Thursday, April 28, 2011

Just Thinking Out Loud: The comedian effect

Allowing professional jesters to dictate our social and geopolitical tenets has never seemed like a good idea in my modest estimation.  This is not to imply that some of those who contribute to the national conversation, as it were, don't possess a certain validity (Dennis Miller comes to mind).  Yet all too often we substitute logical criticisms for snappy one-liners, essentially yielding to jokes and mean spirited name-calling out of concern of being falsely labeled if one is bold enough to stand in opposition.

Perhaps nobody typifies such devices more than The View co-host Joy Behar.  Always the firebrand, no matter how untenable her position(s), Behar took another shot at Conservatives recently by referring to them as "mental midgets."  The fact that little people strongly object to the term midget would have made headlines had Behar not been so strongly aligned with those of a Left-leaning orientation.  That said, there is a clear irony in her comment, as it appears that Behar, despite her well-known disdain of the Right, holds Conservatives in a higher regard than they will ever hold her.

It has become increasingly evident that a Liberal can barely tie his or her shoes without launching an attack of some kind against a perceived foe.  While cheap shots are rarely necessary (and never welcome), such things are nevertheless par for the course when dealing with the Left, which is why buying in to such tactics -- while giving little consideration to its veracity for as long as we are offered the fleeting benefit of a good chuckle -- grants the sanctimonious aggressor more legitimacy than they deserve.  Consequently, referring to Behar herself as a midget is far more insulting to an actual little person of any leaning.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Real Music: My girl Carrie

Just as Fox News is practically the lone remaining network in which we can hear God and Jesus mentioned in a non-blasphemous context, Country is the only remaining genre' of music in which the same can be said.  To demonstrate what I mean -- and in keeping with the theme of last Sunday's Quote -- here's my future wife Carrie Underwood performing "How Great Thou Art" with Vince Gill during the Academy of Country Music's Girls' Night Out at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas last April 4:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday's Quote: The Resurrection

A recent story out of the Pacific northwest about a teacher who sought to replace the term "Easter eggs" with the more tolerant "Spring Spheres" caught my attention for obvious reasons.  Indeed I am amazed, almost daily, at the unabated shots Left Wing adherents feel more than free to take at the one religion that postulates the foundational principles that made our country the envy of the entire planet.

This is a day in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.  The birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ provide the most fundamental elements of the Faith, and yet too often we overlook another profound fact – that the remaining Disciples could not have gone into the world and spread the Gospel in the face of every possible hardship had they not seen the risen Savior.

If this pivotal event does not occur, Christianity dies with Jesus himself.  But, of course, things did not turn out that way, which is why the observance of Easter is sacred.  To expand a bit further, consider an offering from The Prince of Preachers

"The fact is, the most of us are vastly inferior to the early Christians, who, as I take it, were persecuted because they were thoroughly Christians, and we are not persecuted because we hardly are Christians at all.  They were so earnest in the propagation of the Redeemer’s kingdom, that they became the nuisance of the age in which they lived.  They would not let errors alone.  They had not conceived the opinion that they were to hold the truth, and leave other people to hold error without trying to intrude their opinions upon them, but they preached Christ Jesus right and left, and delivered their testimony against every sin.

"They denounced the idols, and cried out against superstition, until the world, fearful of being turned upside down, demanded of them, 'Is that what you mean? Then we will burn you, lock you up in prison, and exterminate you.'  To which the church replied, 'We will accept the challenge, and will not depart from our resolve to conquer the world for Christ.'  At last the fire in the Christian church burned out the persecution of an ungodly world."
-- from "The Former And Latter Rain," a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892); delivered July 11, 1869

Saturday, April 23, 2011

From My Own Camera: Wandering, pt. 4

Continuing a mini-series of posts (1, 2, 3), here are two more shots taken along the edge of Shelby County, Tennessee:

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Thinking Out Loud: Barry & Larry

Although a mistrial was declared on three other charges, the obstruction of justice indictment against Barry Bonds stuck.  Now he's a convicted felon, his stats are officially tainted, and being voted into Cooperstown is all but impossible.  Some say the feds dropped the ball, but I say mission accomplished.  (And yes, Roger Clemens is next.)

Asked recently by CNN's Piers Morgan, Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt said he would like to be remembered as "someone who expanded the parameters of free speech in a good way."  But that's not likely.  Instead he will be remembered by most as a creepy smut peddler who profited greatly from exploiting the First Amendment by using pornography as a platform to advance his opinions.

Flynt might have lived the American Dream, but an icon he is not.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On This Day in History: A particularly blood-stained date

Pulitzer-winning shot by Charles Porter
1775 – The first engagements of the American Revolution begin at the Battles of Lexington and Concord throughout Middlesex County, Massachusetts.  Colonialists earned victory on this day, but the War itself would not be decided for another eight years.

1861 – One week after the Battle of Fort Sumter, a group of secessionists and Southern sympathizers in Baltimore, Maryland attack the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment as they traveled en route to Washington, DC.  The ensuing riot resulted in 16 deaths, including 12 civilians.

1951 – Eight days after being relieved of command by President Truman, General Douglas MacArthur addressed a joint session of Congress with his famous Old Soldiers Never Die speech.

1961 – In an attempt to overthrow the regime implemented by Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion of southern Cuba is quelled in three days.  Fifty years later, Cuba is all but in ruins.

1971 – Charles Manson was sentenced to death for his role in the Tate-LaBianca murders.  The ruling was commuted to life imprisonment a year later when the Supreme Court of California temporarily eliminated the state's death penalty.  Manson is currently incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison in central California.

1987 – The Simpsons premiered as a short cartoon on The Tracy Ullman Show.  I remember like it was yesterday.

1993 – Ending a siege that lasted for over seven weeks, the Mount Carmel Center – home of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas – burns to the ground, killing all 80 people inside.  Four ATF agents were also killed throughout the incident.

1995 – Said to be seeking vengeance against the federal government for its handling of the siege in Waco, among other raids, Timothy McVeigh carried out the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring 450.  At the time it was the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil.

Eventually convicted of 11 federal offenses, McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001 – exactly three months prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday's Quote: Rhetoric vs. Logic

On March 28, President Obama delivered a speech at National Defense University in Washington, DC that addressed the continuing civil unrest in Libya (among other issues).  Two days later, one of our finest commentators placed everything into perspective:

"Once in office, President Obama has done exactly what his whole history would lead you to expect him to do – such as cutting the military budget and vastly expanding the welfare state.

"He has by-passed the Constitution by appointing power-wielding 'czars' who don't have to be confirmed by the Senate like Cabinet members, and now he has by-passed Congress by taking military actions based on authorization by the United Nations and the Arab League.

"Those who expected his election to mark a new 'post-racial' era may be the most disappointed.  He has appointed people with a track record of race resentment promotion and bias, like Attorney General Eric Holder and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"Disappointing?  No.  Disgusting?  Yes.  The only disappointment is with voters who voted their hopes and ignored his realities."
— from "Obama Speech: Full Of Rhetoric, Bereft Of Logic" by economist and author Thomas Sowell; March 30, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Did You Know (or Care): Martial Arts

The belt system used in most martial arts is relatively new.  For centuries, students were only given a white belt.  Through years of training the white belt would become soiled with dirt, grime and blood, becoming darker in the process, eventually becoming a black belt.

Although considered a racially insensitive term here in America, Sambo is an abbreviation of the Russian term Samozaschita Bez Oruzhiya, which means "self-defense without a weapon."  Developed for the Russian military, Sambo was heavily influenced by Judo and indigenous Russian wrestling.  It also features a military-inspired uniform, including belt loops on the fighting jacket.

Its most well-known practitioner is Fedor Emelianenko, a mixed martial artist nicknamed "The Last Emperor" who did not suffer a legimate loss for nearly 10 years.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A century-and-a-half ago today...

On April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m., approximately 500 soldiers representing the seven States of the newly formed Confederacy, by command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and continued their bombardment for 34 hours.  Over 600,000 of America’s finest would die in the four-year insurrection that followed.

Worldwide more than 200 civil wars have been fought in just the past two centuries.  Poor people rising up to fight, suffer and die so the more prominent minority could keep their slaves would be the first campaign of its kind in the history of the world – and this is exactly what many have been commanded to believe of their regional kinfolk and defenders for generations.

Of course those who wished to keep their slaves absolutely existed.  The perspective of many among the wealthy and politicos is clear.  But how does one enliven such an appreciable uprising of mostly underprivileged, non-slave-holding Southerners who knowingly faced impossible odds to draw arms against their brethren of the North for the sake of maintaining an institution that was perpetuated by a mere 6% of the populace (according to the 1860 U.S. census)?

Abraham Lincoln, who did not amend his long-held stance on human servitude until it became more politically expedient, called for 75,000 volunteers soon after the Stars and Bars had been raised over Fort Sumter, almost instantly triggering the unforeseen secession of four additional states to join the Confederacy, including Tennessee, which had initially voted by a considerable 4-to-1 margin to remain with the Union.  So why the sudden change of heart?

Make no mistake, both sides are responsible for reinterpreting facts to support their own conclusions.  Yet from the lowest enlisted soldier, to the highest ranking and most renowned generals, an ambition to keep an entire race of people in shackles is noticeably absent in their correspondence.  Dismiss that as spin if you like, as the debate itself all too often centers more on demonization than comprehensive veracity.  As a direct consequence, advocating a broader understanding of a matter such as this is frequently rejected without a second thought.

Fatefully perhaps, some of that blame falls on the unrestrained Southerner who flew the Banner for motives that were never typified by Lee and Jackson.  That said, individuals and groups who fly a flag to exhibit a disdain of anyone do not require a symbolism of any kind to demonstrate their brand of contempt.  Truly such people would hate without it.  In fact, if the Confederate States and all its relics had never existed, they would still hate.

And let us be especially honest about this.  America currently has a bevy of racially-based issues throughout New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles, among other metropolitan areas.  Yet it is the former Confederate nation that is hit with the inclusive liability of all racial matters while virtually all others are given a pass.

The duality of being both Southern and American can be a burden, but it's anything but a curse.  So I ask the nay-sayers: Is it easier to reject this sentiment as a neo-Confederate fantasy, or is it simply too inconvenient, or problematic, to consider the possibility that maybe the unpleasantness of the time wasn't entirely about you?

Later in life, General Beauregard – "The Hero of Fort Sumter" and the fifth-most senior general in the Confederate army – declined offers from both Egypt and Romania to take command of their respective armies, saying "I prefer to live here, poor and forgotten, than to be endowed with honor and riches in a foreign country."  If a more definitive statement about love of home and region has ever been made, I have not seen it.  In the end, perhaps those dastardly Southerners were merely culpable of loving the Southland just a little more than you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just Thinking Out Loud: Couric & Beck

Glenn Beck and Fox News are parting ways, not because of ratings, but because of sponsors.  Katie Couric and CBS News are parting ways, not because of sponsors, but because of ratings.  If that isn’t backwards, nothing is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday’s Quote: Persecution of the Faithful

Adherents to Christendom are the most tyrannized and discriminated against in the world.  Skeptics may find that difficult to believe, but they are conspicuously hushed when presented with mere a portion what my Christian brothers and sisters throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa have been up against for over a millennia.

© Reuters
Earlier this morning, the Associated Press reported that police in Beijing, China detained worshippers from an "unapproved Christian church" who were forced to hold service in a public space after they were expelled from their usual place of worship.  The piece added, "China's Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations.  Such 'house churches' are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities."

Those who profess salvation in Christ have been viewed under the harshest microscope from the very beginning, so maltreatment is understood to come with the territory, even in parts of the world where Christians make up the majority.  That being said...

"Scripture makes it clear to me that there is an obligation to speak out on behalf of the persecuted."
-- Sixteen-term Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-Virginia, 10th congressional district)

"Persecution is a tribute the great must always pay for preeminence."
-- Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774), Irish poet, novelist and playwright

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."
-- II Corinthians 4:8-11

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On This Day in History

1860 – A Frenchman named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879; aka, Leon Scott) used a phonautograph to create what would eventually become recognized as the oldest audible recording of a human voice.

The phonautograph itself, patented by Scott some three years earlier, was intended to transcribe sound into "a visible medium," but the device had no means for playback.  As a result, the transcriptions would not be heard until computer technology essentially created a way in 2008.  The resulting sound was a barely recognizable 10-second recording of the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune," believed to have been sung by Scott himself.

1865 – Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the War Between the States.

"Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me.  Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand."
-- General Robert E. Lee, speaking to former Governor of Texas, Fletcher S. Stockdale, less than one month before Lee's death; as quoted in The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney

1867 – Passing by a single vote, the U.S. Senate ratified a treaty that allowed for the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire.  Bought for $7.2 million, the area that would become the 49th State (92 years later) came at less than two cents per acre.

1980 – Saddam Hussein had philosopher Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr executed after three days of torture, essentially for the endorsement of a political philosophy known as Wilayat Al-Umma ("Governance of the people").  Chants of "Long live Mohammed Baqir Sadr!" were chanted by Shi'a guards just prior to Saddam Hussein's execution on December 30, 2006.

1992 – In one of the great political surprises of the 20th century, John Major's Conservative Party won an unprecedented fourth general election victory in the United Kingdom.

2003 – Baghdad fell to Coalition forces amid the American-led invasion of Iraq.  To bloody hell with Saddam Hussein.

Initially published 4/9/10; information obtained via Wikipedia and confirmed through various sources.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Iconic Shot: Northern Ireland

(click to enlarge)
Set in the small village of Ballintoy in Northern Ireland, practically a stone's throw across the North Channel from Scotland, the Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge spans 20 meters (66 ft.) across and 30 meters (98 ft.) above the rocks below. Located approximately 65 miles from Belfast, the bridge averages 200,000 visitors a year.

Shot credited to someone identifying himself as "Van Helsing" and published under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thank you, Europe

An open letter to my European counterparts –

Kurt Cobain killed himself 17 years ago today, and Rock has more or less struggled here in the United States for whatever reason(s) ever since.  Thankfully, however, the genre is thriving on your side of the Atlantic.

Having recently caught a rebroadcast of Muse's main stage performance of "Resistance" at the 2010 Oxegen festival near Kildare, Ireland, I now possess a better understanding why these three lads from Devon (southwest England) have become such an international sensation.  Yet it was the crowd – some 75,000 strong – that left even more of a lasting impression.

Europa has a reputation for loyalty.  You support the acts you appreciate without regard to those who may not grasp your brand of enjoyment, freely singing, dancing and flailing about with a constancy matched only by an equally well-known devotion to culture and sports (especially football/soccer).

Many of your American cousins, on the other hand, are jaded and easily distracted.  Having once matched your passion, we have substituted the natural autonomy that formerly defined us with a consuming desire for all things "cool," often becoming trendy and specious without realizing it.  But it hasn't always been that way; by no means.

That festive sentimentality we once shared with the world, the plentitude of which flowed with such ease just a decade ago, is not forgotten.  Indeed an increasing groundswell desirous for a return to such placid days, even in the face of a soulless pop-oriented opposition that flourishes amid this nauseating era of antipathy, is cultivated by something intangible that can be ignored no longer.

I may love Britney Spears, for instance, like every other red-blooded heterosexual male.  But she's mere eye candy.  In fact, it's often necessary to remind me that my fellow Southerner best known for singing (or some variant thereof).  And that's part of the point.  With the emphasis clearly shifted from substance to superficial mass appeal, it is little wonder that mainstream music, once the most reliable standard of entertainment, is now laboring so greatly to recapture past glory.

Make no mistake, dear allies, the scene isn't dead.  But it is struggling here in the States like never before.  Yet I am hopeful for a movement – another "British invasion" perhaps – that engenders a great awakening to rid us of the monotony that has brought us to this point.  Our respective governments may differ, but our similarities are profound nevertheless.  So please learn from our mindless blunders and know that you might very well hold the key to better days ahead.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Just Thinking Out Loud: Pamela

I was reminded over the weekend about perhaps the greatest of all my cinematic crushes.  Although there haven't been as many as one might assume, recalling those of the utmost brilliance is never difficult, especially when such prodigious quality is first encountered during a simpler and more innocent time.

Lorie Griffin, a quintessential all-American beauty who played "Pamela Wells" in the '80s classic Teen Wolf – one of the defining movies of my youth (try not to laugh) – knocked my socks off when I saw her in the aforesaid flick as a fifth grader living in the College Park area of Virginia Beach.  Some 25 years later, I remain astounded over both her timeless splendor and the deficiency of comparable talent that has come along since.

My girl all but withdrew from the limelight almost as soon as the film that could have led her to stardom was released.  How such a tour de force didn’t eventually become an award-winning national treasure is a conundrum of immeasurable proportions that is sure to remain well beyond my limited grasp.  Yet this is one specimen who will endure, perhaps for another 25 years, as the gold standard of refined loveliness among the plethora of Hollywood's most exceptional.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday's Quote: Tiger

The re-emergence of Tiger Woods, and his longer-than-expected return to dominance, has been almost as well documented as the War on Terrorism itself.  Whatever the reason(s) for his on-course woes -- the kind of struggles, as it were, that most golfers never come close to achieving -- one of our better commentators believes the public has moved past the initial shock of a fall that's nearly as phenomenal as Tiger's legendary rise.

Marche's perspective is debatable indeed, but it is notable and equally thought-provoking nevertheless:

"We like to judge people for the pleasure of judging them.  We'll hunt out the most squalid details of people's sex lives not because we believe their actions are wrong but just because we like seeing the wreckage of their suddenly human, blemished, relatably imperfect lives. ...

"Tiger will be redeemed; his story has already been written.  As he enters Augusta, he is simultaneously and underdog and one of the greatest athletes the world has ever known.  And when he returns to dominance -- whether this month in Augusta, at the U.S. Open in June, or the British Open in July -- he will be transfigured into a nearly perfect icon of irresistible sympathy: the supernatural specimen made human by sin who rises again.  At which point Gillette and Golf Digest and Gatorade will learn the cost of taking our hypocrisy seriously."
-- from "Tiger Woods Will Be Redeemed" by Stephen Marche; Esquire, April 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

A whole lot of bounce

Anyone measuring 5-foot-11 is considered small by college and pro basketball standards.  It's also considered a largely unspoken disadvantage if the player happens to be of the Caucasian persuasion.  It's no big deal; that's just the way it is.

Thus imagine my surprise when the footage of a sub-six-foot White guy from a small Division III school who recently dominated a college dunk contest was brought to my attention.  So kick back for about three minutes and enjoy this "little" man's uncommon talent.  It may be a while before we see anything this rare again: