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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Micah's Christmas Gift

This Christmas we began a new tradition. When one of your kids is missing, Christmas is never quite the same again, nor will be until all of you are reunited in that wonderful world where we shall never experience again the pain of parting. When we lost our son, Micah, he left a big hole in our family celebrations. All of us have searched for a way to fill that hole with not much success. Micah was the family jester. He kept us all from being too serious.
Sheila and I were out shopping a few weeks ago, trying for everybody’s sake to get into the holiday mood. Worn out and almost out of cash, we stopped by the food court at Sam’s for a quick bite to eat. The young man at the counter who took our order looked tired and as he went back to get our order, Sheila noticed he had a slight limp and appeared to be in some discomfort when he walked. He was a big kid, not quite Micah’s size and build but near enough that Sheila remembered how Micah’s feet used to hurt him when he worked long hours.
Not content to express her sympathy with the boy she found out he had been wanting to get some of those gel insoles, but hadn’t been able to afford it. She picked up her sundae and while I was paying the boy, she slipped around to the side window and got one of the girls in the kitchen to find out his name (Ryan) and his shoe size.
She told me she was going to buy him some new shoes and gel insoles and sneak back and leave them for him with the kitchen staff. “It’s a gift from Micah,” she said, her voice catching a little. I understood what she meant and nodded agreement.
“It has to be a Christmas miracle, though,” she explained. We don’t have money to do it now, but I’m going to pray that God provides me with extra money to buy the shoes - maybe an extra shift for “Ray of Sunshine” (the sitting service she works for). “I could do that,” she smiled. She was excited for the next couple of weeks, looking forward to giving Micah’s gift. I just hoped Ryan would still be there when we got the money. I tried to figure out just how I was going to create some “extra money” for the gift without her knowing it was me.
Silly me. As long as I’ve lived with Sheila I should know better than to try to second guess them when she and God start working on a plan.
A week before Christmas, Mary Bob, the elderly lady Sheila works for, became ill and had to go to the hospital for testing. Sheila went with her to the hospital and worked 24 hours a day for the next 3 days. At the end of it, she was tired and worn out from being almost constantly on her feet for the better part of the time, but she had her shoe money.
We went by Sam’s and bought the shoes, but they didn’t have the insoles. As I checked us out, Sheila went over to the food court to arrange to leave the gift for Ryan when he came in. As she came back, I saw her face and the tears in her eyes and I knew something was wrong.
Ryan no longer worked there.
I knew what she was thinking. Why did it take so long for God to answer my prayer? It’s too late now.
“What shall I do,” I asked. I was just about to go through the checkout. If we didn’t need the shoes........
Then, I saw her get that “look” in her eye. “Buy the shoes,” she told me firmly and with tears in her eyes, my stubborn little Christmas angel stalked off looking for Sam’s manager. He sent her to Miss Verdell, who ran the human resources office. Miss Verdell listened to Sheila’s story with tears in her eyes. “Don’t you worry,” she told us. “Ryan will be here next Wednesday to pick up his check. I’ll see that he gets his gift.” Miss Verdell began tearing up herself. “I understand, maam. I just lost my husband in October. I’ll make sure Ryan gets your present.”
We picked up the insoles at Wal-Mart that night with a gift card and took them home to wrap. Sheila signed the gift card “from Micah”. The next day we went back into Sam’s to leave Ryan’s shoes with Miss Verdell. By the time we got there, the story of Ryan’s shoes had spread all over Sam’s - everybody that worked there knew about it.
You know, I think maybe this wasn’t just about Sheila or Micah or even about Ryan’s sore feet. This year with the collapsing economy, layoffs and uncertainty, it’s been easy for all of us to forget what Christmas is supposed to be about. Who knows, maybe folks needed a little reminder this year. Meghan suggested that maybe the guys who work for Wal-Mart and Sam’s were feeling less than warm toward customers since a group of bargain hunters had trampled a Wal-Mart greeter to death just a couple of weeks before. Maybe Sheila’s concern for a footsore Wal-Mart employee helped them realize at least some of their customers do care about them after all.
We got a very sweet letter from Miss Verdell a few days later with a poem in it.
The God of heaven knew the exact moment in history when we needed His son. He knows the exact moment when He needs to send Jesus back again. I’m glad that He, who knows the end from the beginning, causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him.
Giving to others is a good memorial to Micah. I remember one Christmas my Pathfinder club kids were so distracted by who was getting what. They were in the absolute throes of greed and I thought, you know we need to do something about it - maybe adopt an angel from the angel tree or something. Micah grabbed my arm and said, “Dad, I know just who needs us.” He knew a guy who had just lost his job, they’d just moved here from 500 miles away so the family was all alone, flat broke, fixing to lose their electricity, there was no food in the house and the kids were getting nothing for Christmas.
Micah got names and ages and sizes of the whole family (there was some guesswork involved because we weren’t going to tell them we were coming). The kids took up the cause with a will. We didn’t here any more about what they were getting or ought to get. They were having a blast filling this little family’s wish list. The church found out about it and everybody chipped in. We loaded down Micah’s little Nissan pickup with presents for everyone in the family, a month’s worth of food and enough cash to pay the bills till they could get back on their feet. One of our members criticized us and told us we should spread all that around, but Micah and I told her a firm “NO”. He said God gave us this family to bless and we should show them just how mightily God can bless.
Micah was supposed to sneak up on the porch and leave everything, but at 6’4” and 300 pounds, he didn’t sneak very well and was caught. He and the husband unloaded the truck and as they carried in the cornucopia of stuff, the kids’ eyes got bigger and bigger and the mother dissolved into a puddle of tears. Micah said it was the best Christmas of his life, giving that family that wonderful gift.
It was a vintage Micah moment. At his memorial service, families were lined up 10 deep to tell us how much Micah had meant to their children. Giving a gift in his name this year really made if feel like something of him was back in Christmas. It helped fill that terrible hole in Christmas that Micah’s loss left for us. It is helping heal us in a way we had not expected when God first inspired Sheila to buy Ryan a new pair of shoes.
So, Merry Christmas to all of you and may you each have an opportunity to participate in one of God’s little Christmas miracles this year too - maybe give a gift to someone on behalf of someone you miss terribly this Christmas. You’ll feel better. I promise!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fear of the 'Push Back'

Irene Whiteside made a wise comment on one of our Facebook threads. She said that conservatives needed to stop being afraid of the "push back".

So what's that mean - "push back". Another thinker once said, "People who don't read history are doomed to repeat it." Let me give you a little history lesson about fear of the push back. We have to go back to the Civil War for this one. The mighty Army of the Potomac had spent 4 years wandering about the Washington, DC area trying to keep between the capital and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. They actually won some pretty big battles, but they never followed through. Congress was terrified that Lee might sneak past the Army and capture the capital. They were so afraid that if the Army of the Potomac tried to follow through that the brilliant Lee would find some way to push back and overwhelm the Union forces - possibly punching a hole in the forces defending Washington and capturing the city.

President Lincoln was exasperated by the inability of his generals to make any headway against the Confederate armies. Lincoln once telegraphed McClellan and asked him if he wasn't using it, might the president "borrow the army".

Meanwhile, a stubborn little man was carving inroads into the heart of the Confederate States of America. Ulysses S. Grant, a virtual unknown who'd once served as a quartermaster during the Mexican War, had risen rapidly in the ranks of the western army because he had a habit of winning, following through and consolidating his wins. He took ground, and not only held it, but pursued his vanquished foes, often chasing armies larger than his own. He and William Tecumseh Sherman, a cavalry officer and man after Grant's own heart eventually took command of the Western campaign and thanks to poor communications with Washington, were able to move forward after a victory and demolish the armies they had defeated in the field, before General Halleck and Secretary Stanton could get a message back to them telling them to stop and hold in place.

Lincoln noticed and called Grant east to take command of all the armies of the Union. Lincoln gave his new commander full authority to plan and execute a campaign to win the war and Grant proceeded to do so. He ran interference with Congress and his own cabinet and General Halleck, protecting Grant from orders that would have held him back and prolonged the war for years.

The Army of the Potomac moved forward in concert with the Army of the James River and Sherman's armies in the West who were cutting a fiery swath to the sea. Lee struck him hard again and again. To his consternation, every time Lee faced Grant and drubbed the Union troops, they moved forward. Grant would attack. Lee would defend and hold him and then find himself forced to withdraw because his supplies were cut off. A railroad was destroyed or a port was captured. All through his career, whenever Grant fought an engagement, he asked himself afterward only one thing. "What do I do next to end this war?"

He didn't think, "Will this help my political career?" He didn't think, "Will this get me a promotion?" He didn't even think, "Is this too risky?"

With Grant it was always "Win the War." "Stop the slaughter". Grant's determined aggressive style did more to save lives than all the careful shepherding of troops and resources that the Eastern generals did as they extended the war for years. Their timidity cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage to the whole country.

The Army of the Potomac reminds me of the Republican party. Led by weak leaders who - every time they win a victory - are so afraid of a "push back" from those they have defeated that they do not consolidate their victories. As a result, we keep having to fight the same battle over and over again. 1980, 1992, 2000, 2004. We win and then we try to hold on to power by giving ground. You can't give ground and hold power.

You advance. You fight. You consolidate your victories. You do the whole job.

Yes, the media will push back.

Yes, the Democrats won't like you and will call you ugly names.

Yes, the global warming enthusiasts, environmentalists and Hollywood elitists won't like you.

Get over it! Do not fear the "push back".

All we need is to find ourselves another Lincoln and Grant. I have some ideas about that, but it'll probably depend on God's will to make it happen. After all, Lincoln was a miracle. Grant was an unexpected gift. Neither man's character could have been predicted based on the history of the American political system and that of the U.S. military. Men like McClellan and Stanton and 90% of the lily-livered Congress - even General Halleck were all more likely to assume power and authority over the conduct of the war.

Instead, we got Lincoln; a man of integrity and honor; a man who listened when God whacked him on the head and inspired him to write the emancipation proclamation when everybody said it was a bad idea. We got Grant, a clerk and undistinguished former soldier who had a genius for strategic war; who understood that you could win battles and still lose the war.

God sent us President Reagan when we needed him. Whatever you think of George Bush, I believe God sent him to protect this nations from the chaos that could have enveloped this country in the wake of 9/11. Teddy Roosevelt came just in time to corral the excesses of the robber barons of the 19th century. Washington was the ideal man to set the tone for the presidents who would come after him. Adams, Jefferson each contributed his unique set of gifts to bear just when we needed them. Eisenhower was there to lead the war effort in Europe and the Cold War in the critical 50's when no president ever walked such a tightrope across a pit of potential catastrophe in history. Kennedy's tax cuts and his uncharacteristically deft handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis preserved us from disaster. His challenge to land on the moon and subsequent death inspired a national effort that captured the country's imagination and engaged us in an effort that changed the world.

There were presidents that failed dramatically, that exacerbated problems and screwed up royally. We survived them. Some of these presidents only succeeded in one important thing in their entire presidency, but that one thing kept the nation alive and advanced the cause of freedom. It was enough.

We should pray for leaders to emerge who will help us to preserve our freedom and our nation. If we do not, one will be provided for us and it may not be God who provides that leader.

That's all I'm sayin'

Tom King

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reaching Critical Mass

I've been participating in a fascinating and surprisingly civil debate over Anthropic Global Warming (man-made global warming) over on the Banjo Hangout. You'd be appalled at how many smart people play banjos. I want to complement the participants on keeping it civil if not entirely apolitical. Nobody changed their minds among the debaters, but perhaps some folks on the fence were able to understand the issues a little better before they went back to practicing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".

This is one issue where I think we folk are going to have to agree to disagree until all the evidence is in. Some have said that because the 70's era hysteria over global cooling has been discredited that we should automatically discount the turn of the millennium hysteria over global warming. I don't think that's very wise. After all, the scientists might be right this time - or they might be wrong. I just think we have to wait till all the data is in before we wreck the world's economy in the name of "saving the planet".

As someone points out in the new Keaneau Reeves movie, we can't save the planet. The planet will still be here, we can only save ourselves. How we do that is problematic. There's a lot of factors that go into keeping humans alive. Things like:

1. Food
2. Water
3. Shelter
4. Oxygen
5. Protection from nasty radiation coming at us from the sun
6. Nasty things that fall from the skies
7. Nasty things that will kill us here on Earth (disease, toxins and evil power mad murdering despots)
8. A stable economic system and effective trade between groups of people
9. A self-renewing ecosystem
10.Sufficient numbers of us to renew the population indefinitely without overtaxing the previous 9 factors.

If we could focus on addressing these factors, I believe we could get beyond the politics and actually make a decent world for us to live on. We have one already - the best within light years of here. The challenge is to come together on what's important and quit worrying so much about who's ideology is correct.

Everybody do their bit to clean up after themselves, protect each other's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and stop trying to be the big powerful kahuna all the time and life on this planet would be a lot nicer.

But, somebody said once that that's pretty much what would happen inevitably - that the meek would inherit the Earth. Those meek folks, He said, would be folks that lived by pretty much one simple rule - "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."

I have faith that that is precisely what will happen. I believe that evil will inevitably destroy itself at some point.

So it comes down to each of us doing his or her bit to be a decent, honorable person. A famous picket sign in the 60's proclaimed, "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came". Well, suppose they gave an unjust order and nobody paid attention. Suppose they wrote an unjust law and nobody obeyed it. Suppose they proclaimed themselves our leaders and nobody followed them. Suppose good people simply stopped doing what bad people told them to.

Just need a critical mass of good people, that's all.

Just one man's opionion,



Monday, December 08, 2008

How Come So Many Layoffs?

A friend of mine thinks all the massive layoffs that increased right after the elections are caused by greedy corporations that "don't want to give Obama a chance".

Of course, he thinks everything is pretty much caused by greedy corporations and Republicans that "don't want to give Obama a chance".

I think it's kind of like skydiving.

Why do people skydive? Because you have the thrill of falling and soaring like a bird, then your parachute opens and you drift safely to the earth.

It's a risk, but the rewards are pretty great, so people pay a lot of money to skydive and pilots and ground crew and chute packers and parachute sellers make money.

Now imagine someone removes 50% of the panels from everybody's parachutes. Now when you jump out of the plane, you'll still soar all right, but when the chute opens a lot of the fun of the thing goes out of it. There is all that terror and screaming and then when you hit the ground there will be the broken bones and the months in the hospital and a good chance you'll be dead.

The risk factor just went up to the point that it's no longer much fun to jump out of the plane. Taking 50% of the panels from the chute took all the fun out of skydiving. So instead of skydiving, you do something else with your money besides hire chute packers, pilots and ground crew. You don't buy expensive parachute equipment. Instead you do something cheaper and less risky.

I hear that attendance at the movies is way up!

Economics 101.

Just one man's opinion.



Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's Wrong with A Battalion?

The Pentagon announced it's going to post a 20,000 man rapid reaction force in the U.S. to respond to large scale terrorist attacks - particularly nuclear.

This makes me nervous on several levels.

1. Somebody really believes we're headed for a large scale biological and/or nuclear terrorist attack - enough so that they're ready to deploy military units whose primary job will be controlling panicky Americans rather than fighting enemy combatants.

2. The founding fathers were particularly nervous about standing armies being used against US Citizens. Last time that happened was during the Civil War. We have very wisely decided that in cases where a military presence within the United States is necessary to maintain order or cope with disasters, that we will use the National Guard and that only Governors of the individual states can call out those troops. Whenever the feds try to call up troops to cope with riots and such, the governors get rightly unhappy about it. They are closer to the problem and probably better suited to make the decision to deploy the troops. The standing military is supposed to be spending its time getting prepared to handle an external invader not our own citizens.

3. Colonel David Hackworth used to get really unhappy with military officers he called "perfume princes", political officers for whom military service was about advancing their careers more than it was about defending the country. For them military action is about posturing to intimidate, not about actually using the military. They don't believe in taking risks. They find it impossible to act quickly. They never move unless they have overwhelming force. That's why the mark of the perfume princes is all over this idea of having a battalion for use against a terrorist attack. Instead of the military developing plans to deploy more appropriate troops like SEAL teams and Delta Force special forces groups, trained in hostage rescue and rapid response, quick insertion missions that would be needed to respond to terrorism, the princes want to deploy large overwhelming groups to make sure they crush whatever opposition they have with little or no casualties. The problem is, moving these sorts of large groups is slow and often ineffective where you need surgical strikes. We don't need a battalion of storm troopers, we need a highly specialized group like television's "The Unit" - one that works fast, hits hard and is willing to take casualties in exchange for saving lives and winning battles. Big military responses often sacrifice lives in exchange for playing it safe. Remember how slow they were to get moving in the aftermath of Katrina. Large military groups don't move quickly. The Perfume Princes won't let them. They had the equipment, they had the capacity, but the generals wanted to make sure nothing happened too quickly lest soldiers' safety be threatened.

Since Vietnam, American generals have been reluctant to put soldiers in harm's way. This happened after the US/Mexican war too. As a result, General Grant had a real problem with the generals he had to cope with during the Civil War. It wasn't until he promoted cavalry guys to command who had a special forces kind of attitude, like Phil Sheridan and Bill Sherman was he able to get the job done. They moved fast, hit hard and took risks when it advanced the mission. Other generals had to be poked, prodded and sometimes threatened to get them to move quickly and do things they considered risky. Thank God Lincoln found a commander in U.S. Grant who wasn't afraid to win. Had Grant not been focused on winning the war instead of furthering his future political career, the Army of the Potomac would still be wandering around Northern Virginia trying to find Robert E. Lee.

Liberals understand the perfumed military. Real warriors make them uncomfortable. I worry that under a liberal administration and the sunshine generals who will rise to the top in such a military, a battalion of soldiers that is tasked with crowd control will be used for the purpose of advancing political advantage. That is a valid purpose for the military in the leftist mindset and the temptation may be far too great.

Left leaning presidents have consistently turned the US military into some kind of community service/jobs program, using money that ought to go for weapons and training, to do social engineering in the military. Because of that, the Vietnam war was never about winning, but about gaining political advantage and testing new weapons systems for the military industrial complex which poured money into political campaigns. After 4 years of Carter's gutting of the military, they so screwed up the Iranian hostage rescue mission by trying to make sure the political needs of the 4 services were met. They wound up with a team so poorly trained and coordinated that they wound up crashing into each other and getting themselveskilled out in the Iranian desert.

A particularly telling exchange happened during Clinton's first inauguration. The Air Force sent a formation overhead to salute the president. One of his staffers complained. "What are those AIR FORCE PLANES doing here?" he complained with all the self-righteous disgust of a member of the peace movement.

Ron Silver was standing close by answered him. "But don't you see? Those are our planes now!" The guy was happy after that.

After 8 years under George Bush, we have a military in place with experience and the ability to do what they are supposed to do - seek out and destroy America's enemies. They've successfully replaced an evil dictator, wiped out tens of thousands of terrorists and freed the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from tyranny while keeping terrorists so busy that we've had not one terrorist attack on the homeland since 9/11 even though Osama has been threatening us for 8 years.

I fear that for the next four years, the perfume princes will be back in power in the Pentagon and they'll change all that. Instead of improving weapons systems, training and military planning and execution, they'll be back to changing the color of the berets and making sure they count how many women and gay people are in each unit so things will be "fair". Maybe they'll create some exciting new shoulder patches or some of those tight britches with the stripes down the leg.

I know - jack boots!!!!

Ulysseys S. Grant must be rolling over in his grave!