Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Washington crossing the Delaware

While much of the world was celebrating Christmas in 1776, George Washington and a handful of his hearty men crossed the Delaware River under cover of darkness. Following his small boat across the icy river were thousands of his troops. The following morning, the assembled forces made a surprise attack on the German mercenaries, and their defeat provided a much needed boast to the  morale of the Americans.

Although the painting of the crossing is as American as you can get, it was actually painted by a German named Emanual Leutze, who released it in 1851 in order to inspire the spirit of rebellion then prevailing in Europe. It was initially released in Germany, and ultimately wound up in the Bremen art museum, which is was when it was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII.

Fortunately, the artist had made two copies of the painting. Today, one copy is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.  The other painting was hung for a period of time in the West Wing of the White House, but ultimately made its way to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota.

Like many artists, he took a few liberties in the painting, one of which was the flag. The Stars and Stripes did not come into being until September 3, 1777. The actual flag that Washington used was the Grand Union Flag, which looked like this:

 And now you know “the rest of the story”.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The grim reaper

The grim reaper, also known as DEATH, has been around for a very long time. Starting in 1921, the grim reaper has appeared in at least 21 movies, and has also made an appearance in 20 TV shows and 8 books. Regardless of who you are, when the grim reaper comes knocking, you’d better be prepared to meet your maker.


I ran into the reaper not long ago, but I’m still here to tell about the experience, and it came about due to my experience as a substitute teacher (which can be a very scary experience in itself).

One of the students in a class that I monitored recently admitted to eating a Carolina reaper pepper sometime after the start of the school year. In case you’re not familiar with the pepper, it is now officially the hottest chili pepper in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), and it registers 1,569399 Scoville heat units. However, that number is an average of the batch tested, and the hottest individual pepper in the batch measured 2.2 million SHU. Although it is unlikely that ANY hot pepper will cause you to die, hot peppers can definitely make you feel uncomfortable. The student in question threw up 5 times after eating the pepper, but somehow managed to survive. 

The Carolina reaper pepper was created by “Smoking” Ed Currie, proprietor of the Puckerbutt Pepper Company in Fort Mill, South Carolina. If you take a look at the company’s website (see below), you’ll notice an astonishing variety of both peppers and seeds. The Carolina reaper took 10 years to develop, and it is actually a hybrid of the Bhut Jolokia (also known as the ghost pepper) and a red habanero.

Lately, there seem to be a race to create the hottest pepper. Prior to the Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper was the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which was measured at just a touch over 2,000,000 SHU. In 2007, the Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) was rated as the hottest pepper (at 1,041,472) but it was quickly surpassed by the Napa Viper, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T”, the 7 Pot Primo, and the 7 Pot Douglah. If you actually need a reason NOT to eat the Carolina Reaper pepper, watch the video posted below.

The Scoville measuring unit was developed in 1912 by an American pharmacist named Wilbur Lincoln Scoville. Although the exact procedure to measure heat has changed slightly since 1912, the Scoville scale is still used today.

There is an old saying that hell hath not fury like a woman scorned, but eating a Carolina reaper pepper has got to be a pretty close second.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

This Bud’s for you


If you look at the label at the top of a Budweiser beer, this is what you will see: 

“This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging produces a taste, a smoothness, and a DRINKABILITY that you will find in no other beer at any price.” 

Long ago, I committed this phrase to memory, and occasionally use it in classes to demonstrate how to improve memory.

We all know what taste and smoothness in a beer mean, but what exactly is DRINKABILITY? I really wasn’t sure, but discovered the answer this morning when I was researching when Budweiser changed its formula to the bland version sold in stores today. For the record, the only time that I buy Budweiser is when I plan to use it to marinade either bratwurst of Italian sausage, but I recently bought a 12 pack of the 1933 Repeal Reserve amber  lager, which Anheuser-Busch just released in order to celebrate the ratification of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 1933.  

To perfectly honest, the stuff that I just bought is a very good beer. Unlike the regular Budweiser (which has an alcohol content of 4.2%), the Repeal Reserve has an alcohol content of 6.1%., and it definitely is NOT the beer that your dad used to drink. 

According to the article shown below, drinkability means the ability to drink more than one beer without feeling full. For that reason, the #1 selling beer in America is Bud LIGHT, followed by Coors LIGHT, Budweiser, Miller LIGHT, Corona, Natural LIGHT, Busch LIGHT, Michelob Ultra, Busch, and Heineken.  

Here is a list of the 10 most popular beers sold in America: 

 The fact that the beers listed above are the most popular beers sold in America doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actually good beers, as the taste test above indicates.  

In the last 40 years, the amount of hops and malt in today’s Bud has decreased dramatically, even though the inflation-adjusted price has not gone down. As a result, the per-bottle profit has increased quite a bit since the old days. Tinkering with the formula can sometimes have disastrous results, which Schlitz learned in the 1970’s. At one time, it was the most popular beer in America, but the deterioration of taste, combined with a bizarre 1970’s ad campaign, put the brewery out of business. Fortunately, you can still buy the ORIGINAL FORMULA Schlitz today, but it is not readily available

I still buy the occasional 6 pack of Budweiser just because I like their ads, which proves that they have some smart people in their marketing department. Here is a sample of some of their best ads:

Those smart people have noticed that the craft beer industry has grown dramatically in recent years. As a result, Anheuser-Busch has settled on the successful formula of “if you can’t beat them, joint them” 

In addition to Budweiser, Anheuer-Busch also owns Rolling Rock, Shock Top, Natural, Johnny Appleseed, Landshark Lager, Goose Island, Elysian Brewing, and Four Peaks.

They also have a minority interest (32%) of Redhook Ale, Widmer Brothers, and a few others.

There’s been an increased emphasis in the last year to “buy American”, which is not an easy thing to do. The classic American car, the full size Chevrolet, was the best selling car in America for close to 30 years. However, it is NOT an American car, since it is made in Ontario. If you are really hankering for a good old American beer, you’ll have to buy something other than Budweiser, since Anheuser-Busch is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Belgium based In-Bev. The REAL American beer is Yuengling, a family owned brewery that has been in operation since 1829.

To quote Benjamin Franklin, “beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. If drinking Budweiser makes you happy, I am not going to rain on your parade.


Cheers !






Steve Bannon is in town!



On the evening of November 18, Steve Bannon spoke at the Marriott resort on the west side of Tucson. He was invited to that venue by the Brian Terry foundation, which used the occasion to present him with their “courage in journalism” award. According to the local paper, roughly 400 people paid anywhere from $50 to 1000 to hear Mr. Bannon speak. Not surprisingly, his presence also attracted about 200 demonstrators, who lined both sides of Starr Pass Avenue in the vicinity of the resort. The protest was peaceful, and no one was injured or arrested.



The award given to Mr. Bannon was given to him due to his coverage of the “Fast and Furious” program in Breitbart, the publication that he has been in charge of for several years. His article specifically mentions that death of Brian Terry. 



As you may recall, Brian Terry was a Border Patrol agent who was killed at the end of 2010. The guns that killed him were purchased from the “Fast and Furious” gun program that our government instituted during the Presidency of George W. Bush. The program was called “Operation Wide Receiver” when it was started in 2006, but the name was changed to “Fast and Furious” in 2010.


Due to their suspect credibility, I don’t watch FOX “news” (where right wing radio host Michael Levin will soon have a weekly show), or read Breitbart or the National Enquirer, all of which are the chief sources of information for Donald Trump. Out of curiosity, I looked up the article that Bannon had written in Breitbart about Brian Terry. You can read the entire article by clicking on the link below.



Frankly, I didn’t expect to read an unbiased article in Bannon’s publication, and I was right. He mentions the Obama “scandals “ of Benghazi, the IRS, Department of Justice phone tapping, Pigford, GSA, Solyndra, Lightsquared, and the EPA administrator email aliases. If you take a few minutes to research them, you’ll quickly discover that NONE of them were actually a scandal. Naturally, the article says absolutely NOTHING about the involvement of the Bush administration in the “gun running program”, which was originated by ATF offices in Phoenix and Tucson.


Although he no longer works for the Trump administration (he has since returned to Breitbart), Bannon is still very much a Trump supporter. In his speech, he said, “President Trump needs your backing now more than ever. this nullification process that is underway, this nullification that is trying to take away the 2016 victory from the American people and Trump supporters – it has to be stopped “.  


According to Bannon, Trump would not be President if the Brian Terry incident has not occurred. He blamed the “elite global apparatus” and multinational corporations for resistance to a massive wall along the Mexican border.


The immigration issue happens to be one of my “hot buttons”, so I’d like to add a few comments at this point. The first of those comments is that spending $20 billion for a massive wall along the Mexican border is a REALLY STUPID idea. Mexico is not going to pay for it, and neither are the U.S.  taxpayers.


 During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump said that he was going to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants. Since it would cost an estimated $285 billion to deport all those people, it simply is not going to happen. The link below provides more details.



Even if we came to our senses and did not build the wall, we STILL spend $12 billion a year on border security, and the NET migration from Mexico has been ZERO since 2004. Click on the links below for an expanded discussion.





In 2006, the Bush administration passed the “Secure Fence Act”. As a result, we erected close to 700 miles of fence along the border, at a cost of roughly $1 billion. To quote the late Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, “a billion here and a billion there – pretty soon you are talking about some real  money”.


To their credit, the founding fathers built “freedom of speech” into the 1st amendment to the Constitution. Although it allows people like Steve Bannon the right to publish nonsense in publications like Breitbart, it also allows peaceful protestors the freedom to assemble and protest right wing extremists like Steve Bannon,


For that, we can all be grateful.  









Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pope on a rope

Both my wife and I grew up in Catholic families, so it should not be a surprise that both of our families had at least a few “pope on the rope” soaps at various times in our childhood. It is difficult to determine when the “pope on a rope” was first sold, but it is easy to determine when they were no longer available. In 1985, the Vatican decided that having a chunk of soap fashioned to look like a pope was not a proper use of a papal figure, and sales stopped soon after that.

Both of our families also had magnetic St. Christopher statues sitting on the dashboard of the family sedan. With the advent of padded dashes, the magnetic statues became outdated, but you can still buy St. Christopher medals today. Since St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, having a medal of him in your car on a long trip is probable a good idea.

Contrary to common opinion, the history of papal succession is NOT an unbroken line of men from St. Peter to the present day. The first break in the tradition is Pope Joan, who apparently was the pope for a brief period of time in the 11th century. Since Pope Joan is a bit of a legend, and since she is not listed on the register of popes, it is difficult to tell if she was actually the pope, but her legend lives on.

The first disruption in the “chain of command” was the Western Schism, which lasted from 1378 until 1417, when men of the Avignon papacy and the Rome papacy both claimed to be pope. Things got even more complicated in 1409 when the Council of Pisa established a THIRD pope. Starting in 1414, the Council of Constance cleared things up. Today, there is only one pope, who lives in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church of today does not have a pope, but Bartholomew 1 holds the title of “primus inter pares” which means “first among equals”.

Over the years, I have read a few books about the various popes. “Hitler’s pope”, published in 1999, describes how Pope Pius XII dealt with the rise of Hitler, who was actually raised as a Catholic.

More recently, I am in the process of reading “The Francis Miracle”, which provides a great deal of information about the man who was born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Italy.

Even if you are not a Catholic, it is a compelling story about his unlikely ascendancy to his current position. In my opinion, he is the best pope of my lifetime, but that is an opinion that would not be shared by the more conservative Catholics of today. The most prominent of that group would include German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and American Cardinal Raymond Burke. Since Mueller is the pope’s own doctrinal chief, the reign of Pope Francis will become even more interesting to watch.

In his closing comments, the author of the book (John L. Allen) had this to say about Pope Francis:

“Catholicism has never fully been the church of Pope John XXIII, John Paul II, or, for that matter, Gregory the Great or St. Peter himself. It has too much of its own mind -  or, rather, 1.2 billion individual minds, all encouraged by Catholic tradition to bring their own reason to bear on what the faith means to them. The nature of the Church is that no one individual, not even a pope, can dictate its rhythms and its culture. That said, a handful of popes over the centuries clearly changed the Church forever, definitely closing some doors and kicking others open against all odds.

Francis’s mission is to move the Church to the political center, the margins of the world and the heart of the gospel. Will he pull it off in a way that lasts? We can’t be certain, of course, but anyone watching him at work knows the smart bet probably isn’t against him”   

Can I get an “amen”, brothers and sisters?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater

I recently monitored an art class, and was intrigued by a carved pumpkin in the back of the room, which looked like this:

The next day, I ran into the instructor for the class, who told me that he was inspired by the work of a man named Ray Villafane, who owns a studio in Phoenix. You can view some of his creations at the link below:

My favorite is the deranged clown shown below:

If you would like to read more about the artist, click on the link below:

Although his specialty is carved pumpkins, he also has done some sand carving as well, which you can also see at the villafanestudios.com link shown above.

We have all carved numerous pumpkins in our lives, but none of them could hold a candle (pun intended) to the work of Mr. Villafane. Only in America could a man make a living carving pumpkins!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mary and the grasshoppers

If you are even remotely familiar with the Old Testament, you are aware of the fact that the ancient Egyptians, due to their enslavement of the Israelites, suffered 10 plagues, one of which was the invasion of the locusts. The other plagues included frogs, lice, hail, boils, and the death of every first born Egyptian son.

More than 2000 years later, you would think that the locust plague was ancient history – but you would be wrong.

In 2013, the locusts came back to Egypt. Although it is difficult to get an accurate count, it is estimated that 30 million locusts invaded Egypt in the early months of 2013, just before the Jewish Passover.

Not surprisingly, Egypt is not the only place that has been invaded by locusts, but before I explore the other locations, it is important to know exactly WHAT a locust is.

In essence, a locust is virtually the same as a grasshopper, and the distinction between the two lies in their behavioral patterns. If the critters turn into a swarm, then they have morphed from grasshoppers to locusts.

In the 1870’s, my home state of Minnesota suffered FIVE YEARS of a grasshopper invasions. From 1873 until 1877, the grasshoppers/locusts came every year, and devastated crops in most of the state. The farmers affected by the plagues tried every thing that they could think of, but none of the remedies seemed to work. In the spring of 1877, Minnesota governor John S. Pillsbury designated April 26 as a day of prayer. Although rain turned to snow that night, potentially freezing the varmints out, they were as plentiful as ever after the storm passed.

In July of 1877, the residents of the town of Cold Spring, Minnesota, erected a chapel to honor the Blessed Virgin. The official name for the chapel is Assumption Chapel, but it is also known as Grasshopper Chapel. The first mass at the chapel was held on August 15, and not long after that, the grasshoppers virtually disappeared.

In 1892, a tornado tossed the chapel into a nearby woods, entirely destroying the structure. The only thing that remained on the original structure was the statute of the Blessed Virgin, which was undamaged. In 1952, the chapel was finally rebuilt. Each year, a mass is held on the site on August 15, and daily masses are said each year for 7 weeks in the spring in order to bring blessings during the planting season.

You may or not believe that the disappearance of the grasshoppers in 1877 was a miracle, but it would not be much of a stretch to say that it was. Over the past few centuries, the Vatican has researched 295 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, but has officially recognized only 12, the most recent being the 2008 approval of the 17th and 18th century apparitions of Our Lady of Laus.

The 2nd largest religious group in the United States is the one that includes Americans without a religious affiliation. At 22.8% of the population, it is a larger group than Catholics, who are 20.8 % of the population, but a lot smaller than the group labeled “Protestants”, who make up 46.5% of our population.

I have never personally witnessed any miracles, but I HAVE been to Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, where some VERY miraculous occurrences have taken place.

In my opinion, it is totally irrelevant what your religious views are. However, even if you are totally irreligious, it is always wise to allow room for the miracles that WILL occur sometime during your lifetime. If you don’t believe me, take a trip to Cold Spring, Minnesota.

I think that you will see the light.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap

Soap is one of those products that we all use on a daily basis. Very few of us would consider it to be a very exciting product, nor would we consider it to be controversial in any way.

In colonial and early pioneer days, everyone had to make their own soap, since you couldn’t simply go to the store and buy the stuff. Needless to say, it was a time consuming and arduous task, and it didn’t always turn out the way that you wanted it. The link below provides some of the details about the process:

On November 6, 1959, Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel started a company called Amway, and their product line was almost exclusively health, beauty, and home care products. Initially, the company’s ONLY product was an organic liquid cleaner, but it soon added other products as well. Rather than sell their products in retail stores, the company relied on a multi-level marketing system to sell and distribute its goods. The company’s sales strategy turned out to be extremely successful. In 2014, the company’s annual sales were $11.8 billion, and the products are sold in 80 countries. As of today’s date, Richard DeVos is worth $5.1 billion. Upon his death, his son Dick (and his wife Betsy) will inherit that vast fortune, which is larger than the net worth of Betsy’s new boss, Donald Trump, who is “only” worth $3.7 billion.

In the early 1970’s, a woman named Marilyn Chambers played the role of the Ivory Snow Girl. Since the Ivory Snow Girl was “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, her role would not have been the least bit controversial. However, Proctor and Gamble soon discovered that she was the starring actress in a 1972 adult film titled “Behind the Green Door”, and she quickly became the FORMER Ivory Snow Girl.

Despite their best intentions, even large companies sometimes make mistakes in their advertising campaigns, and Dove is the latest example of a company stepping in dog doo doo.

Although the company stated that its intent with the latest ad was to be inclusive, it turned out to be racially insensitive, and it was not the first time that the company had made a similar error.

I’m fairly certain that there will be people in our country who will stop buying Dove products, but I’m also fairly certain that the “controversy” will soon be forgotten by most of us, and the company will not suffer very much for its error. The Dove brand commands a 21% share of the personal cleansing category, significantly higher than the 14% share held by second place Dial. Dove’s parent, Unilever, has annual annuals in excess of $50 billion,   

Dove quickly apologized for its ad, and quickly withdrew it, effectively “washing their mouth out with soap”. The fact that they “came clean” in a timely manner makes it much easier to move on to their next campaign, and we can all move concern ourselves with the NEXT “crisis of the week”.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

And now, a word from MARS

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds on The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The broadcast seemed so authentic that many people, especially those tuning in late, thought that Earth was being invaded by extraterrestrial beings from the planet Mars.

At the time of the broadcast, Welles had already achieved fame on Broadway for his 1937 production of “Caesar”. In 1941, he released the movie “Citizen Kane”, which is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

Believe it or not, some of our friends in Minnesota have a close personal relationship with MARS, which obviously requires a more complete explanation.

In the early 1970’s, our friend Dave joined the Air Force. One of his first duty stations was in the Azores, which are a long way from his home state of Minnesota.

While stationed in the Azores, Dave’s wife DeeDee became pregnant with their first child. Rebecca, who was born on February 7, 1972. As you might suspect, transatlantic phone calls were notoriously unreliable at that time, so Dave and Denise relied on MARS to let their parents in Minnesota about the birth of their granddaughter.

To give you an idea how crude the system was, I’ll let them describe it to you in their own words:

The MARS shack was located next to the weather balloon launch site on a ridge overlooking Lajes Field airbase, the Island of Terceira, Azores, Portugal.  Our operator connected to a Ham operator in Ohio, who called long distance to St. Paul.  Every phrase we uttered ended with "Over!”.

MARS is an acronym for the Military Auxiliary Radio System, and it has existed since November.1925, Originally known as the Auxiliary Amateur Radio System, the name was changed to the Military Affiliate Radio System in 1952. In 2009, the name was again changed to the Military Auxiliary Radio System.

The system was designed to provide better communication options for members of the military, and it is supported by a series of licensed amateur radio operators. It still exists today, in spite of the many other communication options that we now have.

NASA has done an admirable job of surveying the planet Mars, and has determined that there was likely some type of life forms on the planet at some point in the past. It is highly doubtful there were ever any INTELLIGENT life forms at any time in the past. However, if you have seen the movie “Idiocracy” is also apparent that there are even places in our country that are lacking in INTELLIGENT life forms.

Since its introduction in 1967 (as ARPANET) the internet has revolutionized life on our planet. Believe or not, however, it IS possible to send an internet message to the planet Mars. The official name for the network is the NASA Deep Space Network, and it relies on a series of satellites. Even though the communications travel at the speed of light, the vast distance between Earth and Mars means that messages can take anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes, which would make it virtually impossible to carry on a phone conversation of any kind.

Despite their early exposure to MARS, Dave and Denise have suffered no long term ill effects. In fact, they just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.

A perfect ending to this story, of course, would be that they have since traveled to Roswell, New Mexico in their Saturn, and this is where truth gets stranger than fiction.

In the early 1990’s, they bought a brand new first generation Saturn. Also at some point in the distant past, they actually DID travel to Roswell, and actually spent two nights in the town. I’m actually not sure if they went there in their Saturn, but the possibility does exist.

And that’s all that I have to say …………….

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How terribly strange to be 70



The song “bookends” was one of the songs on Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album, which was also titled Bookends. It was released on March 8, 1968. At the time of its release, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were 26 years old. Today, they are both 75 years old, and have considerably less hair than they did in 1968.



I have always loved the song, so I would recommend listening to an original recording of it once again:



When the song was released, I was in my junior year of college, and 70 seemed to be an impossibly old age.  Even my dad, and most of his siblings, still had not reached the milestone year of 70 in 1968.

Now, here’s the hard part.

On August 28, I will become 70 years old, an age that I once thought would put me comfortably into my retirement years, but life doesn’t always work out the way that you planned.

Although I have retired 4 times already, that idyllic state just hasn’t managed to stick. However, that it is also true of a LOT of the musical performers that we grew up with. Simon and Garfunkel are still performing, but so is Roger Waters, Mick Jagger, Arlo Guthrie, and Charlie Daniels. Graham Nash, age 75, was in Philadelphia just last weekend. Even Tony Bennett is still performing, and he is NINETY, for heaven’s sake.


Now that I am actually 70, it no longer feels strange, especially in view of the fact that several of my friends and acquaintances have already died of NATURAL CAUSES.


My YOUNGER sister just retired after 45 years of nursing, and is enjoying her time off immensely. In the short time that she has been retired, she has managed to have a meal at Brennan’s in New Orleans, enjoyed a meditation weekend in northern California, and had a slice at Mystic Pizza in Connecticut. Not a bad way to spend your retirement years!


As for me, I will likely work for another year or two (unless my Powerball ticket pays off). If that doesn’t happen, though, I still plan to live life to its fullest, and I am not planning on “checking out” any time in the near future.










Monday, August 21, 2017

I work with Santa Claus



Apart from the fact that working as a substitute teacher pays pretty well for the number of hours I put in, there are 3 additional reasons that I continue to work in my so-called retirement years: 

1) every week, I learn at least one new thing

2) every week, I manage to teach a bunch of students a few new things

3) every week, I meet some very interesting people, both young and old 

When I checked into the office of a local high school on one of the first days of the current school year, I found myself standing directly behind a man who was wearing a bright red shirt, and was sporting a a delightful bushy white beard. Since he apparently would not need a pillow to fill out a Santa costume, my first thought on seeing him was “that’s Santa Claus!” As it turns out, I was exactly right.

His name is Mark. Like most baby boomers, he has held a variety of jobs in his lifetime, including bartender, music venue manager, legal researcher, stage actor, and on-air personality. As a result of his work in the music industry, he had a chance to work closely with a number of famous performers. And, yes, he got a chance to know Jerry Garcia personally. 

In 2012, he started working as a department store Santa during the holiday season. He typically works a 5 week shift, and gets paid VERY WELL for his time, and his compensation usually includes the use of a car and lodging. Since he is just as generous as Santa, he uses the majority of his "mall money" to support his charity work, which is visiting home and hospital bound children and adults in the Tucson area, which he does on a year-round basis.

As you’re probably aware, Santa is very familiar with technology. After all, how else could he keep track of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Not surprisingly, a few years before Mark started working as a department store Santa, he started a Facebook page called Santa for all seasons.  

In recent years, he has expanded his interests to include working as a substitute teacher at local high schools. Like most of us, he usually winds up monitoring a class that is not related to his major in college (I have yet to monitor an Economics class). In the Army, people who are trained cooks wind up being mechanics, and trained mechanics wind up being cooks. Somehow, it works for the Army, and it also seems to work for local school districts here. 

Not everyone gets to work with a celebrity on a daily basis, but if you’re listening, Virginia, I have a few words of wisdom for you: 

There IS a Santa Claus! 






Monday, July 31, 2017

Welcome to Transylvania

Transylvania is a real place, even though you might initially think that it is a location invented by Bram Stoker as a setting for his famous novel, Dracula.

It is located in what today is central Romania, and it has a very long history. Prior to its conquest by the Romans in 106 AD, it was the center of power for the kingdom of Dacia.

It’s not entirely clear what inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, but invasion literature was very popular in England during the last years of the 19th century. Dracula was published in 1897, but was actually preceded by at least 3 other vampire novels in the earlier parts of the 19th century. Bram Stoker spent 7 years researching European folklore and tales of vampires, and was heavily influenced by Emily Gerard’s 1885 essay titled ”Transylvania Superstitions”. Although Bran Castle in central Romania is commonly referred to as Dracula’s castle, it bears no resemblance to the fictional one created by Stoker.

The word “trans” suddenly became a hot topic a few days ago, due to the actions of our tweeter-in-chief. Without consulting with his military leaders, Trump issued an edict (by Twitter) that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity”. Although it is difficult to know exactly how many transgender people are serving in the military, studies done by UCLA and the Rand Corporation put the number between 10,000 and 15,000.

Although the majority of Trump’s decisions appear be impulsive, with little regard for facts or consequences, it appears that he may have had a little help on his latest decision. To their credit, our military leaders do not plan to take any action until they are ordered to do so by John Mattis, our Defense Secretary.

In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality determined that, compared to the general population, transgender people:

Were 2.3 times more likely to serve in the military –

Were 3 times more likely to have experienced a sexual assault -

Were 3 times more likely to live in a household that had an annual income of less than $10,000 –

Were 4.8 times more likely to experience police harassment –

Were 8.7 times more likely to have attempted suicide at some point in their lives

The “man behind the curtain” on Trump’s recent decision is James Perkins, the head of Family Research Council. Early in his career, he purchased Klansman David Duke’s mailing list for use in a political campaign he was managing, and in 2001, he gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group. Perkins is a graduate of Liberty University, a right wind Christian college that was founded by the late Jerry Falwell. 

Although the Family Research Council describes itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power”, its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called it an anti-LGBT hate group, putting it in the same category as the Westboro Baptist Church. 

The Family Research Council was founded by James Dobson in 1983. In recent years, the group has also set up a Facebook page called Faith Family America. If you review their page, you will notice that I added some background about its parent organization on April 2, but it was not an April Fools joke.


James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Resrach  Research Council, recently expressed his belief that transgender people using public bathrooms should be killed, completely ignoring the fact that “irregularities” in public bathrooms were the exclusive domain of Republican politicians. 

I’m not opposed to folks who consider themselves to be religious, but I AM opposed to the ones who hold extreme religious views. The same people who STILL believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim also believe that Donald Trump is a Christian. Both of those beliefs, of course, are pure fantasy.

Sadly, the religious extremist part of our population strongly support a man who is clearly mentally ill. In August of 2016, Michelle Bachmann (the queen of crazy) told the Christian Broadcasting Network that God picked Donald Trump to be the Republican Party’s nominee, and the “religious nuts” believed her. 81% of the white evangelicals voted for him.

To further solidity that base, Trump invited 30 religious leaders (including Bachmann) to the White House in early July, where they laid their hands on him as he bowed his head in prayer. He also recently nominated Sam Brownback, the failed governor of Kansas, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. 

It’s not clear at this point how Trump’s desire to rid the military of transgender people will pan out, but I predict that it will follow the same path as the Muslim bans that he tried to implement earlier, and head straight to court. Since it is illegal in America to discriminate against people due to race, creed, color, national origin, or sexual preference, his edict is also unconstitutional, and likely to be stopped by the courts.

Although Bram Stoker’s novel was a commercial success, the character of Dracula became MUCH more popular after the motion picture industry started making movies about the character. To date, there have been more than 200 movies that have been made that either used him as a villain, or included his name in the title of the film. None of the actors who played in those films, however, will ever be as well known as Bela Lugosi, who starred in the 1931 film version.

If you carefully study a picture of Bela Lugosi, you will notice that he has a very distinctive hairline. If you also study a picture of Anthony Scaramucci, who was recently named as the White House Communication Director, you’ll notice that his hairline is a very close match to the one sported by Bela Lugosi.

Just a coincidence, you say?

Probably, but wouldn’t it be interesting to have Dracula strolling through the White House late at night?

As Donald Trump tossed and turned in his sleep, in preparation for his next 3 a.m. tweet, the sight of Dracula strolling through the halls would likely bring back memories of Ichabod Crane (from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) rushing away in terror from the flaming pumpkin tossed his way by Brom Bones (the headless horseman).

Perhaps we would never see him again.

Now, wouldn’t that be a damn shame?