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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuning Up

I learned during a trip home to see my family that intelligent public opinion on America's current foreign policy issues is more divided than I thought. It started with a lunch discussion with my father. He's an intelligent man with firm opinions. I respect him and model a lot of my life on his character. Five minutes into our discourse on the war in Iraq, I was nearly screaming. I'm not a very passionate guy when it comes to matters of politics. Or, at least, I didn't used to be. Yelling at my dad is something I never do. I ended up declaring, "I'm not talking about this with you anymore."

Five minutes later I was yelling again.

When I posted Tuning In, I expected very little response. Based on the e-mails and comments, I was wrong about that. Because I think talking about it is the only way we'll ever get close to consensus, I thought I'd bump the discussion up to a post of its own.

Mike M. wrote:

What are you talking about? Mexicans booed the US soccer team just weeks after 9/11 in Mexica, chanting Osama...Osama throughout the match. This is not a "wake up" call, at least not to most of us.

Everyone hates us and they have for decades before 9/11. Are you ready to change America so that the world loves us again? Ready to sell out Israel? That will gain lots of friends.

Mature people worry about doing the right thing. Teenagers worry about being liked.

I responded:

1) Being mature and being liked aren't mutually exclusive.

2) I said "most of America" woke up with the beauty pageant. You might forget that most of America doesn't watch soccer and missed that other Mexico incident.

3) There's a difference between actively trying to be liked and actively working to be hated.

Zippy backed me up:

As for Israel, I'm pretty sure it can take care of itself these days. They can always use those nuclear weapons that they don't have that they didn't build from nuclear material we didn't give them or have taken from us in the late 60s.

Mike was having none of my liberal ranting. He responded:

C'mon, Otis. Are you kidding? Do you think this is a "wake-up call" to even 5% of Americans, the ones who have been in comas?

I think you are simply rejoicing in the humiliation of an American woman. I think you feel Americans have it coming to them for not voting the way you would vote.

And I *know* that if an American crowd acted as the Mexican crowd did, you would have no problem recognizing the unforgivable racism, xenophobia, and hatred on display by ugly Americans. There would be no "wake up call for Mexicans" for you to point out if a Mexican girl was humiliated on an American stage. It would be all about the racist American pigs who made racist taunts and jeers at a brave contestant.

I didn't respond to that at the time. I guess I should now.

You're right, Mike. I would call the American crowd xenophobic if they booed a foreign contestant. It's an ugly way to treat people who are not at fault for the world's problems. Further, it does nothing to further the cause of peace and harmony (and, lest you think that sentence is all "Come on people, smile on your brothers," I'm not really riding a Flower Child trip here--I just think peace and harmony are decent, if futile, pursuits).

What you might have misinterpreted from my thoughts about the Mexican booing is this: I wasn't applauding the Mexicans. I was simply saying that a majority of America pays more attention to beauty pageants than it does news about the war. I guarantee you that more people discussed the Mexican Booing incident than discussed how many Americans died in Iraq that same day. I'd suggest that sucks and I suspect you'd agree. The point isn't that Miss USA got wrongly humiliated. The point is that America at large is shocked by the fact that the people of other nations dislike us enough to boo our pageant queens. The point is we should be taking a critical look at why other nations dislike us. If it's because we're free and rich, well, then I don't care if they like us either. However, if it's because we use words like "crusade" when we attack lands of different faiths, well, then I think we have a problem.

The biggest part of the argument I had with my dad was over whether America's reasons for war were justified and if, even in the face that our initial stated reason was false, whether our continued involvement was just, fair, and smart. I'm not sure I have the answer to that (at least well enough to write about it). However, I think it's a question we should all be able to answer before we support or actively fight our continued involvement in Iraq.

Which brings me to Random101. He is a friend, and an intelligent one at that. Rarely outspoken, he has taken this opportunity to offer me a thinking exercise. He commented:

My reaction to the Iraq/world opinion stories ran contrary to your comments. I would like to make a request to the best writer that I personally know. You are President/King Otis. It is 9/11 or whenever. What do you do? Do you stop enforcing the “no fly” zone in Iraq? Do you pull all of the 100,000 or so troops out of the Middle East? What would be the reaction of other countries? What are your counter actions? If you capture real terrorists, what do you do with them?

I don’t want to argue or trap anyone. I just want someone describe the alternative path. People sound so hopeless. What possible series of US/world events leads to people sounding hopeful?

It is 9/11 or whenever.

I'd first take issue with the characterization of "9/11 or whenever." Not to be glib, but it reminds me of that line from "Sixteen Candles."

The Geek: How's it going?
Samantha: How's what going?
The Geek: You know - things, life, whatnot.
Samantha: Life is not whatnot, and it's none of your business.

September 11th could never be compared to any point that could be described as "whenever." September 11th was a moment that galvanized America and showed us how vulnerable we are to the people who hate us. No other event since Pearl Harbor had such an effect on America at large. I shudder to imagine that it could become so commonplace that we'd describe it as "whenever." So, I'll assume you were just being colloquial and you can forgive me quoting John Hughes.

What do you do?

Without question, I hunt down the organizers of the terrorist groups and I kill them. I kill them in such a way that there is no question that I intended to kill them. I continued to kill them until there are no more to kill.

So, most supporters of the current war would suggest that's what we're doing in Iraq. We're working to kill the people who tried to kill us. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence to support that. I've yet to see evidence that Iraq provided serious support to Osama Bin Laden or his people. I've yet to see serious evidence that Saddam had much success in building weapons of mass destruction. So, launching an assault on Iraq and deposing Saddam might have been a good idea. I'm not saying it wasn't. What I'm saying is, 9/11 wasn't justification for it. What I'm saying is America is in the middle of a crisis of its own making and the only people winning are the Haliburtons of the corporate world.

People sound so hopeless. What possible series of US/world events leads to people sounding hopeful?

Maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there was reason to occupy Iraq for four-plus years in an effort to fight terrorism. Maybe the trillions we've spent destroying and rebuilding Iraq is actually making my family safer. However, I don't think that.

I have an in-law who once said, "If we don't find them over there, your son will have to fight them over here."

My question: Who is "them?" Iraqis? Muslims? Middle Eastern people? Brown people?

Supporters of the war seem to draw a clear connection between The War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq. I don't see one.

So, what of hope? What would make me hopeful?

Hard to say anymore I guess. Looking back, I wish we would've spent trillions in covert missions and undercover work to find and kill terrorists. I wish we had not gone to war in Iraq. Had we decided to depose Saddam, I wish it would've been a CIA mission as opposed to a full-scale military assault. I wish we would've listened to the intelligence about the insurgency problems we were sure to face. I wish thousands of American soldiers hadn't had to die for a war with no clear goal or exit strategy.

But, hope in one hand, yada, yada.

So, what would give me hope now?

A gradual drawdown of the American presence in Iraq.

A clear timetable for our eventual exit.

If we're to stick to a strategy of pro-active war, I'd be hopeful that America is given clear and accurate reasoning for such future battle.

The end or reduction of no-bid contracts.

Clear accounting of money spent during times of war.

For-profit mercenary firms being held to the same legal standard as American military troops.

A recognition that our espoused noble war is operating, if not at the expense of, at least in the ambivalence about such tragedies as the genocide in Darfur.


I am not a foreign policy expert. I don't claim to know even 25% of everything I need to know to have an educated opinion about this. I'm speaking largely from my heart. I believe in democracy. I believe in freedom. I believe in America. However, no one has given me any reason to believe the war and continued occupation of Iraq is helping America or the people of Iraq. To the contrary, the war has injured my belief that America works in the interest of peace and democracy. I can only hope that my belief is restored. War is sometimes necessary. This kind of war, however, is not.


When I left my hometown, I sat in a small airline gate with my kid at 6am. A clean-cut, tough solider in fatigues stood almost at attention. He looked through the glass windows out into the insecure area and did a lover's version of sign language to his girl on the other side. For nearly 30 minutes, they signed back and forth in their own unspoken longing. When the gate agent called for boarding, the guy turned on his cell phone. With tears running down his face and a waver in his voice, he said, "I love you, baby." And then he walked in tears onto the plane that would start his journey toward Iraq.

If he was your son, your husband, your boyfriend, or your brother, what would you say if he died in Iraq tomorrow?

Would he have died for a reason? And if so, please tell me what that reason is.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tuning in

I spent most of the last eight days tuning out. I ate a lot of food, played precious little poker, spent time with good friends, and enjoyed my family. It was a much-needed reprieve from everything. Upon my return, I spent a few minutes looking over what I've missed.

* Mexico boos Miss USA -- It's not enough that Rachel Smith is clumsy. She also got booed by a Mexican audience at the Miss Universe competition. I find it pretty amazing that it takes a beauty pageant for most of America to realize that the rest of the world hates us. But, whatever it takes, I say.

* Lindsay Lohan back in rehab -- Oh yeah, on a day when eight American soldiers are killed in Iraq, the fact that a no-talent actress can't stay off the booze and coke makes it above the fold on the front page of CNN.com You know why? America can feel better about itself if it pays less attention to the honorable people who are dying and more attention to the dishonorable people who are merely killing themselves. At least Britney Spears can get back to lipsynching work.

* Even Cindy Sheehan is giving up -- You know you're on the losing side of the battle when even the Sheehans are headed for the house. I, for one, would like to welcome our leaders from Haliburton and Blackwater USA.

* Sad because it's true -- My friend Geno directed me to this one. It nearly made me cry. This is probably the best paragraph from the entire thing:

"Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent."

Holy shit, that should be on the base of the Statue of Liberty right now.

Rural southwest Missouri storm or a more significant harbinger?

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Still away, and about to be very away

The title will be better explained in the coming days. For now, a few pictures from an extended trip to the Show-Me State.

My mom prepared a big meal for us Saturday night. Twenty minutes before we sat down to eat, a typical Missouri storm blew through and knocked out the power. We ate by the remaining sunlight and flickering candles.

The power was out for several hours. With no TV, no computers, no music, and no light, we did what few extended families do anymore. We sat around talked and laughed for a long time. We bet on what time the power would come back on (my wife won) and when it did, we all turned off the lights and went to bed.

For a kid who never stops moving, I find it pretty amazing that I'm learning a lot from him about when to stop and smell the flowers.

And what he knows about concentration, I'm not sure I'll ever learn.

This is the face of a woman displaying incredible patience.

Looking out from the inside of a small Missouri cave. We debated while here whether Missouri is known as the cave state and whether anyone outside this state would recognize it as such if it were. Turns out, Missouri is The Cave State, but I'd guess my friends in California just don't care.

A good uncle who would make a great father, if he should ever so choose.

A father who is about to endure an annual departure that hurts worse every time he does it.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Otis (Away)

Swim with the shark

I have placed maybe a grand total of five sports bets in my life. I usually bet on one Kansas City Chiefs game each December when I'm in Vegas. I bet one ten game parlay a couple summers ago. Oh, and I bet on a horse named Mr. Otis in Vegas last year. Half the people in the sports book cheered for the horse to fall. Twice a week, a sports tout service calls my cell phone to tell me what NBA game to bet. I curse at the phone every time I see the number. I'm still trying to figure out how I got on the call list. I spend about 20 hours a week around frequent sports bettors and bookies. If that kind of exposure doesn't turn me into a sports bettor, nothing will.

That said, I'm being paid to look at SharkHandicapping.com, a site that I feel sure can provide as good of sports betting advice as any other out there. So, if you're a sports bettor and are looking for a tout service that, according to its website, has "had eight straight winning seasons, finishing every year up an average of 110 games," give the site a look.

Me, I'm going to see how Mr. Otis finished.

This post was part of a paid advertisement. Regular silliness will resume shortly.


Friday, May 18, 2007


I love where I live.

Today, it's 70 degrees and sunny. The air is clear again, the trees are dancing like a hippie, and Friday offers the promise of weekend relaxation.

The city is bustling right now. A bunch of celebs are in town for an annual charity event. Head downtown tonight and you'll see Kevin Costner, Joanna Krupa, George Lopez, Cheech Marin, Catherine Bell, John Elway, and a bunch of other folks are enjoying this progressive little city on one of its nicest weekends of the year.

Wait. Did I say progressive?

Well, yes. It tries to be. It really does. It's part of what's kept me here for so long. The problem is, its attempts run smack dab into the face of the general populace.

There's a bar called Brew's on the edge of the city. It's a dark little place near Interstate 85. Walking in the front door of the joint feels like walking in the back door of any other bar. It's a popular dive with cheap beer, late hours, and a pretty good mix of people.

The other night, a man was leaving the bar when a car pulled up, a guy jumped out, smacked the man in the face, and watched him fall to the ground. As the sucker-puncher pulled out, he likely didn't see the man fall and hit his head on the ground.

Sean Kennedy died later at the hospital.

What we learned in later reports was that Kennedy was gay. We also learned that the cops believe Stephen Andrew Moller, an eighteen year old from a working class suburb, attacked Kennedy because he was gay.

Because South Carolina has no hate crime statute--surprise!--the case has been handed over to the FBI to see if federal charges are in order. That seems to be a reasonable solution. What's got me a little sideways is the public's response.

Our local paper made a decision a few months back to solicit comments from the public. The result has been the same kind of forum silliness you see elsewhere on the Internet. To be fair, there were a lot of compassionate people commenting on the story. However, there were also a number of other people who felt it appropriate to write this in a public forum:

"Another notice for gays, you are in the wrong state. A lot of people go to church here and will not tolerate your kind here."

The wife wrote something this week that speaks well to this subject, so I'm not going to go on and on about it. There are a ton of good people here, church-going and otherwise, who would find the above quote as repugnant as I do. As it happens, we are also the kind of people that stand to get beat down in a bar parking lot for disagreeing with the more ignorant members of our fair community.

Now, a lot of you might say, "But, Otis, you're not gay. Why should you care if people are intolerant of homosexuals?"

Well, there's a number of reasons. First, I find intolerance of any kind (race, sexuality, religious, lactose) to be unacceptable. Second, one of my best friends is gay. Third, I have a lot more friends who are gay or lesbian. Not one of them (okay, ONE of them) has ever espoused any intolerance.

Here's the thing. My friends and I frequent a dive bar. It looks rough, but it's actually full of good people. Most of them are working class country folk. A few weeks ago, five of us sat at a table. One of us was gay. If you'd had to guess which one of us it was, you would've had a hard time. In fact, I bet if we'd bet someone $100, they would've picked me.

I'm just not sure I could handle it if we'd faced a beat down on the way out of the bar that night. If one of us was dead right now because of one of our sexual orientation, I think I'd lose my mind.

That has to be how Sean Kennedy's friends are feeling right now.

So, my heart goes out to Kennedy's friends and family.

Yours should, too, no matter what state you live in.


In other news, it's good to live under a rainbow.

That's the family and I (left) last weekend. We got caught in a sudden thunderstorm and took shelter under the eve of a smalltown newspaper building with our friend T and his daughter. When the clouds broke, we found a rainbow.

Thanks to T for the pic.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Where there's smoke

I stood behind the bar mixed my friend a drink. It was made with premium vodka and a dry vermouth purchased just for us. I'd anticipated his arrival and poured the drink just as he took his seat at the corner of the bar. The counter top and cabinetry were expensive. Eight feet long on one side, four feet long on the other, it would've cost $3,000 to have the bar built for my house.

The owner of the card room had declined my offer to take the tiki bar in my garage. I built it for a Bradoween several years ago. Over the years, dozens upon dozens of people have signed the counter top with everything from congratulations to profanity. The bar itself had become a symbol of a lot of things. Recently, it's been seen as little more than a symbol of lost youth and a garage that is too crowded to fit a car.

"It doesn't really go with the feel of the room," the card room owner said politely. "I'll pass." It didn't hurt my feelings. I knew he was right. And, in truth, I was just looking for someone to haul the Bradoween Bar somewhere other than my garage.

I've fantasized in the past about being a bartender. I listen well and feel at home when serving people. So, when the new card room opened, I took advantage of the opportunity to stand behind the bar and make drinks for a few minutes. A good friend was my first customer. We drink the same thing. He makes the drink better than I do. I think it's because he's more centered.

I think I looked tried when he sat down. I know my whites were bloodshot and I had giant gray circles--impending raccoon, I thought--hanging below my eyes.

"How long does it take you to fall asleep?" he asked.

I sleep badly. My job and lifestyle mean I'm awake until 3am or 4am three or four nights a week.

"At least an hour," I said, knowing that the time stretched to two, three, and four hours on a fairly regular basis.

He recommended Melatonin and said he'd been using it to some success. I've used it in the past and find it to be as successful as I allow it to be. Frankly, I've tried everything--herbal aids, alcohol, prescription narcotics, and over the counter sleep aids. They all work to a certain degree, and most have side effects I'd rather not suffer.

We dropped the discussion in favor of an argument over Benadryl and what ingredient causes drowsiness. I tried to fall asleep eight hours later at 3am. The last time I looked at the clock it was 5:30.


"Do you smell something burning?"

That was my wife on the other end of the phone. I have no idea what time it was, although it made sense--what with the daylight and my wife being gone--that it was morning. I'd taken an OTC sleep aid the night before to knock me out. It worked pretty well and I barely dreamed until morning. Those dreams featured my then-fiancee telling me she'd had an affair two months before we were scheduled to be married. So, I woke up mad at my wife and unwilling to get up and see if the house was on fire.

Unfazed by her subconscious infidelity, my wife explained that she smelled something like burning plastic when she left for the gym. I eventually forgave her roll in the hay with dreamscape boy and got up to see what was burning.

I went out on the back deck. Sure enough, I smelled it too. It was a familiar smell. After covering countless fire in the old days, the smell was pure mountain brush fire...one that had snagged the vinyl siding of a home. I looked toward Paris Mountain, but couldn't see much through the haze. Paris Mountain fires can be a little close for comfort.

Inside, I checked the Internet. It told me that the smoke and smell were coming from far away in Florida and Georgia.


The e-mail subject line might have seemed vague to someone looking over my shoulder. It read, "annnnd...scene." I knew what it meant before I even opened the mail.

In practical terms, the e-mail didn't mean much for me. It wasn't going to change how I live, how I make money, or much about my future. However, it did spell the end of something I enjoyed. What it is really doesn't matter. Regardless, it's yet another illustration of how I'm not good with change, especially when things change from good to not-as-good.

There have been a lot of those little changes in the past four months. Individually, the changes are never enough to send me over an edge and to some little town to tend bar. Collectively, though, they spell the end of a period of time I've really enjoyed. It was a time in which I really saw a lot of promise for the future. It was a time of new friendships and boundless possibility. It was a time that I knew would eventually end, but never thought would happen so soon.

Right now, the wind is blowing outside and with each gust is the scent of destruction. My home is not in danger. I can still breathe basically clean air. People in Georgia and Florida, however, aren't as lucky.

It reminds me, whether it's the butterfly effect, the domino effect, or a hard wind blowing in from the south, we're never far enough down the line for distant change not to alter our lives.

And that's the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Daddy's Little Boy

Life is exceptionally busy right now. I think I could write 2000 words on this subject. Sadly, I just don't have the time for it right now.

My kid is an unabashed disciple of Billy Jonas. Jonas is a self-described re-percussionist and a fun songwriter. Most of his work is done for kids. What my boy doesn't know is that Jonas also does some PG-13 work for folks like me.

One hit my kid hasn't heard is one of my favorites: Jonas' "Pissin' Outside."

Although my kid is not yet old enough to hear the unrated Jonas, he's, as I said, clearly a disciple.

'Nuff said.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Meme Nation

I usually avoid the memes, if only out of a complete lack of anything interesting to contribute. However, in the last week, I've been drawn into two of them. I suppose I really should contribute something. Plus, I like to feel involved.

So, since I was tagged by the Poker Bitch (aka, a hotshot in the art of chicken florentine lasagna-making), I figure I should give this a shot.

Seven Things You Might Not Know About Me

1. I once committed breaking and entering--While an unabashed petty criminal, I tend to stay away from the big stuff. After consulting legal counsel, I feel safe that the statute of limitations has run out on my B&E. I was running with an odd group of kids at the time. We rather considered ourselves a group of young revolutionaries. Still, I'm not sure our message was embraced by the populace. Our methods, in retrospect, were a bit flawed. Fortunately, graduation came around before I got in too much trouble. Between that and John P.'s sister, I avoided a life of crime for the summer.

2. I tear up every time I watch the movie Rudy--I don't know if it has something to do with Sean Astin or my overall failures in the world of sports, but I can't help but get misty when Rudy gets in the game.

3. I have an unnatural interest in Scarlett Johansson--Apart from a childhood (and, well, yes, adult) crush on Alyssa Milano, I've never been much for celebrity love. However, there is something about Scarlett that makes me feel funny in funny places.

4. My body is a wonderland--And by that, I mean that I have somehow made it through 33 years of my life without getting a tattoo or having anything pierced. The former is still not out of the question. The latter would require a great deal of whiskey, a leather belt, and quite a bit of money.

5. I am the vault--I keep secrets better than anybody I know. When I have a secret, you know who I tell? Me. This trait has gotten me in more trouble than I care to consider. What's funny is this: I am a terrible liar.

6. Given a choice between regular exercise and regular stomach flu, I'd have a hard decision--It's been a decade since I ran more than a mile. Somehow, I've managed to maintain a reasonable weight. At some point, I'm going to have to get healthy. However, I can't think of many good-for-me things that I would dread much more.

7. I'm old--The other day, a cop came to my house to fill out a report on my wife's burgled car. As I'm the man of the house (feel free to laugh--my wife does), it is usually my job to deal with the local constabulary. When the cop asked me how old I was, I said, "Thirty-two. Wait, that's not right." He looked at me sideways. "Thirty-four," I said definitively. He started to write. "Wait," I said. He picked his pen back up from the clipboard. "I think I'm 33. Sure. Thirty-three." After some scratching on the report, the cop wrote down my age. At the time, I didn't have the heart to tell him I wasn't sure.

Now, I guess I should reach out and touch some folks, huh?

The Unrepentant Texan
The Pixie Stick Queen
This Perfect World
Brandon Schaefer
Al Can't Hang

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Blackwater: Good book that Republicans won't read

Some of you may have noticed that I've been tracking my light reading this year. Work, recreation, and family have kept me from reading as much as I would like, but I'm still making it through a few good ones (see the 2007 Reading List for more).

I recently wrapped up Jeremy Scahill's "Blackwater." It was a diversion from a lot of the recreational reading I've been doing this year. The book documents the meteoric rise of a North Carolina security firm that has exploded into a huge corporation thanks to close ties to the neoconservative movement and the conflict in Iraq.

I recommend the book, if only to encourage you to educate yourselves on some things you might have missed in the past few years. That said, Scahill has such disdain (most of it very well-placed) for the Bush administration that the really scary parts of the book are overshadowed by his Bush bashing.

Now, I enjoy a good liberal rant as much as the next guy, but Scahill did himself a disservice. He watered down what was a perfectly good work and got himself lumped into the Michael Moore crowd--aka, the group that nobody in the conservative camp will pay any mind.

Or, as I wrote in my mini-review:

This book was a mid-list addition to the reading line-up for the year. Jeremy Scahill, a writer for the Nation, tells story of the rise of one of America's biggest security companies. And by "security companies," I mean mercenary firms and war profiteers. Blackwater was a small firm with big connections among the neoconservative movement. With the help of high-ranking members of the Republican establishment, Blackwater turned itself into a multi-national firm with the ability to secure huge no-bid contracts in Iraq and the surrounding area. Scahill hits on a subject about which we should all be very concerned--the formation of a huge civilian army inside America's borders...one that has actually deployed on American soil. While the book was interesting and informative, it suffers from the same problem as a lot of left-leaning books and documentaries. It spends too much time going after the easily-targeted Bush administration. This look at Blackwater could've been an easy indictment of all that's wrong with America right now. And for people who already hate the Bushies, it will be just that. However, with a blurb on the dust jacket from Michael Moore, Blackwater going to alienate the people who really need to know these stories. Someday the hard-left will realize that it needs to spend less time preaching to the choir and start figuring out ways to bring more people inside the tent. I walked in willingly and have chosen to stay. However, there are a lot of people (me included, actually) who see Michael Moore on the marquee and just sigh. Still, if you've spent the past four years thinking "private contractors in Iraq" are people building oil pipelines, you need to read this book or one like it. It is, in a word, scary.

I think I'm going to nominate BG to be the voice of my generation. Methinks he has the ability to speak to both sides of the aisle without alienating anyone.

Otherwise, we're going to be stuck with more of of Less Filling / Tastes Great battles that made me stop caring in the first place.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kevin Geddings' Just Desserts

Kevin Geddings was largely responsible for taking my belief in the political process and slowly cutting off its air supply. He was the red-haired, big-eyed political consultant and one-time Chief of Staff to former South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges. Geddings' phone calls came at odd hours. His voice always started with a friendly tone, but quickly went the other way. He didn't like me and I certainly didn't like him.

At the time of Hodges' run for second term, I was a pest--a reporter on a mission to point out that 40-50% of what Geddings and Hodges said was a lie. While my mission was broader than that (I was actually pointing out lies and half-truths across the political spectrum), Geddings didn't see it that way. He saw himself as a politico who could both topple giants and turn nobodies into kings. His success made him millions. His shakedown skills were the stuff of a Carl Hiaasen novel. Hell, Geddings was portrait of half the people Hiassen writes about. And he didn't much like me.

In the end, I thought that the process (and my small part in it) seemed to win out. Geddings' man got sent back into private life and Geddings ability to slay giants was no longer the stuff of legend. I won a big national award and subsequently gave up on it all (due largely to a lack of dedication by my employer's senior management...and, well, yeah, money). Geddings took off to neighboring North Carolina to see if he could repeat his success.

What went unreported during most of Geddings' time here was that, beyond making millions in the political consulting business, he was also peddling influence and access like a kind veggie burrito at a Dead Show. It's only recently been revealed that he was once charging people in line for government contracts $30,000 for a dinner date with Governor Hodges. Apparently, Geddings had that kind of money dropped into a little shell corp he ran and subsequently paid out to...well, him and his wife. [For more, check out John Monk's excellent piece in Sunday's The State]

What it now appears was that Geddings may have been the king of the shakedown, but he was woefully inept at figuring out how many times he could shear a sheep. He went to the well too many times with a company called Scientific Games (they are the people who print up many of those scratch-off lottery tickets you see in convenience stores). Apparently the people at SG finally got tired to of the Geddings shakedown and gave him up. Last October, a North Carolina jury convicted Geddings of fraud. By this point, Geddings had worked his way back up to a seat on the North Carolina lottery commission.

Monday, a federal judge in North Carolina will tell Geddings whether he will go to federal prison for his crimes in the Tarheel state. While I hate to see any family lose their breadwinner and father figure to prison, I'm not going to shed a tear if Geddings ends up spending some time in the pen. His face is the one I see when I think of the day I figured out my vote doesn't really count.

Kevin Geddings (photo from The State)

Take care, Kevin. And thanks for the memories.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Boys of Summer

I was such a tragically bad baseball player when I was in first grade. My team, if I recall correctly, had a Bass Pro Shops sponsorship (this was back in the day before Bass Pro was any more than a sporting goods store in Springfield, Missouri). My ability on the field did not go beyond being able to wear the baseball cap properly. After that, I have to think I was a source of endless frustration and embarrassment for my father. That said, being the guy he was, my dad continued to encourage me through all sporting endeavors all the way through high school. I don't think he ever missed a baseball, basketball, or football game. The first time I ever caught a pass in the end zone (button hook from the right side, hard missile into my chest against Ozark High School), I looked in the stands and there was my dad losing his damned mind he was so happy. It's still a memory that makes me tear up a bit.

The good thing was, my brother turned out to be a pretty good athlete who could hit dingers, plow nosetackles, and eagle the par fives at Deer Lake. My dad got to see a son play well in the sporting arenas, and that always made me happy. Oh, and lest you think I'm harboring some age-old resentment, my dad taught me to play guitar and poker, which happen to be my two favorite recreational activities to this day.

Last night, I went back to the baseball fields for the first time in a while.

I've recently been wondering if I have any ability with the camera outside of shooting seated poker players and my kid. As it happened, my friend BadBlood's son is playing ball this summer and his parents wanted some pictures. What's more, my kid adores the miniBloods and is taking an early liking to baseball. It sounded like a good family evening.

I recall a particular joy as a kid. Whether it was my dad going to play softball with his Roark-sponsored team (followed by pizza at Shotgun Sams), or any of my or Dr. Jeff's games, there were so many constants. The dust was omnipresent. The concession stands all looked the same. The bubblegum on the sidewalks formed a path to each field. The bleachers all felt the same and the people in them all shared the same look--we're tired, but there are few places we'd rather be right now.

Last night, my kid was one of the kids who didn't maintain attention for more than couple innings. In fact, after miniBlood knocked one to right field and made it all the way home, my kid decided he was going to practice his homeruns. Into the dust he ran, making tracks for an invisible homeplate. "I made homerun, Dad!" he yelled from across the field.

I spent my time looking through a lens at a kid who didn't seem like he could be more at ease. I occasionally stole a look at his proud dad and thought, "I'm going to be there in a few years." My job was made easier by the fact that miniBlood was pretty damned good, and much better than most, if not all, of the kids on the field.

It was a little after seven when I looked down at my kid's dirty feet and up at my wife's sun-drenched face. Both looked like they were ready for bed.

I could only think, "Just wait. In a few years, L'il Otis will be tending to the hot corner while mommy wonders how she's going to get the grass stains out of his pants."

Whether the kid gets his dad's or his uncle Jeff's athletic skills, I can't wait.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Page flutter

I am usually an open book. This makes it hard to be a poker player in a live setting. With emotions and sleeves and all, I'm often tempted to wear sleeveless shirts. However, those who know me know I don't necessarily pack a lot of heat in the guns department, so anything that shows off my arms is usually more embarrassing than whatever part of my fragile emotional base I'm giving away.

A big part of this has to do with impulse control. I only bring this up because I just had to take my kid's train set away from him. He is developing a nasty habit of pushing down his preschool classmates and, in lieu of smacking him around a bit, I took away his most prized possessions. His teacher--who also happens to be a very understanding good friend--suggests the kid's impulse control isn't necessarily keeping up with the rest of rapidly advancing brain. I worry sometimes that might be my fault.

That's not actually not why I sat down to write. In fact, I sat down to tell you I'm not going to give much away today. Instead of an open book, I'm going to be more like the fluttering pages of a book when you're flipping through it looking for a picture, or money, or a note from an old girlfriend. I'm not being coy, nor do I have any big secret. I'm just feeling a bit like a camel right now.

So, a bit of an early week mental massage for you.

Massage #1: After some good research and a weigh-in from Brother Otis MD, it appears that trying to measure the volume of a giraffe's vagina as compared to a cow's vagina is a futile activity. Apparently, a better way to measure is to consider the size of of their male counterparts' junk. Some quick research shows a bull has about a three-foot penis (one-inch in diameter). I don't have the exact measurements of a male giraffe's penis, but a picture provided in the comments of the last post indicate the giraffe ain't as well hung. So, thereya go? Oh, and why did I want to know?

Well, some of the places I play poker aren't necessarily frequented by gentlemen. As such, I actually heard the phrase, "Tighter than a giraffe's pussy" at a game last week. That spawned a long discussion about the relative tightness and, eventually, how it compared to a cow. I argued that despite the relative height, that a giraffe would have a smaller vagina. So, thereyago.

Massage #2: I love the theme songs from 1970s and 1980s TV. These days, people don't write many show-opens or show-closers that are worth much. Jerry Bruckheimer users music to open a lot of his shows, but he is such a big fan of The Who that we don't get any original material. Think back to the 1970s and 1980s and you'll remember a ton of good theme songs. From "Cheers" to "Moonlighting" to "Barney Miller," the music was about as good as you could want for the era.

I have long argued that the two best theme songs ever on television actually came from the same TV show. Which was that? Well, "WKRP" of course. Now, everybody knows the opening song. The outro is the lesser-appreciated tune. I spent years trying to figure out the lyrics. As it turns out, according to IMDB, while there is singing in the song, there are no lyrics. Apparently the exit song was the work of a bunch of studio musicians in Atlanta. While recording, they needed a vocal track to help them keep time with the music. So, somebody recorded a bunch of gibberish (which I'm sure contains the word "bartender" at least twice), and laid it down. When the producers heard the tune with the gibberish vocal track, they said, "We'll take it!" And that was that. What I'd really like to know is where those studio musicians ended up and whether they ever recorded anything else I like.

Massage #3: As you might have read elsewhere, my wife's car was burgled over the weekend. Lost in the crime was one of my most prized technological possessions: my Bose QC3s. At first I was like, "Ah, well. Them's the breaks." However, upon further thought, the Bose QC3s completed my technological circle. Without them I feel empty and leaking. And that makes me sad.

And that's all, except for a picture of the resident therapy mutt--a great thinker on the subject unconditional love, provided that unconditionality doesn't involve a fight for food or the new neighbors' dog.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license