Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Archive for the 'Musings' Category

Viewer’s Guide to Hallmark Movies

I realize that in writing this I am admitting to participating in one of the least manly exercises of the human species: watching Hallmark romance movies. Yes, instead of movies with car chases and explosions like real men watch, I have sat through a number of Hallmark movies. However, for those with enough common sense not to have done so but who might fall prey to watching one at some point, I offer this Guide to assist your expectations. Indeed, armed with the information below, you probably don’t even need to watch the movie. Anyway, here is a list of truisms that can be applied to ALL Hallmark romances:
1. If, at the beginning of the movie, you are the leading lady’s boyfriend or, heaven forbid, her fiancé, you are doomed. There is zero chance that you and she will end up together. Absolute confirmation of this is established when you kiss her, because you do so on her cheek, not on her lips. There is also a 90% probability that you will prove to be a self-centered jerk before the first commercial.
2. Big cities are evil; rural small towns are good. Big city people (including the leading lady at the beginning of the film) lead harried, miserable, hollow, stress-filled, shallow lives where their main concern is money. Rural small town people lead relaxed, meaningful, contented, joyful lives that focus on The Things That Really Matter.
3. Similar to the above, big city careers are evil; rural small town jobs are good—especially those where one works with one’s hands. Evil “city” occupations include: movie actor, up-and-coming corporate executive, anything related to advertising or public relations, real estate/land development, assistant hospital administrator, and worst of all, lawyer. Honorable rural small town occupations include, for the leading lady: owning/managing a bakery, restaurant, or dress shop; running a family farm/ranch/vineyard; country doctor; or, best of all, small town veterinarian. For the leading man they include: handyman, house construction, some form of arts and crafts; running a family farm/ranch/vineyard; country doctor; or, best of all, small town veterinarian.
4. The next-older generation were, apparently, terrible drivers. Invariably one of the leading characters’ parents died “some years ago” in a car accident.
5. If either lead character is a single parent, the child/children will become deeply attached to the other lead character within a week of first meeting him/her—long before love blossoms between the adults. The same holds true for a pet if there is one.
6. All rural small towns have an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the town square (they all have a town square) that the entire town not only attends but “eagerly anticipates all year.” If it happens to not be Christmastime, then they have an annual Harvest Festival.
7. In every Christmas movie there is a scene with the lead characters together in a Christmas tree lot. No one EVER has an artificial tree.
8. In every Christmas movie there is a scene at an ice skating rink in which one of the lead characters is a skilled skater and the other is an inept rookie. If it is not a Christmas movie, substitute dancing for skating.
9. Regardless of how lucrative the “big city” character’s dream job is, he/she will readily abandon it (since it was evil anyway) and downgrade to live a subsistence-level life in the rural small town with his/her new-found love.
10. The one exception to the above is if the leading lady is vacationing in the tiny European kingdom of Contrivia only to discover that the seemingly ordinary guy she has fallen for is actually the crown prince. In that case, marrying him upgrades her to a princess.

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The Non-crisis

In trying to lend justification to the President’s delusional assertion that there were millions of votes cast illegally during the most recent election — and therefore that election reform is needed — his defenders cite the presence on voter rolls of registrants who are dead or are registered in more than one state. I worked for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for 12 years and was very much involved in the processes used to keep voter rolls as clean as possible. So, are there deceased people on voter rolls? Absolutely. Are there voters on the rolls of more than one state? Certainly. Does this mean that the entire system is flawed, needs an overhaul, and that voter fraud is rampant because of these circumstances? DEFINITELY NOT.

Let us apply a bit of rationality to all this, and take a practical look at each situation, shall we? First, dead voters. Believe it or not, the very first thing that happens when a person passes away is NOT for someone to notify the deceased’s Local Election Authority (LEA) that he or she needs to be removed from the voter rolls. Except where a rural county’s clerk actually knew the deceased, or where the LEA checks the obituaries against the voter rolls, they usually are unaware of a voter’s death. Then how do these voters get removed? Missouri used several methods. First, we did computerized matches against death records from the Dept. of Health & Sr. Svcs. This is not foolproof, however. If the individual died out of state, DHSS would not necessarily be informed. Next, there were matches against the Social Security Administration’s master death database. This helped but, since the decedent’s address may have been different when he/she died than what was on their registration, and we have only the last four digits of SSN, matching could be problematic.

Indeed, automated matching is not as slick as you might hope. A person who registers to vote by filling-out a registration card by hand simply gives or mails it to the election authority and leaves them to enter their data into the registration system. Oops, there’s a few stray marks on this card. Is that birthdate 1/8/1990 or 7/8/1990? Is that Ken Smith or Kim Smith? Our registration software ran SSN and Driver’s License checks against the data when entered, but if the SSN and/or DL was left blank the law requires the assumption to be that the individual does not have one. If the DL was from another state, no matching was done. And, of course, if “Kim Smith” was short for “Kimberly Smith” automated name matching would be less than exact. Furthermore, even SSA’s data can often be many months late in reporting a death. Add to all this that the matching, etc., did NOT remove voters. For safety’s sake, the match created lists that were sent back to the LEAs who then were to verify the matching data and then mark the registrants as deceased in the system — a task that becomes secondary during the crunch of preparing for an election. After a voter misses two federal general elections, they “age off” the voter rolls, so even a record that slips through the cracks will eventually be disabled. Nevertheless, at any given point in time even the most diligent LEAs will have a fair number of deceased voters on their rolls and, statewide, that number could be in the thousands. Does their presence mean voter fraud is occurring? Not at all.

Suppose you read a random obituary before an election and decide that, despite the risk of being convicted of a federal crime, you’re going to vote both as yourself and the dead person. Was he even registered? What polling place would he have voted at? Can you be sure the LEA hasn’t already removed him from the rolls? You have to sign the precinct register (or electronic equivalent), will your signature match? A wrong guess on any of these and you’re in danger of time in Leavenworth. All so you can vote ONE extra vote? And people are claiming this equates to MILLIONS of illegal votes? Give me a break.

But, what of multi-state registrants? When my wife and I left California for Missouri with two cars, a dog, and the few odds and ends that didn’t go on the moving van, we did not stop off at our LEA and notify them that we were moving to another state so they could remove us from the voter rolls. Nobody does. There is a place on the Missouri voter registration form to tell where you used to be registered, but if you leave it blank nothing happens — they just assume you’re a first-time voter. Even if you fill it in, the result is a list that eventually gets sent to the old state’s State Election Authority who then, hopefully, forwards it to the appropriate LEA who, when they get around to it, will mark that registration disabled. Then, there are multi-state automated matches that produce lists of suspected duplicates that the LEAs are given to process, but not all 50 states. Only those nearby. Since Drivers Licenses are subject to the same issue (obtaining one in the new state must cause the old state to be notified and nullify the old license), matching was done against DMV records. Still, all these matching efforts suffer the same uncertainties as described previously. Once again, what is the likelihood that a significant number of people are moronic enough to risk conviction of a felony so they can vote once in their old state and a second time in their current state? If a person tries to vote in the old state and they’ve already removed him, he’s busted.

Could a given state have a few hundred people gutsy and/or dimwitted enough to vote via one of these illegal methods? Perhaps. But even if each state had 1,000 people do so, that would not have changed the election results. If there was any significant voter fraud, it was not because of multi-state registrations or deceased people on the voter rolls. So any hair-on-fire demand for an election process overhaul in response to the existence of deceased or multi-state registrants will be a huge waste of time and money solving a non-problem.

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A Lifetime Commitment

It has been a LONG time since I did a post here, but in honor of my wife and I celebrating our 43rd wedding anniversary, I felt it necessary to address something I ran across recently. I sometimes look at a website called quora.com. It is a forum where people can ask questions and get answers, some of which are from “experts.” As a fiction writer, it gives me a place to ask how to handle a certain situation in writing or, for example if my story needs it, how long a person can be marooned in a small spacecraft before the air becomes unbreathable. That sort of thing. Recently, someone asked the question: “What is the creepiest thing that society accepts as a cultural norm?” There were dozens of answers provided, many of which you would expect: things like female circumcision, India’s caste system, and even child beauty pageants. But I found one answer not only shocking, but quite disturbing. The thing this contributor thought was “the creepiest” was: Marriage for life.

According to this contributor: “…committing to another person for life is not that different than committing to the same job for life… I think it’s odd and creepy that society uses the term ‘failed marriage’ and still questions divorce as a way to pursue individual happiness. There’s no such thing as a failed marriage; just a marriage that ran its course… You can’t be assured that your feelings will always stay the same when you marry…”

Holy moly. There is so much wrong with this perspective/attitude that I scarcely know where to start. I could write a book, but in the interest of time and space, I will try to keep this concise by bullet-pointing a few of the fatal flaws in this viewpoint:

  • Relationship – Emotional love can be a bit of a sine-wave. One time I can be deeply infatuated with my spouse, another time rather blasé. Sometimes I’m ready to move heaven and earth for her, other times I let a little selfishness seep in. Depending on my mood, a quirk of hers can be endearing or irritating. Through all these all-too-human emotional swings, it is our commitment to each other that gets us over the rough patches. We do not have many heated disagreements, but for couples that do, that commitment is even more vital in riding out the storm. I cannot begin to tell you the incredibly destructive force it would have on our marriage if we both believed that we’re only in it as long as our “feelings…stay the same.” If we thought that our marriage vows were no more binding “…than committing to [a] job,” that tentativeness alone would wreak havoc on our relationship. Knowing that we can depend on each others’ love through thick and thin is what makes our marital relationship so magnificent. I love being married, and that is a huge part of the reason why.
  • Children – Arguably, besides food, clothing, and shelter, the greatest need that a child has is a permanent, stable, loving environment. Temporary marriage destroys that. So does the swapping of parental figures. There is an old saying that the best thing a father (or mother) can do for a child is to love the child’s mother (or father). The permanence of the parents’ commitment not only affects a child’s security, self-esteem, and overall sense of well-being, but also his or her physical, mental, and emotional health. How about some hard facts? A 2011 federal study of child abuse found that the riskiest home situation for children was living with one parent and an unmarried partner: 57.2 per 1,000 were maltreated. That’s more than eight times the risk than if they were living with both biological parents (6.8 per 1,000) and more than double the risk of living in a single-parent household (28.4 per 1,000). An article in Psychology Today (01/09/2011) notes: “…that stepchildren, those who live with a stepparent (usually, a stepfather), are anywhere from 40 to 100 times as likely to be murdered or maimed as those who live with two biological parents in the household.”
  • The End – Although we’re both perfectly healthy at the moment, one of these days either my wife or I will come to a point where the end of life is at hand. It is (and will be) of enormous comfort to know that there at our side will be the same person whose love has endured the test of time. The notion that it is perfectly fine to trade-in one’s spouse with the same attitude with which one takes another job–i.e., a better offer has come along–will almost guarantee that the unpleasantness of dealing with a spouse’s final days takes a back seat to “greener pastures” if any are available.
  • And none of this even addresses God’s slant on marriage as eloquently expressed by His Son: what God has joined together, let not man separate. Of course, sometimes, as in the case of spousal abuse or unfaithfulness, separation or even divorce becomes necessary. And, sometimes those subsequent marriages work out well. But I’m willing to bet that those subsequent marriages that succeed nearly always do so because the partners were determined that, though a past marriage did not make it, this one would be “till death us do part.”

    For someone to think that marriage for life represents the creepiest thing that society accepts as a cultural norm is, to me, the creepiest viewpoint I think I’ve ever heard. I can only hope that those who hold such an inane view are the tiniest of minorities within society. If not, I believe that it represents a far greater threat to the continuation of the human species than fanatical terrorism, pollution, or even nuclear weapons.

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    Kindle/Nook ebooks

    For those of you who don’t use Facebook or who may have missed Becki’s posting, I have finally taken the plunge and put a series of my novels out on Kindle and Nook as ebooks. If you have a Kindle or Nook Tablet/Reader you can, of course, download and read them there. Or, if you have an iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, or probably any other smart phone or tablet device, you can get a free Kindle or Nook app and use those devices to read them. I’ve read entire books on my iPhone and, though you might think it’s too small to read on, it’s really not bad at all.

    The books are in a series called Ever Increasing Glory. The first book is Hidden in a Field, the second is The Way of Escape and the third is Canceled Debts. Although they’re classified as Christian romances they include an attempted murder, a car wreck, a foiled rape attempt, and a guy getting worked over with a rubber hose so they’re not all just romantic fluff.

    You can use the links below or search the Kindle or Nook sites by the series (Ever Increasing Glory), by the titles or by “D. L. Hamilton” (Don Hamilton won’t work).

    Kindle:
    •Book 1: Hidden in a Field
    •Book 2: The Way of Escape
    •Book 3: Canceled Debts

    Or, for the more graphically-oriented, click on the cover image below:

    Hidden in a Field Cover TN The Way of Escape Cover TN Canceled Debts Cover TN

    Nook:
    You can view the whole Ever Increasing Glory series.

    You can read the first few chapters for free and the books themselves are pretty inexpensive. Hope you find the stories enjoyable as well as inspirational.

    God’s blessings,

    Don

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    Hey, No Problem!

    A newspaper “advice” column that I read regularly (although I honestly do not know why–I do know that I find the questions/problems far more interesting than the answers) had a reader submit a complaint a while back. The complaint was how that today’s modern society, with all its young whippersnappers, had lost its last vestige of civility by the use of the phrase “no problem” in response to a thank you. The reader was incensed that this generation has ceased to use the proper response of “you’re welcome.” Somewhat surprisingly the columnist and several others all agreed. The implication was that saying “no problem” was akin to the President addressing a press conference with “‘Sup dogs?” instead of “Good morning.”

    Personally I believe it to be a non-issue and the complaint completely bogus. Consider: Person A says “Thank you” to Person B. One must assume that Person B had done something for Person A that evoked the comment. Truthfully the so-called kosher response of “You’re welcome” does not make a great deal of sense. You are welcome… to… What, exactly? Let’s recap: Person B does something for Person A, Person A thanks Person B, so Person B is obligated to tell Person A that he or she is welcome. Sorry, I don’t get it. The best I can come up with is that “you’re welcome” is shortened for “You are welcome to request (or expect) me to do the same for you anytime (or at least again).” I guess that’s sort of okay if Person B opened the door for Person A or something, but what if Person B saved Person A from drowning? Is Person A really welcome to try that again? “You’re welcome” has been the common response to a thank-you for decades if not centuries, but it nonetheless seems borderline nonsensical.

    Much superior, to me anyway, is the less common but still acceptably formal “My pleasure.” At least that makes straightforward sense. It means basically that the person being thanked was happy to do whatever he or she is being thanked for. Once again, it is more applicable in some cases than others. If I changed a baby’s ripe, messy diaper, and the baby’s mom thanked me, to say it was my PLEASURE would be a lie, pure and simple.

    Now, is the phrase “No problem” any better or worse? Actually I see it as slightly superior to the others. In the diaper scenario, it indicates that I was perfectly willing to do it–to say it was NO problem may be an exaggeration but far less of a flagrant lie. In the drowning person scenario, certainly the rescuer went to some–perhaps considerable–trouble, but “no problem” says the result was sufficiently positive to offset the effort. Interestingly, in Spanish the response to “Gracias” is “De nada” which means “It’s nothing.” In other words, “I do not consider it an inconvenience” or put another way, “No problem!”

    Occasionally people have used the alternate phrase, “Don’t mention it” in place of you’re welcome. The intent is to say, again, it was a small thing, it was nothing, or “No problem.” However, it has a slightly negative edge that, if taken literally, means I prefer that you not do the very thing you just did–mention it.

    So, I’m afraid all the pretentious types who consider any phrasing newer than the 1920’s uncouth will have to stifle themselves on this one. To the rest of you, no need to thank me. But if you do, hey, no problem.

    That same advice column once had a reader complain that someone who had offended them said, “I owe you an apology” but then left it at that. The issue was that the offended person felt an apology had not happened until the person stated directly, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” (or, I suppose, “Please forgive me”). Again, the advice columnist agreed. I, however, do not. In this world of entitlement and victim-mentality it is a rare person who will buck up the courage to volunteer any sort of apologetic expression to someone else, regardless of the offense. To admit, “I owe you an apology” is a pretty big step for most people. To skewer them on a technicality because they didn’t reconstruct the sentence properly is to look for a reason to hold a grudge.

    All of which brings to mind a bit of irony I heard once. A distraught person recounting a difficult encounter with someone: “Maybe what I said sounds harsh but, I’m sorry, I’m just not going to apologize.”

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    Lyrically Speaking…

    Here’s an oddity that leaves me puzzled: hymn lyrics–or more specifically the use of King James English therein.

    Now, I do realize that from the early 1600’s until the early 1970’s the KJV Bible was used by 99.9% of the English-speaking Protestant world. People somewhat understandably associated the use of King James lingo with all things sacred and often felt compelled to use that same mode of speech in any reference to the Lord, including prayers and hymns. This was especially reasonable where scripture was contained in a hymn since it would necessarily be the KJV that was used. The result is that many hymns are laden with “Thee,” “Thou,” “Thy” and “Thine.” Typically King James verbs were also used surrounding those pronouns–for consistency one would assume–giving us “art” instead of “are,” “loveth” instead of “loves,” “hast” (or “hath”) instead of “has,” etc. So, we end up with song lyrics like: “My Jesus I love Thee I know Thou art mine…”

    Okay, whatever. What gets weird is that the use of King James parlance is so often random and inexplicable.

    As noted, references to the Lord in KJV make sense for the day in which these songs were composed. What I have a harder time understanding is why references to you and me are done that way. For example, the song “Is Thy Heart Right With God,” as the title suggests, refers not to the Lord with KJV but to the listener: “…Dost thou count all things for Jesus but loss?” Why address ME in King James English? Other songs such as “Take Time to be Holy” do the same thing.

    Then there are those hymns that can’t make up their minds. Notice how the hymn “His Way with Thee” switches between modern and King James for no apparent reason as it refers to the listener alternately as “YOU” (modern) and “THEE” (KJV):

    “…His love can fill YOUR soul, and YOU will see / ’twas best for Him to have His way with THEE.”

    Actually the only explanation is a pathetic one. “Thee” was used purely because it rhymed. Now that’s sad.

    Even more random are those songs where only one word is KJV. An example is “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” where it says: “…For I know whate’er befall me Jesus doeth all things well…” Notice that at the beginning of the song it does NOT say “All the way my Savior LEADETH me…” but later He “DOETH” rather than He does. Again the unfortunate evident explanation is that the lyricist resorted to KJV in order to maintain the meter of the song–rather than rewriting the lyric (sorry, Fanny Crosby, but that was the cheap way out).

    But it gets even more random that that. In the hymn “Count Your Blessings” there is a line in one verse that goes, “…Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold…” Notice, “Christ HAS”. But in the chorus the lyric is “…see what God HATH done.” Unlike the others, this helps neither rhyme nor meter. The only possible explanation is that the lyricist developed a lisp between writing the verse and the chorus (maybe he lost a tooth or something).

    Some hymn lyrics are pretty odd regardless of King James usage. This one for example from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”:

    “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer…”

    Now, first of all it doesn’t say A friend or SOME friends but strongly implies that it refers to ALL your friends. It is not unheard of for a so-called friend to forsake a person, proving to be no friend at all. But to have ALL your friends forsake you? What situation could cause that? The only thing I can think of is if you did some heinous, repugnant, disgusting thing that sent all your friends scurrying to get away from you–like becoming an Amway representative.

    But even that is not the strangest part of the phrase. It asks if all your friends DESPISE you. How on earth could a group of people who despise you be classified as “friends”? Aren’t those who despise you–by definition–your enemies?

    Or how about this lyric from “I’ll Fly Away”: “…Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away…” Who keeps birds in prison? Unless they’re referring to the Birdman of Alcatraz or something but in that case HE was the one imprisoned in Alcatraz; the birds could come and go as they liked. Of course, it might be referring to a “JAIL-bird” who has flown from prison–but doesn’t that mean an escapee? Is that what we want to be favorably compared with? In a hymn yet?

    Another oddity among hymns is the use of what I call “Yoda-speak.” You may recall that the little green Jedi dude in the “Star Wars” films had a characteristic mode of speech in which he sort of spoke backwards. For example, instead of saying “He is strong with the Force” Yoda phrases it this way: “Strong with the Force is he.” Notice how the following hymns do the same thing.

    From “Power in the Blood”: “Would you o’er evil a victory win?” Shouldn’t that be “Would you win a victory over evil?” Unless, of course, you have pointy ears and use a light-saber.

    From “You Never Mentioned Him to Me”: “…You helped me not the light to see.” I think us non-Jedi’s would say “…You did not help me see the light” wouldn’t we?

    From “Give of Your Best to the Master”: “…You from sin’s ruin to save…” Translation: “…To save you from sin’s ruin…”

    Not that contemporary Christian music is immune from odd lyrics. Consider the song “My Glorious”. The chorus of the song has this first line:

    “God is bigger than the air I breathe”

    That is a truly weird figure of speech. Comparisons of the Lord to “the air I breathe” have been used before but always in reference to absolute necessity, i.e., we need God as desperately as we need air. Referring to air in terms of size is beyond strange. Someone suggested that perhaps the reference was to the whole of earth’s atmosphere–sort of a convoluted way of saying He is “bigger than the sky.” However the addition of the phrase “I breathe” tends to negate that since I don’t inhale the entire atmosphere. I think I read somewhere that a breath is about two quarts of air. Saying that God is bigger than that is faint praise indeed. Truthfully it is either using the wrong attribute of “the air I breathe” or the wrong attribute of God. Whatever, it is pretty much nonsensical. Sort of like saying Superman is “faster than a red, red, rose.” One’s natural reaction is “Eh? How’s that again?”

    But that’s not the only issue with the song’s lyrics. Here is a verse:

    The world’s shaking with the love of God
    Great and glorious, let the whole earth sing
    And all you ever do is change the old for new
    People we believe that

    (Then back to the Chorus: God is bigger than the air I breathe…) The first line of the verse–as does the chorus–refers to God in the third person, that is, talking ABOUT God to the audience. But the third line apparently has abruptly switched to speaking directly to Him (“…all YOU ever do…”). But then the next line is back to addressing the audience, this time in plural (“WE believe”) then immediately back to the singular in the Chorus (“I breathe”). I think the lyricist should have gone to bed earlier and taken a fresh look at this in the morning.

    Perhaps more sleep would also have helped in the writing of the David Crowder Band’s “How He Loves.” The opening line or so about how God “loves like a hurricane” makes me scratch my head a bit, but then it gets really weird: “…all of a sudden, I am unaware…” I’m sorry but, by definition, it is impossible to SUDDENLY be UNaware of something. You could suddenly become AWARE of something, but how can one suddenly be unaware—unless one passes out or has a stroke or something. In another verse there is a reference to how “…heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss…” Eh? I’m not sure how, even poetically, heaven can meet earth like a kiss, but an unforeseen kiss? Does that mean it forgets to pucker or close its eyes? I don’t get it but it could be that I’m biased against the song because Crowder’s rendition of it makes my skin crawl.

    Christmas songs are certainly not immune from lyrical oddities. Among the more bizarre is “The First Noel.” The tune is tolerable but the lyrics are, well, the only word to use for them is: lame. What earns a set of lyrics the designation of “lame”? For one thing, lyrics are lame when what they say is nonsensical or just plain wrong. For another, they are lame when there are superfluous words thrown in just to rescue the tune or poetic rhythm. And, as previously mentioned, “Yoda-isms” in lyrics (used primarily to force the rhyme scheme to work) make me crazy. An example of a Christmas song that uses one is: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, / Let nothing you dismay.” Non-Yoda-speak would be, “…Let nothing dismay you” but that wouldn’t rhyme with “…born on Christmas Day” so, again, the songwriter took the cheap way out.

    All that said, “The First Noel” is so bad it almost boggles the mind. To set the stage for the discussion, here is the first stanza along with the refrain:

    The first Noel the angel did say
    Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
    In fields where they lay tending their sheep,
    On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

    Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
    Born is the King of Israel.

    Now, granted, poems and songs frequently butcher or completely omit relevant punctuation, but this one defies knowing what punctuation is appropriate. In the first line the phrase, “…the angel did say…” just dangles there out in space. The angel did say… what, exactly? One could presume that the next word or phrase would represent what the angel said, but that would be the word “Was” (ostensibly spoken “to certain poor shepherds”). As far as I know nothing in the Christmas story has an angel just saying, “Was.” This is fortunate, because if it did that would be mind-numbingly inane. As if that isn’t bad enough, even the phrasing of it is dorky. Using “the angel did say…” instead of “the angel said” is a case of a superfluous word thrown-in to try to stay on beat. Unfortunately the lyrics and “beat” really never do mesh in this song. What I think the lyric is trying to communicate is just that the angel spoke to some shepherds.

    This, then, brings us to the next example of dippy-ness: “On a cold winter’s night….” Now, the evidence is marginal at best that Jesus was born in the winter but there is no hint in scripture that it was cold. Israel is a mild climate but admittedly it could have been cold—the odds are about as good that it wasn’t as that it was. Maybe slightly more toward the “wasn’t” side since had the birth taken place in the cold there’s a strong chance that Luke would have mentioned it—but he didn’t. The crowning touch is the final phrase: “…that was so deep.” Okay, what does that mean? It could be that I’m just not poetically-astute enough, but I have no idea what distinguishes a deep night from a shallow one. As near as I can tell, that phrase is there purely because the lyricist needed something that rhymed with sheep. How dumb.

    But as bad as it is, the first, and most commonly known, verse is pure genius compared to some of the other verses. Get a load of this one:

    Between an ox stall and an ass,
    This Child truly there He was;
    For want of clothing they did Him lay
    All in a manger, among the hay.

    There is so much wrong with this verse I won’t even attempt to critique it. I used to think that “The First Noel” was a French song that simply lost a lot in the translation. Turns out it is not French but Olde English—most think from the 16th century—making it contemporary with Shakespeare. Believe me, brother, this is about as far from Shakespeare as one can get!

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    Politics. Ugh!

    Shortly I will have lived 60 years, and in that amount of time I have encountered literally thousands of people’s political views. I can honestly say that not once in all that time have I ever witnessed anyone reversing someone else’s political slant by outwitting, out-arguing, or out-insulting them. Yet, baiting and demeaning those of a differing political viewpoint goes on relentlessly and has now become a favorite pastime in the social media venues, notably Facebook.

    Due to its futility, I generally, with rare exceptions, steer clear of political debates or venting my political views. However, although I have yet to see anyone’s views change dramatically from political discussions, I have seen honest, open-minded people moderate their views a bit. So, with that goal in mind, I now present some of my take on things.
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    Four ‘Seeds in the Big Apple (Part 3)

    Before I continue my narrative, a few words about New York City drivers. First there is the rumor that they drive less with turn signals than with their horns. This is true. Most vehicles in downtown (or even uptown—there is a distinction) Manhattan are taxis. They honk their horns frequently for two basic reasons which I observed first hand. The first reason is illustrated by the following. Our tour bus was at a stoplight on a 4-lane one-way street. In the lane beside us was a row of taxicabs. Exactly one nanosecond after the light turned green, the cab that was fourth in line honked for the line to get moving. I have no explanation for that behavior except that it is New York. To describe the second reason for honking horns I must provide what I observed to be the philosophy of driving in Manhattan, which is: If I am directly beside you in my lane and wish to be in front of you in your lane, I simply go there. It is your problem whether there is room for me to do so or whether you run into me or not. With that said I provide the next illustration. Again, our tour bus was at a stoplight on a 4-lane one-way street. At the instant the light turned green, a cab in the second lane from the left turned left in front of the cab in the first lane. Not to be outdone, a cab in the far right lane also then turned left across in front of all the other lanes, giving a little thank-you wave as he did so. In return there was a cacophony of honking horns and, I would have to admit, justifiably so. Cars, cabs, and buses zip and slither in front of each other willy-nilly in a random pattern of turns and lane changes. Do accidents occur? Certainly. In fact, our tour bus bumped into the back of an SUV at one point, to the surprise of no one. What was a tad surprising was that a cop who happened to be near by took a quick look at the situation, told the SUV the damage was insignificant, and then told both SUV and bus to move on. Read more

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    Four ‘Seeds in the Big Apple (Part 2)

    On Saturday we headed to New Jersey which would be our home base for our excursions in NYC. Although it was too early for check-in at the hotel in Edison, New Jersey, we wanted to go there first to sort of get our bearings and take whatever transportation to NYC was nearby. The hotel was a Comfort Inn that we could see on the left side as we drove down the multi-lane street past it but since the street had a tall cement divider and allowed no left or U-turns we could not get there. Matilda would tell us to turn right now and again but that made little sense (rather like Columbus sailing west to get to the east). After a mile or two we took her advice at a street with a sign pointing right that read “All Turns.” What one did was turn right and immediately swing around an island to the left, went over an overpass and then navigate onto the desired road going the desired direction. This did not bode well for us finding our way around.

    Rick had heard somewhere that one could take a subway into New York City from nearby locations in New Jersey but if that is true we never found it. One thing we were sure of is that we did not want to drive in New York. Now that we’ve been there that was truly one of the most intelligent decisions of the whole trip. The hotel clerk told Rick he could go two stoplights down, turn right and take a commuter train into NYC (this was on Saturday). Despite Matilda’s protests Rick followed the clerk’s directions and we wandered around in a residential area for a while before realizing that he should have said three stoplights down. Anyway we parked at the New Jersey Transit station in a numbered place. A sign saying “Pay for Parking” pointed to a machine that had Rick put in our space number and $4. The question was, did we need to put a receipt or something in our car window since we were warned that unpaid parkers would be towed? Inside the station the person running the little snack kiosk, when Rick asked that question, curtly replied that she had no answers. Period. We shrugged and set about buying tickets for the trip into NYC. Penn Station, New York City, was the final stop, so we had the right train. But unlike some low-cost subway ride, the fare was $12.50. Each. One-way. If you do the math that means $50 per couple round trip. Oh well, this was a once in a lifetime event, so we bought the tickets. A train arrived promptly and the ride in was quite comfortable. In about 50 minutes we arrived at Penn Station beneath the streets of New York City. Read more

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    Four ‘Seeds in the Big Apple (Part 1)

    “I don’t like it that there’s nobody else down here.” In a city of over 8,000,000 people, for there to be just the four of us Missouri hayseeds alone on an underground commuter train platform—which supposedly in a few minutes would have a train bound for New Jersey—I agreed with Glenda. I didn’t like it either. Apparently we were, once again, lost beneath Manhattan (sounds like a movie title, huh?).

    But that was near the end of our journey. Let me go back to the beginning. For their 35th wedding anniversary, Rick (Becki’s brother) and Glenda decided to go to Philadelphia and New York City and invited Becki and I along. The trip started well as we got to the St. Louis airport in plenty of time to go through the madness of TSA security screening. Just a quick side note: I not only understand that people need to be screened before they fly, I actually endorse it. I feel much more comfortable knowing that at least some effort has been made to avoid my flight being involved in some terrorist activity. However, I imagine that for every person who has even a remote possibility of doing something dastardly, there are probably 10 million who simply want to travel to their destination safely and peacefully. Hence, I believe that airports should do everything they can to make the whole necessary security screening thing as hassle-free as possible. St. Louis airport apparently missed the memo. It’s bad enough that one has to practically undress (belts, shoes, jackets, hats, etc.) but in St. Louis, once you’re through, there is not even the convenience of a set of seats to sit down and re-collect oneself. So I found myself groveling on the open floor trying to get my shoes back on. I could go on but I’ll let that suffice.

    Becki doesn’t like heights. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing can come of the story I am going to relate. When we first met 40+ years ago heights were something she neither relished nor avoided. I am told that as most people reach their mid-30s they begin to experience trepidation about heights and that is certainly true of me. Where I used to casually walk around on rooftops helping my dad install TV antennas years ago, nowadays putting the Christmas lights along the eaves each year finds me inching along on my belly trying to install them by Braille so I won’t have to look over the edge. But Becki’s dislike of heights has begun to approach the phobia stage and it includes everything from standing on a ladder to flying in an airplane. That said, she deserves a medal for being such an awesome little trooper throughout the trip. Since I have arachnophobia myself I truly appreciate her bravery.

    The flight was packed and, as happens so often, a small man (shorter than me, even, I think) was trying to put a huge carry-on that apparently contained an anvil and three bowling balls into a too-small space in the overhead bin above Becki’s head. He got overbalanced and several passengers had to catch him in the aisle. Mercifully he managed to get the bag stowed on the third try without conking Becki on the head. The flight started fine with the pilot bragging about the beautiful clear evening, but the weather reports we had seen said it was raining in Philadelphia. Halfway through the flight we reached the bad weather and the plane turned into a roller coaster, much to Becki’s dismay. The fingernail prints in my arm are starting to recede now, so I think I’ll be okay.

    The hotel in Philly was fine and we started out early the next morning in a drizzle on the Philadelphia phase of our adventure. We ate at a Denny’s and were reminded why we no longer have one in Jeff. Our waitress went out of her way to ignore us throughout the meal but the food was okay so off we went. We first visited the Liberty Bell which had a team of some half-dozen security screeners inspecting bags and having us open our jackets. I had seen the bell once before many years ago but the others hadn’t and the girls both said they had expected it to be larger. To which I had to add, “Not quite what it’s cracked-up to be, eh?” Next we took a tour of Independence Hall by a middle-aged male tour guide with a long pony tail who spoke loudly enough to be heard in Pittsburgh. Since I like history I found it quite interesting and can relate to how the colonists resented being taxed when they had no representation in Parliament. Of course, as one wag has put it, if they thought taxation without representation was bad, they should see how it is with it!

    For lunch we, of course, had to eat an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich. After about a ten-block walk we found a cheese steak place with free fries and ate there. In so doing Glenda was able to find (and have preserved pictorially on Facebook) the “perfect French fry.” I’m not totally clear on what qualifies a fry as perfect but they were quite good. When we finished, Rick and I walked back to where the car was parked so we could pick up the girls. On our way we spotted three people, two guys and one obviously a girl, walking down the street in Spiderman costumes. And, no, I have no explanation.

    One of the main reasons for the trip was that the Sight and Sound Theater in Strasburg, PA (this is the original; the one in Branson came along later) was doing a play based on the life of Joseph. No, not the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, although I like it very much, this was an original musical. We needed to be at the theater by 6:30 p.m. and would be staying in King of Prussia, PA (next to Valley Forge). We shopped (if you can call what I do shopping) at a huge mall there and the only one to buy anything was Rick (chef items). At 5 p.m. we needed to get dinner so we could head to Strasburg. Glenda spotted a fondue restaurant called The Melting Pot and thought it would be fun. Though none of us had eaten at a fondue restaurant, we all agreed and went in. (Note: When the four of us are together, whenever anyone can come up with an idea of what to do next it is immediately considered a good idea insofar as it is better than having no idea which is true of the other three.) Mind you, we’re all wearing jeans, and Rick and I are in baseball caps. Our first clue was when the hostess looked surprised and asked cautiously if we had reservations. Her next question was, “Where are you from?” After we told her another woman, presumably her boss, said sort of under her breath, “Um, let’s seat them at table 41.” We were led to a back area and handed menus. The first item was: Four Course Fondue for Two – $86.00. After we gulped, a lovely, friendly, helpful young waitress came and said, “So I hear you’re from Missouri.” Apparently the Hayseed Alert had already circulated throughout the establishment. We admitted that we had never eaten at a fondue restaurant before. “Have you eaten at a hibachi restaurant?” she asked. For some reason an image of those tiny Japanese charcoal grills came into my mind and Rick and I both said, “No.” Then, in classic hillbilly-hick style I said, “We do have a Japanese Steakhouse, though.” The waitress, sweet as she was, said nothing but just shook her head slightly and suppressed a grin. (Note: Ironically, we had eaten at the new Japanese steakhouse for lunch the day we left, and the menu had referred to the items we had ordered that day cooked in front of us as “from the hibachi grill.”) We told her we only had maybe 45 minutes before we had to get going so she went on to explain how things worked. Normally one orders not only cheese fondue but steak, shrimp, chicken or other items that are cooked at the table to accompany it. But in the interests of time, she suggested two cheese fondues with various breads, veggies, and even apples to dip into it. One was spinach and artichoke in Swiss and the other was a Mexican cheddar. She suggested also salads for us. She prepared the fondues at our table and we dug-in. It was delightful but when she came back by to see how we were doing Rick asked what about our salads. She politely notified us that they come afterward and somewhere back in the kitchen another Nerd-alert siren probably went off. The salads were great (I had no idea how good glazed pine nuts were) and she asked if we’d like chocolate-peanut-butter fondue for dessert. Glenda’s a chocoholic so it took no effort at all to decide we’d go for it; our waitress assured us she could get us on our way quickly. It really was excellent, with strawberries, bananas, cheesecake, marshmallows, brownies, and mini-krispy-treats to dip with. Though our waitress had done her best to help us feel at ease, I can’t help but wonder how hard everyone laughed when we left.

    We had taken our GPS with us who, having an Australian female voice we have dubbed Matilda, proved pretty valuable at various times. For whatever reason, she took us a rather circuitous route to the theater. When we were less than a mile from it we were still out in the middle of Amish farm country with no lights to be seen. Then suddenly, there was the theater and a long line of traffic. As is true of Noah at Branson, the theater and the play were spectacular. Rick had done an excellent job getting us tickets in an ideal location. I recall that Noah took considerably more liberties with the story than I was completely comfortable with (although I enjoyed it). They had a disclaimer at the beginning of Joseph that some of it was fictionalized but I actually thought the disclaimer unnecessary; it followed the Biblical narrative quite closely. Pleased with how well the trip had gone so far, we headed back to the hotel for a night’s sleep before our next adventure: New York City.

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