hero

The Value Of A Hero.

With the political season nearing its denouement, there is a lot of hero worship from every campaign. The military and police are oft cited examples, and the hero label has been applied to everyone from generals to pizza delivery guys. It seems like the definition of hero can be stretched to include almost anyone, and that is quite bothersome.

What I’m left wondering is, what exactly is a hero anymore? There are obvious examples that are easy to quantify, such as the guy who risks his own safety to rescue someone from a car sinking in water, or a Congressional Medal Of Honor winner. But after that it’s not so clear cut.

Is someone a hero simply by being in a certain group, such as firefighters and the military? Or do they actually have to do something heroic? Suppose an ordinary guy who otherwise has never shown any proclivity for acts of bravery is suddenly thrust into a situation…such as child trapped in a burning building. If he places himself in great peril to rescue the child, is he a hero more, less, or equal to the retired Army sergeant who spent his entire career at a desk job and never did anything more hazardous than minimum required basic training?

By virtue of their enlistment, the military people have professed a willingness to place themselves in danger on behalf of others. The same could be said of police officers and firefighters. This willingness is not mere words. It is  verified by lengthy, difficult training intended in part to weed out the pretenders from those who really mean it. Is that enough to satisfy the nebulous “do something” requirement?

Whether or not they have ever actually done anything dangerously heroic is beside the point. Raising their hands and volunteering to imperil themselves in the service of complete strangers must count for something, and in my mind it makes them a hero on some level even if they are never called to perform these duties.

That brings us to the less obvious. Teachers, clergy, medical people, and a raft of others are often lifted to hero status. The missions they undertake are unarguably difficult, noble, and often done at great personal sacrifice. But here we go again…does mere inclusion in one of these respected groups by default make them a hero?

We admire teachers and clergy and the rest…I get it. Yet I cannot make an easy connection between someone who does something honorable and selfless, but not particularly risky, and someone who actually does take a big risk or accepts the potential of danger.

The problem I have with the modern hero is that, consistent with society’s attitude of “everyone gets a trophy,” and “let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings,” the concept of a hero has been diluted down to include pretty much everyone. And if everyone is a hero, then being a one isn’t such a big deal. Furthermore, the real heroes, those who clearly earned it, are having their rightful honor debased.

I do not consider myself a hero, but I’m sure if I was a lot more full of myself I could find a circuitous way to claim the title. Meh. I’ll watch with a little sadness while so many others abuse the term. When it’s all over, I’ll give up my spot on the pedestal for someone who really deserves it.

sandwich-race-relations

The Sandwich Solution.

By Chris Warren.

Recent events in Charlotte, North Carolina and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as other instances of black citizens being shot dead by the police have kept alive the ongoing and seemingly endless charges of institutional racism in the United States. I’m not here to make a lengthy commentary on the validity of the collective accusations, except to say that I believe neither side is totally right nor totally wrong.

What I am going to suggest is that race relations would improve if we followed the example of a sandwich. No, this is is not a gag or satire piece, and I am absolutely not trying to trivialize the immense emotional pain these deaths cause others. Twenty First Summer  is a serious blog and this is a serious discourse.

The individual contents of a sandwich are not particularly inviting. No one eats just a raw onion or a spoonful of mustard or a leaf of plain lettuce. And while a solo slice of cheese or meat is completely palatable, it’s not very exciting. But put it all together between two slices of bread and the end result is a symphony of delicious that no one refuses.

Go anywhere in the world, in any culture, and they have some version of a sandwich. It’s the universal food for an entire planet, possibly the only food that everyone eats.

Now compare all of humanity to the ingredients of a sandwich. Each ingredient has its own special qualities and is inherently valuable, but by itself can only be so much. When combined together they are something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The point is that people are better as a group than we are when wrapped up inside ourselves. We don’t have to always agree. We don’t have to hold hands and sing. Heck, we don’t even have to like each other! We simply have to live and let live respectfully.

That’s why we could learn a lot about race relations by looking at the example of the humble sandwich. Together, the ingredients of a sandwich accomplish something that they cannot achieve individually.

And so it is with people. We can stand alone and be just average, which is not horrible, but why settle for average? Or we can join together and be something stellar. It’s not lost on me that race relations are a complex topic with a high emotional payload and a lineage going back hundreds of years, but what the hell. Nothing else has worked; a “sandwich solution” is not any more a nutty idea than all the failures that came before it.

work shoes

The Story In A Workingman’s Shoes.

By Chris Warren.

I went out yesterday and bought a new pair of work shoes. I know it’s not exactly a profound life event, but when I looked at my old shoes it struck me that every beat up, worn out pair has a story to tell about a Workingman.

Most people have several pairs of shoes for everyday use, but the Workingman, a guy who doesn’t wear a fine suit, usually has only one pair. Those old shoes carried me through every moment of my career for several years. I wear them more than any other single article of clothing I own.

The photo above shows two pairs of my work shoes. Both are the exact same make, model, and size. One pair is three years old and well past the end of its useful life; the other is brand new, never worn. When compared side by side, it’s a bit startling to see what three years of honest hard work will do to a pair of shoes.

Those shoes were a silent witness to many great things that happened to me, and a few not so great things. They were there when the boss dressed me down over a mistake I made; they were also there when the same boss gave me a fat bonus and told me what a great employee I was. They’ve been to funerals and retirement parties. They’ve shoveled snow and walked through 100 degree heat.

Every scuff and crack and stain and scrape on those old shoes has a story behind it. Of course, I don’t remember the details of how and when every blemish occurred, but collectively they are the testimony of a guy who clearly does not spend much time sitting around.

Workingmen are not a complicated lot, which, by the way, should not be interpreted as being uneducated or simple-minded. Their skills are technical and complex and can take years, even decades, to master. The Workingman’s job requires advanced math and analytical abilities; many of the people in work shoes and hard hats hold college degrees and/or have completed vocational training that essentially equals or exceeds a college degree. They show up every day with lunchbox in hand and a can-do spirit in their heart and do what is needed to keep our modern world seamlessly running.

Building buildings, lighting up the cities, keeping cellphones on line, toilets flushing, and trucks and trains and airplanes moving are all part of the countless behind the scenes labors that no one sees but everyone would definitely notice if they did not get done correctly and on time. These are not skills any unmotivated dropout can learn. Workingmen are diverse in their advanced expertise but they have one thing in common: Their shoes do not stay pristine and new for very long.

I don’t know why, but there is something about getting a new pair of work shoes that boosts my mood. For that first few days, before they are fully broken in and start showing obvious signs of wear, I put my work shoes on in the morning and leave the house feeling like it’s going to be a good day. Like a blank sheet of paper they too will collect the story of my daily life and someday will be worn and spent.

That is where the Workingman is different from his shoes: The Workingman is never spent. He may return home tired at the end of each shift and dream of a well earned retirement, but the next morning he will put on the same pair of shoes and go out and make the world happen…again. During the course of his day his shoes will collect a few more scrapes and scuffs, each of which is a testimony to honest hard work. Show me a beat up old pair of work shoes, and I’ll show you a dignified Workingman who never failed to carry the pride of his skill and labor upon them.

mother teresa 2

Mother Teresa, For The Ages

By: Chris Warren.

I had started an article about Mother Teresa over a year ago, then changed my plans and never finished it. Now that Mother Theresa is officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta, it’s a good time to finish the story, even though the story of Mother Teresa will never end, nor should it.

Mother Teresa’s path to greatness started the same way as most great people: She wasn’t looking for greatness, she was just looking to make a difference. After starting the Missionaries of Charity religious order in 1950, Mother Teresa set out on a quiet mission to serve the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the unseen, the unwanted, the untouchables.

Earning a Nobel Peace Prize, several honorary doctorate degrees, dozens of other awards and honors, being celebrated by Popes and Presidents, and even having an airport named after her was never part of the plan. Through it all, this woman of God kept plugging along and never diverted from her calling.

What impresses me most about Mother Teresa is her sense of humanity. Not only in her public service to others, but also her private personal struggles, admissions of doubt in her own faith, and her open acknowledgement that she was really just a regular person, a sinner in need of God’s salvation and no better or more deserving than all the rest of us.

It’s easy to see someone like her as some perfect being who operates on a level the rest of us will never realize. Yet, Mother Teresa herself would be the first person to deny having a special pipeline to holiness. She did not see herself as being much different than those she served.

If we dig into the biographies of figures who changed the world by peacefully serving others we find people who were, well, just people. They had faults. They did things they later regretted. They sometimes hurt others and were hurt by others. At their roots they were ordinary folk who somehow found a way to rise up and do big things in spite of their personal shortcomings. Their greatness was not that they were flawless, because they weren’t, and they knew it. Their greatness came from their faith that they could overcome both internal and external obstacles and live what they believed.

These “star throwers” know they are never going to save everyone, but that’s not the point. It did not stop Mother Teresa because trying to save everyone and coming up short is more virtuous than using the impossibility of the task as an excuse not to try at all. Her effort had the added benefit of being an example to others. Mother Teresa never knew how many others saw her good works and were inspired to go out and do something good themselves.

mother teresa 1

Pope Francis recently Tweeted, “To offer today’s world the witness of mercy is a task from which none of us can feel exempted.” This serendipitous statement is everything Mother Teresa lived for. Mother Teresa does not live on in the form of anything she directly did to help others, although those contributions are indeed memorable. Her gift to the world, and what she would want as her legacy, was her role as a guiding light for the rest of us to join her. As Pope Francis teaches, none of us are exempted.

No one ever received God’s grace, much less became a Saint, by watching others perform acts of mercy. To that end, the world’s adulation of Mother Teresa does not mean much if the world will not also walk a path of selfless service. Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s message for the ages is that she did not want to be admired; she wanted to be emulated.

Author’s Note: Please also see my related article, Strong Enough To Throw A Star.

 

chitty chitty bang bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Teaches Us About Life.

By Chris Warren.

I was on YouTube researching material for another website I write for and ended up wandering around and getting lost on my own click trail. YouTube does a great job of getting me to drift off task. My proclivity to being an easily distracted airhead had me watching clips from the classic British children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved that movie as a kid. It never seems to get tiresome and I diverted from my mission for just a few minutes to partake in a little childhood joy.

I did not have time to watch the entire movie, but I saw enough Chitty Chitty Bang Bang clips to realize what I did not notice as a kid: The story, intentionally or not, had some depth to it. It was not just a cute kids’ movie. There were lessons buried in there:

Children can be strong agents of change. The magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car would never have existed if the kids had not grown fond of it and begged their eccentric inventor daddy to buy the old wreck before the junkman did. What started as a mere appeasement of children turned out to be a major process of self realization for its builder.

In real life, adults  learn a lot about themselves as a side effect of doing some pretty crazy stuff to please kids. Having kids means not living solely for yourself. It means being needed. And sometimes, it means buying an old junk car that you would otherwise have no interest in because a little kid begged you. It reminds me of all the things my parents put up with to make me happy and how that contributed to their wisdom.

How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given?

Great people always underestimate themselves. Main character Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke), is a loving single dad of the two children but is a somewhat inept inventor who doesn’t make any real money. Lacking confidence, he seems resigned to his mediocre standing until he is forced take his flying car to the fictional Kingdom of Vulgaria and rescue his kidnapped father.

He successfully recovers his father and unintentionally also liberates an entire country from their immature man-child Baron. Throughout the story, even Caractacus himself seems amazed at his own abilities and those of the car that he built. By the end of the movie, everyone returns home safely. Caractacus gets the pretty girl, finally attains status as an inventor, and lives happily ever after. And oh yeah, the children get a really cool car that can also be a boat and an aircraft.

Great people usually begin as average  people. On the surface, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just a whimsical kids’ story. But in the mix is a regular guy many of us can relate to: Potts trudges through life doing the best that he can with what he has. He deeply loves his kids but does not have a lot of money to give them the lifestyle he’d like. He never gives up, but does not take any big risks, either. That is, until he is forced to. How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given? It’s not the same as being lazy. Some of us just need a little push. Like many people who overcame adversity or achieved a difficult goal, Caractacus didn’t know how great he was until being great was the only option.

Ok, I know the plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a very far fetched and implausible children’s movie, but I’m not reading too much into this. There are legitimate lessons buried in there. Even the movie itself  defied its own fate: It received wishy-washy reviews from the critics when it  was released and was only a modest financial success. Yet like Caractacus it endured and hung in there and is now considered a timeless classic. What entertained me as a child now enlightens me as an adult., and that’s not silly kid stuff.

 

gun control

Gun Control: So Shallow, A Flea Couldn’t Drown In It (Best Of TFS)

by: Chris Warren

The validity of statements made in the past can and should be measured by how well they hold up against the test of the future. Unless and until the big guesses evolve into tangible reality, gun control is at the same level as overdramatic hucksters on late night infomercials telling us they have the secret to all our heart’s desires.

The apparent death of the Second Amendment as we know it and the subsequent rise of the gun control movement over the vanquished National Rifle Association was glowingly foretold by liberals since well before 2008 when Barack Obama won the Presidential election. In his first term he bailed on his promise to come down on the “bitter clingers,” but that was not enough of a buzzkill to keep his patsies from reelecting him.

My rearview mirror wisdom now confirms what I presumed in the first place: The gun control movement is indeed a collection of overdramatic hucksters, with Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg getting top billing. Note: I refuse to use the term gun control in the context it is employed by the political left because those claiming to want “common sense gun laws” are either liars or fools (see also, useful idiot). Their newest hero, Hillary Clinton, claims that she does not want to abolish the Second Amendment. Technically, this is true. She has never openly made any such statement. But we all know her end game: The complete and total abolition of all private civilian firearm ownership. Of course she’s not going to admit it blatantly. Yet everyone, including her hired buffoons, know that if given the opportunity, that’s exactly what she would do. I will not take the bait and be a party to their overt bullshit, even if it is rhetorical hair splitting.

The “gun lobby” is not as much a lobby as it is a genuine, people-centric movement. The NRA has around five million members, each paying (give or take) about thirty-five bucks a year. Many if not most of those members donate over and above the yearly dues and are also members of other pro-gun organizations. Then factor in sales of NRA-branded clothes and gear, raffles, cash donations collected at gun shows, and yes, the occasional corporate sponsorship. But there is more to it than just a big pile of money. Gun enthusiasts are active participants every single day. They know it’s not enough to “like” a Facebook meme or slap a sticker on the back of their car or write a $35 check once a year.

“The left are accomplished experts at getting people to sign an online petition or answer a poll question, but their ‘point and click’ activism is miles wide and a millimeter deep.”

Most of the time, being engaged is not very exciting. It’s a daily grind of staying informed and reacting when needed. As one NRA member put it, “Thanks for emailing your U.S. Senator, but you have to also write a letter or send a hand written postcard. No one ever tripped on a bag of email.” Even buying a gun or a box of ammo is a statement.

A common taking point dragged around by the gun control hopefuls is that firearms ownership is on the decline; the recent dazzling increase in gun sales is due to the same core group of “gun nuts” panic buying multiple firearms. The theory only works if you ignore the thousands of new gun carry permits issued every year and that very few gun owners will respond to a survey by admitting they own guns. I know I would not. And I personally know dozens of gun owners who would not.

Even my own family does not know exactly how many and what type of guns I have. Liberals in general and Obama/Hillary in particular are in a tizzy because their claim that fewer and fewer Americans want to keep guns cannot be validated against gun sales, carry permit figures, and registration in training classes, all of which are easily quantifiable facts. Gun owners are sophisticated enough to know that any data collected on firearms ownership will ultimately be used to support gun control. As a result, Second Amendment supporters’ default setting is to be recalcitrant towards the media and the pollsters who work for them. To put it more simply, many if not most gun owners deliberately lie on polls and surveys.

Pro-gun citizens have the advantage of a common thing (guns) that serves as a base for organizing. They gather at gun shops, ranges, gun shows and shooting competitions, all of which serve a secondary purpose as a friendly venue where ideas are exchanged and information is passed along. As amazing as the internet may be, there is no substitute for a face to face discussion where everyone can shake hands and look each other in the eye.

The gun control folks have no such common platform. They organize marches and rallies which are are limited in duration and headlined by professional victims along the lines of Jesse Jackson or Micheal Pflager. There is no natural interaction, no opportunity for small random meetings. Everyone stands around and cheers for a speech, lights a few candles, then goes home.

The left are accomplished experts at getting people to sign an online petition or answer a poll question, but their “point and click” activism is miles wide and a millimeter deep. When it really counts, the claimed support is mere gentle vapor drifting to invisibility, at least on the gun control issue. This is why Obama got elected, and re-elected, with vigor only to see his fan base go back to playing Xbox. They are thinking, “Hey, we voted. What else do you want?”

Progressives then turn up the spin and gooey sentimentality because they can’t make a case with facts and and follow through, nor do they have genuine long-haul support for their gun control goals. It’s not too hard to figure out why many progressive causes never seem to materialize into active policy even when the polls say it should be an easy win.

The goodwill and kinship felt among gun people transcends anything the left can put up. When gun banners gather, it’s to share their disgust for those of us who disagree. When gun enthusiasts gather, it’s to express appreciation for Constitutional freedom. There is no acrimony. Celebrating freedom does not require hating anyone. But gun banners have to hate guns and gun owners, otherwise their cause has no reason to exist.

My analysis should not be taken to mean that firearms freedom supporters and the NRA have nothing to fear from Hillary Clinton and her army of useful idiots, led by Michael Bloomberg. On the contrary, as soon as one Second Amendment abuse is beaten back, it’s not long before another pops up.

The gun control clowns, knowing nothing will get done at the national level, have recently shifted focus to state and local efforts. To their credit, this tactic will probably be more successful than trying to get any big federal rules through Congress. They have indeed managed to get some very heavy-handed gun control legislation passed in a few states and cities. The gun enthusiasts have likewise benefitted from several laws expanding Second Amendment freedom. Which side is ahead is a matter of semantics, but it’s generally accepted that the pro-gun side has the upper hand. For the purpose of fundraising and stirring up their respective bases, each side will claim the other is winning.

In my relatively short career as a firearms owner, I’ve discovered that “gun people” are some of the most harmless folks you’ll ever find. They would prefer not to involve themselves with controversy, and they would rather spend their time pursuing their Second Amendment freedoms instead of defending them in the courts and at the ballot box.

Gun people do not see themselves as the reason for criminal gun violence (they are correct). As long as the left demonizes us, blows off the true cause of the problem to pursue a power trip, and pushes to take away not just a Constitutional freedom but a natural, God-given right, Second Amendment supporters will have no choice but to jump reluctantly off the diving board into the cesspool of politics. Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg don’t care enough to understand that all gun people really want is to live in their freedom and be left alone.

Author’s Note: I’m away from the keyboard this week, so I’m re-releasing this Twenty First Summer article originally posted on February 8, 2014. The article has a few edits and updates. 

las vegas

Las Vegas, Where Everything Is Authentically Fake.

By: Chris Warren.

I just got back from my very first trip to Las Vegas and it was the satisfaction of a curiosity that had been nagging at me for a long time. Las Vegas is more than anything a place where nothing is what it seems, and that is exactly why I’m looking forward to going back.

If you are destined to gamble away every cent you have, then you may never get out of the airport. As we stepped off the jetway the very first thing that greeted us was a row of slot machines. Going the other way, the airport slots give you that one last chance to leave town as a millionaire. That scene was only the beginning of the aura of wealth and success that Las Vegas plants into the mind of every single visitor no matter how modest their means.

As our cab pulled up to the casino-resort-hotel (they all triple bill themselves that way) the first thing that hit me was the both the opulence and the size. Casino-resort-hotels are built with huge, palatial architecture, finely appointed with artwork, fountains, luxurious furniture. The size of these places is hard to overstate. Just being there makes ordinary folk like me feel rich.

That is the psychology of Las Vegas. They want guests to feel above their means because it makes them more inclined to spend money above their means. They do a brilliant job of pulling off the con. Everywhere we went, attendants in neat uniforms were holding doors open for us, handing us towels, offering us drinks. Every detail was addressed. One barely has to even do much walking to get around Las Vegas: I think there are more shuttle buses and taxis than there are private cars.

We took a walk over to the The Venetian, a casino with an old world Italian theme that features an actual indoor canal with gondola boats. The ceiling was convincingly painted to look like a blue sky. It’s easy to forget that you’re really in the middle of a desert. These illusions are repeated all over town. There is a fake Eiffel Tower. A Fake Statue of Liberty. A fake Roman Coliseum. Hundreds of fake Elvis’ and probably thousands of ladies who are, uhhmmm, technically not ladies, if you know what I mean.

Las Vegas is the world capital of fake-ness, but they aren’t liars: Las Vegas never claimed to be the real deal. Heck, they even have a casino-resort-hotel named The Mirage. They loudly celebrate being fake. Of course, deep inside no one believes anything there is real. Yet, that’s the attraction. The idea that everyone will strike it rich is the the biggest fake of all and the source of funding for all that feigned opulence. Las Vegas is so good at what they do they still earn very huge, very real profits even after coving all the overhead costs of the fake stuff.

I never gambled a cent the whole time I was there but I had a terrific time in Las Vegas and definitely want to go back again. I too can be swayed by the allure of fake. Las Vegas is the only place in the world where an average dude like me can feel like a globe-trotting aristocrat for a few days. I am well aware that all those grand Roman columns and statues are made of Fiberglas. And yes, I know that Eiffel Tower is off by about 5400 miles. In Las Vegas, the fake is real, but the hospitality and kindness of the locals, and the good vibe that comes from just being there, is the genuine article.

block party

Vote For The Block Party!

By: Chris Warren

The news media is like air pollution: It’s never good and no one likes it, but no one can really avoid it, either. The election being just three months away makes things especially dicey. There are lot of high energy disagreements, and the media is happy to feed the fire. Getting away from from the stank is an invigorating breath of fresh air. I found that escape in the most unlikely of places: A big city block party.

I was invited to a gathering in Chicago and it happened to be on one of the few weekends I was not already overbooked. I’m not a city boy, so it sounded like a fun excuse to take a road trip and do something different. I didn’t know it was going to be a block party. I was expecting the average backyard BBQ sort of deal.

A block party is the ultimate community participation event. The whole deal can fall apart if even one homeowner objects. The fact that block parties exist at all offers hope that people can still get along. In a time when there is acrimony everywhere we go, amplified by the media, a group of people getting along and talking about pretty much everything except politics made me think I accidentally landed on another planet.

The weather was stunning. Little kids played in a bouncy house placed in the street while the bigger kids threw buckets of water at each other. The adults sipped beer and talked about our jobs, our kids, our lives, our retirement plans. It was surprising how much we had in common. Music and the smell of sausage and burgers on the grill whiffed through the air. These people really felt like my neighbors even though I didn’t live on that block and had not known any of them until that day.

For three hours I did not hear any political candidate’s name even mentioned, which is quite remarkable in a city where politics famously, or perhaps infamously, creeps into every aspect of daily life. The closest thing to an argument I heard was a tit-for-tat about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox. There is something about setting up beer coolers and BBQ grills in the middle of the street that makes everyone more civil. It was as if the the block party was relaxing force floating over the neighborhood. Hardly anyone even looked at their phones, including the teenagers.

I am proposing that a National Block Party Day be declared. It will be a regular guy’s version of a political convention, without the politics. On NBPD, everyone from coast to coast shuts down their neighborhood and turns their street into an open air party room. The only rule is that you have to talk to people you do not know very well and keep it light. No major issues facing society will be solved and no grand policies will be presented, but it will put a human face on those issues and allow us to see there are more similarities than differences between us.

People hate on others in part because the media encourages it, and also because no one hangs out in person anymore. The disagreements will still be there when people put down the keyboards and the cellphones and meet up face to face, but a conversation about what we have in common is more productive than sniping on each other over what we do not. For a few hours on a beautiful weekend we were not Democrats, and we were not Republicans. All of us were members of the Block Party.

patriot card

Playing The Patriot Card.

By: Chris Warren.

We have survived two political conventions. No matter what side one is on, it’s universally agreed that two weeks every four years is pushing the limits of tolerance. One conclusion I made from watching portions of both spectacles is that playing the patriot card is often an effective campaign tactic, but it can devalue honorable service and become very unpatriotic and ugly.

For those who don’t know, in political vernacular “playing the patriot card” means to wrap an issue in a theme of loyalty to country, and if you don’t agree, you’re not a good American. The message is almost always delivered by someone with a connection to the military. Because the military is so highly regarded in the United States, people are less inclined to publicly disagree with the message because it implies disrespect to the messenger.

The hustle works like this: A veteran or the family of a veteran who has made a significant sacrifice in service to their country appears at a political rally and publicly endorses a candidate, or speaks against the opposing candidate. Their status presumably gives them a high level of insulation against criticism from the other side. Nobody wants to tell a military hero or their relative that he or she is full of crap (even if they actually are). Anyone who does is loudly called out as insensitive and anti-American. That is how a successful play of the patriot card goes down, and it’s very effective.

Here’s where I have a problem: When someone uses a deep personal sacrifice as a premise to promote a political candidate or cause, to a great extent they forfeit their right to be treated gently because of that sacrifice. They knew or should have known that transforming into an activist means being given much less deference. Their immunity is further eroded if they continue to make media appearances and repeat the same rants. At that point their story no longer belongs to them. They donated it to a political cause.

The first question that comes to mind is, is it disrespectful to trash talk a sympathetic figure who plays the patriot card when you disagree with their political statements? But there is a second question no one ever asks: Isn’t is also disrespectful to offer up the honor of a military hero to score votes for a candidate?

To me the only sensible answer is either “yes” to both questions or “no” to both. One cannot logically have it both ways and say it’s disrespectful to criticize a veteran or their relatives while totally ignoring the fact that it was the veteran or relative themselves who willfully allowed their patriotic contribution to be used as a shill for a political campaign in the first place. Of course even in politics there is such a thing as “too low,” but it’s not my place to figure out that mess. I’ll leave it to others to decide where legitimate criticism ends and ad hominem attacks begin.

In a perfect world, political views would be supported with polite, reasoned arguments and facts. Because American politics seldom operates within any realm of reason or civility, the rules are different than in real life. Those who have sacrificed for their country absolutely, positively deserve the respect they’ve earned. But when they play the patriot card and deal themselves in to the chaotic game of politics, they should understand that the moral armor of distinguished military service becomes much thinner when it is used as a prop for a candidate.

vhs

VHS Video Rewinds For The Last Time.

By: Chris Warren.

I came along at that perfect time where I’m old enough to know what life was like before digital technology took over the world and young enough to embrace the change. I owned vinyl records, and am now a iTunes fanboy. I had a car radio with mechanical presets, and now I’m addicted to SiriusXM and podcasts. I don’t miss phone books, even a little. I love the idea of making a few clicks on Amazon and a package magically appears at my door the very next day. Soon another piece of my analog past, the VHS video recorder, will roll off the assembly line and into multimedia history.

I was honestly surprised that VHS video recorders were still being made at all. I assumed they had gone out of production years ago. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new-in-the-box VHS in a store or on line, so I got curious and did a little looking around. Apparently they are still out there, but not for much longer. Soon the only way to get a VHS video recorder will be on the used market because the last company to manufacture them, Funai of Japan, is ending VHS’ run forever.

The VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become yet another broken down old junk on the information superhighway.

Those young enough to think that having high definition video no further than the smartphone in their hand is a normal expectation of life might have a hard time grasping what a breakthrough VHS was. The machines were big, heavy, and expensive. They were mechanical devices and prone to breakdown. They required a mess of wires, adapters, and plugs. The picture and sound quality was dismal by today’s standards. But the ability to record programs and watch them later, or watch them over and over, was something that had not been possible until the VHS recorder came along.

Imagine the drudgery of having to sit in front of your television at a certain time and date to see your favorite show. If you missed it, or wanted to see it again, you were out of luck until the episode came around in reruns, at which time you would still be tied to the schedule of the network programmers.

VHS was the on-demand programming of its day and had a social appeal that does not transfer over to digital media. As a teenager, me and a bunch of friends would hole up in my parents’ basement with a borrowed VHS recorder, some sugary-caffeinated drinks, cheap Little Caesar’s pizza, and a pile of rented tapes. I don’t know how many times we watched Mad Max and Spinal Tap in glorious analog on a tube TV. The party, such as it was, would usually last until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Those great times would not have happened without the then-innovative VHS recorder. Yet, as great as the new technology was, home video entertainment still required enough effort & expense that it was something of a special occasion.

Kids today will never suffer the archaic process of getting up to adjust the tracking to get a decent picture and having to rewind and change the tape when the movie was over, much less the now absurd transaction of renting physical tapes. I can hear my nine year old nephew’s incredulous voice now: You mean you actually had to get in the car and go pick up the video tapes? From where? And then bring them back when you were done? By the way, what is a video tape?

Technology rapidly rolls forward and the VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become just another broken down old junk on the information superhighway. As I type this article I’m lounging on my couch with a laptop computer connected to wifi, smartphone at my side, watching my large flat screen high definition TV with Bluetooth speakers. Yeah, I had a good run with VHS recorders back in the day. The memories of fun times with my friends mean something to me but the new stuff is so far and away better that I have no such nostalgia for VHS recorders. Like floppy disks and phone books, VHS’ time has passed and we who lived through it are just fine with letting it become a fading dot in the rear view mirror.