Tag Archives: americana

climate change

A Modest Climate Change Challenge.

By: Chris Warren.

So the climate change strikers had their big day on September 20. I’m not sure exactly what they were “striking” against, but that’s not the direction I want to go. I have come up with a plan –a plan that can be easily implemented with no government or industry involvement– that will make a real difference in reducing carbon emissions and by extension reverse climate change, assuming you believe in such things.

My climate change challenge is intended mostly for teenagers, but any climate acolyte can do this.

The challenge is is very clear & straightforward: Close all your social media accounts, and I do mean all of them. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all the rest inhale a lot of electrical power that generates carbon emissions. I do not have exact numbers, but I’ll bet Twitter alone is responsible for millions of kilowatt-hours every year. It takes a lot of juice to push those routers and servers and data centers.

Every time you click “post” a little more carbon is released into the precious world you are tying to save from climate change. If social media use goes down, so too will the demand for the resources and energy required to run them. This is not a big ask. After all, Snapchat is not oxygen. So for the love of Mother Earth, I call on all climate change strikers to close their social media accounts and promise to use them nevermore.

Of course I do not expect even one single climate striker to accept my challenge even though it is a very modest sacrifice. The climate strikers spent the entire day shrieking about how the government, industry, and everyone else must “do something” to reverse climate change, and I’ll bet very few of them ever considered what they should be personally doing themselves.

That is the cult of climate change: They “fight” for their cause without any expectation of paying even a small individual cost. I wonder how many tons of discarded protest signs and latté cups the strikers left behind. I wonder how many of them stopped for fast food before or after the protest. I wonder how many of them actually made meaningful changes in their lifestyle before demanding the rest of us change ours. My intuition says they gave up nothing, except maybe a day at school.

While hypocrisy is bad all by itself, it’s much worse when an entire belief system cannot exist without it.

Through mystical nebulous logic, climate change strikers do not call out the celebrities who live in 10,000 square foot mansions and fly around on private jets to make speeches telling me my pickup truck is the reason young people have no future. For their part, the celebrities claim absolution because they bought carbon offsets.

In woke culture, carbon offsets is the ridiculous doctrine that belching carbon doesn’t count if you pay someone to plant trees in Brazil on your behalf, or some similar penance. It’s the equivalent of throwing trash all over the neighborhood and saying it’s ok because you “offset” it by donating to the local park beautification fund.

While hypocrisy is bad all by itself, it’s much worse when an entire belief system cannot exist without it. The climate change disciples still want Starbucks and Uber rides and a house full of electronics and will go to amusing extremes to explain why they can continue to have these things while someone else is on the hook to do anything hard. They want the world to change, but not their world. Justified hypocrisy is the delusional glue that keeps the useful idiots in line. Without it, the entire cult of climate change collapses under the weight of reality.

For the record, I’ve been a vegetarian for 33 years, have solar panels on my house, and recycle. Is that enough to offset my pickup truck (a truck, by the way, that is driven less than fifty miles per week!)? If there’s a “Pope” of climate change (Al Gore?), I hereby petition him or her to grant me the indulgence.

I’ll start taking the climate change strikers seriously when they start living their lives like it’s a serious issue.

shortwave broadcasts

The Transmitters of Freedom Should Be Turned Back On!

Where am I going with this?

This article was originally posted on my radio blog, Off Grid Ham. It’s important enough to warrant recycling here.

My point can be stated quite succinctly. Recent world events and the rise of dictators and tyrants necessitate expanding international shortwave broadcasts from the United States and other democratic nations.

In the beginning.

Shortwave broadcasts started in earnest during World War II. In the following Cold War years they were a potent tool used by the United States for expressing American views to the world. Some called it legitimate diplomacy, some called it cultural outreach, and others called it propaganda. It was really a little of all these things. Powerful transmitters sent pro-American news and information in dozens of languages to millions of foreign listeners. Western democracies such as Great Britain, France, and Australia also presented their version of democracy via international radio. It was a two way street: Nations not friendly to the United States put their side of the story on the air too. We were in a radio Cold War.

shortwave broadcasts
LOGO COURTESY OF THE US AGENCY FOR GLOBAL MEDIA/VOICE OF AMERICA

The USA and other Western democracies sent news and information all over the world to listeners whose governments were opposed to citizens being exposed to any free media not cleared through state channels. Radio Marti was dedicated solely to broadcasting anti-communist content to Cuba. Radio Free Europe & Radio Liberty fulfilled a similar mission against the former Soviet Union and to a lesser extent, the Middle East. Day and night, voices of freedom beamed around the world to the oppressed. The shortwave broadcasts were effective. Why else would tyrannical governments try to jam the transmissions and/or punish anyone caught listening?

And then the internet happened.

Since the 1990s, Voice of America closed two of their three transmitter sites in the United States. The venerable International Service of the BBC, the only entity that came even close to having a reach equal to the VOA, has become a shell of its former self. Australia, The Netherlands, France, and other nations who used to have a strong presence on the shortwave bands have cut back drastically or gone completely dark.

Of special note, recent data has communist China broadcasting more than two times as much international programming as Voice of America. We are being beaten at our own game.

The Golden Years of shortwave is well behind us, thanks to the internet. Computers propagate news and information more quickly. Internet audio quality is far superior to shortwave broadcasts and the listening audience can leave comments, repost articles, and actively participate as opposed to listen passively.

But there’s a catch.

The internet affords little privacy, anonymity, or security. IP addresses can be tracked. It’s fairly easy to know who is accessing what content. Plus, the internet depends on a complex system of routers, servers, and data circuits to connect them. Oppressive governments can and do control what information is accessible within their borders and severely punish anyone who crosses the line.

Shortwave broadcasts have no borders.

The success of the shortwave broadcasts of yesteryear was due to the fact that radio has no borders and defeats attempts at censorship. No one can know for sure who is listening because a received signal cannot be tracked to any individual. Somebody, somewhere can tell when and where you do anything on the internet. But if you had a radio on, who would know? Unless you have Amazon Alexa or some similar connected device eavesdropping in the background no one can tell what you listen to on the radio.

For all the arguments against shortwave broadcasts vs. the internet, archaic analog radio has two major attributes that the internet cannot match: Anonymity and no need for infrastructure that can be controlled by adversarial governments.

It’s not that hard.

shortwave broadcasts
LOGO COURTESY OF RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY

The technology that makes shortwave broadcasts work is over one hundred years old and relatively inexpensive. There is nothing to invent, nothing to innovate, and nothing to discover. A nation such as the United States has the resources to put stations on the air in a matter of months. It really is that easy.

Voice of America, Radio Marti, and Radio Free Europe still make regular broadcasts but are far from their former glory. Overall activity on the shortwave bands is a mere fraction of what it was in pre-internet times. That leaves people living under dictatorships with no options other than state run trash media.

Oppressive regimes exist in North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, China, most of Africa, and the entire Middle East except for Israel. The United States should take the lead and immediately restore local language shortwave broadcasts to these areas.

A legacy of freedom and liberty.

For decades, oppressed people all over the world found hope and inspiration in shortwave broadcasts from free nations. The internet allows a depth and breadth of content that makes analog radio seem like driving a horse & buggy down the information superhighway. Unfortunately, none of that whizz-bang technology matters if tyrannical governments are blocking the highway. Shortwave radio is its own “highway”.

If the United States and other democratic nations seek to establish peace and freedom and liberty in subjugated areas of the world, they must send their message over a medium that will arrive at the intended destination without censorship or interference. I don’t particularly trust my government…but I trust other governments even less.

The victims of tyrants, dictators, communism, socialism, religious persecution, and slavery need and want to hear truthful information. They want to know the free world is thinking about them. We can also put dictators and tyrants on notice that their oppression will not go unanswered. Shortwave broadcasts achieve all these goals with less complexity and more reliability than the internet.

We shouldn’t be too concerned about the transmission facilities ever becoming unneeded. When the current generation of scumbag governments fade away, more will come up behind them. No one should think radio alone will rid the world of evil. The mission of the shortwave broadcasts will never be complete.

I am calling on every democratized  country, starting with the United States, to put the transmitters back online! We should then build as many radio stations as needed to cover every single square inhabited inch of this planet with an unstoppable voice of freedom and liberty.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on my radio blog, Off Grid Ham. 

life lesson

The Reality of Spiro.

We rolled into the small town of Spiro on an early April evening. The sun was out; it was warm and the skies were clear for as far as one could see across the Oklahoma plain. It was about as heartland as it gets. If you drove through Spiro and never drifted off Highway 271, you’d probably think it was just another nondescript dot on the map where corn and cattle collide. I would soon find out that the scene was deceptive. We turned off 271 and the life lesson started.

One only has to go a few hundred feet from Highway 271 to find the life lesson this town teaches. We turned down a street into a neighborhood that was obviously not wealthy, or even lower middle class. The character of the houses progressively degraded until we came to another street that literally and metaphorically went no where. If GPS had not told us where to turn we might not have ever found the place. We couldn’t identify name of the street because the sign was so badly rusted and worn.

As we looked for our destination, me and my friends just gave each other uncomfortable glances; very little was said but we were all thinking the same thing. The awkward silence was broken when I acknowledged what no one wanted to be the first to say but could no longer ignore: This place is the definition of poverty and need and hardship.

One house had a net, not a screen door, hanging over the front entrance. A few small kids, the oldest was maybe five, were running around unsupervised. There was mud and junk cars everywhere. We found our stop. It was run down and neglected, just like all the rest, with a shabby trailer in the yard. I did not know it yet, but that ended life lesson, chapter one.

An old man smiled and warmly greeted us as we walked up to the house. Some grubby boys, maybe 8-10 years old, were roughhousing on the patio and making a lot of noise like boys often do. The wife was serving punch and sugary snacks, the kind of stuff that kids should not have very often. These boys probably ate junk food most of the time as all except one of them were visibly overweight & hyperactive. They’re not even teenagers yet and already well on their way to diabetes and heart disease and tooth decay.

My guess is the old man and his wife do not have the resources or awareness or time to make healthy meals, so they default to processed junk that is inexpensive and requires little or no preparation. These kids are living proof that one can be both overweight and underfed at the same time, and their socioeconomic status has a lot to do with it. End of life lesson, chapter two.

I had never met these people before this encounter. I had travelled from out of state to visit my friends, who live a short drive from Spiro. They planned this road trip in advance and since I happened to be in town, I went along for the ride. The life lesson continued on the drive home when my friends put into context who these people were and why we went to see them.

My friends met these kids incidentally through a professional relationship with the old man, who happened to be the kids’ grandfather. My friends are goodhearted and selfless people, almost to a fault. They recognized that this family was in need and decided to step up. The purpose of the trip was to bring gifts for the kids, pay them a short visit, and let them know that someone cared. Their altruism must be having an effect. When they got out of the car the kids excitedly ran up to them and hugged them tightly.

These kids, particularly the younger boy, have lived a horrible life. Their parents were no longer in the picture and the children had recently been removed from an severely abusive foster home. They were placed with the grandparents who themselves were struggling. To know that the environment they are living in now is an upgrade from where they came is one of the most unsettling thoughts I’ve had in a long time. These kids are still not in a good situation, but they are with grandparents who care and are doing the very best they can with what little they have. They absolutely have my respect.

That brings us to life lesson, chapter three. There is no greater teacher than reality. In my entire working middle class life I had never personally witnessed poverty. Oh sure, I’ve seen it in the media and maybe from traveling through various towns and neighborhoods, but I never stopped, got out of the car, and visited a poor person’s house. This was new to me, and very disquieting. It was no longer just a distant concept. It was right there in front of me. People really do live this way!

The other reality check was the strong spirit that makes the United States as great as it is. The old man and his wife did not have much going for them, yet here they were, doing everything possible to give these kids a decent life, one day at a time. And although the life these kids were getting was not good, it was the best Grandfather had to offer.

Not everyone grows up in a stable, loving home. Not everyone has a comfortable middle class existence. These are people who at their roots are not really that much different than me. Their wealth, or lack of it, does not determine how much they care about their kids. They are not giving up, and neither should anyone else. That is the life lesson one gets when one wanders off Highway 271 in Spiro, Oklahoma.

flag

Another Old Joe Fades Away.

World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.

This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.

One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.

world war iiUncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.

Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.

They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.

After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.

We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.

But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.

When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.

Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.

It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.

the loop

The Loop Is Broken: A Legend Fades to Static.

Some things are so ubiquitous that no one notices them until they are gone. And when they go, it leaves a hole so great that gratitude for the good times is little solace, especially when you know deep inside the party was over a long time ago. I had such a moment myself recently on the unexpected news that a legendary radio station of my adolescence, WLUP 97.9 FM “The Loop” in Chicago is no more.

It’s not possible to overstate the importance to Chicago lore The Loop had, and by extension American culture. On air since 1977, it almost immediately became the Mecca of hard rock radio. Disco was the big deal in 1977, and The Loop was built –literally– on a foundation of “disco demolition”. From there it became a key player in changing musical tastes not just in the local market but nationally as well.

On July 12, 1979 WLUP personality Steve Dahl, one of the original “shock jocks,” hosted a “disco demolition” night between games at a Chicago White Sox doubleheader baseball game. In this publicity stunt, he blew up a huge stack of disco records, and I don’t mean metaphorically. The crowd, 50,000 strong and more than double the expected attendance, went completely berserk. Chaos broke out and riot police had to clear the park. The second game of the doubleheader was cancelled. The event sealed The Loop’s place as the home for kick ass rock & roll and is still regarded as the moment disco fell off the cultural map.

Publicity stunts aside, The Loop delivered on its promise day after day to hundreds of thousands of devoted listeners. Morning personality Jonathon Brandmeier pioneered a clean comedy legacy worthy of an entirely separate discussion and was one of the first to be successful at a talk/music format. The rest of WLUP’s lineup became household names: Patti Haze, Bobby Skafish, and all the rest were familiar voices to young people all across the city and suburbs. As a student at Naperville North High School in the 1980’s, I could walk through the student parking lot on a warm spring day and hear WLUP blasting from pretty much every car in the place. You weren’t cool if you didn’t listen to The Loop. Even the dorks and nerds were dialed in.

The weekend lineup was tastefully seasoned with programming such as the highly innovative Headphones Only (featuring songs with elaborate stereophonic production effects) and the Dr. Dimento parody show. Back when I was persuing a career in broadcast radio, WLUP was the holy grail. I’d listen to Bobby Skafish every afternoon and think to myself, That lucky bastard! I want his job!

In the years since, The Loop’s vibe was dulled by corporate takeovers, play lists compiled by algorithms and not actual rock fans, and scripted jocks. The music became repetitive and predictable. WLUP was no longer something special. All the compelling programming that made listeners beg for more was chopped and The Loop became just another generic classic rock format that had nothing to distinguish it from all the rest. At the very end, WLUP’s owners were facing bankruptcy.

The devoted listeners, including me, left because the product started to suck.

The practical part of me says it’s not sensible that a top ten radio station for over forty years in a market as big as Chicago cannot make money. But the emotional part of me –the music fan– knows damn well why they bit the dust: The Loop lost, or rather, sold, its soul. The captivating voices and sincere concern for putting out a great product 24x7x365 were gone.

Many will blame it on internet streaming, SiriusXM radio, podcasts, or whatever. The truth is, The Loop could have remained successful if it had stayed with what gave it a huge cult following in the first place. In that regard, WLUP hasn’t been cool for at least twenty years. Media critics largely blame it on my demographic: White males, 18-54 years old with disposable income who have largely blown off traditional radio because they are willing to pay for a commercial free product, even if it is a product that lacks creativity.

These hypotheses are not entirely wrong. I haven’t regularly listened to broadcast radio in years, and neither have any of my friends. And why should we? They aren’t offering anything I can’t get by hitting the “shuffle” button on my smart phone. If broadcasters expect me to listen to banal commercials half the time, the least they could do is make the other half, the programming, good enough that I don’t mind sitting through the commercials!

Maybe if I had not been an “early adopter” of SiriusXM. Maybe if my smart phone wasn’t loaded with Rush and Steely Dan records. Maybe if I didn’t have three music streaming apps, two of which I am gladly paying for. But for all this, I’d still be listening to classic rock radio. And but for classic rock radio sliding into a pit of clueless mediocrity, none of these new technologies would have ever grabbed my attention, much less my money. I’m not going to let the critics guilt trip me over a hypothetical chicken-or-egg theory. The devoted listeners, including me, left because the product started to suck.

I would feel much worse about losing WLUP if it was still cool, but like the elderly rock god who long ago lost his gritty edge and is making a fool of himself trying to keep his legend alive, The Loop in its latter days was a pathetic empty shell of its former greatness. It should have gracefully went out on top when it had the chance. Yet there is nothing empty about what the original WLUP meant to me and my peers. The Loop of yore helped define who we are. It was a reason to be excited and engaged about radio and music and being young & alive. That’s The Loop I will always remember.

fatherhood

Fatherhood For The Masses.

I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.

I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.

Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.

They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.

And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article from The Onion.

Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.

And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.

I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.

annoying

Annoying Things, Political Edition.

By Chris Warren.

Ok, so call me a dork but I follow politics the way some people follow sports: I know most of the players, what position they play, and all that geeky stuff. Like sports, the scene changes day by day and sometimes even moment to moment. In my observations I’ve noticed that political figures have some profoundly annoying habits that never change. I doubt I’ll put an end to it here, but I must have my say.

With the division and vitriol of today’s politics, a comprehensive list of things I truly don’t like would not fit in the entire internet. For now, I’m not painting with a broad brush. I’ll leave that to the media, which has become a one-trick pony that can only turn left. In no particular order, here are the annoying bad habits political figures and their non-elected surrogates constantly use:

“The fact of the matter is…” This statement is uttered so often that it should be a vowel. And the funny part is, whatever comes after it is almost never a quantifiable fact, like 2+2=4, but rather a half-truth or slanted partisan talking point. The world of politics is by design built on a foundation of fuzzy statements purposely designed to allow lots of wiggle room (the official term for this is plausible deniability). With the system rigged so there is very little actual black and white truth, the annoying politicians graciously teach us unsophisticated plebeians what the “facts” are.

Asking a question, then answering it. This is probably at the top of my list of annoying politician habits. Instead of simply stating, “I think we should lower taxes; it would be good for the economy” they will instead throw out something like this: “Would I like to lower taxes? Yes, I think lower taxes would be good for the economy.” What the heck is that? Are these people interviewing themselves? Next time you’re watching the news, listen for it. Maybe we should just get rid of reporters. They are all biased hacks anyway, and the politicians seem quite adept at working both sides of an interview. Seriously, what regular person talks like this?

“We should not rush to judgement…” I propose that the federal government create a brand new Department Of Not Clear On The Concept because every time there is a terrorist attack, or a scandal, or a high profile arrest, or any other major event where the details are not clear, annoying politicians will fall over themselves to calmly say that no one should jump to conclusions until more information is available. This normally would be a perfectly rational and level-headed attitude, except that the very next thing they do is go into a lengthy postulation about the same issue that moments before they admitted they did not know much about.

The annoying news media does this too. CNN in particular is an accomplished expert at openly saying they don’t yet have the full story and then spending the next hour or more trotting out experts and analysts who will gladly talk at length about the story they do not fully have.

With all the serious issues facing our society and the overall lack of confidence that our political system will solve them, I admit my rants here are near the petty end of the scale. Yet, poor communications skills are not inconsequential. They do say something about the speaker’s ability to convey a cogent idea. And if you can’t express an idea without annoying the hell out of your audience, then you’re not really getting your message across. Politicians and political analysts are coached in great detail what to say and how to act while making public statements, yet somehow these behaviors go uncorrected. Do I believe these annoying traits will ever change? No, but we should not rush to judgement because the fact of the matter is that someday, somewhere, a blinding flash of the obvious may fill them with good sense and clear ideas.

train set

If I Could Live In A Train Set.

By: Chris Warren.

Last Saturday evening I stopped by my brother’s house to see his kids, and as luck would have it, my young nephew was away at a sleepover and my niece was with one of her girlfriends busy doing…whatever junior high age girls do. So I thought to myself, uhhmm, well, I guess I can stay a while and actually spend some time with my brother. What I thought was kind of bummer because I didn’t get to see my niece and nephew turned into a fun and insightful evening playing with a train set.

My brother is big into model trains and has a large O-gauge layout in his basement. So like two little kids we descended the stairs into his electrified rail-realm. All males, and I do mean all of them, no matter how old they get, like to play with toy trains. A guy who does not like toy trains needs psychiatric intervention.

To call it a “toy” is factually accurate but a little misleading. A lot of adults, maybe too many, take the hobby very seriously. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars constructing very realistic looking layouts. My brother is not so much of a purist. His train set is realistic enough, but he does not sweat the details. He’d rather spend time running his trains than fuss over whether the rivets on the locomotive are historically accurate.

He flipped a series of switches, turned a few dials, and his little world came to life. One steam engine chugging the main line, one diesel hauling freight, and a streetcar shuttling back and forth across town. A train set is quite noisy when everything is running, yet the rhythmic sound is alluring and has a soothing quality to it. If that noise came from anything else it would be annoying as hell. But trains have a certain something that calms your nerves.

I was quickly absorbed into the make believe. Job and family stresses, world events, and political vitriol all seem to melt away in train land. It puts one in a much better frame of mind to  face the real world when it’s time to come up from the basement. My brother has a tendency to freak out over any little thing and I think his train set, whether he realizes it or not, is his therapy.

And effective therapy it is! I don’t have my own train set so it was a real treat to run the engines around, work the horns and bells, relishing in what I have to admit is pointless as a practical activity but amazingly beneficial as a visceral escape. There is no bad day that cannot be made better by playing with a train set.

We cracked a few profoundly offensive & tasteless jokes (sorry, mom!), talked about our lives, and discussed ideas for expanding the layout. We would have kept going much longer but for a call from upstairs that dinner was ready. The hour or so we were down there seemed like mere moments. That was probably the longest time I’ve spent alone with my bother in decades.

There are certainly other pastimes that give their practitioners a lifetime of stress relief and fun, yet few hobbies are as universally appealing as train set and have an efficacy equal to or better than antidepressant medication. Both my brother and I were big into trains as kids but along the way to growing up it drifted away from me. I’m glad he stuck with it, for his own benefit and mine. I know I can’t always live in the idyllic world of a train set, but for a while it sure was nice to pretend.

flag burning

The Reason We Shouldn’t Is Because We Can.

By Chris Warren

There are a lot of ways to identify a blubbering idiot.  The most common is when someone announces that they have the “right” to do or say something, then proceeds to make a big dramatic spectacle of doing it. At that point the odds are very good that they are in blubbering idiot territory.

Flag burning as a form of protest has seen something of a renaissance lately. The self absorbed, mostly millennial-aged activists represent a huge buffet of causes and think they are being edgy and progressive, but we of more vintage know that flag burning is an old trope that goes back to the Vietnam era. I presume one of the protesters’ goals is to convince others to join their cause; apparently they have not figured out that flag burning  is appealing to no one except those who were already on their side in the first place.

Burning the American flag is an offense far beyond any single cause because it is the symbol of all just causes. The average protester does not have enough brain cells to understand the irony of destroying the very symbol of what protects their freedom to protest, or that it reflects the protesters’ own weakness and lack of courage.

They don’t burn the flag to advance their cause. They burn the flag for the shock value and to be hurtful. That’s really what this is all about. They’re like a recalcitrant angry child screaming “Mommy I hate you!”. Their immaturity does not allow them to express themselves in any reasonable way, so they lash out with the only weapon they have–inflicting emotional pain.

When a protester is asked why they are protesting, the answer is almost always some nebulous statement about “rights,” either theirs or someone else’s. I do agree that burning the American flag is a Constitutionally protected First Amendment right, even as I personally find it deeply offensive. But my individual sensibilities are not a basis for a legal or moral system.

I’m sure the flag-burners are likewise offended that I exercise my Second Amendment rights by packing a gun everywhere I go. The difference of course is that I do not carry a gun for the sole purpose of upsetting anyone, although it does not bother me at all if someone is. No one has the right not to be offended, and that concept is a two way street. One could fill many gigabytes of computer memory discussing the contradictions and double-standards that revolve around the flag.

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One sign of maturity and wisdom is the ability to accept an opinion you disagree with and not take it as a personal affront. The flip side to this is mature people do not deliberately inflict emotional pain as part of, or in many cases in lieu of, making their point.

The other day a television news channel featured a story about protesters protesting the recent US Presidential election by burning an American flag. Unfortunately for the protesters, the coverage was almost totally devoted to the flag burning. Barely any mention was made about what they were actually protesting against.

And so it is with such childish and disrespectful overtures. The flag burning becomes the issue and no one pays much attention to whatever the hell it is they are complaining about.

I suggest that the best response to flag burning is to be passive and let it go. I know it is difficult, but not all wrongdoing is worthy of intervention. Anti-flag burners do not want to descend into a state where they think everything that offends them should be eradicated from the Earth. If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because we already have an entire generation of runny-nosed milquetoasts who need puppies and Play-Doh just to get through the “trauma” of an election that offended them, but apparently not enough for most of them to participate in.

Burning the American flag is Constitutionally acceptable (albeit offensive) free speech. Honorable men and women have fought and died for our rights, and that includes the right to be a blubbering flag-burning idiot. I have no confidence that someday the idiots will see their foolish former selves immortalized forever on YouTube and be embarrassed enough to join the ranks of we who understand that the reason you shouldn’t is because you can.

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.