because "he's like a god." They were also reluctant to criticize Hillary because First Woman President! I'm With Her! Right side of history, and all.

In short, moral authoritativeness shifted from Jesus Christ to a bunch of witch doctors, now called "experts." Reality is too complicated for us to grasp, and yet they will continue making things more complicated, by wreaking arbitrary havoc on reality wherever and whenever they deem it necessary to hold onto power.

Our Lord deserves our love and honor because He has earned it. If Leftists have earned the same, they have successfully concealed that fact; yet, the Left still wants it. Every bit of it. And they'll chase you like the hounds of Hell until they get it.