Shortened Stories

A memorial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

While assigned to the USS Firebolt in April of 2004, PO3 Nate Bruckenthal was killed along with two Navy sailors as they intercepted a waterborne suicide attack in the Persian Gulf. This was already Nate’s second tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for his actions, and rests in Arlington National Cemetery.
Nate left behind his wife Pattie, and his daughter Harper, who was born after he was killed in action. He had planned to be a firefighter or a policeman after he got out of the Coast Guard.

When you read an obituary, it tells a story that follows a predictable, discernible plot line. There is a person’s life, distilled into all its familiar elements. They were born, received an education, had a family, worked, retired, and died. I’ve always hated traditional obituaries for the simplistic arc they paint of people’s lives, devoid of the details that made them who they were.

Admittedly, if we told the story of every life with all the richness they deserve, we’d do nothing else but tell each other’s stories. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.

Today is a day about stories whose plot lines end with abrupt finality. It’s about anniversary celebrations that never happened. About birthday parties that should have been. About graduations and weddings and Christmases that were unattended by the person who would have made those occasions that much more special.

You see, Memorial Day isn’t about the intangible. It’s about real men and women who answered their country’s call and willingly gave their lives, that nations may live at peace.

These men and women were not an abstract to the people who loved them. They were not an incomprehensible statistic. They were flesh and blood and hopes and dreams. They came into the world as screaming, helpless infants; they took their first steps, got rid of their training wheels, and passed notes in the halls to their high school sweethearts. They laughed and cried and told jokes and confessed fears to their best friends. They struggled through calculus or composition. They liked to put strange things on their French fries. They had plans for the future. They loved and were loved in return.

They were the light of someone’s life.

At some point, they made the decision that the security of our nation and the defeat of her enemies mattered more than their own lives. They raised their right hands and swore an oath, knowing that the consequence of doing so might be mortal peril. And then they laced up their boots, left everything and everyone they ever loved, and walked toward danger.

It’s easy to put on an air of superficial solemnity, to remember our valiant dead as a concept. But it is more important to remember them as people whose stories were still being written when the book was slammed shut.

When you gather with your loved ones this Memorial Day, take a long look at the person there who means more to you than anyone else. And then imagine what your life would have been if they had been missing for the past year, or the past ten. And not just missing, not just the victim of some terrible disease, but ripped from your life in the most violent way, in some remote location on the other side of the world, in the middle of a kind of hell you can’t bear to imagine.

Every name etched on every war memorial in every town in the country was someone’s someone.

That is the meaning of today. If we mean to honor the memory of our beloved sons and daughters who stood in harm’s way on our behalf, we should start by remembering that they were more than a few sad lines of newsprint. And then we should do our best to live the other 364 days in such a way as to make us worthy of their sacrifice.

Almost 7,000 boots. Each with a name, and a person, and a story. Remember them.

Almost 7,000 boots. Each with a name, and a person, and a story. Remember them today. Live to the standard of their sacrifice every day.


What Can We Do?


It’s the inevitable question raised, most often rhetorically and with a shrug, after the latest act of indescribable violence is visited on innocent people.

A lot of people (and all politicians) place the emphasis in that question on do, rather than can, and that’s a mistake. It’s a mistake because then we get into a lot of ugly debates about doing things that aren’t actually possible. Curbing gun violence with stricter gun purchase laws, for instance.

Even the most stringent gun purchase laws are ineffectual in the United States because guns are durable goods, and there are already (by some estimates) 310 million guns in private hands in the US. That’s nearly one firearm for every man, woman and child living within our borders. And there’s not really even any hope of a delayed effect, as most people take better care of their guns than their teeth, and use them far less often. So the guns will survive for generations after the gun purchase laws are passed.

So what about other countries? Certainly they are doing things we are not, and those things are worth investigating, but we have to start with an understanding of what is intrinsically different between the US and most other developed countries.

The biggest difference is that we were literally born, as a nation, by the gun. We solved our first problem, with Great Britain, largely with firearms. Then we used them to solve our problem with the Native Americans, and the Spanish, and the Mexicans, and the Germans and Japanese and Russians and Koreans and Vietnamese and… See my point? Nationally, violence is not only an option, it is very often the first one.

Other huge differences are drug policies that create and bolster criminal cartels, incarceration rates and judiciary policies that breed hopelessness and recidivism, and immigration policy that stymies the law-abiding and encourages the criminal. Our social welfare programs spend a lot of money and don’t accomplish their objectives, instead reinforcing cyclic and almost inescapable poverty. And just to ice the cake, we have a healthcare system that treats mental illness as if it were the common cold (or worse… you can talk openly about the common cold), and heavily favors poorly-tested behavioral modification drugs over holistic evaluation, therapy, and intervention.

So we have, even with the best intentions, created an underpinning of our culture that is predisposed to violence; a hugely successful organized crime syndicate; hundreds of thousands of mentally unstable and poorly treated individuals; a permanent and growing dependent class; a porous border that is far easier to cross illegally; and several generations of people for whom going to jail means less than nothing. Then we’ve dumped the world’s largest private arsenal on top of the mix, for good measure.

Is it any wonder we have mass shootings? I often think it’s a wonder we don’t have more.

So why don’t we take all the guns away? Well, beyond the Constitutional issues this presents, the simple answer is that you can’t. Most people aren’t going to voluntarily give theirs up (including yours truly), and a whole lot of people, if you try to take them by force, are going to start shooting back. And having the police in standoffs with previously law-abiding citizens in order to confiscate their guns doesn’t exactly improve our police state problem.

So what ARE other countries doing that we aren’t, that might work here given our cultural and institutional problems? For starters, we could stop screaming at each other about the guns (which are, in the end, only a symptom of the disease), and start looking at root causes.

We could reform our national drug policy to decriminalize things that are currently hurting almost no one, and enabling organized crime. As the prison population drops precipitously, we could use the freed-up funds to start some real rehabilitation and reintegration work with those who remain behind bars, so that they can start a real life when they get out.

We could stop kidding ourselves about the nature of our social welfare systems, and start looking at some of those other countries to find protocols that actually help people get out of poverty, instead of giving them just enough to make sure they stay there. We could look at helping our neighbors to the south rebuild their shattered country and economy, instead of acting like a fence separates our problems from theirs.

We could start completely over with our national healthcare system, and realize that while Universal Healthcare is a fantastic idea, our Federal Government is woefully inept at running anything anymore, so we’ll need something that doesn’t entrust them to do so. An idea that allows more responsiveness, responsibility and patient-centered control than the Fed will ever be capable of enacting. A system that provides for ALL healthcare needs, including all classes of illness, disease and handicap, with no end dates, no exclusions, and with frequent reevaluation.

We could start by realizing that curing big, complex problems will take more than 140-character slogans and shouting TV pundits; it will take intelligent, principled individuals in public office and private enterprise. Individuals who view long term solutions as more valuable than short term popularity, and the good of We the People above that of themselves individually.

We could have that future. But we have to choose it, every day, and especially on election day.

But we won’t. Instead, we’ll send 95% of Congressional incumbents back to office every time we have the chance. We’ll keep pointing fingers, and shouting down opposing opinions, and generally making ourselves feel better about doing nothing by insisting it’s the other guy’s fault. And as the social fabric of our country continues to be torn to shreds, and the bodies pile up, we’ll go to sleep at night with the smug self-assurance that “there’s nothing we could do.”


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t Stay in Your Lane

This is the sort of thing that makes scrolling through my Facebook feed worth the time I spend doing it.

André Rieu – And The Waltz Goes On from MilarMalv on Vimeo.

Seeing the rapture on Sir Hopkins’ face as he heard his creation brought to life nearly brought me to the same tears visible on the faces of the audience. The thrill of one’s creative work being expressed beyond oneself is a unique and indescribable joy known only to those who create. But what struck me almost as deeply as the beauty and complexity of Sir Anthony’s Waltz was the complexity of the man himself. Anthony Hopkins has long been recognized as a broadly talented actor, but his creative genius is not limited to stage and screen. He’s also a musician, a composer and a painter, expressing himself in media as varied as the roles he has portrayed.

I suspect that Hopkins’ genius was too powerful to be contained; there is every chance he was going to end up where he is, regardless of his circumstances. But contemporary society does not generally approve of such individuals. While we all applaud and celebrate the stars in our midst, we actively discourage the self expression and discovery that allows them to rise. The message we drill into everyone, from the most tender age, is Thou Shalt Stay In Thy Lane. When you’re a kid, you can only be a kid; you can have no revolutionary ideas, you can’t contribute to society, you can’t change the world. When you’re a student, you are to study and regurgitate the thoughts of others, not explore your own ideas.

Even as an adult, the whole of humanity is hellbent on keeping you in the small box they spent decades shoving you into. At work, you are only to perform the functions and roles they hired you to do. Anything more, and most workplaces will crush you for infringing on someone else’s little kingdom. You are to move into positions of responsibility only when they’ve decided they want you to, regardless of your relative ability, capacity for leadership, or mind for innovation. You will associate with people of your own kind and caste. You will not discuss politics, religion or science because you are not qualified to do so, and you’ll only upset everyone anyway.

When it is time to dance, you will line up and do the same dance as every one else, a la the bar scene in Antz.

The false gospel of the 20th century was “do one thing, and do it well.” This ethos is one of the most destructive and counterproductive ideas adopted in the history of humanity. The human mind is a powerful and diverse thing, and was never meant to be constrained to a single mode of interest, study or expression. Society gives a lot of lip service to the concept of individuality, but neglects to acknowledge that it requires a high degree of self direction. The irony is that, in centuries past, the realities of basic human survival limited most people’s capacity to explore their own interests and ideas. Today, more of the world than ever before lives in the sort of safety and comfort required for such endeavors, and yet they are actively discouraged.

Much is made of the waste of human potential and tangible resources brought about by war and famine, and those are tragic. But we actively wage war against our creative selves on a daily basis, and for what? To strive mightily at the status quo? What could we achieve if we stopped handcuffing human potential to outdated and oppressive frameworks designed around misguided understandings of human comprehension? What sort of world could we create, if we allowed ourselves to be creative?

Some of this is changing. Kids like Malala Yousafzai are changing the world, and being recognized for it. The explosion of social networks has connected people in ways never before possible, and the internet is allowing us to explore more of our interests with more depth and breadth than ever before.

But the analog world lags sadly behind the digital one. Our schools still rigidly adhere to the left-brain-dominant model of information dissemination. Bureaucracies still rule all our lives with the tyranny of a million trifling rules. Society still resists and lampoons those with ideas that would upset the apple cart, as they have since the time of Galileo.

We’re told that our dreams must be abandoned because they are are unrealistic, that art and music are just electives you have to take in school, and that athletics are for the young. But the brightest minds I know today are those who have rejected that misconstrued reality, and chosen to pursue all that their heart desires anyway. A friend of mine is a dentist, a musician, and a lifelong athlete. Another is a teacher, a mother, and a gifted runner and artist. These are not characters that would fit easily into a 20-minute sitcom episode. They do not stay in their lane, because no lane could contain them. They are also among the plethora of people who inspire and motivate me on a daily basis to strive toward my own potential for brilliance, whatever that may be.

If there is to be hope for humankind, that we should drag ourselves forward from our current malaise of wasted potential, meaningless struggle and broad oppression, it must begin with our creative capacity. It will begin with people defying their stereotypes, using the whole of their potential to address the world around them. Such people have always been responsible for the great advances witnessed throughout history, and they will be the ones to lead us in the future. Be one of those people. Explore, create, innovate, express. Don’t stay in your lane.

The More They Stay the Same

9-11We would never be the same. We were sure of it. After the shock and horror of the eleventh of September, 2001, the one thing everyone agreed on was that the world was irreparably altered. We’d never look at each other the same way, regard our way of life with the same nonchalance, or discount the threats to our liberty from forces at home and abroad. We were united in a common cause, and that unity would guide us forward thenceforth.

But we haven’t changed. Not much. Only our circumstances are different now; circumstances that we created in an emotional backlash. We have to go through more pain at the airport now before being allowed to proceed to our destinations. We endure countless intrusions into our private lives and communications. We allow further restrictions on our speech, our movement, and even our thought, all in the name of the nebulous concept of security. We have changed a lot of things, but we have largely remained the same.

Of course, some people were deeply changed. For the hundreds of thousands of military members who were in at the time or have joined since, our nation’s kneejerk reaction to 9-11 changed everything. For us, constant war has become a way of life, an idea so foreign to our civilian peers that we may well have become aliens in our own land. Thousands of my brothers and sisters in arms now lay dead, and thousands more carry visible and invisible wounds acquired in wars that the American people chose to abandon before their objectives could be fully realized.

The cost of America’s sitcom-length attention span; of fractious, power-hungry politicians; of single-minded corporate moguls and of a careless, ignorant electorate is that the sacrifices made by our military have largely been abandoned to the pages of history books. The hallowed battlefields which were soaked in the blood of American patriots are now again trampled by the forces of hatred and murderous oppression.

Remembering where you were on 9-11 is a fine thing, but it is nothing like enough. You have to understand what happened, remember the raw rage that you felt, and consider the consequence those events had for those of us who have sworn to defend you. More than anything, you have to question why we’re still not doing what it takes to stop it from happening again.

We continue to face an enemy that fights with no rules and no reservations. For them, collateral damage isn’t an unfortunate consequence of struggle, it is the sole objective of their entire operation. They have no timetables, no exit strategies, no qualms about international borders or humanitarian treaties. What they have is an unbridled hatred for the relative freedom of the West, and an insatiable desire to destroy it by any means available.

Until we are willing to confront such an enemy with anything like the resolve they show, we will continue to teeter on the brink of another heinous attack. We crushed the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but balked at pursuing them into Pakistan. We toppled a regime known for its murderous brutality and hatred in Iraq, but failed to stay and help the newly freed people secure their future as a free nation. We have neglected historic opportunities to ensure peace, freedom and stability in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iran. Now we find ourselves on the brink of another limited campaign in Iraq and Syria, one doomed to fail as surely as every limited action against an unlimited foe.

We have not won anything in our war on terror; we have only wounded it and displaced it to locations we are unwilling to reach out and touch.

Thirteen years after 9-11, we remember, but not the way we once did. Even the images trotted out on social media have become softened, stylized logos, rather than the raw images that accurately portray the events of that Tuesday morning. Perhaps our feelings have become softened, stylized versions of their former selves, as well. The more those memories fade, the less creedence we give to the severity of the wound we suffered thirteen years ago today, the closer we step to letting it happen again. Pray that enough of us do remember to stop it before it does.

To Honor Their Memory


Private First Class Dennis Lynn Cook, of A Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force, United States Marine Corps, was killed on the sixth of May, 1968 in Thua Thien, Vietnam. He was 20 years old. We’re told he was sitting on his tank, eating when an attack broke out and he was struck by gunfire.

Years ago, a man who was there when Denny died got in contact with my grandfather. He’d been trying to find him for decades, only to tell him that Denny didn’t suffer. That was all.

I’ve come to know a lot about my uncle. He was my Mom’s oldest brother; a tall, lanky, gregarious kid with a famously hot temper, a penchant for practical jokes, and a sense of humor that got him in trouble on more than one occasion. One of the family stories is that he got off the bus at Boot Camp and immediately said something smart to one of the drill instructors, who was about a foot shorter than him. The result was that he sported a black eye for his official boot camp photo. I’m told that I take after him in more ways than one.

I obviously never met my uncle Denny, but I’ve always felt a strong emotional bond to him, enough that I very seriously considered joining the Marines when it came time for me to enlist. He is a big part of my family’s generations-long military tradition. I become inexplicably emotional when thinking of his loss, and what it did to my Mom and her family. For this and for my own military experience, I love war movies far more than the next guy. But they’re not easy for me to watch, and are commonly accompanied by no small amount of scotch.

In recent decades, you, the American public, have tried hard to make amends for the shameful way you behaved toward our military members during its least popular conflict. Veterans today are regarded with a level of respect that approaches what is proper, even as the gap of understanding between those who have served and those who have not grows wider. It’s become popular to describe our military members as heroes. And profitable, for those companies despicable enough to exploit it.

As welcome as that shift toward respect has been, it isn’t enough. It’s not enough to erect memorials and monuments, have a couple parades, and hang a flag outside your house a few times a year. As much as we appreciate it, it’s not enough to say “thank you for your service” to a veteran, and then go on about your business. What’s needed, for those still living, is dreadfully apparent: better healthcare, more support for their transition to civilian life, more than, well, lip service. Those who have served are owed these things, for what you have asked us to do. It was supposed to be part of the deal all along.

But what of our dead? What can be done for the 1.3 million Americans who have given their lives, mostly on foreign soil, trying to preserve the liberty of their own countrymen, repel invaders of friendly nations, topple ruthless despots, end genocides, protect innocent lives, and eradicate terrorists from the ugliest, most inhospitable corners of the world?

You can honor their memory. And I don’t mean an occasional doffing of the cap and a moment of silence, I mean concrete actions. You honor their memory by working to ensure their blood was not spilled cheaply, by finishing what they started, and by conducting the business of our country in a way befitting their sacrifice.

These are things that you have abysmally failed to do since the 1950s, and continue to fail at doing today. You commit your sons and daughters to bloody conflicts around the world without the necessary resolve and determination to see through that which we began. You order us to fight under rules of engagement that routinely allow evil men to escape, and cost the lives of our troops, our allies, and friendly civilians. You insist that we have the most technologically advanced equipment the world has ever seen, and then bemoan the cost to support it, and take the difference from our salaries, pensions, training, and equipment maintenance. You insist that we are, at all times and in all places, the sharpest tip of the strongest spear, and then bury us under mountains of bureaucracy, fill our commands with useless politicians, and interfere in our every affair. You elect politicians whose stated goals are to cut our funding to unconscionable levels, and others whose only interests are lining their own pockets with dollars from industry lobbyists. You train us up to be the most efficient and effective machine of death and destruction mankind has ever known, and then scold us for our alleged brutality and callousness.

If there is sincerity in your heart when you claim to honor our fallen, stop doing these things. Reverse these trends. Do it for my uncle Denny, my friend Christina, my classmate Jesse, and all the others who have laid down their life at your behest, and in your stead.

On the third of May, 1915, the day after presiding over the burial service for a close friend, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae sat in the back of an ambulance and penned his famous poem, In Flanders Fields. The last verse is a challenge to future generations, and one I issue to you now, almost a century after it was written:

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

Mission Statements are the Most Useless Assemblies of Words, Ever

This is what you think is going to happen when people read your mission statement. I've got news for you: it isn't. Also, the whole "hands-in" think has always kinda creeped me out.

This is what you think is going to happen when people read your mission statement. I’ve got news for you: it isn’t.
Also, the whole “hands-in” thing has always kinda creeped me out.

Does your workplace have a mission statement? If so, can you tell me the last time you used it? Can you even tell me what it says? I bet not, even if you’re the one who wrote it. Mission statements are like nipples on guys. Everybody has them, but nobody really knows what the hell for, because they don’t produce anything. They’re present (mission statements, I mean) in every line of work from fast food to military units to banks, when the missions of those organizations couldn’t be more clear (kill people slowly, kill people quickly, and take people’s money, respectively).

My workplace has them. Two of them, actually, one for each half of the organization. They’re full of soaring superlatives like “perfect” and “seamless” and “exceptional”. They attempt to sum up, in one buzz-word-laden sentence, the whole point of life, the universe and everything. At least so far as our organization is concerned.

And they’re completely and utterly worthless, like every mission statement that’s ever been written. Actually that’s not true, because the time spent writing them, printing them on things, and trying to drill them into our heads in meetings could well have been spent doing something meaningful and productive. So they’re less than worthless.

Let me explain. Mission statements are a waste of time and money for all involved. If you have to remind your people why they’re there, there’s a good chance you’ve hired the wrong people. They know what you do, that’s why they applied to your company. Unless you’re in the conscription business, there’s a pretty good chance that your employees knew exactly what the mission of your organization was before they even walked in the door for the first time. And if you have to be reminded why you’re there, you’re likely in the wrong business.

I’d like to meet the guy who first came up with the idea of a mission statement. I can just picture him, sitting around in his cube one day, not doing his job, and trying to think of ways to get other people to do theirs (and probably his). In between fiddling with his stapler and trying to stick pencils in the ceiling tiles, he stumbled on a way to waste a colossal amount of time, while still giving the appearance of doing work. How about cleverly restating the obvious in a way that makes it sound complicated and important! He’d write a mission statement! And from that boredom-induced moment, an entire industry was born. I’m not kidding. There are actually companies whose mission it is to write mission statements for other companies.

And people wonder why the economy is sluggish.

Setting aside for a moment that just about all of them are poorly written, catchphrase-laced gobbledygook, they simply don’t do what they’re supposed to do. Most people won’t remember their company’s mission statement because they don’t need to. It doesn’t help them do their work, it doesn’t influence their job performance one way or the other, so it gets filed with all of the other corporate culture nonsense that almost every organization seems to find necessary these days. The employees who need that sort of external help with their focus or motivation already aren’t paying attention, and the ones who are paying attention probably don’t need the help. In other words, your carefully crafted, focus group tested, HR blessed mission statement is going to be rejected by the people who need it, and embraced by the people who don’t. Mission statements tilt at windmills in the most absurd possible way.

Companies the world over are trying to put the cart before the horse with issues like these. They look at wildly successful companies like Google or Apple, and marvel at the “culture” they’ve created there, as if it was something you can just download and install. What they don’t understand is that vibrant, effective, dynamic, successful companies become so by hiring people who are those things, and then allowing them to be so. You will not create those things by hiring suit-wearing blobs who look good on paper and fulfill HR’s dreams of what your workforce should look like, and them telling them to be vibrant and dynamic.

Years ago I worked for an IT department in a major national bank. We had mission statements at every level of management. And we had newcomer conferences where they pumped you full of catchphrases and tried to tell you how special you were to the company. All the while they were paying their workforce an average of 20% less than the industry standard, and everyone knew it. The results were staggering turnover and burnout rates, as the people who were good enough found jobs elsewhere that paid them what they were worth. What was left was largely people who couldn’t make it anywhere else, and new people who hadn’t burned out yet. So much for instilling corporate culture. It was bad enough that my wife actually bought me an Office Space kit.

I have an alternative proposal for anyone considering slathering the walls of their workplace with a mission statement. Instead of insulting your employees’ intelligence by telling them why they came to work that morning, spend that time taking care of them. Recruit and retain the sort of people who reflect what you want your company to be, and your company will become that. And if nothing else, I would like to introduce a management concept I’m calling The Dilbert Rule. If an action you are about to take would make for a really great Dilbert comic strip, maybe you should rethink it.

Beware the Evil Homeschoolers

Berkley-educated feminist and anti-Christian author Michelle Goldberg posted a hit piece against homeschooling today that could be a case study in leftist “journalism.” As has become the standard for liberal pundits everywhere, her article opens with a heart-wrenching story of a child tortured to death by her parents, which is intended to soften you emotionally for the points that follow.

Continuing to follow the template for liberal punditry, her logic falls apart right about where the headline meets the first paragraph. We are expected to nod along blithely with the assertion that home schooling presents an irresistable opportunity for evil people to do evil things to kids, and so it should be regulated out of existence. In fact, since none of you can be trusted with your own children, you should probably just surrender them all to be wards of the state from birth, and that way the state can keep an eye on you.

But she ignores the fact that evil people don’t need to go to the trouble of home schooling their children to abuse or neglect them. She further ignores the plethora of evil being done to kids every single day in traditional schools, including the mounting epidemic of suicides as a result of unchecked bullying. We’re supposed to be wowed by the 70—70! – cases in the last 12 years of sexual abuse in home school situations, revealed by one study. I’d wager there are more cases of abuse in the New York or Chicago city school systems in a single school year, but that’s a bet I doubt the author would take.

She also ignores that hundreds of thousands of abused kids go to traditional schools every day, where their abuse is not noticed or confronted, or worse, it’s continued at the hands of school staff. I’ll reiterate, evil people don’t need to keep their kids out of school to do evil things to them. If sending kids to traditional schools was really some sort of panacea for child abuse, one could hardly account for the 6 million children who are abused every year in this country.

Here’s a humdinger of a false dichotomy, presented in a quote the editor highlighted: “Some families are simply trying to hide abuse and keep kids wholly under their control. In others, the abuse and the homeschooling stem from the same rigid religious ideology.” That’s right folks, if you homeschool your kids, you’re either abusive, or abusive AND a bible-thumping nutjob.

But it gets worse! When you aren’t busy locking your children in the basement for the entirety of their natural lives to stop some benevolent bureaucrat from noticing their whippin’ scars, you’re taking their tests for them! Without Big Brother coming in to look over your shoulder as you administer the (totally worthless) state mandated tests, you might CHEAT! Because that never happens in a traditional school setting. Perish the thought!

Next, we play the game of “imagine your own statistics.” The author bemoans the growing cancer of homeschooling, revealing that the number of homeschooled kids rose by 74% between 1999 and 2007. And while there’s positively no evidence to support the assertion, don’t you just KNOW that the Jerry Falwell crowd makes up the vast majority! The horror!

Adoptive parents must be viewed with an especially suspicious eye, we’re told, since they aren’t as likely to love their children as much as natural children. The author cites two more horrifying examples ripped from the headlines to anecdotally prove her point. And demonize the hundreds of thousands of adoptive parents who work miracles in the lives of their kids every single day. Remember, a couple stories are enough to regulate everyone.

The article closes with the one-two punch of creating an unproven appositive, “Christian homeschooling,” as if there is no other kind, and a request for confession from homeschoolers as a whole for the transgressions of a handful.

While it’s true that a very small handful of people have used homeschooling as a cloak for their own malicious intent, demanding that millions of other great parent-teachers bow to government intrusion and oversight for it is as insane as it is ineffectual. While we’re at it, we should probably mandate that homeschooled kids eat public school lunches, you know, so they don’t get fat. Oh wait…

Until pundits and politicians stop using emotion, exaggeration and pretentious, logically flawed arguments, they simply cannot be taken seriously. They will sit aghast, as movements in favor of individual rights continue to surge inexplicably ahead, because they are blind to the catastrophes that their state-created systems have created. And the most amusing part is that they have no idea why people take such offense to their assertions that we’re all a bunch of child abusing, bigoted misogynists who literally beat our children with leather-bound bibles.

The Minim… er… Living Wage

This guy seems to have done pretty well for himself...

This guy seems to have done pretty well for himself…

Paul Saginaw, co-owner and founder of Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Michigan recently offered his opinion on why the Federal minimum wage should be raised. His argument is well-trodden ground for proponents of the minimum wage in general, but it is no more sound for its longevity.

In fact, the author’s premise is flawed in nearly every conceivable way. First he presents the oft-cited “statistic”  of the minimum wage providing an income below the poverty rate for a family of three, but never establishes the prevalence or significance of that demographic. The statistics cited later in the article are “or” stats, not “and,” as would be logically required to prove his opening statement useful.

The percentage of people making minimum wage who are adults, or who work full time, or are married is irrelevant, without knowing what percentage of those subsets are actually supporting themselves on that income, instead of, say, going to school on Mom and Dad’s money or living in their basement because they’re 19 (and “adults”).

What no one in favor of minimum wage increase is willing to quantify is the number or percentage of fast food workers who are single-income, AND heads of household depending solely on that income, AND at that level of income, and more poignantly, how many of them actually remain at that level of income for more than two years. The latter has actually been studied, and it has been shown that the vast majority of people in the lower quintile of income don’t stay there very long.

Then the author goes on to talk about the success of his own business with paying workers more than minimum wage, providing them benefits, and partnering with other businesses to do the same. These are all commendable actions, and actions I wholeheartedly support, but he makes the critical error of thinking the best way forward from here is to coerce, through force, the rest of the industry and the country to do the same.

If it’s working for his business and others, and he believes it can work industry-wide, then why does he require that the government force businesses to do it? Clearly, if there were economic benefit from his strategy for every company, every company would do it voluntarily. As much as we dislike giant monster mega corporations, they aren’t dumb, or they wouldn’t have become as successful as they are.

The fact is that the unintended consequences of forcing a higher minimum wage are not only increased prices for consumers (which are limited by inelastic market forces), but decreased employment. Small businesses like my brother’s farm are unable to hire, sometimes at all, because of the prohibitive cost of each employee brought about by Federal and State regulation. The sum total of these hidden expenses more than doubles the labor cost per employee. Huge companies like fast food chains will simply automate and cut work force to maintain profit margins and share prices, like they’ve been doing for decades, and fewer people will be able to find work at all, for any wage. See example after example of how companies like WalMart do business.

Again, I support wholeheartedly what Mr. Saginaw is doing with his own company, and I vote with my pocketbook every single day in support of just those sorts of practices. But his argument for raising the Federal minimum wage fails every logical and economic check. I do not believe for a moment that a government control will force companies to start behaving more ethically, any more than it has ever forced any individual to behave ethically, and certainly not without enormous unintended consequences. The way forward is not and will never be the use of force, but rather the education of the consuming public, which can only result in companies adapting practices and policies we find more palatable.

Twelve Years

911Pano25Twelve years. It’s strange to think about a day that lives so vividly in my mind as history, but that’s what it is. There are kids in high school now whose only real knowledge of the day will come from studying it in a US History class. If it’s even mentioned. I know that they will not understand the day, the change that came over the whole nation all at once, the raw emotion of it. I suppose at best, they will feel about 9/11 the way I feel about Pearl Harbor. Sad that it happened, angry that it could have been prevented, solemn at its anniversary. And I will look at them when they ask the way World War II vets look at me, and try to explain it.

I was at work, slinging tires and oil for Wal-Mart for eight bucks an hour. Somebody mentioned that there had been an accident in New York. A plane had crashed into one of the twin towers, and it was burning. A few of us paused in our work to crowd around the tiny TV in the waiting area. I stood, transfixed at the live feeds from the ground in New York, while the others shook their heads and went back to work. I saw the second plane hit live, and knew instantly it was terrorism. I’d been watching airplanes fly for my whole life, and that second jet was completely in control when it hit.

I suddenly wasn’t so interested in being at work any more. I was already on my way home when the plane hit the Pentagon. Even in Ohio, it was pandemonium. Traffic was sparse but moving quickly. There were jets going supersonic overhead to escort Air Force One, confused reports of possible other attacks on the radio, and reporters on TV trying to make sense of it all. We saw people jumping from the towers to escape the fire. Nobody could look away as these images burned themselves indelibly into our memories. Then the towers fell, and New York became a war zone.

Dinner that night was tense and quiet, and we sat, glued to the nonstop coverage on the TV, as analysts and experts tried to come up with some sort of plausible explanation. I remember the way my Mom looked at my Dad,  as if hoping to find in his face some reassurance that her husband and two sons would be safe through whatever was to come.

I had already enlisted in April of that year, when I was a 17 year old high school senior with a clear and certain plan for my life. That plan was torn to pieces on a cool, humid September morning, although I didn’t yet understand that. Our nation was enraged and on the offensive, finally willing to wield our considerable might, and that of numerous allies, against anyone who opposed us. Instead of going to college that fall, I went to tech school, and then to war the following summer. I followed my brother into Kuwait, then went back for more the next spring. I became a different person than I had planned on being, through the experience of the next several years. Not better or worse, but different.

On dark nights with a glass of Scotch, I have sometimes regretted my place in history. I have listened to the stories of guys who served before me, the trips to Hawaii and Panama and the Philippines. The easy way of life that was present in the military in that sweet spot between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror.

But that was not my lot, and I have served in the twelve years hence in varying capacities, but always tied to the fight. I have watched the unity of our nation become again fractured, our resolve waver, and our infighting become worse than ever. We have pounded our enemies into pieces, killed their leaders and toppled their governments, but yet they remain. The common wisdom today is that there is no way to win a war against fanaticism, and so we will be perpetually fighting, and surely we can’t do that.

But I can. I remember that day in full color. I lived it, and went on living it since. I can go on as long as is necessary, and will do whatever I am able, to prevent it from ever happening again, insofar as I am allowed. I only hope that we are able to express the meaning of this day to future generations in terms sufficient to inspire similar resolve. So help us God.



Welcome to my new site! This is where I hope to consolidate my various writing projects, in order to get out of the trainwreck that Blogger is becoming, and also to present them all in a more useful fashion. It’ll take awhile to get the appropriate level of polish on the place, but in the mean time, poke around, comment, and enjoy!