Author Archives: Steve

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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Creating Donald Trump

There has been much hand-wringing among conservatives about Donald Trump possibly getting the nomination. I’m a communications guy, a media watcher, so I probably tend to give media influence too much credit. However, it seems to me that FoxNews and conservative radio (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the mini-Limbaugh radio hosts inhabiting nearly every media market) deserve some credit. They didn’t create Donald Trump. But they did create his fan base. And much of Ted Cruz’s fan base, for that matter.

For 20 years, conservative media has been drilling in the same messages:

  • Government is bad.
  • Politicians can’t be trusted.
  • America is going downhill.
  • We need to take our country back.

Of the people I know who listen almost entirely to conservative media, most echo these same themes–government is bad, politicians are untrustworthy, America is collapsing, we need to retake our country. Since Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both vigorously proclaim these messages, is it any wonder that so many people are flocking around them?

FoxNews is coming to terms with Trump, but for a while seemed almost in panic mode. But I’d tell them, “Congratulations on your success. This is what you’ve been teaching people to believe for 20 years.”

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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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Selective Outrage, and Which Lives Really Matter

Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for not canceling his Latin America trip after the Brussels attack. Apparently he was supposed to go back to Washington, issue a sober statement condemning Islamic terrorism, then sit in the Oval Office wringing his hands. All of the presidential candidates, of course, canceled their itineraries upon learning of the attacks.

About 32 people were killed in Brussels.

Earlier in 2016, terrorist attacks killed 60 in Libya, 32 in Cameroon, 63 in Somalia, 30 in Burkina Faso, 55 in Iraq, 86 in Nigeria, 60 in Nigeria, 28 in Turkey, 24 in Cameroon, 80 in Iraq, 32 in Somalia, 62 in Iraq, 48 in Tunisia, 22 in Ivory Coast, 38 in Turkey, and 18 in Egypt.

Where was the outrage from Republicans over these attacks? Why weren’t they demanding that Obama cancel his schedule after these attacks? Don’t all lives matter?

We shouldn’t care only when terrorists kill people in a white Christian European country. That would be the R word.

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Day One of a Cruz Administration

I’m amused by how many things Ted Cruz says he’s going to do on his first day as President. It will be a very busy  day. Last I checked, he’s going to repeal every word of Obamacare, rescind all “illegal” executive actions by President Obama, kill the Iran agreement, authorize the Keystone Pipeline, end Common Core, restore sanctions on Iran and Cuba, abolish the IRS, cure the common cold, bring everlasting peace in the Middle East, end Daylight Savings Time, remove every liberal judge, make cable companies stop jerking people around, sew a copy of the Constitution into every shirt pocket, eradicate the comic sans font, end class basketball in Indiana, criminalize saying “Happy Holidays,” and retire Flo the Progressive Girl. I don’t know what he plans to do during the rest of his presidency.

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Fresh Spiritual Insights from an Atheist

Alain de Botton, an atheist, wrote a most fascinating book called “Religion for Atheists.” The person who recommended it to me said it would strengthen my faith, and he was right. Botton examines religious practices and teachings—not to debunk them, but to applaud how they meet actual human needs. It’s fascinating to read a committed atheist faithfully unpack a Scriptural story, looking for positive elements that atheists can learn from. In so doing, Botton is giving me totally fresh insights into my faith.

Take, for instance, his chapter on education (which presents strong arguments for attending a Christian college, as opposed to a secular universities which “rarely consent to ask, let alone answer the most serious questions of the soul”). He says Western intellectuals, suspicious of eloquence, apparently assume transformative ideas can be taught by stating them once or twice “via a lecturer standing in a bare room speaking in a monotone.” Likewise, we watch a movie or read a book which prompts us to reexamine our existence. But, “Three months after we finish reading a masterpiece, we may struggle to remember a single scene or phrase from it.

Christians, however, recognize the importance of regularly revisiting important themes. The Christian calendar is filled with annual reminders—Lent, Ash Wednesday, Epiphany, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Sunday, and more. Christians memorize key Scripture, regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed, follow a lectionary, hear multiple sermons on the same Bible stories, follow a Common Book of Prayer, use Sunday school curriculum which repeats important themes every few years, etc. We drill in what’s important.

Botton writes, “There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Chekhov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights….At best, we haphazardly underline a few of the sentences that we most admire in them and which we may once in a while chance upon in an idle moment waiting for a taxi.”

So when you think, “Oh great, yet another sermon on prayer/forgiveness/servanthood/the Beatitudes/whatever,” recognize that we repeat these themes because they are important.

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