One Hundred Words (47)

02/20/2009, 3:54 pm -- by | 1 Comment

There’s a difference between good conversation that involves humorous banter — or even deep spiritual truths — and oneupsmanship.

They’re about as similar as volleyball and that game that erupts at birthday parties when someone bats a balloon across the room and another person bats it back. In one, the point is to keep things going and involve everyone in the room (even the killjoy who shouts, “You’re going to break something!”). In the other, the goal is to hit some unreturnable shot to score a point.

In conversation, as in the party game, no one is impressed by the person who spikes the balloon.


Fortune and Judgment

02/19/2009, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

“They said among themselves, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer…,’ but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” –Acts 28:4-6

How often are our opinions of others based on the outward circumstances of their lives? Paul was a prisoner; he escaped a shipwreck, washed up on a strange shore, and was bitten by a poisonous snake. For these people, that was enough evidence to issue a judgment: “Surely he is a murderer whom, although he has escaped the sea, yet justice will not allow to live.” Case closed.

But wait! After further review — when a long time passes and he doesn’t keel over dead — the same crowd decides he is obviously a god! And all based on the external appearance of his life.

I wish this were confined to 1st-century Malta, but this kind of thinking was an integral part of Old Testament theology too. Why else would Job’s comforters be unable to believe that he wasn’t hiding some secret sins to account for his misfortunes. This explains why Isaiah’s prophesies described Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” whose contemporaries would “esteem him stricken of God.” And it continued: when Jesus told the disciples it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he found them “astonished beyond measure.” It completely flipped their theology. After all, riches were blessings from God, while the poor were clearly cursed.

Matthew Henry has written that the sign of God\’s blessing in the Old Testament was prosperity, but in the New Testament, it was adversity. Why has our thinking not transformed to line up? Why do we still judge people, and ministries, by the whims of fortune rather than by their Biblical fruit?

We see TV ministries or megachurches that abandon the Bible or embrace what Rich Mullins called “trendy religion that makes cheap clichés out of timeless truths” and we say, “God can\’t bless that!” But then they grow a church of thousands, and we buy their book, touting them as the men of the hour! Theirs is the new plan of God for the church! Question that and you hear, “They’re reaching millions of people for Jesus every Sunday — what are you doing?”

Well, what I am doing is trying to live my life in obedience to the Holy Spirit, which is all the success there is in the Kingdom of God. To figure out which church, or man, or woman, is doing it “right,” may require us to read our Bibles and pray, rather than watching the outward circumstances to level judgments about what is or isn\’t of God.

But — if anything — I\’d bet on those facing adversity. It\’s a new testament and a new theology that demands a vigilance to see the truth.

Bad Marketing

02/13/2009, 2:16 pm -- by | 2 Comments

I have seen two new businesses around town that have not inspired my confidence. Against all Odds Hair Salon is the first. I figure, what are the chances of getting a good haircut there?

The second is One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.

“Hey, your guy was here and fixed our air conditioner. It worked for about an hour — and now it’s down again.”

“Yeah, so what’s the problem?”

How Should We Then Live? — Part Two

02/8/2009, 10:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Click here for part one, the introduction of how Romans 12 is an excellent source of information on how a Christian should live.

Its first point is more relational than directional: it’s in the exhortation to “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Right relationship with God rests on this “presentation.” We are independent, free-thinking humans, and God will not exercise lordship over us without our consent. Being born again, being saved, becoming a Christian — whatever language you are comfortable with — it all begins when we surrender our lives to God through Jesus Christ. We accept His sacrifice for our sins, and in return, we sacrifice ourselves to Him. But we are not like the sacrifices of old that died on the altar — we continue to live for him. Believing in God and belonging to God are not the same thing.

The second and third lessons from the chapter are in the words “conform” and “transform” (KJV). We are told not to conform to the world, but rather to allow ourselves to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds.

There\’s a great cartoon in January\’s Reader’s Digest: a psychiatrist is advising his patient to visualize an Applications folder in his mind. “Okay, do you see the file labeled Suicidal Thoughts?” he asks. “Just click on that and drag it over to the trash icon…”

It really is similar to that. We live in a fallen world, a fallen system, and it must be purged from our minds and replaced with the Gospel. We have to learn to tell the difference between what God values and what the world values — and realize why they aren’t the same. Why do we have to do this? The first reason, of course, is to place us in right relationship with God, but the text goes on to describe a secondary reason: “so that we might prove what is that good and acceptable will of God.”

Prove to whom? The rest of the world; we are to be examples of what God expects from people. My whole life belongs to Him and He wants to use me as an example. This is the root of Paul’s teaching that we must live not by our own conscience, but by another\’s. What I do in my life is always examined by its effect on others. How well does it reflect God\’s will?

Once this “presentation” is done and we have begun to actively reject the world, replacing it with God\’s plan, we can move on to more specific things. In verse three, we are told to cultivate humility, then Paul begins to teach on what is perhaps the most important aspect of how to live: the Body of Christ.

When Paul looked for the best analogy to explain a Christian’s place in this world, he found the human body. Christianity was never meant to be a solitary experience, and when you become a Christian, you must come into contact with other believers to fulfill the purposes of your life. In the same way that a human body could not function with a torso in Georgia, a head somewhere in California, and the arms and legs scattered around the Midwest, neither can the Body — nor its individual parts — function properly when detached from each other. They soon wither and die. So your first task as a Christian is to seek fellowship with other Christians. After that, the things Paul taught in the next few verses will largely happen by themselves.

Are you called to preach? Then you will begin to develop a desire and an ability to preach. Are you called to administrate? You will. Are you called to teach? You will. Are you called to serve? Serve. Called to give? Give.

Let the Holy Spirit work to develop the gifts God has placed within you, so that you can function in His Body. You need to do this, not only for yourself, but for others, as they too are drawn into the body to receive and give. You have what they need. You need what they have.

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 4

01/30/2009, 4:36 pm -- by | No Comments

Big Ben strikes the hour
A loud and terrible sound
Kurt pockets the ring!

How Should We Then Live?

01/30/2009, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

Several years ago there was a lot of buzz about a must-read book by Francis Schaeffer, entitled How Should We Then Live? People seemed captivated by the prospect of getting an answer on how a Christian should live and they used the book — or at least its title — as a springboard for their own thoughts and sermons on the subject. Charles Colson even followed up with a book, which I have not read, called How Should We Now Live?

After I finished the book, I had the distinct impression that someone — either them or me — had misunderstood the book. The Bible verse it referenced (Ezekiel 33:10) actually translates, “How can we hope to survive?,” after the Jews had turned their backs on God. It had nothing to do with the very important question, “How should a Christian live?,” but rather, “How can we hope to survive if we turn our backs on God?” The book seemed to pursue the textual question, as Schaeffer examines “the rise and decline of Western thought and culture,” so I imagine there were some disappointed purchasers who had expected some kind of Walking With God for Dummies.

It was a thick book, filled with a very long and intricate examination of Western culture; I remember it chiefly for two things. The first thing is the assertion that the Renaissance and the Reformation were two arms of the same movement, carried out by people who reacted differently to the repression of the Catholic Church in the realms of art, literature, music, and other fields. The men and women of the Reformation rejected the authority of the church and turned to the Bible instead. Those in the world did the same, but looked to classical learning for a replacement.

(The second was the art, including a drawing of Leonardo da Vinci\’s “David.” Our grandkids were visiting while I was reading it, and I heard my grandson yell from behind my back to his parents: “Grandpa\’s reading a book with naked men in it!”)

Then and now, there remains a tremendous hunger to have the Christian life simplified for us. We know we are Christians. We have learned the doctrines and idiosyncrasies of our religious traditions. We know where we\’re going when it\’s all over. But don\’t we all, at times, grope blindly in the dark, doubting not the facts of the Christian life, but whether our interpretations of those facts are valid? Life is filled with victories and defeats; we sometimes consider victories an affirmation of our path, and defeats as a sure sign of our error. In fact, neither one is necessarily true.

So the hunger remains. I think that is why The Purpose-Driven Life was so successful. People want to know the point: enough guessing! What is my life supposed to look like? What am I supposed to do? What is God\’s will?

But of course the only book that explains that has already been written. It’s funny how so many people will read a shelf full of books to figure out Christianity, while leaving untouched the one book given to us directly from heaven. This was quite a long introduction, but over the next two weeks, I want to share some things from Romans chapter 12, which I think answer the question “How should I live?” better than anything else I have ever found.

George the Criminal

01/23/2009, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

Shafts of late afternoon sunlight fall upon the winter forest, bringing a dazzling glow to the fresh snow scattered on the ground, ringing the shaggy heads of ancient trees. At a crossroads near an inn, surrounded by a few squalid hovels, a messenger appears, riding a white horse. He blows a silver trumpet, and as the wretched inhabitants warily assemble, he unravels a parchment and begins to read.

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Good Sir Obama, that fearless knight and champion of the people, hath deposed the great and evil foe of mankind and nature! George W. Bush — killer of polar bears; destroyer of dolphins; slaughterer of seals; torturer of both terrorists and tortoises — hath fallen! This is that same evil man who descended into the deep places of the earth and brought forth the plague of oil wherewith he enslaved and exploited his fellow citizens for filthy lucre\’s sake; this is he who delved too deeply, awakening the fires of the dark place, warming the planet and melting the polar caps of ice! He who hath been known to rob from the poor and give to the rich!”

“Yes, citizens, this is that same George W. Bush who strode upon the fields of nations, killing, devouring, and pillaging among not just our enemies but our friends; it is he who hath caused a stench to arise, filling the nostrils of even our staunchest allies. He it was also who brought upon us the wrath of nature, stirring up that race of hardy water-borne malevolent sprites, known as the Hurricane-beasts. How many times in recent years have they invaded with impunity these hallowed shores, decimating the ranks of the poor and downtrodden, leaving the rich and privileged to their life of ease?”

“This same George Bush hath, in fact, estranged us from our allies in the animal kingdom, and senselessly slaughtered our brothers and sisters, the trees! Red oaks, white oaks, majestic sequoias, all hath been slain in their sleep, and in the presence of those dear saplings that were being raised up at their feet! But hark now! For this same vile beast, bane of all existence, hath been vanquished, and Good Sir Obama hath ascended to the throne and now inhabits the White Citadel!”

“How often would his people, the Democrats, have ridden to your succor with wagons of food and bags of gold, only to be thwarted time and time again by the vile Republican army of George W. Bush. ‘Tis these same Democrats which have spent eight years groveling at the foot of the White Citadel, dressed in rags, subsisting on dry beans and moldy bread, while the Republicans feasted inside, on the fat of the land! Obama and these Democratic heroes refused to partake in the feasting until they could reign with you: the poor, the downtrodden, and the broken!”

“So now today, Good Sir Obama, bids you — rejoice! And join him to reign in prosperity and justice!”

To be continued…

The Rising Sun

01/14/2009, 9:30 am -- by | 4 Comments

Godʼs provision is as faithful as the sunrise, and just as predictable. We know so well that the sun will rise each day, that we actually print the time in the newspaper the day before. We know that seedtime and harvest will continue; we’re so sure of just when they will happen that the Farmer’s Almanac lists the dates for each region of the country — exactly when spring will arrive, and when we can plan on a harvest. Godʼs provision is just as measurable and visible in our lives.

Last week, out of the blue, my boss paid me on Thursday, instead of Friday. I suspected something must be up. What happened next? An unexpected expense that had to be paid Friday morning. After paying that, writing a tithe check, and putting a tank of gas in our car, I informed my wife that we had $60 left for the whole week. Groceries alone run $225. Gasoline is $75.

God’s provision is so constant that I actually enjoyed sitting back to see what would happen next. A $10 check in my wallet that I had forgotten about. A $10 check in the mail. A $70 rebate for a Christmas phone arrives on Saturday. $150 in cash set aside last week by my wife. A $58 check we did not expect.

Iʼm not saying that I never worry — itʼs hard not to. But some days itʼs like reading the paper, knowing when the sun will rise so you can sit out on the hill and watch it happen.

The New Year?

01/7/2009, 1:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

New Year’s Day has never been a very cheerful time for me. I still remember New Year’s Day 1980. I was at a skating party with my college friends while a song played on the radio: “Are You Ready for The ’80s?” A flirtatious girl was skating with me; she batted her eyes and asked, coyly, “Are you ready for the ’80s?”

“No,” I said. “I wasn\’t done with the 70\’s yet.”

And I meant it: there were too many unresolved issues and disappointments. I wasn\’t ready to move on.

“Is this the new year, or just another night?
Is this the new fear, or just another fright?
Is this the new tear, or just another desperation?”

But I can\’t remember a New Year quite like this one. Everywhere I look I see despair. The headlines are dominated by economic collapse, here and around the world. At home my wife has received word that her school’s paychecks are safe only through May, while the company I work for is suffering through the worst time I have seen in my 15 years there. The last two weeks of the year I literally sold nothing; everything we sell is financed, but we have no one to do the financing.

Short-term, this means a 60% drop in pay. Long-term, it means no job.

Everyone hopes things will change with the New Year, but I can\’t see the difference between 11:59:59 on December 31, 2008 and 12:00:00 on January 1, 2009. Maybe I\’m just a pessimist.

“It\’ll be a day like this one when the world caves in,
when the world caves in,
when the world caves in.”

There has never been another time in my life when we were fighting simultaneous wars on two fronts. At least being hated by half the world for being who we are is familiar. Sadly, so is seeing our troops die for far-off people who don\’t always seem to appreciate it. And then there\’s the Middle East erupting in violence again.

“Is this the Kingdom or just a hit and miss?
I miss direction most in all this desperation.”

After all these years, I still obsess over these disappointments, these unresolved issues. I feel like a man who can\’t run anymore, so I\’ve slowed to a crawl — too burdened down; too encumbered; too confused about which way to go, even on spiritual issues, including church.

We have a daughter, our older one, who has always been a master at twisting words. I remember catching her in a lie once as a teen, and she told us it was “faith” — she was simply “speaking things that were not as though they were.”

Sometimes I struggle with which is faith and which is the lie. Is it faith to pretend things are not the way they are? Or is that the lie?

“Does justice ever find you? Do the wicked never lose?
Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?”

I\’ve had many good pastors over the years. I remember one of them, Pastor Larkin, preaching that David didn\’t close his eyes and pretend Goliath was a dwarf. He looked him up and down — took his full measure — then said, “Who are you to defy the armies of the Living God?”

So I have no fear of the future, just a dislike for the depressing atmosphere of the present. And I will always prefer the honest song — even if it is the blues.

(All lyrics from “The Blues” by Switchfoot, from Nothing is Sound)

The Year in Review (Part Four)

12/29/2008, 11:00 am -- by | No Comments

Read part one, part two, and part three!

October brought the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression, as the Dow plummeted 1,874 points while the S&P 500 fell 20%, plunging world markets into turmoil. The only solace I had during this dark time were the cherished resurfacing memories of the August wedding of my favorite niece (Rose) and her wonderful husband (MCB). This ceremony, performed in the same church where my wife and I were married 27 years before, was so touching that it took me a full two months to overcome the emotions and begin writing about it.

Bweinh! was caught up in the financial turmoil when it was revealed that the corporate retirement account was invested in a subprime baseball card collection belonging to Djere, which was mistakenly thrown out by his mother back in April. Djere was also forced to admit he was operating a “Fonzi Scheme,” which involved dressing up like the Happy Days character and hoodwinking people into making contributions to a nonexistent charity, the Free and Genial Society of Walrus Keepers.

In entertainment news, the A-Rod/Madonna story took a tragic turn when Madonna left her husband for her new beau, only to learn what Yankee fans already knew: A-Rod always disappears at the beginning of October. In sports, Joe Torre took the Dodgers to the NLCS, while the Yankees missed the playoffs. The Syracuse football team started 1-6, with the win coming against the Radcliffe School for the Blind, whose mascot, a middle-aged man in a bat costume, still managed to rack up 108 yards on 7 carries, with 2 touchdowns.

In politics, the nation celebrated as Barack Obama won the presidency, inspiring millions of other Americans born with Silly Ear Syndrome with hope that they too coiuld aspire to the nation\’s highest office. Meanwhile, the Big Three automakers made an urgent appeal to Congress for bailout money, but were rebuked for flying to the meeting in three corporate jets. The legislators advised them to take taxis home and leave the corporate jets in Washington, so they can be used to fly congressmen to a fact-finding mission at a resort in Fiji.

On a positive note, gasoline prices began dropping around the nation, eventually bottoming out here at about $1.399 per gallon. This was especially helpful to all those people who lost their jobs when the stinking oil companies raised gas prices to outrageous price-gouging levels for the second straight year, almost singlehandedly destroying the US (and eventually the world’s) economy, because now they were all driving around, looking for new jobs that don’t exist.

The only personal note worth mentioning from November was our disastrous decision to ruin yet another holiday break by gutting our master bathroom, in a “quick remodeling job” that dragged into 2009.

Syracuse started 8-0 in basketball, with upset wins against Florida and defending national champion Kansas to win the CBE Classic — and after a win against Virginia, they could boast wins over teams from the ACC, Big 12, and SEC. Even better, football coach Greg Robinson was finally fired after winning a total of 3 Big East games in 4 seasons.

In the economic world, the bad news continued to fall like a winter storm as Santa Claus announced that he was laying off 14,000 elves — 26% of his total work force — and selling off the naming rights to Christmas in a sealed bid. When the process was completed, Christmas 2008 was officially renamed the Poulin Weed Eater Christmas, and “I\’m Dreaming of a White Poulin Weed Eater Christmas” became the theme song for the ad campaign rolling out the change.

In national politics, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was suspected of wrongdoing when his PayPal account was linked to a vacant Senate seat being offered at auction on eBay. He later elicited some sympathy when he revealed his only motivation was to raise enough money for a hair transplant. In international politics, the Somali Pirate crisis — which began in August, although no pirate commented on the lack of coverage here on Bweinh! — took a turn for the worst when it was confirmed that their numbers were bolstered by unemployed elves, vowing to “paint the skies red with the blood of ”˜The Great Santa,\’” should he attempt to deliver toys in the Middle East.

In sports, SU named a new football coach, and the basketball squad lost its first game of the year on a 60-foot buzzer-beating jumper. After a big win against Memphis on the road, they achieved a promising 12-1 start — but then junior guard Eric Devendorf was suspended for apparently slapping a female student on campus during a late-night argument. “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

In personal news, Bweinh! finally received some good news — included in the government bailout plan, the site obtained some Borders gift cards and merchandise, which were liberally distributed among the remaining employees at a scaled-down Christmas party at Trump Tower in NYC. Due to Congressional restrictions, we were not allowed to use the corporate jet to ferry Bweinh!tributors to the party, but a deal was worked out with Poulin to reimburse our airfare as long as we agreed to make the appropriate changes to any greetings extended during the holiday season.

So in that case, may I be the first to say: “Merry Poulin Weed Eater Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

The Year in Review (Part Three)

12/19/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 6 Comments

Read part one and part two!

In politics, the fireworks got started when Jesse Jackson was caught articulating his desire to emasculate Barack Obama for “speaking down to black people,” after Obama espoused personal responsibility in raising children. Perhaps Rev. Jackson’s desire for sterilization was just misplaced?

With the Democratic primary finally resolved, Obama began his heads-up match with John McCain by touring Europe, speaking to 200,000+ in Germany and wowing the various characters inhabiting the nation of France. Meanwhile, John McCain responded with lunch at a German restaurant in Berlin, Pennsylvania. A good indicator of things to come.

In entertainment news, the summer movie hits were Wall-E, a dark cartoon exploring the forbidden world of robot love, and the latest Batman movie (The Dark Knight), hyped to an epic level of anticipation after the accidental death of star Heath Ledger from a drug overdose. In the wrold of celebrities, baseball star Alex Rodriguez split with his wife after being romantically linked to himself — as well as rapidly fading pop diva Madonna — and star blogger Tom was involved in a late-night scuffle at an Arby\’s in Ithaca, New York, the first of many troubles during his sophomore season with Bweinh!

In personal news, Bweinh! CEO Steve Maxon and his entourage visited the Opelika office, as part of his whirlwind tour of all his U.S. facilities. Our grandkids came for two weeks and our kids all visited for the 4th — giving us a record 14 visitors in the month of July. Good times.

In sports news, Brett Favre un-retired again, and signed a sponsorship deal to promote The Mummy III. In baseball, Tampa Bay\’s Evan Longoria became the first rookie to be named All-Star MVP while starring in a TV series (Desperate Housewives) — and the WNBA has its first brawl, when Lisa Leslie of the L.A. Sparks shows up wearing the same earrings as an opposing player.

As the dog days of August rolled in, the Republican party saw its first glimmer of hope in a dismal presidential race when Joe Biden was announced as Obama\’s running mate. He raised fresh questions about plagiarism when he began his nomination acceptance speech: “I am honored that Senator Kerry would choose me to be his running mate.”

In a further display of Russia\’s new friendliness, they invaded Georgia. Prime Minister Putin appeared at a press conference with President Dmitry “Winky” Medvedev, declaring that the rapid move to democracy has now progressed beyond the Russian border. In other news, John Edwards confessed to an affair, giving me yet another reason to dislike a man I never liked anyway.

At the movies, we watched The Mummy III and Indiana Jones IV on the same day — I am still confused about which special effects, lame dialogue, and ridiculous plot twists go with which one. The prospect that I may have watched National Treasure III just adds to the confusion. These types of movies are attractive for only one reason: as an excuse to consume an entire tub of popcorn and a barrel of Coke for the low, low price of $55.

Hurricane season got off to a roaring start in Alabama, as our neighbors boarded up their windows and stocked up on emergency supplies three times in a month — once for Eduardo, once for Faye, and once when they heard Russia had invaded Georgia.

In sports, Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Olympic competition, the Yankees faded from contention, and three Syracuse Orangemen finally get the team in the news — for sexual assault charges.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike wrought devastation on the Southeast and Gulf Coast, but paled in comparison to Hurricane Sarah from Alaska, who stormed onto the national scene: annihilating the Democratic convention, reviving the floundering McCain campaign, and single-handedly turning around the dying SNL franchise.

A financial meltdown began, as Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehmann Bros., AIG, and Washington Mutual Bank all began to fail, while economists continued to debate whether we were in a recession. In a sign of the times, Canadian currency actually surpassed the U,S. dollar in value for the first time, and Americans are caught sneaking over the border into Mexico.

In entertainment news, Bweinh! blogger Tom injured his finger and became addicted to painkillers; he was caught at 2 AM in a bad section of Rochester trying to buy prescription-strength ibuprofen from an undercover DEA agent. The Syracuse football team started its season 0-2, including a home loss to the mighty Akron Zips. Clearly it\’s going to be a long season.

Goosing the Economy?

12/17/2008, 5:46 pm -- by | No Comments

The USA Today has the headline today: “Fed Gets Creative to Goose Economy.”

Are you kidding me? Who approved that headline?

Goosing a person involves — to my knowledge — sneaking up behind them and initiating physical contact in a way that only a doctor should perform. The dictionary defines goose (verb) as: Slang, to poke (a person) between the buttocks to startle.

The economy is bad enough as is — leave it alone!

The Year in Review (Part Two)

12/12/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Read part one here!

In politics, one of the largest April Fool’s Day hoaxes in history is pulled off, when an American negotiator suggests beginning a trial placement of Patriot missiles in Poland, then ships a half-dozen missiles with instructions to place them in a corner of each round silo. Chaos ensues as teams work around the clock for several days to accomplish the impossible. President Bush later apologizes, admitting privately that he completely understood the confusion.

In other news, the international space station was rocked by a gust of wind from Earth after Britney Spears’ 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn is found to be pregnant, and the entire population of the United States screams, “SHE HAS A SISTER?!?!?”

In more entertainment news, world-renowned artist Robert Indiana, famous for his LOVE sculpture that first appeared in 1966, returned to the public eye. His original sculpture — described at the time as groundbreaking — consisted of the letter L, followed by an O canted to the right, standing over a VE. In April 2008 he followed up that success with a HOPE sculpture, consisting of an H, followed by an O canted to the right, standing over the letters PE.

It only took him 22 years to come up with this brilliant follow-up. I hope he had a part-time job or something. Meanwhile, “Hannah Montana” caused a stir when she appeared in a photo shoot, wearing only a blanket, canted to the right, standing over nothing at all.

In the world of sports, the NHL playoffs got underway; the Philadelphia Flyers beat Washington in the first round on the strength of Danny Brière’s offense and the stellar goaltending of Marty Biron. Go Flyers!

The Presidential primaries continued to drag on, and Barack Obama\’s campaign took another hit when his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, released a new book: The Racially Tinged Rantings of Jabez. Obama vowed to stick by him. Only a few days later, however, Pastor Wright referred to Obama as a “politician” in a TV interview, causing Obama to denounce him and completely disassociate himself from the church. Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania and lost North Carolina, but stayed in the race, claiming that she could “galvanize the white vote.”

In personal news, my family attends our nephew’s wedding in New York in a beautiful stone church built in the 1800s, with a reception at the historic Carriage House restaurant. It is a beautiful ceremony with the groom and all his groomsmen wearing tuxedos and flip-flops. For me, the highpoint was still when several of us discovered the letters on the sign outside the reception hall could be rearranged to read “Pirate Lion & Oxen Camp.” And they were.

In sports it was disclosed that Roger Clemens apparently carried on a decade-long affair with country singer Mindy McCready, starting when she was still in her teens. I detest this guy more and more every time I hear his name. Meanwhile, my beloved Flyers closed out their second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens on the strength of eight goals from forward R.J. Umberger. Every long-time fan knows what this means: Umberger will be the first player traded in the offseason.

Meanwhile, in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony was arrested for DUI and the Nuggets flamed out in their series against the Los Angeles Lakers. In baseball, the Yankees’ first season in a dozen years without Joe Torre at the helm began with a slump, while Torre’s new team, the Dodgers, stood five games over .500.

Summer 2008 began with a nationwide scare reminiscent of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, as people all over the country were sickened by salmonella poisoning purported to be from fast-food tomatoes. The outbreak was later traced to Mexican jalapeno peppers, but somehow Attack of the Killer Jalapenos! doesn\’t roll off the tongue as well, and never got the press coverage it rightly deserved.

Other than that, it was business as usual across the nation; gasoline climbed to over $4 per gallon, the big auto companies suffered devastating losses, the West Coast raged with wildfires, and the Midwest dealt with massive flooding again — all of which, of course, was President Bush\’s fault. Meanwhile, Obama captured enough delegates to claim victory in the Democratic primary, but Hilary Clinton refused to concede until a deal was worked out to include delegates from Michigan and Florida. Eventually, she still lost and had to go home — to Bill Clinton.

In entertainment news, the nation mourned the passing of Tim Russert and George Carlin. Carlin\’s death reminded me of one of his early routines, where he talked about what a great thing the two-minute warning is in football. He went on to say how nice it would be if life worked that way. In his fantasy, an angel would come down just before you die, blow a whistle, and give you two minutes to get everything right. I guess he knows now that it doesn\’t work that way. In sports, the Flyers were eliminated in the conference finals by Pittsburgh, who then lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals. The Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship.

The Year In Review

12/5/2008, 4:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Note: Dave Barry again refused to write a year in review article for us, so I am once again filling in.

The new year opened with a bang politically, as Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee opened their presidential primary campaigns with big wins in Iowa. Hillary Clinton climbed back into the race with a win in New Hampshire, based mainly on the strength of a tearful moment captured on camera and televised nationwide. Terrell Owens teared up after the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff loss and quickly became the favorite in the upcoming South Carolina primary. In international politics, Iran attempted to attack the US Navy in the Persian Gulf with five rowboats, providing an apt analogy for Ron Paul\’s assault on the Republican front-runners.

In entertainment news, Britney Spears dominated the headlines by suffering a breakdown, losing her children, and facing criticism from Dr. Phil, who told the nation, “She needs help.” She attempted a comeback in a much-panned live appearance at the Grammys. Not only was she fiercely criticized for her physical appearance, but she was further humiliated when a Sea World spokesman noted that much of her routine was eerily similar to their killer whale show. “Other than eating live fish and splashing the crowd, everything she did can be seen every day at the 10:20, 2:20, or 4:20 shows.”

In sports, the unsinkable Jose Canseco floated to the surface again with new charges against Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Sen. Henry Waxman of California. The confusing charges involved an alleged Clemens appearance at a Canseco cookout, and a confirmed Clemens appearance at a congressional hearing — where he brought in his nanny, who later confirmed, under oath, that Waxman, chairman of the hearing, was in fact the ugliest man she had ever seen.

In politics, the primary season was in full swing, and John McCain solidified his place at the head of the Republican pack, while Mitt Romney ducked out to allow the administration to focus on the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Huckabee vowed to stay in until the bitter end, running on a shoestring budget. Although the decision was initially praised, his campaign soon suffered bad press when, at a rally in Texas, a man holding a “We Need Change” sign turned out to be his budget director, panhandling for the campaign.

In entertainment news, the writers’ strike finally came to an end, and no one noticed the difference.

In sports news, baseball’s spring training began, with 63-year-old Roger Clemens bench-pressing a Greyhound bus while denying that he ever took any performance-enhancing substances. In football, Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win, marking the first time in league history that back-to-back Super Bowls were won by goofy-looking guys with big ears.

In the world of politics, Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York was caught by a wiretap (which he approved) ordering and consorting with prostitutes. It is reported that he spent more than $80,000 on the service, suggesting “multiple occurrences.” If not, the sum would certainly explain his trouble balancing the state’s budget. He was immediately replaced by the lieutenant governor, who is legally blind — explaining why he made such a good sidekick for Spitzer in the first place.

In a further sign of Russia\’s rapid democratization, Russia’s Vladimir Putin appeared at a press conference wearing a sock puppet named “Winky,” and nominated him to replace Putin as president. The sock puppet accepted (while Putin drank a glass of water, spilling much of it on his shirt) under one condition: that Putin assume the title of prime minister. Winky was then shifted to Putin\’s right hand, where he quickly signed a bill giving the prime minister all powers formerly assigned to the president.

In election news, Hilary Clinton angered Barack Obama by offering him a part-time job stuffing envelopes for her campaign, though she still trailed him in the delegate count. She quickly changed the offer to the role of vice-president, however, calling it the “dream ticket.” Obama quickly told her to dream on. Meanwhile, Obama\’s campaign took a hit when his pastor released a series of motivational videos, including: “Death to White America,” “The Nation You\’ve Always Hated in Flames in 15 Days,” and “Your Best Revolution Now.”

In sports, the baseball season opened with games between Boston and Oakland in Japan. The series nearly ended in disaster when David Ortiz visited a beach and became the center of Greenpeace protests over whether he should be left alone or returned to sea. In the entertainment world, Al Gore admitted that he was originally cast in the title role for Brokeback Mountain. The deal fell through when he could not lose weight fast enough to meet production schedules, leaving the role of the mountain for America’s sweetheart, William Shatner.

The Second Thanksgiving

11/25/2008, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

So much has been written about the First Thanksgiving in 1621 that the follow-up celebration in 1622 has been all but forgotten, by historians and citizens alike. At this time of year, I think it would be helpful to look back at that second celebration, to glean what we can from the complex Pilgrim-Indian interplay that helped found this great institution.

Everyone knows that Thanksgiving originated with the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It was well-attended by over 90 Wampanoag braves, the great Indian king Massasoit, and his daughter, Princess Pocahontas, who had recently married Cpt. John Smith, precipitating her invitation by Gov. Miles Standish.

The second year was a little different. To begin with, when John Smith informed Pocahontas of the upcoming celebration — and the expected attendance of her relatives — he was rebuffed by her argument that they had “spent every Thanksgiving with his people,” so this year they would spend it with her parents in the Wampanoag encampment. Miles Standish was informed of the change, and after much discussion, he decided that the colonists would make the trek to the Wampanoag Casino Resort Hotel (located near present-day Piscataway, New Jersey) and celebrate by partaking in ancient American rituals including blackjack, roulette and three-card Monte.

Although many colonists were skeptical, they soon took to the ceremonial tents with fervor. Especially intriguing were the “One-Armed Totems,” which allowed a user to deposit a small coin for a chance to receive a small measure of parched corn; the amount varied depending on the alignment of certain mystical figures that spun on three sticks. The bar, the cherry, and the lemon, among other powerful symbols, could produce anywhere from 5 to 500 kernels of corn on a single turn. Many colonists soon found that a simple sack of coins could win them several pockets full of meal. Consider that the “All-You Can-Eat Buffet” was complimentary for anyone who spent the equivalent of five gold sovereigns, and you can see why this should have been the ideal celebration.

But, as everyone knows, the original celebration was three days long, and that’s where the real trouble started. On day two of the second feast, while some of the men were still deeply engaged in ritual wagering, some others had assembled on a green to watch the Redskins play the Pilgrims in a friendly game of touch football (this game, of course, took place before the Pilgrims moved to Dallas and became the Cowboys under Tom Landry). Many female colonists — including Pocahontas — rebelled, announcing that they would not spend the first shopping day of the Christmas season watching football. The women stormed off, in search of a mall rumored to be under development by the Massapequa Indian tribe to the north.

In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins trailing by 2 points, the Pilgrims were expecting an upset. They appeared to hold the home team to a three-and-out with under three minutes remaining, but the Redskins elected to go for it on fourth down. The ensuing play-action pass resulted in an incompletion to the left side, but an Iroquois official threw a late flag and whistled pass interference on the Pilgrims. This put the Indians in field goal range and they nailed a 43-yard kick to win the game.

Needless to say, the colonists were not happy. They had lost their money to the gaming tables, their wives to the mall, and now a shot at the playoffs to what was obviously a “homer job” by a biased official. So that, my friends, is why there was no third Thanksgiving celebration with the Native Americans — and why today we still celebrate separately.

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