Mother Knows Best

As diagnoses go, “shingles” would not have been my first choice. But sometimes you don’t get to vote. I, personally, would have preferred “poison ivy” or “Pam’s using too much bleach.” But hey, what can you do?

Several years ago, after Dad got shingles, Mom urged all of us kids to get the shingles shot. She said we DEFINITELY didn’t want to ever get shingles. I checked with my doctor, and he advised waiting until I turned 60. I turn 60 in four months. So that bit of life-planning didn’t exactly work out.

The moral of the story is this. Children of the world: listen to your Mom.

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Two Success Stories

Renee (left) and Alicia.

Renee (left) and Alicia.

Alicia's baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Alicia’s baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Renee's baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Renee’s baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Yesterday, Pam and I attended the graduation of two women from Redemption House Ministries.These are always such joyous occasions, and I always find myself fighting back at least a few tears as their journeys are told.

Renee and Alicia came to Redemption House Ministries a day apart in January, and completed the six-month program with flying colors. It’s a huge accomplishment in their lives. Interestingly, my pastor, Kevin Whitacre baptized both of them a few weeks ago during Anchor Community Church’s annual baptismal service.

For Renee Russell, it was a case of third-time’s-a-charm. All three of Fort Wayne’s superior court judges have now sent Renee to Redemption House. She was one of the original residents when Redemption House started in 2012, but left after a few months. Two years later, she came back, but returned to prison after just a few days.

But this time, everything came together. Renee was ready. She quickly found a job in sales–pretty much created a job for herself, the way it was told–and keeps getting promoted. Throughout the six months, Renee’s story has been one of life transformation. There were a lot of tears this afternoon as we heard Renee’s story, and as Redemption House staff and residents testified to what they’ve seen occur in her life–not only during the past six months, but since 2012, when she was a totally different, very broken person.

Alicia Hart is just 21 years old, and has her eyes on entering college and becoming a dental hygienist. Staff members spoke about her age–how she has such potential, getting a handle on her life at such a young age, while others wander in their own wildernesses for decades. She’s moving in with her mother, who was there and struck me as a wonderful person. She said it was one of the best days of her life, sitting there and hearing people talk so glowingly about what has occurred in her daughter’s life. Choked me up, I tell you.

Paul talks about becoming a new creation in Christ. I give you Renee and Alicia.

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The Silliness Over Saying “Radical Islam”

I am SO tired of the phony fuss over saying “radical Islam.” It’s petty and silly.

Newflash: it’s a form of political correctness. Donald Trump brags about not being politically correct, and then insists that everyone say the words “radical Islam.” He’s blind to the hypocrisy.

So was every candidate during the Republican primary. Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and others said we’ll never defeat ISIS as long as the President won’t “name the enemy.” Really? Suppose President Obama DID use the term “radical Islam.” Would that make ISIS shrivel up and go away? What difference would it make?

As far as I can tell, the term was invented deep in the bowels of FoxNews. Producers decided, “Let’s insist that President Obama say ‘radical Islam,’ and if he doesn’t, we’ll puff out our chests and act very very outraged.” Of course, it’s been going on for years. Every conservative pundit promotes the term.

President Obama has explained that he doesn’t want to give ISIS the legitimacy of representing Islam–which is what they want. Instead, he calls them terrorists, thugs, killers, violent extremists, and such. And he kills a whole lot of them.

It’s like saying the KKK is “radical Christianity.” To me, the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has nothing to do with Christianity. The vast majority of the world’s Muslims feel the same way about identifying ISIS as part of Islam. ISIS, after all, has been slaughtering Sunni Muslims, who make up 90% of the world’s Muslims.

President Bush said, “Americans understand we fight not a religion. Ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil.”

That’s almost identical to President Obama’s approach. “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Another time: “The terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.”

And another time: “They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’ And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.” Donald Trump and other Republicans also want to propagate that notion. Don’t go along with it.

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Sentencing Reform: Tackling an Out of Control Issue

An issue important to me is sentencing reform, and candidates’ views will influence my vote. It’s been a big problem in America for decades, with a most definite racist and class component (white rich people tend to get breaks). We need to get a handle on it. The Brock Turner rape case has magnified the issue.

Here’s a interesting and insightful article about a black student athlete who committed a crime similar to Turner’s, but received a 15-25 year sentence.

At the end, the article takes a broad look at criminal sentencing. For instance: “Black men are given prison sentences 20% longer than white men for the exact same crimes.” And: “African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to have their cars searched by police than whites and are twice as likely to be arrested for drugs over whites — even though studies show whites use and sell drugs at the same or even higher rates than African-Americans.”

Sentencing reform has actually become somewhat of a bipartisan issue. The Koch Brothers, for instance, support it. I’ve not heard Hillary address the issue. I knew Scott Walker took a hard-line approach and opposed a Madison prosecutor who was getting some national attention by taking some common-sense approaches, but Walker dropped out early. I can’t see Trump taking anything but a “get tough on crime” stance in favor of harsh sentencing, but he could surprise me. As with most policy issues, I kinda doubt he’s given much thought to it.

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The Republican Party You Once Cherished is Gone

I think of the numerous Republican statesmen I admired in my earlier years: Howard Baker, Mark Hatfield, John Danforth, Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Richard Lugar, Alan Simpson, George HW Bush, Caspar Weinberger, George Schultz, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Jeane Kirkpatrick, George Romney, James Schlessinger, Elizabeth Dole, William Cohen, Brent Scowcroft.

Remember those folks? Quite a list, huh? Those were persons with class and dignity. Some were people of faith, some not.

I grew up Republican, and proudly wore that label. I even canvassed for Dan Quayle when he first ran for Congress in 1976. But I stopped calling myself a Republican about 15 years ago, when I saw the party veering in directions which, as a Christian, I couldn’t endorse (the embrace of torture was the final straw). And now the Republican Party–the “Christian” party according to so many people–has chosen a man whose character is antithetical to every Christlike characteristic. Is there anything Trump values that Jesus would value?

It’s a different Republican Party. Yet a great many Christians I know (since I’ve spent my life among conservative evangelicals) remain committed to Republican politics, refusing to accept that the party they grew up with no longer exists.

I don’t write this as an endorsement of any Democratic candidate. By no means. But I do wish people of faith would disentangle themselves from allegiance to political parties. None of them represent Christianity. We need to be a separate, called-apart people within a secular society. We are explicitly told to not conform to the patterns of this world, and political parties are one such pattern, in no way created by God.

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President Obama at Hiroshima

Tonight, conservative pundits will criticize President Obama’s speech at Hiroshima. They will say, as they always say, that he is “apologizing for America.” They will isolate specific words, phrases, and sentences as proof of something unAmerican.

So before you tune in to the 24/7 naysayers–Hannity, the Five, Rush, et al–read the full text of his speech. You can find it many places. This link is from the New York Times.

The speech isn’t so much about Hiroshima as it is about war itself, and WW2 in particular. He makes no apologies for America dropping the bomb; doesn’t even raise questions about it. The overwhelming consensus of history is that, despite the incredible devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those bombs undoubtedly spared far more destruction and death.

I find it amazing that, 71 years later, with many other countries now in possession of nuclear weapons, no other nuclear weapons have been used in anger. Pretty incredible, when you think about it. And it’s also incredible that, all things considered, we have such a close friendship with both Japan and Germany. That our peoples moved beyond the horrors of WW2.

The President concluded, “The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child.”

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200 Black Lizards

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I finished my 200th book in the “Black Lizard” imprint from Vintage Books. It was Dashiell Hammett’s “Nightmare Town,” a collection of short stories. It’s fitting, since the first Black Lizard book I read was Hammett’s “Red Harvest,” starring the semi-anonymous Continental Operative.

The Black Lizard imprint has gobs of great authors–mystery masters–going back to the early 1900s. I’ve now read all of Hammett’s books, all 9 Raymond Chandler books (starring the great Philip Marlowe), 9 Gregory McDonald books (the Fletch and Flynn series), 12 Ross MacDonald books (with Lew Archer), 15 Henning Mankell books (including the entire Kurt Wallander series), plus a number of books by old-time writers David Goodis, Jim Thompson, James Cain, Harry Whittington, Charles Willeford, Dan Marlowe, Patricia Highsmith, and Eric Ambler.

But Black Lizard also has many superb writers–like Don Winslow, Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap & Leonard series), Jeff Lindsey (Dexter), Joe Nesbo (Harry Hole), Steig Larsen (the Dragon Tattoo trilogy), Hakan Nesser, Andrew Vachss (Burke), and more.

I’ve got a shelf filled with Black Lizard books I haven’t read yet. Seldom am I disappointed, especially with the older masters.

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Meniere’s Shunt Surgery: Six Year Update

April 16, 2010, is when I had the endolymphatic shunt surgery for my Meniere’s disease, which had been tormenting me since around 2004.

Another year has gone by without an attack of any kind–no nystagmus, no vomiting. I definitely have my life back.

A couple weeks ago, I did have a very minor episode, which I can’t really explain. I woke up feeling a bit off, kind of like I used to feel constantly before the surgery. I felt like I was heading toward vomiting, with some minor dizziness and other symptoms. I endured it through the morning at work, but it wasn’t getting any better. So I headed home, fed the cats, and went to bed. That took care of it. No repeat.

Usually there’s a trigger–caffeine, sodium stress, alcohol. I don’t drink alcohol, and none of the others seemed like an issue. So I’m puzzled. However, it was minor, and it went away and hasn’t come back.

That’s the worst I experienced during the whole past year. For those of you who suffer from Meniere’s–you wish you could be so lucky.

As I say every year, I highly recommend the shunt surgery. It’s the least invasive remedy and has the highest success rate.

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Arlington

While working out at Planet Fitness tonight, I listened to my “Story Songs” playlist. Mostly country, with the occasional pop hit. We’re talkin’ “Night Chicago Died,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Something in Red,” “Online,” “She Couldn’t Change Me,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Austin”–37 songs, total.

But the one that always gets me is “Arlington,” by Trace Adkins. Particularly that line where his grandfather, also buried at Arlington, greets him:

It gave me a chill,
When he clicked his heels,
And saluted me.

As I sat there at the weight machine, it gave ME a chill.

That’s what happens when great subject matter meets great writing.

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The Parker Series by Richard Stark

flashfireBetween 1963 and 1974, Donald Westlake wrote 16 “Parker” books under the pen name “Richard Stark.” If you saw the movie “Payback,” with Mel Gibson–well, that was basically the first book in the series. It’s really an incredibly fun series about a tough-guy thief. Each book involves a big heist of some kind.

After 23 years, Westlake resumed the series in 1997. He wrote 8 more Parker books before he died in 2008. Westlake had a little extra fun with these books. The titles of the first five were compound words, and each title used one word from the previous book: Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire, Firebreak, Breakout. I guess he tired of that after five books, and went back to titles with no particular pattern.

Something else he did in those latter 8 books: the opening lines all begin with “When.” I just finished “Flashfire,” which had the best opening:

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.” (Flashfire)

Here are a couple other opening lines:

“When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.” (Backflash)

“When he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, ‘Deal me out a hand,’ and got to his feet.” (Nobody Runs Forever)

“When the helicopter swept northward and lifted out of sight over the top of the hill, Parker stepped away from the tree he’d waited beside and continued his climb.” (Ask the Parrot)

There are 24 books in the Parker series; I’ve now read 20 of them. I love these books, and can see myself reading them again.

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