December 31, 2007
Maybe it's much too early in the game
But I thought I'd ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's eve?
Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it's exactly twelve o'clock that night?
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year's eve...
Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's Eve?
Happy New Year :)
December 27, 2007
Searching For The Meaning of Christmas
'But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.'
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Well, another Christmas is over.
Once more The Blog Princess finds herself rudely catapulted from the mindless rush of shopping, cooking, and making lists with virtually no hope of being completed straight into full blown post holiday letdown. After the holidays comes that bleak era when she (in lockstep with millions of similarly bemused hominids) slows down just long enough to fish the lint from her belly button, peruse it numbly for signs of her missing raison d'etre, and ask the question that has bedeviled mankind since the first Cro Magnon stumbled from his cave in early January, shaking his head and holding a 7 page MasterCard bill:
In a less technological (or merely less self-absorbed) age, such musings would be confined to daydreams or - thankfully - a well hidden diary. But the rise of venues like MySpace and Blogger allows ordinary housewives to torture their unsuspecting readers with their novel attempts to connect the dots between chaos theory, persistent income inequality, the Bush administration's inexcusable refusal to sign Kyoto, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Blogging has often been compared by professional journalists to a form of self gratification best not mentioned in polite company. It should come as no surprise, then, to the vestal virgins who guard our rapidly vanishing national brain trust that the beginnings of this post came to The Princess whilst lathering herself up in the shower.
That happens a lot. Too often, really. Or depending on one's point of view, not nearly often enough. For some odd reason the best ideas arrive like telemarketers, unbidden and at the worst possible times: when I'm out driving, cleaning the basement, or about a week ago, while wearily dragging two overloaded suitcases, a briefcase, a camera, and a purse nearly bursting at the seams through the Outer Circle of Hell (otherwise known as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport). Thanks to that experience, I can now announce to all and sundry with some confidence that I know what awaits me in the afterlife and it is Not Good. Naive folk may believe that, if they are bad, they will go to Hell when at last they shuffle off this mortal coil. I have learned, however, that a far worse fate awaits us. Contrary to what we were taught in Sunday school, The Damned do not go to Hell. Oh no.
They go to Atlanta.
More specifically, the terminally bad are consigned to a particularly heinous realm called North Baggage Claim where, in payment for their manifold sins and wickedness, they will spend Eternity wearily circling a never ending series of whirling carousels in a vain attempt to
reclaim their psychic baggage hook up with a party who committed the far more egregious sin of Not Flying Delta Airlines.
[cue demonic laughter]
As if this weren't gruesome enough, the Particularly Naughty will be assigned further torments, like attempting to manoever a large SUV out of the Alamo rental lot during rush hour, an experience which makes one long for the comparatively civilized charms of Washington, DC beltway traffic. Few things are more inimical to a sense of holiday bonhomie than watching that diminutive lady who seemed so sweet in the rental line turn into Tina Turner from the Thunderdome. In retrospect, the little flames flickering behind her eyes as I waited patiently in line to exit the turnstiles were the first warning that she meant to ram us into the steel spikes... that this time it was personal. At that moment I suddenly realized it was her or me. My son and daughter in law began pounding the seats like maniacs and yelling, "No Mom - don't let her in - she's trying to butt in line AGAIN".
Well, since I scraped her off in front of that oncoming shuttle bus, she won't be butting in front of anyone again now, will she?
I think NOT. Hard to cut your fellow travelers off when you're squished flatter than a boysenberry flapjack, isn't it? Merry *&$%! Christmas to you, too, Madam.
Headed out of Atlanta in my rented SUV, my racing mind was set free to begin pondering deeper questions such as the meaning of Christmas. As the landscape slowly began to morph from urban to suburban to a pastoral series of rolling hills and valleys dotted by fields, woods, and livestock I felt the tension begin to drain out of my weary neck and shoulders. Someone - my son or daughter in law - I can't recall which, broke the peaceful silence by commenting, "Wow. I've never seen so many crosses, religious billboards, and church signs".
I forget they're from the city and it's been a long time since either of them has been down South. God seems closer out here. That can be jarring for those with a more modern, urban sensibility. There is something primitive about strong faith, something that stretches back beyond our earliest memories, our most basic human programming, something we can't quite put our collective fingers on. Something that doesn't quite seem... rational, logical, empirical.
This is odd, because when one stops to think about it, there is no more evidence that God does not exist, than there is to prove that he does.
And when you stop and think about that for a moment, the logical implication is that passionate atheism has no more empirical basis than passionate faith yet many Americans rightly sense it is safer not to profess belief. They respect the fervent denier more than the fervent believer though there is no more solid grounding for one position than the other.
This may be because if you truly believe a thing, there is always the uncomfortable possibility you will be called upon to defend your beliefs. One of the more controversial passages in the New Testament is this one:
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39)
The modern vicars of Christ would seem to have taken His words to heart, for they seem anxious to avoid taking any stance which might require a vigorous defense. In the best traditions of PoMo academe, they decline to concern themselves with conflicts. They simply redefine them until they are no longer troublesome. Thus, our Father who art in Heaven becomes less a parent and more a BFF, faith is reduced to a lifestyle choice, and the Gospel becomes a living, breathing document which was never intended to be taken seriously:
Rev. Redding is clear about her ... doubts about basic Christian doctrines. She denies original sin and admits she has long doubted the deity of Christ.
...Rev. Redding denies the historic doctrines of the church and then declares herself a Muslim. In March 2006 she said her shahada or profession of faith, declaring that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his messenger.I believe that Jesus is divine in the same way in which all humans are related to God as children of God. Jesus is different in degree, not kind; ... I don't think God said, "Let me send this special person so that I can kill him for the benefit of the rest of humanity." That's not the kind of sacrifice I think that God desires.
Yet again, Rev. Redding denies the central teachings of Christianity and explicitly denies what the Bible undeniably teaches.
...religious liberals can negotiate themselves to any position they desire. Once you commit yourself to a methodology of denying Scripture and orthodox Christian doctrine, you can declare yourself to be a Christian and a Muslim, a Christian and a Druid, or a Christian and an Atheist for that matter.
The real shame in all this is that Rev. Redding is getting away with this while continuing to be an Episcopal priest in good standing. Adding insult to injury, her bishop, the Rt. Reverend Vincent Warner of Seattle, says that Rev. Redding's declaration that she is both a Christian and a Muslim to be exciting in terms of interfaith understanding. Is there any hope for a church whose bishop considers heresy to be exciting?
Well, these would appear to be exciting times. The good bishop travels in exalted circles. No less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury has abandoned Scripture in favor of the Gospel according to Al Gore, global warming having a much broader appeal on a multicultural playing field than old what's-His-noodle. But those who believe they can eliminate conflict (whether physical or rhetorical) by abandoning faith are ignoring the lessons of history. It has long been argued, paradoxically, that religion both causes bloodshed and poses the ultimate cure for it.
Neither argument makes much sense and both confuse the symptom - violence committed in the name of religion - for the underlying malady - simple human aggression, which never needed religion for an excuse and would persist even if organized religion were wiped from the face of the earth tomorrow. There is, in fact, ample evidence that secular governments are, if anything, prone to brutal despotism, torture, and genocidal killing sprees. In the 20th Century alone, the first wholly secular governments ruthlessly controlled or suppressed (and in some cases nearly eradicated) organized religion within their borders. Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot (not to mention Saddam Hussein) were also responsible for the worst genocides of that era. This makes it hard to scapegoat religion as the root cause of violence, or to argue that getting rid of religion will magically make men peaceful. In fact it is a powerful argument for the obverse case: that in modern times at least, religious faith often acts as a powerful moral force in society and moreover, its influence has more often been good than malign. But there is another important way in which faith - and not just religious faith - operates on societies:
Some truths are so obvious that to mention them in polite company seems either pointless or rude. What is left unstated, however, can with time be forgotten. Both of these observations apply today to the American way of war. It is obvious that a military can only fight well on behalf of a society in which it believes, and that a society which believes little is worth fighting for cannot, in the end, field an effective military. Obvious as this is, we seem to have forgotten it.
Remembering will help us in several ways. First, it will show us that the greatest asymmetry in our struggle with radical Islam is not one of arms or organization or even of ideology in any simple sense, but one of morale in the deepest sense. Second, it will provide an insight into the state of civil-military relations in our own country, which is a growing problem many of us refuse to acknowledge. And third, it will show us why some kinds of wars—“in-between” wars, I call them—have become inherently difficult for the United States to fight and win.
Faith, whether in God or in intangibles like freedom, democracy, or simply the rightness of a moral cause, doesn't simply act as a moral force in society; it also strengthens the will of a nation. The belief in something larger than ourselves acts as a force multiplier; it is what binds individuals into a larger unit, makes us willing to sacrifice for some greater good. This is why the erosion of faith and the undermining of institutions, legends, and icons are particularly dangerous during time of war. They eat away at our stamina and capacity for sacrifice at a time when we need them more than ever. It is not a new idea that a circumscribed vocabulary limits the ability to both develop and express ideas. Andrew Ferguson comments on how, in our modern quest for inclusiveness and inoffensive, banal language which avoids upsetting anyone, we've lost the ability to describe (and one might argue, to defend) the very ideals which made this country great:
I sat there in the audience, hoping to hear what it was that Lincoln had done that was so essential to the country's greatness. And instead they would say things like, “He was very tolerant of ambiguity.” “Lincoln was very non-judgmental.” My favorite was, “He eschewed nationalistic triumphalism.” And sure enough, the Lincoln statue that they were bringing in was, in fact, quite a small life-sized affair, very humble, placed at ground level. They loved the fact that it was so small and diminutive, because it showed us a sensitive Lincoln.
Now, I may not know, and certainly at the time did not know, that much about Lincoln, but I did know that he waged one of the most savage wars in our history. And non-judgmentalism is generally not high on the list of priorities for guys who wage wars like that.
I realized in Richmond that we'd lost the capacity, we'd lost the language even to describe his greatness. These pro-Lincoln scholars were his friends, and they couldn't tell you why he was great.
The War Between the States was many things, but it was not sensitive. It was long, bloody, and incredibly brutal. Just down the road from where I live at the battle of Sharpsburg nearly 10,000 men were killed or wounded in a single day. And yet as a consequence of that war men were freed from bondage and a nation was preserved. Ferguson reminds us why Lincoln is considered one of the greatest living American presidents:
I keep getting asked, Why can't we forget him? Why do we keep coming back to Lincoln?
People say it's because he freed the slaves and saved the Union.
Yes, but that's just part of it. A lot of people were “union savers.” Garibaldi created a union in Italy—Bismarck in Germany. The nineteenth century was an era of consolidators, statesmen essentially bolting together their fractious countries. You can see Lincoln as part of that trend, I suppose.
But what Lincoln did was much greater than what Garibaldi did, or what Bismarck did. Lincoln wanted to save the Union, but he wanted to save a particular kind of Union. He wanted it to be a Union that was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
He thought that if the union wasn't saved, then that proposition was in danger, and it may have slipped into darkness altogether.
Cole: I think he was right.
Ferguson: Yes, I do too. This country was the vessel of that principle. That's the Union he wanted to save. And he succeeded. And the fact that he succeeded is one of the greatest achievements in human history.
Cole: And it was a close run thing. I mean, with history, it's always close run. What Lincoln's attitudes on race were, what Lincoln's motives were, at the end of the day, they fall away. And what he did and his ideas, you know, endure.
Lincoln was widely hated in his day.
He would have been despised today, I think. For one thing, he is untelegenic and we are uncomfortable with such unswerving devotion to a larger idea; even so iconic a notion a the one that all men are created equal: the belief that we all have the right to live freely, or that a nation divided against itself cannot stand. It has rightly been pointed out that Abraham Lincoln's first priority was never freeing the slaves. Many of his contemporaries thought neither abolition nor the preservation of the Union worth the horrendous cost in American lives. I often wonder whether any of our previous wars could have withstood the full frontal assault of TV and cable news and Keith Olbermann's special comments, where "journalism" is proudly defined as doing something you openly admit is wrong because your partisan, ad hominem attacks are "better written" than your opponent's:
[After being asked how he differentiates his ad hominem attacks from those on the other side]
"Well, they're better written. The first-- no, I hate to-- I-- it's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. It do-- it's the one criticism that I think is absolutely fair. We're doing the same thing. It is-- it becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply. I would like nothing better than to go back and do maybe a sportscast every night. But I think the stuff that I'm talking about is so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history that this era will be looked at the way we look now at the-- at the presidents and the-- the leaders of this country who rolled back reconstruction // I think it's that obvious. And I think only under those circumstances would I go this far out on a limb and be this vociferous about it.
...When I have an opinion on the most important political issue of the day, I'm gonna sink a president and maybe throw the election to the other guy right now.
It's perfectly acceptable for Mr. Olbermann to oppose the war. He has been doing that - quite loudly - every night for as long as I can remember with no adverse consequences other than a regrettable tendency to whinge at the top of his lungs that he's being repressed in some fashion undetectable to mere mortals. Sadly, all choices involve tradeoffs. Adults recognize this. Mr. Olbermann wishes to screech truth to the BusHitler so in punishment, he must reluctantly accept an obscene salary from MSNBC. Such are the perils of modern telejournalism in a police state. In 2007 alone, over 0 MSNBC journalists were killed or maimed in the line of duty whilst sparring with Dana Perino. That's why they are forced to use so many stringers.
Someone has to do the jobs Americans won't do.
But it's not just that Keith doesn't want to give up anything for what he believes. He, and pseudo intellectuals like Paul Krugman, seem to spend most of their time trying to convince their fellow Americans that we can all have something for nothing: that the only violent people in the world are Christian fundamentalists; that if we ignore bad people, they will simply give up and go away; that if more wealthy people's children were drafted we'd have no more wars, that high prices exist because greedy sellers hate the virtuous working poor and not because there are fewer of some resources than there are willing buyers who push prices up. I listened to Krugman on the radio a few weeks ago defending perhaps the most indefensible idea I've ever heard: that income inequality itself is the single greatest problem facing America.
Not poverty. Or illegitimacy. Or terrorism. Or the decline of education. Inequality.
According to Krugman, until we all have the same amount of money, we'll never be truly free. It never seems to occur to him that right now, many people freely exchange the right to work long hours for the right to bring home more money because he can't accept the consequences of that freely made decision. It doesn't even seem to occur to Mr. Krugman that perhaps not everyone wants to be equal; that some people may actually like living in a world where people freely choose different lifestyles and standards of living.
He would very much like to replace our current system with one in which his personal policy preferences were dictated by law and income was redistributed on a more "equal" basis. And he can do that, in a democracy ... assuming he can convince enough of his fellow citizens to go along with him. That is the great thing about our current system of government. And in the mean time he can whine at the top of his lungs about how unfair it all is while other men die defending his right to say what an terribly cruel and unjust society we live in in complete safety.
Which brings me back to the meaning of Christmas. I thought a lot about it. About those words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son..
To me, this is the meaning of Christmas. It turns out God must be a better economist than Paul Krugman. At the least, He has a better appreciation of human incentives. Even in all His glory, He understood that little of real value is gained on this earth by offering nothing in return. And so, as a sign of how highly He values our faith, He gave up His only begotten Son. This is what is often called an object lesson, meant to show that while strong beliefs may sometimes involve sacrifice, faith in something larger than ourselves can also lend us strength far greater than we could summon up on our own:
When Denton talks to groups around the country, he tells them that patriotism can motivate men to perform for their country, but only prayer can provide the strength for the kind of performance required in prison camps.
"I experienced what I couldn't imagine human nature was capable of," Denton said. "I witnessed what my comrades could rise to. Self-discipline, compassion, a realization there is a God." He also experienced periodic compassion from the North Vietnamese. Sometimes the guards would weep as they tortured him. One experience, he will never forget. Denton kept a cross, fashioned out of broom straws, hidden in a propaganda booklet in his cell. The cross was a gift from another prisoner. When a guard found the cross, he shredded it. Spat on it. Struck Denton in the face. Threw what was left of the cross on the floor and ground his heel into it. "It was the only thing I owned," Denton said.
Later, when Denton returned to his cell, he began to tear up the propaganda booklet. He felt a lump in the book. He opened it. "Inside there was another cross, made infinitely better than the other one my buddy had made," Denton said. When the guard tore up the cross, two Vietnamese workers saw what happened and fashioned him a new cross. "They could have been tortured for what they did," Denton said.
I think these are lessons we forget at our peril. I also believe most of us rarely do pause to think about them during the Christmas rush. They make us uncomfortable. I know they make me uncomfortable. Perhaps they are meant to.
On my drive home from my parents' on MD 270, there is a giant white Christmas star. I love to see it every year. I gazed up at it last night and thought, for some reason, of illumination rounds arcing against the night sky in Afghanistan. An odd juxtaposition. Some would say a disturbing one. Not to me, though.
So many sacrifices. Let us hope that, as with that long ago war between the states, we don't lose the capacity to honor the humbling power of faith in something greater than ourselves. The notion that all men and women deserve (and have the capacity to) live in freedom is still an idea worth defending. This is the right which makes all others: freedom of worship, of expression, of assembly, of self-government, possible. What we are attempting to do in Iraq and Afghanistan is a great task. Though there has been much debate over why we became engaged in these wars, there is virtually no serious debate over the whether it would benefit us to abandon the innocent citizens of these countries to our enemies; that is, after all, precisely the end state al Qaeda has fought so hard to gain.
More than anything else, Christmas is a time of hope. In the dead of winter, we are sent a message: "Fear not, for I am with you".
With faith, all things are possible.
December 26, 2007
Littlest Angel? Caption Contest
Don't blame me.
Fausta started it.
What Was Your First Clue?
Who says those Godless Hollywood types don't celebrate Christmas?
Some gifts from Kris Kringle are better kept wrapped.
A man in a Santa hat was arrested Sunday night for investigation of drunken driving after he was spotted outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood wearing a wig, a red lace camisole and a purple G-string, police said.
"We are pretty sure this is not the Santa Claus," Deputy Chief Ken Garner said.
Actually, one of VC's half vast editorial staff captured a direct quote. Thankfully, no visuals were provided.
December 25, 2007
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them,Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
This is what I like to wake up to, Christmas morning, as I turn the Christmas tree lights on before everyone is awake and prepare everything for the family to awake. To me, it's the most beautiful sound in the world - when I hear it every year, I know that moment of happiness that tells me everything is as it should be.
May the peace and joy of Christmas fill your hearts. I may have more to say later if I can find the time, but for now, I'll just say Merry Christmas, and thank you for bringing so much warmth and laughter into my life.
December 24, 2007
Here is a little something to keep you all busy while the Princess is
drinking egg nog cogitating...
Don't hit Santa - he will yell at you:
December 20, 2007
Late last night as the Princess ovulated pointlessly by the dimly reflected glow of the
wintry moon her Dell Precision notebook, Pile On (of the esteemed Ebb and Flow Institute) reminded her that Solstice is just around the corner. Naturlich, her thoughts immediately turned to fond memories of last December and the prospect of an entire planet synchronistically vibrating for peace. "Shuddering succotash!", she said to herself! "That means it's time for Global Orgasm Day!"
That also means there's not a moment to lose! Last year, only speedy intervention by a dedicated group of willing wankers averted a certain nuclear war with Iran:
The mission of the Global Orgasm is to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy. Now that there are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti- submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, the time to change Earth’s energy is NOW!
As we explained earlier, the science behind using Orgasmic energy to shift Matter and Quantum Energy fields leads to measurable reductions in global levels of violence, hatred and fear. Now, thanks to you, Global Orgasm has a proven track record:
Just think: in 2007 alone, due to our timely intervention 100% of the wars predicted by Global Orgasm.org never came to pass!
That's right: 100%. You can't get much better (or more scientific) than that. But we can't rest on our laurels, because the underlying cause of all this violence hasn't gone away:
The world is full of men with axes to grind and weapons to fire in displays of their superiority over others. It is time to spare the planet from Alpha Male concepts of 'progress', 'growth' and Manifest Destiny, which are endangering all of us.
That's right: men are the problem. It is Men who insist on raping peaceful, agrarian Mother Gaia with their hate-filled progress, growth, and technology, all of it based on rigid, authoritarian notions of observable fact vs. subjective feelings; hypothesis and scientific methods vs. narratives and consensus building; mathematics vs. intuition. The entire corrupt power structure is rigged to puff up the overweening male ego and keep women who are perfectly qualified and exactly the same as men in every way out of high paying jobs in engineering and the sciences. These highly intelligent, fully-equal women (who are no different from men, mind you) just can't compete with men unless special accommodations for their unique feelings and ways of thinking are made in the workplace. This is not because they are not equal, mind you, or because they are not trying, but because men are out to
rape get them.
Only by rejecting this so-called male "progress" and returning to the more organic ways of our Mother Gaia can we reverse Global Warming, decrease global violence, and finally get this planet back on the only truly moral course: the ability to legally seize the assets of more productive citizens to support less productive ones.
And that's a value proposition everyone can get behind.
Well, everyone except our most productive citizens. But who cares what they think? They're mostly a bunch of white men.
December 19, 2007
It is called, with a dash of American irony, Camp Blessing: an isolated outpost teetering on the edge of what the media like to call America's forgotten war. But though the living conditions may be a bit rough and the location remote, a feature piece from October of 2005 makes it clear the odd sounding name is well deserved:
“We do our best to make ourselves parts of the community out here since we’re so far away from other bases,” said 1st Lt. Patrick E. Kinser, assault force commander, from Jonesville, Va. “We’ve established such a relationship with the local population that when we get attacked they get upset.”
The Marines and sailors attribute much of their success to the way they treat the locals with respect. When villagers come forward at other bases, they may be taken in for questioning and held under guard, and they often don’t return to give more information due to the perceived lack of respect. Many people that do have information often bypass closer bases and make a longer trip to Camp Blessing to give vital intelligence because of the respect they have of the Marines.
“We treat them with courtesy and respect. I can walk out the front gate, and the first 50 people I see know me by name, and I know them and who their families are,” said 1st Lt. Matt D. Bartels, camp officer-in-charge, from Minneapolis, Minn. “They come to us with medical problems. Farmers that injure themselves and little kids that are hurt come to us, and our (corpsmen) patch them up as best they can. We even helped fix up a donkey that fell off a cliff because it was important to them.”
Camp Blessing made the news last month when three paratroopers lost their lives. During a memorial service at the camp, Michael Gabel, an Army Staff Sergeant, struggled to find the right words to say farewell to his best friend. He could not know, as he held back the tears, that his eulogy would travel halfway around the world:
"I will not be bitter," Gabel said. "I will not shed any tears of sorrow. I'm proud to have known such a good man and a warrior to the bitter end. Until we see each other again, sky soldiers!"
Staff Sgt. Gabel could not know either, when he spoke, that the parting was to be short-lived. On December 12th he and Cpl. Joshua C. Blaney were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.
It seems strange to me, to contrast the detachment of a largely apathetic and complacent America and the dedication of men like Michael Gabel and Joshua Blaney. I tire of seeing my own countrymen blithely discuss democracy and freedom as though they were vague abstractions, easily dispensed with; as though it weren't patronizing to think other human beings should barter their autonomy (and that of their children) for an illusory security, granted to ensure their meek compliance and consequently, all too easy snatched away at a moment's notice. The phrase "not ready for democracy" strikes one as uniquely American in that obscenely arrogant way that only people who have never been un-free, who have never had to live without democracy, can dream up. Only the protected, the insulated, have time and space to second guess the choices of more resolute men:
Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.
[...]I was having a conversation with a Kurdish man in the city of Dahok (by myself and completely safe) discussing whether or not the insurgents could be viewed as "freedom fighters" or "misguided anti-capitalists." Shaking his head as I attempted to articulate what can only be described as pathetic apologetics, he cut me off and said "the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life—to murder, and you get paid to save lives." He looked at me in such a way that made me feel like he was looking through me, into all the moral insecurity that living in a free nation will instill in you. He "oversimplified" the issue, or at least that is what college professors would accuse him of doing.
The un-free have no such luxury. But then, this is something one doesn't discover from reading secondhand articles in the New York Times. In a world where just staying alive is a victory, some things really are that simple, after all:
In his other e-mails and letters home, which the Daily family very kindly showed me, he asked for extra "care packages" to share with local Iraqis, and said, "I'm not sure if Irvine has a sister-city, but I am going to personally contact the mayor and ask him to extend his hand to Dahok, which has been more than hospitable to this native-son." (I was wrenched yet again to discover that he had got this touching idea from an old article of mine, which had made a proposal for city-twinning that went nowhere.) In the last analysis, it was quite clear, Mark had made up his mind that the United States was a force for good in the world, and that it had a duty to the freedom of others. A video clip of which he was very proud has him being "crowned" by a circle of smiling Iraqi officers. I have a photograph of him, standing bareheaded and contentedly smoking a cigar, on a rooftop in Mosul. He doesn't look like an occupier at all. He looks like a staunch friend and defender. On the photograph is written "We carry a new world in our hearts."
We carry a new world in our hearts.
That is a sentiment Staff Sergeant Gabel would have understood. He wanted to return to Afghanistan. According to his brother, he felt he still had work to do there. Reading about the lives of Gabel and Blaney, one senses focus and a long tradition of service:
It came after 9 p.m. Wednesday. Dianne Massey opened her Fort Mill front door to an Army beret. She screamed, “No, not Josh!”
But it was.
Her son, Cpl. Joshua Blaney, 25, had been killed in eastern Afghanistan earlier that day. A bomb blew up the vehicle he was riding in, Army officials confirmed Friday. Blaney was in the lead truck in a convoy.
Massey learned her son was dead as she stood a few feet from his Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal. Blaney somehow had previously survived, though with leg shrapnel and scars, a convoy bomb in Iraq on an earlier tour. He was in the lead truck that day, too.
“I immediately remembered his fifth birthday party, the GI Joe cake,” Massey said Friday. “He would pitch a tent and play Army with his uncle who was in the Special Forces. They would eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat.) There was the time at Wal-Mart. He was 8, or 9. We walked out, and he had this bulge in his pocket. I asked him, ‘Josh, what’s in the pocket?’ Out comes the GI Joe. I marched him right inside and made him give it back.”
...e-mails described him as compassionate to his fellow soldiers and a mentor to younger men.
“A leader,” said his sister, Carley.
Blaney’s sister said her brother was a humble, gracious man who rarely talked about what he had seen or done in the wars.
Dianne Massey’s sister, Amy, whose husband is that Special Forces uncle that Blaney played “Army” with all the time, said, “Josh went in the Army a boy, and he came out a man.”
Blaney’s grandfather, Sid Belk, is an 84-year-old World War II Army Air Corps veteran.
“I know what my grandson was doing,” he said. “He was a fine soldier. Brave. I am proud of him.”
Like Corporal Blaney, SSgt. Gabel wanted to join the Army as a child. He had to overcome many obstacles to do so. They did not deter him:
Relatives, former teachers and coaches on Monday remembered a 30-year-old Baton Rouge Army sergeant killed last week in Afghanistan as a determined youngster who turned himself into a proud soldier and man.
Family members and former teachers recalled Michael Gabel’s determination, love of life and sense of calling and purpose in the military:
* He struggled to overcome dyslexia to learn to speak and read Arabic and French after graduating from high school.
* He pushed himself, an asthmatic, so hard to be a wrestler at Lee High School that teachers worried how much weight Gabel lost as a freshman to make the team and his weight class.
* He used his skills as a chef to put on parties for friends and family to spread his zest for life.
* He saw a sense of purpose in the Army and, in particular, in helping the Afghani people to understand the United States and to bring themselves up.
“He was one of those guys that just kept plugging and plugging and plugging and made himself into something,” Lee High School head wrestling coach Bill Bofinger said.
Family members noted Gabel was riding in the lead vehicle when he was killed, although as a staff sergeant he could have been in the rear.
“The danger that was in front of him was less important than the men behind him,” said Mike’s father, John Gabel, who is finance director for Livingston Parish government.
David Gabel, who also was in the military and, like Michael, is part of long family tradition of military service, said Michael struggled to get into the Army.
Michael Gabel had to train for months to make it, but his time in the Army became another test that shaped him into a man.
“It really was another crucible that made him into a self-confident individual,” David Gabel said.
"My brother believed in Afghanistan," David Gabel said. "He really wanted to see schools, jobs and opportunities brought to the country. It was his third tour in Afghanistan, and the job there was unfinished."
Contrary to the partisan portrayals of our men and women in uniform as stupid, ill-educated, or misinformed pawns forced into military careers because there are no better options, the lives of SSgt Gable and Cpl. Blaney are portraits of dignity, integrity, and courage. Corporal Blaney did not have to serve in Afghanistan after he earned his first Purple Heart in another land, Iraq, also struggling towards freedom. There are always choices in life. Yet he did, and he served with honor under circumstances that would daunt most of us.
SSgt. Michael Gabel was killed last week doing a job he believed in, his former teacher says, with all his heart. Henry David Thoreau once said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Corporal Blaney and Staff Sergeant Gabel gave life everything they had.
How many of us, when our time comes, will be able to say that? These were men to be proud of, and we are made poorer by their loss.
December 17, 2007
Home For Christmas
Jerome Lee of Stonewall has been a trooper for Troop H of the Mississippi Highway Patrol since 1982. He can still vividly remember his six-year old son, Dustin, playing in his patrol car.
“He always wanted to call the dispatcher on the radio to tell them I was in service,” said Jerome Lee Thursday afternoon. “I let him play with the siren and lights some. He wanted to become a state trooper.”
But Dustin Jerome Lee won’t be able to fulfill his dream of being a trooper and following in his father’s footsteps. Dustin Lee, 20, died earlier this week serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq — six weeks before he was expected to return home.
The Lee family was notified Tuesday of their sacrifice by Marine Corps officials.
“He was a very focused, intense individual,” said the elder Lee by phone. “He always excelled in everything he set out to do. He had his whole life mapped out.”
Dustin Lee was serving in the 3/14 G Battery, 3rd platoon in Falluja when he was killed. Jerome Lee said his son died of injuries suffered in a mortar attack.
“He was hit in the chest with shrapnel from the blast and was medi-vaced out of the area to a hospital,” said Jerome Lee. “He died a little while later.”
The two men talked the day before Dustin Lee was killed. Jerome Lee said his son was sounding upbeat and in high spirits.
“Maybe it was the knowledge he was coming home in about six weeks. I don’t know. But he left me a voice message on my answering machine before he went out on his last mission,” Jerome Lee said.
Jerome Lee played back the message left by his son. In the message, Dustin Lee said he just wanted to call before he headed out and to tell everyone he loved them.
“He said he’d talk to us later,” Jerome Lee said.
But like so many things we wish for in life, somehow that longed-for tomorrow never came. Dustin's Dad remembers his son with pride:
“He always wanted to help other people,” said Jerome Lee. “He loved his country and was proud to be a Marine.”
Asked, despite the devastating loss, if he was proud of his son’s service to his country and his sacrifice Jerome Lee replied quietly, “Most definitely. I’m very proud of him.”
Some families would have turned inward in their grief, would have shut out the world and thought only of their own pain. But the Lees, in the midst of their own heartbreak, somehow found the grace to remember that they weren't the only ones mourning the loss of their son:
Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee and his German shepherd, Lex, scoured Iraq for roadside bombs together, slept next to each other and even posed in Santa hats for a holiday photo.
When a mortar attack killed the 20-year-old Marine in Falluja a few months later, Lex, whimpering from his own injuries, had to be pulled away, Lee's father was told.
That strong bond compelled the slain Marine's family to [petition the Marines to] adopt 8-year-old Lex even though the military said he still had two years of service.
The family lobbied the military for months, launched an Internet petition and enlisted the aid of a North Carolina congressman who took their case straight to the Marine Corps' top general.
But the Marine Corps had doubts. Lex had recovered from his wounds and was still fit for duty. Bomb sniffing dogs are in short supply in the Marine Corps, and they save lives. Would sending Lex home be the right thing to do?
More than eight months later, as members of the Lee family prepare for their first Christmas since Dustin’s death, they have a final request of the Marine Corps: permission to adopt their son’s canine partner.
“I know Dustin would want Lex to be with his family,” said Lee’s uncle, Brian Rich. “They gave their son — he made the ultimate sacrifice. If it brings his family some comfort to see the dog there, then why not?”
But Marine officials say Lex is still on active duty. The 7-year-old dog was wounded in the same explosion that killed Lee, but has fully recovered. The dog is working alongside military police, assisting with force protection at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., where Lee was stationed.
The Lee family hasn’t seen the dog since Marines brought him to the funeral in April.
Marine Corps command is “extremely sympathetic to the Lee family’s desire to adopt the military working dog after the tragic incident that claimed the life of his handler,” said Colie Young, a base spokesman. “The command will continue to support the Lee family in the adoption process at the appropriate time, if and when Lex is found unfit for duty and appropriately screened for adoption.”
Undaunted, the Lees took their case straight to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. On December 21st, their persistence will be rewarded when they finally take Lex home for the holidays.
They were always together: the tall, handsome young Marine from Mississippi and the German Shepherd specially trained to help him find roadside bombs. But in the end, that wasn't the most important thing.
The most important thing was that they were both Marines. And when you're a Marine you always have family, no matter what.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams...
Via Ry (and thanks a lot for making me cry).
And it’s hard to go down easy;
And it’s hard to keep from cryin’;
And it’s hard to lose a lover
In the early part of autumn.
I know Dan Fogelburg wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but when I was a young girl I owned every one of his albums. His guitar playing was gentle and lyrical, and I could put one of his records on the turntable when I was studying and just drift away to the sound of his music.
Rest in peace, and thanks for all the memories.
December 15, 2007
The Real Religious Test
Driving into Georgetown last Thursday morning, I happened to catch Mitt Romney's speech on the radio. The conservative reaction to his candidacy never ceases to amaze me, though I suppose it shouldn't. For a plastic candidate, an empty shirt, a man many of my fellow Rethuglicans appear to have written off prematurely, Romney certainly seems to have stirred up quite the little pot of controversy.
I'll tell you a guilty secret: I'm intrigued by the man. Just five or six years ago, the conventional wisdom from most Democrats (and more than a few conservatives) was that Clarence Thomas was something of an oxygen thief. He was widely believed to be Tony Scalia's lapdog - an intellectual cipher who would never make a lasting imprint of his own on the Court.
Few believe that now. Perceptions are funny things, aren't they? People rarely take the time to look below the surface, especially when reality conflicts with their pat little nostrums for digesting that difficult pill called life. It's easier to simply wish what disturbs us away, preferably by citing some controlling authority: Thomas Jefferson's Danbury letter (that Holy of Holies for the secular liberal crowd - when he wrote it, did he have any idea it would come to be considered, by some, more authoritative than the Constitution), the Bible for evangelicals, or for the tiresomely pedantic, the Constitution?
If nothing else, we can thank Romney for poking a stick into the perenially entertaining anthill known as the Vast American Punditocracy. Ironically, Romney's speech and the way various pundits reacted to it poses the real religious test in this race, for their reactions reveal far more about his critics and their biases than about his fitness for office.
I find the preoccupation and paranoia surrounding Romney's Mormon faith, on both sides of the political aisle, both fascinating and repugnant. The reactions to his speech, even from pundits I normally consider sensible, seem exaggerated, slightly paranoid, even verging on the extreme. What is it about matters of faith that brings out the worse angels of our nature, makes otherwise polite people believe it is all right to be uncivil, sets our teeth on edge? What justifies ludicrous pronouncements like Peggy Noonan's statement that religion is the "sole determinative issue" of the Republican race:
What is happening in Iowa is no longer boring but big, and may prove huge.
The Republican race looks--at the moment--to be determined primarily by one thing, the question of religious faith. In my lifetime faith has been a significant issue in presidential politics, but not the sole determinative one. Is that changing? If it is, it is not progress.
Granted, hand wringing and mild hysteria are nothing new for Peggy these days, but even for her this is really jumping the shark. I don't know about Ms. Noonan, but my vote will have more to do with national security, immigration and the economy than questions of religious faith. But then I spend very little of my time longing for a return of the good old days of Ronald Wilson Reagan either, so perhaps than explains my confusion. Be that as it may, it is a strange world when Peggy Noonan and Charles Krauthammer begin playing the same tune on the world's smallest violin. Krauthammer writes:
This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN/YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.
Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher.
Krauthammer has just served up the mother of all non-sequiturs. If the Constitutional prohibition against religious tests applies only to government, what Constitutional stricture is violated by a question from a private citizen? None, he admits. Can anyone imagine a candidate answering any other question, no matter how intrusive or irritating, from a voter with a similar response?
Of course they can't. It would be political suicide. Answering such a query with "None of your damned business" is a bit like hiring a Mack truck to run over that pesky chipmunk who keeps leaving nuts all over your driveway: effective, but needlessly brutal. A more restrained response would serve to both inform the audience and chasten the questioner: "My faith (or the lack thereof) would have no bearing on the performance of my public duty to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States." Being asked whether you believe in the Bible by a private citizen who lacks the power to compel you is not, in and of itself, offensive. It is merely irrelevant and (to some candidates, but not to others) annoying. Overreacting to such a question in an emotional fashion isn't much better than pandering. It makes one wonder what the candidate has to hide.
And though I usually agree with Bruce McQuain on most subjects, I find myself at odds with him on the subject of religion. Being afraid to talk about matters of faith, or seeking to banish such discussions from the agora because you find them uncomfortable doesn't strike me as particularly reasonable either:
Religion and faith have a place in every society. But that place isn't in the public political arena. And while I think some zealots go absurdly overboard with their "separation of church and state" opposition, for the most part, it serves us well to keep religion at arm's length and at a personal level when talking about politics. As Krauthammer concludes:
It's two centuries since the passage of the First Amendment and our presidential candidates still cannot distinguish establishment from free exercise.
Unfortunately neither has the media or the electorate.
Why should religion be uniquely singled out from all other subjects as off limits for debate? Is there some Constitutional prohibition in the First Amendment that allows us to discourage, much less forbid, discussion and free debate about matters of faith? I could not agree more with the bolded excerpt above: somewhere along the line Americans have lost the ability to distinguish between the establishment of religion and its free exercise. In this case, however, it is Dr. Krauthammer who seems to have joined the ever growing queue waiting for the clue bus to arrive. Debating religion during a presidential election doth not a state religion establish, nor does it amount to the exercise of religion, no matter how icky it may make Dr. Krauthammer feel. Sometimes a discussion is just a lot of hot air surrounded by people. And contrary to the paranoid delusions of many modern day Americans, the ability to discuss religion in a pluralistic society during a presidential election is a thing to be encouraged, not one to be afraid of; nor one we should seek to suppress. Debate - on any subject - is the hallmark of a vigorous and free society.
That so many of us seem overeager to give up our right to debate and discuss matters of faith freely in public is distressing in the extreme. Since we're on the subject, I don't like listening to people yammer on about abortion.
It's an unpleasant subject, and I find such discussions emotionally draining. Furthermore, since SCOTUS alone has the power to overturn Roe v. Wade, such talk is unduly divisive. Let's just ban all discussions on the grounds that the question has been adjudicated. A woman's right to choose is a personal matter best left to the individual women involved - men really have no business discussing abortion since they have no legal standing in the decision. There: that was easy, wasn't it? No need for debate or discussion! One wonders how many other troublesome subjects can be similarly dealt with, or is it only the discussion of religion which can be swept under the conversational carpet at will without damaging the free and open exchange of ideas?
I find it extremely odd that the unspoken hit on Romney seems to be that he is has no principles, yet somehow he will place his mindless allegiance to his bizarre Mormon faith over his duty to the Constitution. Not discussing religion is exactly what allows egregious dumbassery of this sort to perpetuate itself. Until a truly sophomoric idea is dragged out, blinking and stammering, into the light of day, it is often difficult to see that it never quite got out of its pajamas. Moreover, such charges make very little sense in light of Romney's track record as governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts, where he was called upon to subordinate his personal values to state law and the Massachusetts constitution. If the radically extremist Elders of Utah were truly sending him secret order to usher in the Fourth UberTheoReich, wouldn't Massachusetts be a Mormon controlled state by now? It is a meretricious argument that Christians (or any other people of faith) cannot derive values which affect the conduct of their personal lives from their faith, yet do their duty when they take an oath of office in public life. Conservatives used to admire this sort of restraint. In judges, we call it judicial modesty. We should admire it in all three branches of government. Surely it is not wishy-washiness to recognize that fine line between vigorous assertion of executive power and an extra-Constitutional imposition of one's personal policy preferences which violates the rights of one's fellow citizens? Having the wisdom and restraint to choose between the two is a matter of character and integrity. Some would say that religion reinforces both those traits, though this is not invariably so.
I believe in God, and I personally believe abortion is morally wrong. However, I have no desire to impose a theocratic dictatorship on other Americans and I accept the sovereignty of American law. I accept the authority of the Supreme Court and decisions like Roe v. Wade, though I do not agree with them. My faith informs my personal conduct, but I would have no problem with enforcing a law passed by elected representatives that ran counter to my personal values. It is a stupid and ill-informed argument to contend that faith conflicts with public service; it no more conflicts with such service than atheism does so long as each public servant vows to support and defend the laws of the United States:
"As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your President, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.
I agree with Bruce that faith is just another source of the values which inform a candidate's identity and character but I disagree with him that it is beside the point, because though I also find it extremely distasteful that Romney's Mormonism has been raised as an issue in this race, I find the back door whispering campaigns even more disturbing and distasteful. Let it all come out. The voters are quite capable of sorting through the resulting mess.
I think candidates reveal much of their own character by what they choose to run up the flagpole:
Mr. Huckabee, is there something you'd like to say about the heretic Mormon standing to your right?
Mike Huckabee: Well, you know I would never question another person's religion, especially Mormonism, because I don't know anything about that doctrine, even though I have a degree in theology and am a Baptist minister and was once a speaker at the Southern Baptist convention that, ironically, was held in Salt Lake City.
Look, I don't know if Mormons are heretics or not. The sister of the wife of a friend of my first cousin mentioned something about Mormons believing that Jesus and Satan are brothers, but what do I know? I hardly even glanced at that book they handed out at the convention, "Mormonism Unmasked."
I also find it an extremely revealing character exercise to examine what our presidential candidates are willing to defend. Very often we learn a lot about people by what they are willing to stomach in order to get ahead.
And heaven knows, it's heartwarming the way so many of our Rethuglican front-runners have so far managed to avoid the temptation to sling mud at each other. Even more encouraging is the way my fellow thinking conservatives have responded to this outbreak of high-mindedness.
All in all, I must say I've been very enlightened by what I've seen so far.
This is definitely proof that the American people are
tired of divisive, mean spirited partisan attacks. See? You just have to have faith in your fellow man.
We're all better than this, aren't we? After all, we must be. We're conservatives: the party of principle.
The rows of gravestones stretched out before him like time itself. But when John Lechler saw the date on one particular tombstone, he knew where to lay his wreath. And for a moment, Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr., who died on Dec. 7, 1941, lived again.
The balsam fir wreath was from Maine — made by hand, decorated by hand, wrapped, boxed and loaded on a truck by hand, then driven 750 miles to Arlington National Cemetery.
This is the miracle of Arlington. "When you first look at that sea of stones, you don't get the impression of individuality," says Tom Sherlock, the cemetery historian. "But if you stop for just a moment and look at the name on the stone, in that moment they're thought of again, and they live again."
Lechler was one of about 600 volunteers at the cemetery Thursday for what has become a new holiday tradition: placing Christmas wreaths — supplied by a Maine businessman who never got over his first sight of the cemetery — on more than 5,000 veterans' graves.
"It's great that we came together to show our gratitude, considering how tough it is for everybody with this war going on," says Lechler, 42, an Ashburn, Va., resident who runs a sports training business and who never served in the military.
Every December for the past 15 years, Morrill Worcester, owner of one of the world's largest holiday wreath companies, has taken time in the midst of his busiest season to haul a truckload of wreaths to Arlington from his small Downeast Maine town of Harrington.
For years, he and a small band of volunteers laid the wreaths in virtual obscurity. But in the last 12 months that has changed, thanks to a dusting of snow last year at the cemetery, an evocative photograph, a sentimental poem and a chain e-mail. And this year, Worcester went national. A new program, "Wreaths Across America," shipped a total of about 1,300 wreaths to more than 200 national cemeteries and vets' memorials in all 50 states.
Worcester, 56, says he wants to help Americans remember and honor deceased military veterans, particularly at Christmas, when they're missed most. On the Wreaths Across America website, he makes this comment: "When people hear about what we're doing, they want to know if I'm a veteran. I'm not. But I make it my business never to forget."
On Thursday he looked at the crowd of volunteers — five times as many as last year's — and said, "I didn't realize there were this many people that felt like I do."
May it always be so.
December 14, 2007
December 05, 2007
Merry Christmas and happy Chanukah, folks. Though I'm no longer around, I think of you all often, and with great fondness.
It's snowing here in western Maryland this morning. I bought Sausage a ski jacket. He looks pretty ridiculous in it. Wish you all could see him. I sure do miss sharing silly things like that with you.
Hope your holiday season is filled with family, fun, friends, and laughter: in short, everything you've brought to my life over the past few years here at VC.
Update: Sly is an evil genius ... heh.