Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Feeling

It occurs to me that I have never been sick on Christmas before.  At least I can't remember a Christmas when I was THIS sick. 

Now it's no big deal.  Jim Mark told me on Monday that I had a sinus infection for which he gave me a shot in the ass and dreadfully expensive antibiotics.  That aren't working apparently.  I'm running about a half degree of fever and my throat feels as if I swallowed some steel wool.  Oh well.  If this is the worst that happens to me during the future Christmases I am allotted I will be fortunate.  Not too far from where I am sitting there are folks in the cancer center at UAMS who are spending Christmas tethered to a pole.

I will get better.  Some of them will not.

I hear church bells.  Christmas on Sunday. 

My day began with the phone buzzing with text messages and the IPad ringing with posts on Facebook.  One of Hugh's girls wished me a Merry Christmas first thing.  I imagine that this will be a hard day for them.  I wished Susannah a Merry Christmas and I told her that I loved her.  That's all I can do from over here.  Come to think of it, that is about all I could do if I were in Jackson.

I have some presents but I don't much feel like opening them.  My original plan for the morning was to go play golf at War Memorial down the street.  It is a time honored tradition that guys walk War Memorial for free on Christmas day.  I will not be in that number today.  I will be doing good to get the stuff out on the grill this afternoon.  Oh well.  It is always best to measure one's expectations at Christmas.  Christmas can be pretty overwhelming if let it. 

Last night I joined the Baptists for a little service.  I hadn't been in that old church in years.  My new golf buddy Randy Hyde is that pastor there.  I had never heard him preach before.  So I walked my Methodist self in and took an aisle seat in the middle.  Carolyn Staley, the assistant pastor there, came up to me and gave me a hug.  She told me to go sit with her husband "so you won't have to sit alone."

I was sincerely moved by that small, considerate gesture.  I live by myself.  I do lots of stuff in my own company.  It's no big deal to me.  But it was to her. 

I don't much know what I believe anymore.  And I know that much of the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth does not withstand the scrutiny of history.  Christopher Hitchens pointed out once that humans existed in organized societies some 10,000 years before the Nativity.  It was his position that to believe that God would wait that long, evidently doing nothing, only to intervene in human history to impregnate a young girl in the middle of the desert is ridiculous.  It is a fair point.

But, as I have said before, there is power in myths.  And often truth is subsumed therein.  And as Dr. Hyde said last night, even in those days as it is in our present age, when the Middle East coughed the whole world heard it.  So what better place to introduce the Kingdom of God?  It is a fair point as well. 

Who knows? 

All I know is I  that enjoyed the service last night.  I felt very welcome there among my Baptist neighbors.  I enjoyed seeing my golf buddy up in the pulpit.  And it pleased me to conceive that God exists so you won't have to sit alone. 

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

"I burned the candle at both often gave a lovely light."

I heard Christopher Hitchens speak at the Arkansas Literary Festival a few years ago.  In retrospect it would have been about the time that he was diagnosed with the esophageal cancer that eventually killed him last Thursday at the age of 62.  "god [sic]is not great" had just been published and he was on a promotional tour in the Deep South.  As I sat in my seat awaiting the lecture it occurred to me that there was a period of time in Little Rock's not too distant past where the very idea that an avowed atheist could give a public lecture at a literary festival would be unthinkable.  Then again, the idea of a literary festival was pretty much unthinkable around here as well.

I didn't know what to expect.  Hitchens was nothing if not disputatious as one of the many obituaries gently pointed out.  Would he chain smoke at the lectern? (One of his friends has reported that he smoked @ 130 cigarettes a day.)  Would he be entirely sober? (Hitch drank a staggering amount of Scotch.  No man this side of Faulkner wrote better with a buzz on.)

The Christopher Hitchens that I saw that day was gentle and soft-spoken.  He was courtly and deeply respectful of the audience, especially of the elderly members who had questions.  If atheism needed a PR man, Hitch was a good one that Spring day in the River Market.

Hitchens believed that religion "destroys everything."  There is a story in "god is not great" that I remember to this day.  A man was set upon by a masked gunman on a country road in Northern Ireland. 

"Are you Catholic or Protestant?" the gunman asked.

"Neither," the nervous hostage replied." "I'm an atheist."

"Well then, " came the response. " Are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?"

Now I don't know whether this story is apocryphal or not.  But it is a perfect example of the complete madness of sectarian strife.  One doesn't have to be an atheist to admit that Hitchens had a point about the potential dangers of religion and power.  Look at the examples.  The child abuse scandals involving the Catholic church.  Radical Islam or "Islamofascism" as Hitchens put it.  Look at how the Republican Party in this country has been hijacked by Christian conservatives.  Garry Will, as devout as Hitchens was not, has sounded much the same alarm.

One of the more moving tributes to Hitch that I read came from a British journalist who said," With the death of Christopher Hitchens it feels like our culture just lost a limb."

Perhaps this apropos of nothing.  But I thought of what passes for culture nowadays when I consulted Facebook this morning.  Someone had posted a picture of an American soldier in full combat gear kneeling in prayer.  Below the picture was a caption that said that the young soldier was fighting to preserve our rights "including the right to say 'Merry Christmas.'"

Now this is profoundly stupid on any level you care to explore.  Pick one.  Factually, legally, what have you.  The fact that otherwise sentient people actually believe such utter tripe is evidence of a very real strain of paranoia to go along with the dumbing down of the culture. 

This was the sort of inanity that Christopher Hitchens loved to skewer.  He was argumentative, occasionally inconsistent, self-destructive and despised by many of his peers.  But his opinions were never opaque.  And he was utterly fearless in presenting them.

The culture has indeed lost a limb. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The lady had just been released from jail.  She had been incarcerated for "hot checks" the first week of December.  She has 2 kids and a job at a fast food place here in town.  I'm no criminal lawyer.  But I know people in the prosecutor's office.  And just like that other well known legal scholar Mick Jagger, I ain't too proud to beg.  The prosecutor told me the Judge would let her out if she could come up with half of what she owed.  800 bucks.  Which might have been 800,000 as far as this lady was concerned.  And she had no relatives or other people here in town to pony up the "get out of jail card." 

Mercifully, a local pastor agreed to pay the money.  He went down there himself and got her out.  God bless him.  And 2 days later she met with me and the social worker.  While I am not overly familiar with the internecine procedures of District Court, there was something about how all this went down that had me confused.

She sat on one end of the table in the Conference Room.  I sat on the other.  The LCSW sat between us.

"The reason we are meeting today," I said. "Is we want to figure out just how you got in this fix and what we have to do to keep you from going back to jail.  You OK with this?"

"Yessir," she said. " I don't want to go back to that jail ever again."

"And we don't want you to go back."

"Tell me," I said. when did you first learn that you had been charged with writing hot checks?"

"When I was in traffic court here in Little Rock."

"I'm sorry.  Traffic court in Little Rock. OK.  Let's start there then."

"I got a ticket last Fall.  Illegal lane change.  That and I didn't have no insurance. So I had to go to the traffic court."


"And that Judge up there said that there was a warrant for me over in Sherwood and that they were sending somebody to Little Rock to pick me up."

"So that's when you first learned about the warrants."

"Yeah but I kinda knew about the hot checks before then really."

"I beg your pardon?"

"They took my state tax refund to pay on them checks about 2009 or so."

"2009?  When did you write the checks?"

"I bounced 2 checks to Kroger about 2004.  I ain't written any checks since then."

"Can they do that?" the LCSW asked.

"Sure they can," I replied. "I've seen the IRS do it a million times on delinquent Federal debts." 

"Ma'am how do you know that's why the offset your refund?" I asked the lady.

"I don't know what that means," she replied.  "What's offset?"

"I'm sorry.  When they took your refund.  How did you know the reason they did that?"

"I got a piece of paper that said it was for those checks. I didn't think no more about it.  I thought it was taken care of then."

"OK. So they took you to Sherwood.  What happened there?"

" They took my fingerprints and snapped a photo.  And ROR'd me."

She actually said "ROR."

"They told me to go to Court in December. So I went to Court and that Judge told me I had to pay $1600.00 or he was gonna throw me in jail.  I was by myself.  I didn't have $1600.  So they put me in jail."

OK.  This was making sense now.  For some she didn't show up on the hot check charge.  Maybe she moved and didn't leave a forwarding address.  Maybe she never read the letter advising her of the Court date.  2 little checks plus a fine for a FTA and the running of interest and court costs can turn into a 1600 buck problem pretty quickly.  There wasn't much else the Judge could do.  Not and be fair to others that had similar stories that he had to make guests of the County. 

"You have any other criminal charges?" I asked.

"Just that theft of property in 2003," she said.  "But I've applied to the Governor for clemency."

"OK," I said. " Let's talk about THAT."

This went on about another 20 minutes.  I struck by the fact that this lady was pretty clueless about she had gotten to this juncture.  They offset her tax refund.  She thought it took care of the problem.  That had the ring of truth.  But she also knew the acronym for "Released on Recognizance."  This indicated to me that she had a nodding acquaintance with the system.

Not that it matters.  She goes back to Court in January.  She will be put on a payment schedule.  She will pay it or she will go to jail.  If she goes to jail, her kids will get picked up and they will be put into foster care.  That's what we told her. 

And it also struck me that the jails are full of low level criminal types for whom the social problem drives the legal problem.  Folks for whom 1600 bucks is a princely sum.  Folks that live from "pillar to post" as the old folks used to say, stumbling from one calamity to the next.  Most of us can scarcely imagine getting into such a fix.  But then again, most of us are really lucky.

So far so good.  Money got found.  Her social worker is on top of the problem now.  But the keys to the jail are in the lady's hands.

And if she doesn't understand that, she doesn't have ears to hear.  And the jails are full of those types of those people too.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How Not To Pick Your Spots

I don't know if this story is apocryphal or not but it sure is a good one and is instructive on many levels. 

Years ago, tennis star Andre Agassi was playing in the Legg-Mason tournament which is held in Cincinnati.  His private plane touched down at 1 AM at an airstrip in rural Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.  Andre, then solidly in the avis rara stage of his career, supposedly got freaked out by the lack of security in attendance (or more accurately NOT in attendance) when he got off the plane.

"Andre," the lady the tournament sent to pick him up supposedly said. "It's 1 in the morning and you are in rural Kentucky.  Unless you play basketball or are on Hee Haw, nobody around here has a clue who you are."

Which brings up to the recent news of the arrest of mega head case Mindy McCready, who was arrested in Heber Springs, Arkansas by the authorities (State and Federal) on a warrant out of Florida where she is engaged in an exquisitely nasty custody fight with her parents over her child and from whence she had hit the trail. 

Now, if I am on the lam and am a country music singer of some fame if not notoriety, I think that the last place I would try to make myself invisible would be Cleburne County, Arkansas or any other small town in the South where you probably can't swing a dead cat without hitting a country music fan. 

Good thinking!  What?  She didn't have the gas money to make it clean on to Nashville? 

As for Andre, he has settled comfortably in a relatively conventional life of husband and father.  But I think if he ever needs to take a powder somewhere, I bet nobody knows him to this day in rural Kentucky.

Or Heber Springs either.  If Mindy ever reads this, she could profit from his example.  If she ever has to hide from the authorities again that is.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Herman Cain may be many things.  But he's not stupid.  And since he is not stupid, how did he think that allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity would not  eventually come to light during the white hot atmosphere of a presidential campaign?  The most recent is a lady from Atlanta named Ginger White who claims that she had a 13 year relationship with him.  Even had phone records and text messages to back up the claim.

Guess Herman Cain never heard of Houston Nutt.

Let me say this again.  I could give a rip about what two consenting adults do in private, be it a romantic interlude or a commercial transaction.  As I wrote about a certain prominent Arkansan's wandering from the marital hearth, if Hillary could live with it, I could live with it.  I honestly do not care.

But really.  What made John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and now Herman Cain think they could get away with it?

We all engage in compartmentalism.  Which is to say that we tend to rationalize our faults and/or put them somewhere in our heads where we don't have to trip over them too often.  A more extreme example of this behavior would be found in the interview of accused child molester Jerry Sandusky on the front page of yesterday's New York Times which may be found here:

As you can see, Coach continues to deny that he engaged in any deviant sexual behavior with minors.  And he reveals himself to be a whiner in the process. 

But sexual predators are a different breed of cat altogether.  In Sandusky's case, he talked himself into believing that he was helping these kids and he sticks to this story in the interview.  It is one thing to slip around on your spouse. (She's a bitch, she doesn't understand me, we're only married for the children's sake).  It is quite another thing to take a shower with a 10 year old boy.  (How the hell do you talk yourself into thinking THAT'S normal?)  So let's forget pedophiles, although it is useful to note that Sandusky actually thought he had a shot at being Head Coach at Penn State someday despite his unsavory sexual proclivities. Evidently, he must have thought his criminal deviancy would never pop up in a background check. 

But let us return to mere garden variety egomaniacs.  There is the thought being bandied about that Cain wasn't really all that serious about running for President much in the way it was the suspicion that Mike Huckabee was mainly in it for the money down the road.  But still, why put yourself in the public spotlight thereby running the risk of humiliating your spouse and/or hurting your family and supporters?  How could you?

A buddy of mine has a working theory that a person has to be borderline crazy to want to put themselves through electoral politics at a certain level.  Or maybe any level.  I have a buddy in the Arkansas State Legislature.  You ought to hear some of the stories he's told me. 

There may be something to my friend's theory.  You would have to be crazy to think that you can cat around with and give money to a woman not your spouse for 13 years and that it can be kept a secret when all of a sudden you decide to thrust your philandering self into a race for a public office.  He wasn't sleeping with her?  Right.  Name me another man in our common experience who is giving money to a woman over that length of time who isn't showing him where the horse bit her. 

I mean c'mon.  That's crazy.  And he was leading on that side of the aisle for a bit.  And now serial philanderer Newt is "trending" as they say.  In the race to become the standard bearer for the party that allegedly stands for an exceedingly cramped view of Christian morality. 

This is crazy. 

But maybe the R's are counting on their lunatic base to compartmentalize as well.