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Rants ¦ Table of Contents

Michael & Me

Good Friday

An Open Letter to Senator Arlen Specter

Veteran's Day 2008

Dear Myron

I Just Had to Laugh

Maybe They Meant Concen TRIC

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Farmers

On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs ¦ Dave Grossman

Dave Alway

Thank You

Boobs

War Thoughts 04-27-2003

War Thoughts 03-21-2003

My Excuse for Making Music

HR

Introduction

This is simply a collection of short essays that I've written over the years that have only two things in common: They're all written in English and they're all written by the same author. There are some attempts at humor, some efforts to discover insight into the Human Condition, some essays into the realms of politics and philosophy. I make no claims to the quality of these pieces except to say, as far as I can tell, they're grammatically correct.

If you have an e-mail correspondent who mangles our native tongue or if you've read any spam recently, perhaps you'll appreciate these pieces for that quality alone.

(From time to time, I'll probably include the occasional editorial, essay or rant from another author that says something I believe in better than I can say it. I'm usually able to speak for myself pretty well, but when I see something that moves me, it's going to wind up here.)

What follows below, then, for the most part are my own ideas in my own words. The people hosting my web pages aren't responsible for them. The ISP I pay for Internet access isn't responsible for them. The telephone company who provides the equipment to connect me to the ISP who connects me to the people who are hosting this page aren't responsible for them. Me? I'm responsible. If you can't take a joke, deal. If you don't like my views, deal. If you want to rant in my face, send me some mail. If it's worth putting up here, I will. If it's not, I'll delete it along with the rest of the day's spam.

So Who Is Pete Grubbs Anyway?

I'm not sure how many biographies I have floating around on the Web at this point in my life. Because of my involvement in the Science Fiction community, I've had at least three or four different things appear on the Web and in various convention programs and material. Most of these are focused on my background as a musician. I don't have any problem with that; I've spent a considerable percentage of my life pursuing music, with varying degrees of failure, and I definitely identify myself as musician.

The problem is, I've spent the rest of my life doing other, sometimes very different, things and those things are also very important to me.

With that in mind, I decided to sit down and write this brief account of the rest of my life.

So, where to begin. . .

I was born in rural Western Pennsylvania on August 8, 1958. My parents, Tom and Flossie Grubbs, are still alive and still living in the house they had when they brought me home from the hospital. My parents are two of the most amazing people I've ever known. They began their lives together with a car and less than five dollars in my dad's pocket. Mom had a job in town, sewing gloves at the local glove factory; Dad spent a lot of those early years hunting and fishing. (Yeah, he had it pretty rough.) They lived with my paternal grandparents for that first year of wedded life and then bought the little house in the woods where I grew up. Over the years, they went from having practically nothing to owning a middling large dairy farm and helping out all of their kids and most of their grandkids and even a couple of the great-grandkids and they did it without Welfare, social programs, college educations or any great amount of help from anyone around them. They worked hard, saved their pennies and did without until they could afford what they wanted. They also kept their marriage together through good times and total disasters (which include losing a daughter and their dairy operation). Everything I am is rooted in the lessons I learned from them.

Exactly what am I? Gee, that's no easy question to answer. I started performing as a singer when I was six years old, standing up in front of Miss Hawk's first grade class to sing something, I have no idea what, because Miss Hawk was one of those old-time teachers who thought it was great to gather up any of her kids who could carry a tune, teach them all a song, sing it to the rest of her class and then troop the whole kittenkaboodle down the hall to all of the other classrooms on the floor, entertaining the rest of the inmates in the building. So, I got my start as a singer. I also sang in chruch, usually for the Christmas program. My parents sang every day. At a time when we didn't have a working radio or record player in the house, or in the car, my parents filled the void with their voices, Mom often singing an Alto harmony to Dad's Baritone leads. Dad also played guitar. I think he may have known a half dozen chords and a couple dozen songs. He liked to play harmonica, too, and had both a button accordian and a piano accordian that he would occasionally scrape out a tune on, sometimes a polka. My parents both love polkas.

That doesn't make them bad people, just sadly warped. . . twisted. . . misguided. . . ::sigh::

Yeah, I grew up with music the way most kids grow up with siblings

But this bio isn't about music.

Like most of my father's family, I rapidly became addicted to the written word as soon as I figured out what it was. I remember coming home from my first day at school, literally my very first day in First Grade, totally disappointed because they hadn't taught me to read that day . I had to wait for weeks. Once I got started, though, I was pretty much insatiable. I remember reading every printed word on every envelope and postcard that showed up in our mailbox. Thanks to our location, I was usually the one who got the mail and the walk from the mailbox home was long enough to give me lots of time to read. It worked out like this:

My school was about 7 miles from our house, so I had to ride a bus. However, the big yellow buses didn't travel on our back road, so the kids living in my area had to ride in a Jeep Wagoneer to an intersection with the main road where we piled out of it to run like heck across the road and climb into the big yellow bus for the rest of the ride to the school. To make my situation even more complicated, the Jeep didn't come down to our house, but stopped at our farm, which was (and still is) a half mile away, so that's where I got on the bus in the morning and left it in the afternoon. Just down over the hill from the barn, where the bus driver would drop me off, was an intersection between Moore Bridge Road (our road) and what would later be called Greely Road, a dirt road that winds in a four or five mile loop around to the main road, PA Route 36. At this intersection stood our mail box (the rural mail carriers had no other stops further east and wouldn't drive the additional mile to deliver my parents' mail to our house). As often as not, I would have the driver of the Wagoneer (Vance or Dorothy Steele), drop me off at the mailbox. I would empty the box and walk the rest of the way home, poring over each piece of mail as though it were a gift to open on Christmas Morning.

I think Mom realized early on that I was heading in a bad direction.

That interest in reading eventually manifested itself as a major in English Literature at a nearby state-run school, Clarion State College, which progressed into an MA in Lit at the University of Akron and finally sputtered out a little past mid-way in my doctoral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. During my academic sojourn, I spent time as a student at Penn State and Case Western Reserve. I also picked up a BA in History (another marker that identifies me as irrevocably belonging to my father's gene pool), a Minor in Tech Theater (with credits in acting, oral interpretation and some stage experience at the college/semi-pro level), taught as a part-timer for Penn State, DuBois campus and the University of Phoenix and did a stint as a writer/editor/Senior Editor for a now-defunct online magazine, OS/2 e-Zine, that at one time claimed an international readership and about 1 million discrete hits/month.

But, really, I'm a farmer.

No, I'm not kidding. I started drawing a paycheck on my parents' dairy farm when I was 14. I worked for them all the years I was in college, during both marriages and right up until we lost the dairy operation in a fire. (In fact, I was in the barn as it was burning down around me. In fact, I guess I'm the one who caused the fire, but maybe we can skip that for now.) When I decided to buy the acerage I now call my own (well, mine and the mortgage company's), my parents helped me get the loan to buy my farm and I use a combination of their equipment and my own to work both properties. So, when all is said and done, I'm a farmer. . . with an advanced degree in English Literature. . . and credits onstage as an actor/musician. . . and 30 years experience as a professional singer/songwriter. . . and some experience as a writer/editor. . . and some work as a session musician with a little background as a recording engineer and sound reinforcement guy. . . oh, yeah, and then there was the time I spent as a disc jockey in college and for two local radio stations. . .

Is it any wonder I get a little confused sometimes? I don't know which hat I'm supposed to wear on any given day.

I can say that my exhaustive and exhausting background has given me a great sense of personal self-worth. Yup, put all my professional experience, training, academic preparation and good looks on the table with a buck and a half, and I can get a cup of coffee damn near anywhere in town.

Ain't Life GREAT ?

HR

Michael & Me 06-29-09

Thousands of music lovers, musicians, dancers, pundits and bar flies around the world were shocked late last week when Michael Jackson was reported dead. All over the web, on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networks, tributes flooded cyberspace, swamping servers and drowning out the other, perhaps more important, news of the day. As a musician, I thought it correct to set aside a few moments to put down the impact that MJ's music has had upon my own, so here it goes:

    Michael Jackson's Influence on My Music: zip, zilch, zero, nada, nothing.

I'm sure that comes as a shock to both of my many fans, but there it is. Michael is in good company, seemingly. I find in my music no influences from Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll nor Frank Yankovic, the Polka King. I guess you could say that royalty does not impress me.

Perhaps you think I'm ridiculing Michael, but, sadly, he did a far more complete job of caricaturing himself than any poor attempt of mine could. No, I come not to demean nor to praise the King of Pop but to simply ponder the connections I have found between Michael and myself.

We were both born in the United States, in the year 1958. We were both born on a Friday in the month of August, myself upon the 8th--Michael on the 29th. We both came from less than wealthy backgrounds. We both had early experiences as performing musicians and both discovered a deep, abiding obsession with music. We've both written songs and spent more than a few hours hard at work in recording studios. Again, like Michael, my personal life has never been smooth, has contained its share of betrayals, betrayers and cheats and the occasional need to retain a lawyer or have a conversation with someone carrying a badge.

And at that point, the comparisons pretty much come to a spluttering halt. I never had a hit record, have yet to perform in front of thousands of screaming fans, have yet to make my first million (or my first hundred thousand, or my first ten thousand, or my, well, you get the idea). I do not count among my friends and acquaintances very rich and powerful people in the music business (like Barry Gordy or Sir Paul); I have never owned my own amusement park (although I do have a petting zoo, of sorts, if you count our dog Patch and the cattle here on the farm).

I've also never had the sort of controversies swirl around me that plagued Michael for the latter half of his career. I've never lost several fortunes, although I may have occasionally failed to live within my means. My recreational drugs of choice are limited to hand-rolled cigars, hot, sweet tea and/or Coca-Cola, but I generally keep myself to one cigar per diem, although I have been known to throw caution completely to the winds and smoke a second if the occasion warranted it. I suppose I can sum up by saying that, while I haven't been on the mountain tops that Michael has reached, neither have I plunged helplessly through the valleys that darkened his soul and it is this point that made me want to write.

I didn't, and don't, and probably never will, enjoy Michael Jackson's music. I remember being massively impressed when I first watched the video for Thriller and I actually enjoyed the movie within the song and the great voiceover that Vincent Price contributed. (I've always thought the single most brilliant thing about that video was his inclusion in it.) That one effort worked for me, but, on the whole, the sound that was Michael Jackson was far more likely to move my hand toward the TV remote and a different channel than it was to stir anything deep within my soul. (Don't take that as a condemnation of dance music in general or hip hop/rap in particular--I'm not deeply moved by correct etiquette, the color yellow, the taste of saurkraut or pancakes, but they only bother me when I'm forced to accept them into my world. Similarly, polkas do move me--usually out the door of my parents' house as quickly as my feet will take me.) When I first discovered that Michael and I were the same age, I could not help noticing the differences in our music and our levels of success and, frankly, I was a bit envious. It is one thing to see the success of someone who creates music that you enjoy and admire, but quite another thing to see the overwhelming success of someone who creates something that you just don't like. I did not begrudge Michael his fortune, but I could not help wishing that I had a bit more of my own. I could have lived very well and comfortably on the money he threw away. I was, obviously, way behind the Man with the Glove and that sense of failure was very real to me.

Now, however, I see this response of mine in an entirely different light and I consider myself far more the fortunate of the two. I'm still here at the table, playing another hand; Michael has cashed in his chips and left the game forever, much sooner than he wanted to, I'll wager. In this crazy, twisted up world, the short, fat, unknown singer/songwriter who can't afford to buy a car and has to scramble to pay his utility bills has the one thing that the rich superstar doesn't: the chance to live--to greet another day, write another song, embrace his son and bless the evening's promise of rest.

Perhaps Michael's success was the very thing that killed him and my failure the very thing that's kept me alive. If that truly is the case, why do we call it 'success?'

Good Friday 04-10-2009

For a moment, let's ponder the imponderable:

What if there were a God, a creator-being like the one in the Christian Bible's Old Testament, who brought all of existence into existence out of Nothing? What if we puny, ineffectual human beings were also made by His hand and shaped, in some unfathomable way, in His own image? What if we could understand the mind of that God, gain some insight into it, simply by looking deeply at . . . ourselves?

Grant, for a moment, that these 'what ifs' are true and then consider this holy day on the Christian calendar, this Good Friday. In the context of most Christian theology, we can say that its main significance is the creation of a vehicle of reconciliation between God and Man. It was for this purpose that Christ was born. His life was charted and he carefully steered it to bring him to this destination, and no other, even though confronting that destiny filled him with anguish so palpable that he sweated blood as he prayed for his Father's will in Gethsemane. We have innumerable depictions of his human suffering at the hands of his Roman tormentors and executioners that range in age and media from the stylized detachment found in paintings of the Middle Ages to the gory realism of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ . Who among us cannot find experiences in our lives that give us some small, direct insight into that fear, pain and heartache? Although the depth of Christ's commitment, his willingness to suffer for all of humanity, may be difficult for us to plumb, we can certainly understand the sensations of dread, the heartbreak of betrayal, the sting of the lash and the agony of the cross, if but distantly.

These, however, were not the deepest hurts that he suffered for our sake.

Have you ever known love? Have you ever felt a closeness, a kinship, an attachment to someone? Have you ever felt such a connection to another that the lines delineating your existence seemed to blur, to feather out, to merge in some indescribable way so that it became difficult for you know where your own existence ended and that other existence began? A mother and her newborn baby, young lovers who have known their passion for one another alone, spouses who have traveled through Life for 30 or 40 or 50 years, twin siblings know this. Now imagine how it feels to suddenly lose that connection, to turn to speak to or touch that other only to find empty space. Can you feel the shock, the hurt, the sense of loss so complete that your very being reels, staggers as though the Earth had flung you off into space?

Consider, then, a triune being whose existence is split between three different consciousnesses, each at once an individual but also an equal part of the other. Consider that triune creator whose very nature is equal parts of justice and mercy, stern discipline and gentle compassion. He sees his creation, wilfully lost and wandering, and longs to bring it back to Himself. He cannot overlook its Evil, will not accept it but still loves the work of His hands for what it was and what it could become. The gulf between His lost creatures and Himself is vast, far too extreme for those frail creatures to cross. The price for this reconciliation is too great for them to pay, but not for Him.

One part of Him takes on human form, walks the world among those same human beings, shares their water and their bread, teaches, heals, upbraids, consoles, disciplines and weeps with them. Then, while suffering a physical agony that they can witness and comprehend, he also suffers a hidden hurt that dwarfs all of the pain of blows, whips, thorns or nails, reducing them to little more than an inconvenience: He accepts upon his own innocent head all of the Evil that they have already, or ever will, perform. At that moment, those other parts of the triune being who will not accept or look upon Evil, turned away. At that moment, God the Father, His own heart broken, shattered, the loss of His only son cutting him sharper, deeper than any whiplash, broke a union that existed before Time was Time. At that moment, Jesus Christ cried out, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' and a darkness deeper than any grave fell upon his heart.

And so he died.

And so he opened the Way for all of us to return to Him.

Who am I, that he should do this for me?


An Open Letter to Senator Arlen Specter

Dear Senator Specter--
In deference to your busy schedule, I shall be brief: I am writing to you today to express my deep and abiding outrage at the travesty that some of your colleagues are making of our government & our constitution. In spite of the thousands of citizens who urged the Congress to stay out of AIG's business, despite the fact that providing bailouts for many of these companies was foolish in the extreme, our elected representatives insisted on going against the will of the people and, essentially, squandered millions of taxpayer dollars. Now that the depth of this folly is becoming apparent, elements of the Congress and the Administration are prepared to rape their own citizens and defile the Constitution by targeting legislation to punish innocent Americans by imposing a punitive tax on them. This, sir, is a stench that rises to high Heaven and beyond.

While I may personally deplore many of the attitudes and the obvious lack of ethics of many in the business sector, to bring the full weight of our Federal Government to bear upon a small group of individuals who have committed no crime, is to betray the very moral and ethical ground these self-righteous hypocrites claim to stand upon. To use the power of the IRS as a means of punishment is to bring us back to a situation very similar to the one which caused our initial revolt against our English king. Rest assured, Mr. Specter, that our national character has not become so decadent that we shall stand idle while this happens. This is an attack by our government against OUR OWN PEOPLE. It is an action that cannot be borne.

I implore you, sir, as an elected representative of our Commonwealth, sworn to protect and uphold our Constitution and to protect ALL of our citizens, as a just and fair-minded human being, as a citizen of this wonderful country, as my neighbor, bend every effort, use every just, reasonable and ethical means at your disposal to expose this assault for what it is. Stand firm against it.

Mr. Specter, these are, indeed, dark times, but now we stand upon the brink of a disaster that could well destroy this greatest of all experiments in human freedom and human dignity. Please, sir, I beg you: Do not let this happen.

I remain, sincerely,
your neighbor at home,
Pete Grubbs


Veteran's Day 11-11-2008

It seems ironic to me that one week ago today, we elected a man whose words seem to support our troops but whose actions do anything but.

Bearing that in mind, I wanted to post something today in honor of all our service men and women, those who have served in the past, as well as those who are wearing our country's uniform today. What follows below are not my words, but they are definitely my thoughts—

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus [or the community] organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

— Father Dennis Edward O'Brian, USMC

I have only two things to add: If you love your country, if you cherish your freedom, if you appreciate the opportunity you had one week ago to let your voice and your choice be known, thank a veteran; and to the Marines, who are celebrating their 210th birthday from the Corps' establishment by President John Adams, Happy Birthday!

Semper Fi


Dear Myron 10-19-2008

Dear Myron,

Well, we've got a bye this week and I thought I'd use the time to write you. The team's having an up-and-down season so far, but we're playing the Bungles next week (they're really lousy this year!), and I'm thinking we should blow them out. Carson Palmer's still on IR, so I'm betting that our D has a big game. Ben is starting to get his form back and is improving, but I still think we're coaching him wrong. I mean, he's a scrambling quarterback, for crying out loud. He's the most accurate passer in the NFL after he's been hit. Quit trying to make him stand in the pocket forever and let him loose. Put him out on a naked bootleg, give him some options, run some draw plays with him. Heck, he took more sacks last year than anyone else in the league except Jon Kitna, and he's still getting hit way too much because we don't have the ability on the line to protect him. Let's use his mobility and take some chances. I'll bet he doesn't get hit any more than he is already and at least we'll have a better chance to gain some positive yardage. What do you think?

Y'know, it's been hard to listen to the games without you. Tunch and Billy do a good job and Wolf has the best football/food analogies of anyone in the league (am I wrong in thinking they're the only football/food analogies?), but it's just not the same. Without the occasional 'okle dokle' or 'yoy and double yoy!' or the mile-a-minute chatter, even the wins are a bit flat. I guess what I'm saying is, I miss you, Myron.

It seems odd to me, when I think about it, that I'd feel this way. I'll bet we were never closer than 20 or 30 miles. We never met and, considering our very different lives, we never would, but somehow, listening to the games with you each week, it seemed like we had not only met but had become friends, comrades in that most honorable of endeavors, The Steeler Nation. I remember listening to Ellis Canon the night that you retired. I hadn't tuned in for the very beginning of the show and I thought he was announcing your death. I was about frantic until a caller got through and pointed out to Ellis that he really needed to let his listeners know that you had just stepped down. I can't tell you how relieved I was, for a moment at least. Then I realized that I wouldn't be hearing your nasily, horrid voice on gameday, and I was pretty bummed. But at least you'd still be in da Burgh and that was a real comfort.

I always thought the team should've dedicated their Super Bowl XL win to you. Of everyone who had been a part of the organization all these years, through thick and thin, I thought you deserved that.

You're gone now, of course, and that thought sometimes sits in my gut like my ex-wife's cooking. My youngest son, who is now a football player and has dreams of wearing the Black and Gold, bought me a Terrible Towel last year for Christmas. The day I heard of your death, I hung it in my bedroom window as a rememberance.

I started reading about you. I didn't know that you were a sports writer (and a damn well-respected one at that) before you sat behind a microphone. I didn't know that you invented the Terrible Towel, or that your idea wasn't universally embraced at first (remember Andy Russel's comments? Boy, I wonder how many servings of crow he's had since that conversation!). I didn't know that you had an autistic son or that you gave the licensing rights for the Terrible Towel to the autistic school that your son attended. When I found that out, I was awfully proud that Steeler Nation had someone like you as one of our most illustrious members. The more I learned about you, Myron, the more I realized how little I ever knew or ever would know and the more I regretted never having a chance to break bread with you.

I guess it's always the same when you lose a friend, even if that friend only comes into your house on the radio or the TV. When it comes right down to it, we human beings really touch each other through our language, through our thoughts communicated in writing or speech, and it doesn't really matter much if we're ever in one another's physical presence if our ideas are shared. Sure, sitting up all night together talking and arguing and laughing is a lot more rewarding that reading a letter, e-mail or instant message, but the basic task of communication is still the same: we're sharing ourselves through our language. We may lose some of the nuances of speech and expression when that communication is in text, but there's a chance to re-read those texts, to savor and analyze them later, that speech loses, so maybe it balances out.

But I never got to tell you that I thought of you as a friend, Myron. I never wrote to you when I could have to thank you for being yourself, for representing all that is the best about our team, our region, hell, our country. I never told you that I cherished your idiosyncracies, your wit, your temper and passion and, above all, your integrity, and I'm sorry that I let that pass without a word. So I'm posting this in your memory and I hope that other citizens of Steeler Nation may read it and join me in raising a glass to you and all that you stood for.

If anyone ever deserved a 'triple yoy!', Myron, it's you.


I Just Had To Laugh 11-15-2007

Warren Buffet's got too much money.

That's not my opinion; that's his. Yesterday, while testifying in front of the Senate Finance Committee, Buffett is reported to have made this remark: '"I think we need to . . . take a little more out of the hides of guys like me," Buffett told the panel.'

This is one of the funniest, stupidest things I think I've ever heard. Warren Buffett was smart enough to amass wealth beyond my wildest dreams, but he needs the Federal government's help disposing of it so that his heirs won't be filthy rich like he is. (If I weren't trying to keep this blog a G-rated enterprise, I'd quote an old former Marine/college chum of mine. As it is, I'll just let you imagine the phrase that's running through my head.) Honestly, Mr. Buffett wants the same government that's given us decades of labyrinthine tax code, waste and corruption (courtesy of one of my neighbors, Rep. John Murtha, among many others) to help him out with all this excess money he has lying around, cluttering up his den and family room. Since it's been my experience that the government generally makes more of a mess of things than otherwise, those of us with somewhat more modest financial resources should thank our lucky stars that we don't have this problem. One of my main goals in life is to keep as much of the money I honestly earn in my own pockets and away from a government that's never actually earned a dollar in over two centuries of its existence. I'm certainly not about to encourage that same government to help itself to any additional chunks of my money.

Now I'm far from being a genius; even further from being a financial genius, but in the interest of helping out my fellow man, I do have a simple, two-step program for Warren Buffett that I'll pass along right here. If he follows it, I can guarantee that he'll reduce his fortune with no need for help from the Federal government or anyone else.

First, Mr. Buffett should set aside the minimum that he requires to continue taking care of his own needs in a modest manner. Since he is a multi-BILLIONAIRE, perhaps he could scale back his lifestyle to, oh, 1 million dollars per year. That might feel pretty tight to Mr. Buffett, but I'm sure that I could scrape by on that amount, so I'd be willing to bet that he can, too. The remaining billions are now free to be put to work.

Second, Mr. Buffet should develop a list of impoverished villages around the world and their needs. I'm sure there are many small communities who could use things like a communal well, electricity, plumbing, farming equipment, a hospital, medical supplies, medical training for village members, shoes, tooth brushes, stoves, blankets, cots, beds, building materials and tools, and so on. Mr. Buffett could then adopt one or more of these villages. He could come to know the people there, to understand their needs and help them build an infrastructure that would allow them to sustain themselves. With his genius for making money, perhaps he could help these people discover and exploit the resources and skills they have at hand in a more efficient way so that they can become independent of anyone's charity. If he finds that he has any money left over, he could move on to another village and repeat the process. As he develops this program, he might employ people both here and abroad to implement it, which would not only get rid of more of those pesky billions of dollars that trouble him so, but would offer someone else a chance to do a little amassing. I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that he'll run out of money long before he runs out of villages, but imagine the good that he could do in the meantime.

This requires, of course, a lot of additional effort on Mr. Buffett's part. It would be much easier to cede control of his billions to the government and abdicate his responsibility for them. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that this responsibility is his. Sloughing it off on the government is not only a waste, but an irresponsible act of sloth; or is it cowardice? Perhaps Mr. Buffett doesn't want to be responsible for the effects, both good and bad, that his billions have. Too bad. Mr. Buffett, it's your money. You and you alone have the obligation to spend it wisely.

Don't you think it's time to get to work?


Maybe They Meant ConcenTRIC 6-21-2007

Remember about 10 or 20 years ago, we were all worried about global cooling ? Remember how we were looking at another Ice Age and all the attendant horrors? Now, of course, we're going to see the end of the world, as narrated by Al 'I Invented the Internet' Gore, whose Oscar-winning movie includes neat animation that shows how we're going to die and is backed up by a consensus of scientists.

No one has any doubts about global warming. None. After all, how could the man who invented the Internet get something like that wrong.

Well, gee, I guess he did. Here's an article by Lawrence Solomon in the Financial Post which makes it pretty clear that there's still a lively debate on the topic of global warming and the sub-topic of man's responsibility for same, a debate carried on by some of the world's top scientists, a debate that's far from concluded.

This isn't the first time I've heard that, gasp! global warming claims might be a tad inflated. The head of NASA made mention of that this past week. President Vaclav Klaus, the head of the Czech government called the political ramifications another form of Communisim, e.g., a means of redistributing wealth, but seemed unconcerned about polar bears drowning in melting Arctic seas. There have been other voices, too, including R. Timothy Patterson, who notes that climate change on Earth, as in cooling and warming has been going on for millions of years and is driven more by the sunspot cycle than anything human beings can do.

I suppose I should try to follow Mr. Gore's example and reduce my carbon footprint by creating a business which makes a profit from carbon credits, but, unfortunately, I'm a bit short of ready capital for that kind of thing right now. Instead, I'll reduce my footprint by wearing a size smaller shoe.

And if you believe that one, you probably also believe that Al Gore really DID invent the internet.

[Since I posted this, even more information has been published that further erodes the Global Warming claims of Big Al 'I Won an Oscar so I'm an Expert' Gore. This article,by James M. Taylor in the Chicago Sun Times has an excellent summary of science mistakes found in Al's An Inconvenient Truth . It's truly breathtaking. Glenn Beck's An Inconvenient Book also shoots some truck-sized holes in the Global Warming hype, too.]


Everything You Wanted to Know About Farmers (But Were Afraid to Ask) 2-14-2007

When I'm not doing music, I farm. Sometimes I farm while I'm doing music. Sometimes I farm while I'm doing music and eating. Sometimes I farm while I'm doing music, eating and taking a nap.

This is how we wreck tractors.

I decided to create a quick primer for people who don't know anything about farmers. I wrote it for one particular City Girl, but anyone from any city should benefit from reading it.

A City Girl's Primer on Farming

Farmers do not take vacations. They do not travel to go sightseeing. Vacations are for people who hate their careers and lives so much they save up money and time all year to run away from them. Farmers farm because they love to, not because they make money at it. (See below)

Farmers go to auctions, farm shows and maybe a county fair. They leave home in mid-morning after their chores are done and are back in time to do evening chores. They don't stay in motels. They drive to and from these places in pickup trucks that rattle and shake with every small bump in the road. They drive trucks because they use the trucks to haul cattle, feed, fence posts, hay, kids, water, fuel, fencing, tools or dead animals, not because they are cool. Farming trucks are usually not any prettier than farmers.

Farmers are not pretty.

Farmers work every day of the year. The Christian ones do as little as possible on Sunday, but they milk their cows twice a day, even on Sunday, if they're dairymen.

Dairymen milk their cows every day. They don't skip a day, not Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving or Easter. Every day. If a member of a dairyman's family dies, he'll milk his herd before the funeral and again afterwards. It doesn't matter if that family member was a cousin, aunt, uncle, father, mother, son, daughter or wife. The only time a dairyman skips milking his herd is when he dies.

He only milks once that day.

If a farmer faces the choice of going to a doctor for something that's bothering him or paying a mechanic to fix a tractor, he will hire the mechanic every time. The tractor absolutely will not get better if it isn't fixed. The farmer might.

Being sick or hurt on a farm does not mean that you get to go home and rest. You're already home and you can rest the day after you die. Being sick or hurt on the farm means that chores will take longer and hurt more than usual because you're sick or hurt.

There is no excpetion to this rule. Not even diarrhea. For diarrhea, bring a roll of paper towels. If it's really bad, bring two rolls.

Farmers are usually lousy mechanics. Farmers usually do most of their own repairs, even if they are lousy mechanics. Good mechanics cost a lot of money; farmers don't have ANY money, but they do have time. (My neighbor Allan and his Tom father are excellent mechanics. They are the sole exceptions to this rule I know of and are there to prove that the rule exists for everyone else.)

Farmers will drive tractors that don't have good tires, lights, brakes or any other non-essential system, including a fully functional transmission. If the tractor: 1) will start; 2) will run; 3) will pull a piece of machinery; 4) will power, if necessary, said piece of machinery, that tractor is in acceptable operating condition. Seats are nice, but not strictly necessary.

Farmers quit work as soon as work is done or when they are too exhausted to move or stand.

Work is never done.

Farmers love their animals and their farms more than their own lives. They farm because they have to, their land is in their blood. Spend enough time with a farmer and you'll see him bleeding. Cuts, bruises and contusions are a part of almost every day. Take a little of a farmer's blood and look at it under a microscope. If you look carefully, you'll see something unusual, something small and brown. Those tiny brown specks are exactly what they appear to be: soil from his land. His blood is in his land and that land is in his blood.

Farmers will take another job to earn money so that they can farm. They'll work 40 hours a week at one job so they can come home and work another 60 hours on their farm.

There are 98 hours in a week. Farmers are often not good at math. If they were, the world would starve because farmers with other jobs would not have enough time to get all their work done in any given week.

Farmers don't cry. If they cried every time they had a good reason to, they'd never get any work done.

Farmers often seem to swear, but they're usually just praying very loudly and angrily. It is very bad manners to interrupt a farmer when he's praying.

Falling in love with a farmer is dangerous if you are not a farmer. You will either become a farmer and your family will no longer recognize you or you will discover that you're in love with a man AND his cattle, buildings, equipment and land and you've got to love all of it or none of it. Take away any part, and the rest of it goes to pieces.

Farmers know that God loves them best of all His creations. If He didn't, He wouldn't have made them farmers.


On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs - Dave Grossman - May 2, 2007

[A friend sent this to me. Given current events in our culture and our political institutions, it seemed appropriate to share here.]

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs - Dave Grossman
By LTC (RET) Dave Grossman, author of "On Killing."

"Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always,even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?" - William J. Bennett - in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997
"There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men." - Edmund Burke

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: "Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another. Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful.? For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf."

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go "Baa."

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog. The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population. There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs. Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents. -- from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy's body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids' school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, "Do you have and idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?"

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less , his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: "...denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling."

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level. And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes. If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be "on" 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself...
"Baa."
This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.


In Memoriam--Dave Alway 01-10-2007

My world got a little smaller and a little darker today when I learned that Dave Alway had died.

I don't claim to have been one of Dave's best friends; we never spoke or communicated outside of a convention. Most of our conversations were quick, 'Hi! How have you been?' exchanges in hotel lobbies, con suites or filk rooms. I wasn't the biggest fan of his music, either, although I have some memories of enjoying one or two of the songs I heard him perform over the years.

What I did appreciate about the man was his kindness, his honest-to-God, for-real-not-put-on KINDNESS. He had a gentle way he wore like a great cloak that billowed all around him. His laughter was often hearty but without any sense of braggadocio, edge or bitterness. I can hear that laughter in my mind as I write this. It was a pure, kind-hearted sound that could fill a room or a hallway or a heart.

It was a finer sound than music, or perhaps, a finer music than any other he sang or played.

He was always courteous and pleasant towards me and, in these nearly two decades of my involvement with fandom, I've developed the habit of looking for him, first at Confusion, then at OVFF, Confluence and FKO. He was one of my touchstones, one of the people in my life whose presence brings a sense of consistency and stability. I've seen him nodding off to sleep at some godawful hour in the morning in a dozen different lobbies or filk rooms or heard his husky voice raised in song more times than I can recall.

No more.

I am thankful that his last hours were well-spent in the company of the people and music that he seemed, to me, at least, to love best; thankful, too, that his passage between life and death was as seemingly kind as his whole being. His memory will live in my heart for a very long time, renewed at every convention I attend when I look in vain for his bearded, rougish face or listen for the peals of his laughter.

In pace requiescat.


Thank You 01-05-2007

There are mileposts that we pass between birth and death that tell us where we've been or where we're going. I passed one today when Coach Bill Cowher resigned as head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are those who would, quite justly, wonder that I'd identify this as an important event in my life. I've never been a jock; I didn't even start watching the Steelers until the waning days of Chuck Noll's tenure, long after the glory years and Super Bowl rings of the 70's. And football's just a game anyway, right, so, what's the big deal?

Well, in spite of the undeniable truth in those statements, Steelers ball is important to me. Ever since I came to understand the complexity and difficulty of the game, its intellectual challenges and nuances, its unrelenting demands for equal amounts of patience, team work, courage, strength, resiliency, intellect and stamina, I've come to see it as a microcosm of my own existance. Farmers don't make the kind of money that NFL players or coaches make, but we have to have the same tenacity, the same perserverance in the face of difficulty and pain that they do. I've lost track of the times that I've 'played' hurt to get in a crop or take care of my animals and that gives me a sense kinship with the players on the field. It's true that I've never been leveled by a 230 lb. linebacker. But I have been leveled by a 1,200 lb. Holstein more than once. I could be wrong, but I believe there's some similarity there. Farmers also need a deep knowledge of the game we're playing and understand how every part of our plan relates to the whole. More parallels come to mind, but I think you can see my point.

Growing up in Western PA, I've found myself slowly entering an orbit around Pittsburgh and identifying myself more and more with the Steel City. In fact, in many ways I'm more a citizen of Pittsburgh than I am of the town that I list as part of my mailing address and I've come to love Steeler's football because I see in it many of the same attitudes I try to bring to my own life: Nothing fancy; nothing cute; nothing slick, just hit the line hard and keep hitting it until it gives. But, most importantly, PLAY BY THE RULES. Don't cheat, ever. Don't cut corners; don't showboat; don't do T.O. imitations. Play hard, yeah, play damn hard, but play clean.

I'll never forget Coach Cowher's first season. Every time the camera would pick him up on the sideline, I'd remember Coach Noll and feel a definite twinge. I always respected Noll's self-control (still do) and it took time to get used to Cowher's passion and fire. But I came to appreciate Cowher's style and to appreciate even more his committment to excellence and to that spirit of Steeler's football that began with The Chief and found its first glory days under Chuck Noll. I came to see Bill Cowher as a living embodiment of Steeler's football, and, to a lesser extent, a kindred spirit.

Coach Cowher has left the building and that fills me with a definite sense of loss. But even more, I am filled with a sense of appreciation for everything that he did and all the good he's left behind. I will not comment upon his reasons for leaving; you may decide for yourself whether or not they are appropriate.

For me, even though he will never read these words, I'd just to say, 'Thanks.' Thanks for 15 great years; thanks for One for the Thumb; thanks for being the kind of man I'd be proud to invite home to break bread with my family. Thanks for giving me another reason to be proud to wear Black and Gold.

Good luck, Coach, and God Bless.


Boobs 5-2-2004

The Word Wide Web is a wonderful thing. I wasn't sleeping very well tonight. I'm not sure why. It might've been the free hot wings (thanks Dan!) or the aching bones and muscles that come with working in my garden or on that new post-and-rail fence. It could be that I'm just not sleepy. For whatever reason, I found myself sitting in front of my computer wide awake and ready to do something constructive. Since I haven't added to my rants lately, I decided to use my evening's insomnia as an opportunity to rant about something that's been on my mind for months: Janet Jackson's boobs.

Now I won't pretend to have done exhaustive research on Janet's taa-taas, but I can honestly say that I've looked into the subject from time to time and they seem quite healthy and aesthetically appealing in a firm, rounded sort of way, but they're not particularly remarkable. I'm sure there are breasts in your neighborhood right now that are on a par with Janet's. Not as famous, granted, but only for lack of opportunity.

I wasn't watching the Super Bowl on that infamous night earlier this year (any Super Bowl without the Pittsburgh Steelers in it doesn't actually count anyway, so why waste the time?), but I certainly heard plenty about it. In fact, I seem to recall hearing more about Ms. Jackson's right breast than anything else that happened that night. Talk about upstaging the rest of the show! For the life of me, though, I can't imagine what all the fuss was about. I'm as great an admirer of attractive women as any man I know, but one 3 second flash of nipple isn't enough to keep my attention for an entire evening. Heck, without something more forthcoming, it's not enough to keep my attention for much more than, um, 3 seconds, maybe 5 on a good night. So, what's the big deal?

I do feel obliged to thank the folks who were so offended by Janet's anatomy for some great entertainment of their own. I especially loved the conspiracy theorists who went to great lengths to link Janet and Justin Timberlake to the general moral decline of our culture, the disappearance of both Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa and the Reichstag fire. Gee whiz, people, lighten up. Accidents happen. Remember this year's Grammy Awards when several of the acts walked out with microphones that didn't work? Even someone as far down the musical food chain as I am can tell you that wasn't planned; it just happened. Live performance is like that. Really.

I recall a musical I was once in that had a costume problem which quite surprised a female chorus girl and a member of audience. We were playing at the Saw Mill Theater in Cook Forest State Park near Sigel, PA. As you might guess, the theater was originally a saw mill, but it's been converted into a rustic thrust stage with seats around 3/4 of the playing area. The first row is only 4 or 5 feet away from the action, an arrangement that creates quite an intimate atmosphere. We were nearing the end of a performance of Diamond Studs and had the entire cast on stage for the big finale, a boisterous moment of singing and dancing with high kicks by all the chorus girls. All was well and our audience seemed quite happy when disaster struck: In the midst of a perfectly normal kick, one of the girls, Annie Forsburg, lost a shoe. It flew through the air, whacked one of the men in the front row upside the head and landed in his lap. Amazed, we all continued the song, the gentleman in question leaned forward and returned the shoe to a blushing and embarrassed Annie and nothing more came of the incident. We weren't censored by the Clarion Free News for contributing to the increased number of violent incidents in Clarion county that year. CNN didn't run a sidebar noting a rise in FBI statistics of footwear-related assaults. No lawsuits were filed. No marriages ruined. No children traumatized. We didn't get more press than that year's Super Bowl; we weren't interviewed on Nightline and none of us has written a book about the whole sordid affair. We just laughed it off and went home.

Foot fetishists aside, I suppose that a naked boob is more provocative than a stockinged foot, but still, was it really worth all that fuss? It's just a boob. A perky, friendly, happy boob, perhaps, but just a boob.

Get over it.


War Thoughts 04-27-2003

One war is over.

As the days have gone by, we've discovered much that we should've suspected: The New York Times has offered us a tale of cruelty that borders upon the incredible. It is a tale that spans many years and demonstrates, in horrific detail, the conditions prevalent in Iraq when it was ruled by Saddam Hussein. A more recent Times article sheds a bit of light on the real situation that the UNSCOM inspectors faced. It seems reasonable, in light of this information, to question whether their efforts would have ever produced any real results.

The true motives of our 'allies,' the Germans, French and Russians, for opposing the war have also been revealed, to the chagrin of certain individuals who also opposed the war and rejoiced to have those governments' support. When three prominent members of the UN actively collaborate with a dictator like Mr. Hussein, supplying him with contraband technology and training, ignoring the very United Nations sanctions which they were supposed to uphold, we must certainly wonder about their integrity and their actual commitment to us. We can also legitimately ask what real function the clearly dysfunctional UN could possibly serve. As Mr. Bush warned late last year, the United Nations risked irrelevance when it refused to actively move against the Hussein regime. It has followed in the footsteps of another political dinosaur and will, most likely, join the League of Nations in that great ideological boneyard in the sky. As for our 'allies,' they are busy covering their political asses. Mr. Chirac, in particular, now has to deal with a lot of disenchanted constituents who are wondering at the choices their leader made and their own gullibility.

And what of those who predicted massive casualties, particularly among the Iraqi children? How did they feel when they saw Iraqis dancing in the streets, defacing images of Saddam Hussein everywhere? Were they disappointed when Baghdad fell without a fight and the thousands of innocent civilian casualties they were prepared to mourn for never materialized? Which of them could face Mr. Hussein's victims and tell them to wait for relief through another decade, through state-sanctioned and state-funded torture? Watchers in the Arab world, many of whom believed even the most fantastical lies of Mr. Hussein's former Information Minister, were stunned when Baghdad fell in less than a week. They were equally shocked at the apparent joy that greeted the disintegration of the Hussein regime. The overwhelming conclusion that many have come to is simple but devastating: Saddam Hussein did not act his people's interest. He was a thug who terrorized them. They're glad he's gone. With the revelations from the Times and the Iraqi voices we're now beginning to hear, who could blame them? I'm very curious, though, about my fellow Americans who created such a furor in opposition to the war. In a country devoted to the ideal of free speech, there were many who got quite emotional about this war and made irrational appeals to ignore the Hussein regime's villainy and continue inspections that were, we now see, doomed to failure. Their censure of President Bush was as rancorous as it was undeserved. Their predictions of 'another Vietnam' have, thus far, proved inaccurate, to say the very least. Some, like the Dixie Chicks, have opted to play the role of victim and appeal for public sympathy when their rhetoric proved more harmful to themselves than their opponents. Others seem to have taken a page from the Republican Guard's training manual and simply disappeared into the crowd. To date, I have not heard one who has had the courage and integrity to stand up and say, "I was wrong." To some, such an admission might seem a sign of weakness; to me, it seems a sign of maturity and courage. Perhaps my original conjecture (see below) regarding cowardice wasn't so far off the mark after all.

Could we have avoided this war? Yes, but only if we had had the sincere and genuine cooperation of all United Nations parties involved. Of course, the double-dealing of certain member nations made that impossible. Had Mr. Hussein more successfully co-opted the UNSCOM teams, he would have confirmed his power on the global scene, allowing the French, Germans and Russians more opportunity for profit, but relegating his own people to a dismal fate at best. Is the world a better place without the Hussein regime? Yes, but there is much more to be done. Coalition forces need to leave Iraq as soon as possible. The Iraqi people need to receive enough help from the West to restore their nation. Most of all, the United States needs to make sure that we show, through our actions as well as our words, that we didn't go to war to take Iraqi oil or create a clone of our own country in Iraq. Our purpose was to create security for ourselves and the rest of the world by removing weapons of mass destruction and the regime that invested in them. That goal has been accomplished with greater speed and fewer casualties than many had predicted. As soon as the Iraqi people are prepared to govern themselves, we need to haul ass out of there and let them get on with the work of nation building. I hope and pray that the result is a vast improvement over their former leaders. I cannot help but think such an improvement is easily within their reach.


War Thoughts 03-21-2003

Bombs are falling on Baghdad.

If every human being beneath our planes were irretrievably depraved, hopelessly evil, this would still be a terrible tragedy. The presence of the truly innocent, however few they may be in number, and the presence of ordinary people like you or me, compounds this heartbreak immeasurably. I am not critical of our soldiers, neither do I disagree with their Commander in Chief and the mission he has dispatched them to perform. Anyone who has critically evaluated the evidence that lies within the Iraqi culture today can see that Saddam Hussein has ruthlessly manipulated, tortured, maimed and killed his own people, even his own followers , for no other reason than to establish and maintain his own power. He has defied the rest of the world for over a decade and has weapons which he agreed to destroy. While I doubt that the connections between his regime and Al Qaeda are anything more than shared sympathies and hatred, there is no doubt in my mind that his path to power and his need to remain in power guarantee that he not only craves and has acquired weapons of mass destruction, but that he would not hesitate to use them. In his hands, they offer him the chance to extend his disruptive influence across borders. The Iranians, remembering their loss of 800,000 troops and citizens at his hands, are developing a nuclear capability, not because of the Americans, not because of the Israelis, but because of Mr. Hussein. The Kuwaitis, the Saudis and the Israelis have much to fear from him. Can there be any doubt that his continued rule is a guarantee of continued unrest and fear?

Many of my countrymen have criticized our president for pursuing the course of action that has led us here. Their reasons may be of the highest order; they may be based on self-serving cowardice; they probably lie somewhere between the extremes. I do not know and will not indulge in idle speculation. What I do know is this: Until he was faced with the very real threat that the U.S. and Great Britain would bring war to his doorstep, Mr. Hussein used every tactic at his disposal to forestall the United Nations and its inspectors. He pursued this course of action for well over a decade. Had the French, Germans and Russians stood with Great Britain and the U.S., he might well have concluded that his only course of action was to deal honestly with UNSCOM and this current war might have been avoided. As it is, we have committed ourselves to this action. We have taken casualties. We have bombed Iraq, not for her oil or to impose our will upon her people thoughtlessly, but to remove a threat to the stability of a region which profoundly impacts the rest of the world. We have taken this course because our so-called allies lacked the resolve, the courage, to deal with this situation in an effective manner. When you face down a bully, you can't blink. If you do, all is lost.

In May of last year, the Atlantic Monthly ran an article by Mark Bowden which looks deep into the personality of Saddam Hussein. What one sees there is profoundly disturbing. Here is a man who has become the epitome of his family, its essence, distilled and pure. He has also become a man trapped by his own success. The very tools which he has used so well to achieve power now dictate his every move. He cannot rely upon loyalty from the majority of his own people unless it is a loyalty inspired by terror. He cannot appear weak; he cannot show fear or remorse; he must embrace any and every weapon he can amass. Once he falls from power, his life is worthless. His very survival is predicated on his ability to destroy anyone he considers an enemy and his willingness to do so. The more powerful the weapon, the more he must have it, for appearance's sake, if for no other reason. Mr. Hussein needed weapons of mass destruction for the same reason he dyes his hair, for appearance's sake.

Iraq's leader has painted himself into a corner: He needs to add to his arsenal to maintain his control over his people. His closest circle of supporters, widely feared and hated themselves because of their service to him, must shelter beneath his wings. Their loyalty to him stems as much from their fear of popular retribution and his ability to shield them from it as it does any other advantage they gain from his favor. Mr. Hussein's enemies, domestic and foreign, must be held in check by his capability and willingness to move against them ruthlessly. His most viable option has been to develop and stockpile weapons of mass destruction; the larger his stocks, the more he intimidates his enemies while encouraging his supporters. If he loses those weapons, his enemies become bolder. His supporters would certainly lose confidence in his ability to protect them and have one less reason to keep him in power. As long as the rest of the world was content to accept Mr. Hussein's prevarications, he could continue his precarious balancing act. His downfall was certain as soon as the United States was willing to call him to a strict, accurate account of his arms and back up its rhetoric with substantive action. Nothing more was needed; nothing less will serve.

If Mr. Hussein's ambitions were limited to the murder, torture and rape of his own people, facts which have been established beyond doubt, the rest of the world might have continued to stand idly by and watch, as it has so often in the past. There have been many, many times when we have allowed evil to have its way unopposed. One only need remember the students who died in Tiananmen Square or the bodies clogging the rivers in Rwanda to see two recent examples of this. But Mr. Hussein's aims were higher. His war against Iran proved this. His occupation of Kuwait proved this. The establishment of terrorist training facilities in Iraq proved this. If he continued unopposed, if he were not checked, there would come a time when he would once again move openly against his neighbors. After 12 years of lost opportunities for change, it is passed time to remove Mr. Hussein before his capabilities for destruction match his appetite.

The bombs are falling on Baghdad and this is a tragedy. But if we had not faced down this threat now, the tragedy would be a hundred times worse.


My Excuse for Making Music 02-22-2003 (rev. 02-06-2008)

As I've grown older, I've spent many hours wondering about my life and my place in the universe. Perhaps it's a bit silly, but I've often found myself searching for reasons to keep doing the things I do. I wasn't born handsome; I certainly wasn't born rich and no one in my family has ever had any great amount of power to wield. Power, money and looks are three of the most commonly accepted markers for success and status in our culture and I'd be a liar if I said that I never missed having them, at least a little. But, as a younger man, I did reconcile myself to my situation and I've learned to do without power or money or good looks. Years ago, I decided that my person, my self, wasn't defined by my financial status, or my ability to influence world events or my physical features. I decided that I would create my person by the things I did in my life.

So, I'm a father, a grandfather and a son. I'm an artist, a songwriter, a poet, a guitar player, a Steeler's fan. I'm a farmer, a gardener, a mechanic. I like to work hard and I do; I like to laugh out loud, and I do. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and I choose to walk in that path now because that's who I am. Even so, I still sometimes feel the need for a better reason to be the musician that I am, a more acceptable justification for making the music I do in the way that I do it, devoid of the fanfare, the hoopla and the monetary rewards. What follows is my own, private justification for my existance as an artist, a musician:

Back when the world was new and God still delighted in its beauty and perfection, there were no unresolved melodies; no jangling disonances that hurt the listener's ears. The air was clean, the water sweet, the grass green and all was right with the world.

Then, as we've done so many times since, Man demanded his way, and got it, and brought the first bits of ugliness into the world. From that hour until this, every greedy, selfish, hateful thought or word or deed has added to that cloud of ugliness that hangs in the atmosphere.

However, when someone searches deep within himself to touch some hidden beauty and then stretches his hands outward as far as his mind can reach to throw that beauty into the world simply for the sake of doing it, without thought of applause, or ego, or reward of any kind beyond the moment, I like to think that he returns some of the beauty that was lost all those years ago. In some small way, he puts back a little of what God originally had in mind and gave us.

It's only a myth I tell myself, I know. It's just a children's tale to listen to at dusk. But after 25 years as a professional musician, it's the best reason I have to keep making music, so I pretend that it's real.