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5 Things I Learned: July 2016

I’m a little late this month, because…

“That’s him, officer! The one on the right!”

1. Whoever designs Samsung dryers is a sadistic monster: A couple of weeks ago my wife discovered that our dryer was spinning but not drying. Well, that’s not good, I thought, but it’s probably just a bad heating element.

No problem, I’ve replaced a dryer heating element before. Let me just check YouTube for a video that tells you how to… OH MY LORD, DO YOU HAVE TO TAKE THE WHOLE DRYER APART TO GET TO THE ELEMENT?!?!

Yes, you do, in fact, have to take the entire dryer apart to get to the heating element, located, as it is, in the most inaccessible bottom corner of the machine, right underneath the Ark of the Covenant. About ten minutes into that instruction video, I decided that the odds of me taking the thing apart and getting it back together correctly were about the same as the odds of me performing successful spinal surgery on myself on a rubber raft in the middle of a hurricane. “Welp,” I said, “looks like we’re gonna have to buy a dryer.”

After looking at the prices of new dryers, though, I started to think, “You know, it’s already not working, so it’s not like I’m going to make it any worse.” So, I found the replacement part and gave it the ol’ college try, and what do you know, I actually fixed it. It was way harder than replacing that part should have to be, but at the end of it I feel like I made $500! No thanks to you, Samsung.

2. I’m in a period of my life where vacation days are harder than regular days: More specifically, a period where I live with two little people whom I have to take with me everywhere I go, and who need regularly scheduled naps every day, and who aren’t particularly good at using the potty in public places yet. Not to say that vacations with the family aren’t fun; they are. But they’re also kind of grueling in a way that makes a body glad to get back to regularly scheduled life after a while.

We spent a week at the beach, and we had a great time, and I wanted to hug my house when we got back.

3. They don’t make good movies anymore: This is something I keep re-learning every time I go to the movies, but it keeps being true. I went to see the new Star Trek movie, and it was ok; worth the price of admission on $5 Tuesday ($2 drinks and popcorn y’all! You can’t afford not to go!). But it’s pretty obvious they weren’t trying to make a good movie. They had a checklist of items they think are supposed to go in a blockbuster summer movie, and they were just trying to check as many of them as they could in two hours, including “dangerous motorcycle stunts.” In a Star Trek movie.

4. It only takes one idea to get a movie made: Don’t be fooled: the movie business is not that complicated. I’m pretty sure that Star Trek: Beyond happened because someone said, “You know what would be cool? If the Enterprise was in some kind of space battle… with the Beastie Boys song Sabotage playing in the background!” And then a studio executive said, “Make a whole movie around that scene! Here’s $100 million.”

5. We are utterly, utterly screwed: I’m still trying to stay away from politics because it’s just too depressing. But we had the major party conventions last month, so it was hard to avoid. And when you see it big as life in front of your face for two straight weeks like that, man, it’s just as terrible as you think.

I’m not one of those “The system is broken!” kind of people. The system we have is great; one of the best ever devised by the minds of men. It’s just that the people who run the system are awful.

However, it’s hard not to think that something is amiss when, out of a nation of 300 million, the only two people who have a legitimate chance to win the presidency are so completely contemptible.

Let’s say that we combined both candidates into one person, named Dilary Clump. It is hard for me to think of any American whom I wouldn’t vote for over Dilary. Mitt Romney? Sure. John Kasich? Definitely. Either of the guys from the Sonic Drive-In commercials? No question. Recently released presidential assassin wannabee John Hinckley Jr.? At least it would put him somewhere where the Secret Service could keep an eye on him.

But none of those people are on the ballot, so Dilary is going to be president. Over the next hundred days or so, I’ll try to keep my mind off of it by researching fun third parties (Why, hello there, Constitution Party! Nice to meet you!) and hoping for some absurd new development that will turn this mess around. Which, in an absurd year, might not be all that absurd.

No, nothing’s going to happen. We’re screwed.

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A Picture to Remember You

IMG_20160604_103015630My son Graham is a pretty happy-go-lucky soul. He needs structure and is apprehensive about change just like any other kid, but for a four-year-old he rolls with the punches pretty well.

So when he started to pitch screaming fits whenever we tried to drop him off at his preschool or Sunday school class, we wondered what was going on. He had been in preschool for six months already, making friends and doing fine. He always said he had fun in Sunday school, and we always got good reports from his teachers.

But all of a sudden, teachers were having to pry his little fingers off the mini-van door to get him into school. We asked if there had been any kind of incident that would change his attitude. Everyone said no.

After thinking about it and talking about it, my wife and I began to realize that he wasn’t upset about going to school; he was upset about leaving us. He was fine up until the moment of separation, the moment he would have to walk through the door and live life apart from us. Then he was overcome by anxiety and uncertainty.

I wanted to do something to help him, but didn’t know what. Because he’s pretty smart and a good communicator (when I can’t remember a cartoon he’s talking about, he’ll re-create it in Lego, like he was an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by one of the cartoon characters: “See, here’s the part where the faulty Acme magnifying glass set the bird’s butt on fire. Remember now, dad? I rest my case.”), I just asked him. “What can we do to make you happier when we drop you off at class?” I said.

I suggested some ideas that I thought would comfort him. I considered giving him something of mine that he could hold onto during class, like my wallet or my cell phone (yes, those are terrible ideas, but a day where I don’t consider a bad parenting idea is like a Friday the 13th where nobody checks that strange noise coming from the basement).

The idea to make a drawing was his. He said that he might like it if he had a drawing of our family and our house that he could take with him to class and keep in his pocket. I said that I thought that was a great idea, and he quickly produced the picture that you see above.

On the next Sunday morning, we folded up the drawing and stuck it in the pocket of his shorts. He kept his hand on his pocket to make sure the drawing was in there, and when we got to his classroom… he walked right in. As Rachel and I were walking away, he was pulling out the picture to show to his teacher.

It worked, and it’s worked ever since. But why?

Wondering about that made me wonder about this: Why don’t my wife and I break down crying whenever we drop him off?

It’s hard to explain what makes us feel connected to people. Sometimes you can feel very close to loved ones who are distant. Sometimes you can feel a million miles away from a person who’s sitting right next to you.

It’s a skill of sorts. It’s certainly something you can learn to do better. And most people do, as they grow older, learn to connect with others and maintain connections. At least they learn how it’s done, even if they don’t necessarily do it.

Graham did a little learning in this period in his life, a time when he started to grasp the reality of separation. Mom and dad don’t stop existing when they leave the room. They’re still out there, somewhere, in the big, unknowable world. That’s got to be a little unsettling, the first time you realize it.

One of the fun things about having kids is you get to watch them go through these stages of figuring life out. And they do it without any of the adult camouflage that we wear to make it look like we have everything together. Graham’s solution to his fear of separation was a picture he could use to help him remember us together. Even when we weren’t physically close, that picture proved to him that there was such a thing a a connection between us. It was a physical symbol of a spiritual reality, for someone who hadn’t yet learned full confidence in things of the spirit.

Kids aren’t the only ones who need little talismans. Even grown-ups who are good at relationships (or maybe I should say, “Especially grown-ups who are good…”) know that there’s something about them that is magic — unquantifiable, unlearnable. It’s not physical but it’s real, and solid. We can’t see it but we know it exists because it alters the trajectory of our lives like a gravity well.

When something affects us like that, we instinctively want to be able to see it, to put our hands on it. It’s the instinct that leads to things like autographs, wedding rings, and stained glass windows. We need tangible symbols of spiritual things, because we know better how to rely on our senses than how to rely on our faith.

As Graham grows, I hope his mom and I can teach him that bonds like ours don’t need physical proof. And I hope that we remember that lesson ourselves, as his world gets bigger and he grows away from us. The physical distance can be great, even infinite. The connection — purely spiritual, unseeable, unknowable — stays as real as the rock beneath our feet.

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5 Things I Learned: June 2016

1. Double-check the time on those theater tickets – We backed into some free tickets to Wicked courtesy of my wife’s brother and his wife. It was a Sunday matinee; they told us to meet them at the theater at 1:30 for the 2:00 show.

When we got there, there was not another soul in sight. As we made our way up the multi-tiered labyrinthine ascent to our balcony seats (at one point, we literally had to free climb up the sheer face of a cliff), we started to say, “Hey, it’s a really light crowd for this performance. Maybe if there are still empty seats by intermission, we’ll move down to the orchestra section!”

We finally got to Balcony Triple-Y or whatever our designated entrance was, opened the door, and saw that there was music and dancing happening on the stage. “What,” I thought, “are they rehearsing or something?” Then the usher looked at us like we had floated in on a fart cloud, and I realized the show had already started. And it wasn’t a light crowd; it was a sold-out crowd.

We checked the tickets, and sure enough, showtime at 1:00, not 2:00. So, we had to crawl across the laps of half a dozen people to get to our seats, and on top of that, we had to chase off a sweet little old lady who had apparently moved down to our empty seats from her higher-up seats, which must’ve been in low earth orbit to be higher up than ours.

(Note: if my brother- and sister-in-law read this, please know that I have zero complaints about our free (FREE!) theater tickets. I just could not pass up recounting this story. We all had a good time, and the last 2/3rds of Wicked was fantastic.)

2. People in the traveling companies of Broadway shows are really talented – I have a hard time believing that there’s that much of a difference in talent between the traveling company that we saw and the people who perform in the actual Broadway production. I realize that Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel hold a special place in music celebrity, but the women playing the leads on the road don’t have to take a back seat to anybody. Sometimes you see a great singer, and sometimes you see a singer whose talent can’t be explained by the laws of physics. This was the latter.

3. Maybe we’re not doomed – At least in England, with the “Brexit” vote, some people showed that they still have a desire to control their own fate, rather than leaving it in the hands of an out-of-touch, bloated, centralized government full of over-credentialed bureaucratic ninnies. Whatever they’re drinking, please send a boatload of it to America.

4. No, wait. We’re doomed. – The non-sequitur reaction to the Orlando shooting followed soon thereafter by the international “ho-hum” at the Istanbul attack show that the ninnies are still firmly in control. Things will get much worse before they get better.

5. Martin Short’s autobiography is great. – I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend. It’ll make you laugh; it’ll make you cry. Check it out, and if you can, get the audio book version, read by Short himself, because he does all of his famous characters and impressions. Here’s a little Kate Hepburn anecdote to whet your appetite.

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Hey, I’m in a Book!

jason-anderson-ofwbwAuthor, radio show host, and my internet buddy Jen Fulwiler has put together a new book, and I’m just tickled to be a part of it.

Not too long ago, Jen asked a bunch of her blogger friends to write a series of posts, each meditating on a word from the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father, as our Catholic brothers and sisters say). Now she’s collected those posts into a book called The Our Father, Word by Word, and she’s offering it for free to people who sign up for her email list (Radio Announcer Voice: “No obligation! Cancel anytime!”).

I think it turned out great, and I highly recommend you check out both the book and Jen’s website. If you don’t know her, I’d say her vibe is kind of like a less-weepy Jen Hatmaker, and she knows more about old school rap than any homeschooling Catholic mother of six I’ve ever seen.

So do yourself a favor and swing on by Jen’s site and pick up a copy of the book while you’re at it. If you’re curious, my contribution is on the word “Heaven” (the second one).

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A Quick Guide to #Brexit

Occasionally it happens that something you’ve never heard of before suddenly becomes the most important thing in the world. It happened the first time you heard the word “McGriddle,” and now it’s happened again with “Brexit,” which, it turns out, is not the brand name of a Depression-era snack cracker, but rather the decision of voters in Great Britain to leave the European Union.

The air has been filled with opinions and commentary, but you may be wondering what does all this Brexit talk really mean, anyway? Well, I’m no expert, but I have read several tweets and like half of a really long blog post about it. So, allow me to answer some common Brexit questions.

— Is “Brexit” a real word, or is it a made-up word like “Brangelina” or “portmanteau”?

It’s a made-up word, a shorthand way to refer to BRitain’s EXIT from the European Union (or EU, pronounced “Eww”).

— What words would we use for other countries if they left the EU?

Departugal, Czechout, Italeave, and Nethermind. I hope all these happen because these words are funny.

— Is Brexit a good thing or a bad thing?

It depends. If you’re the Assistant to the EU Deputy Minister for Banana Curvature Measurement Standards, when the world’s 5th largest economy stops paying membership dues, your budget is definitely going to get cut. If you’re a third-world basket case economy that just happens to be attached to Europe (Hello, Greece!), the slush fund for bailing out your sorry ass is about to get a lot smaller.

But if you’re an Englishman who would rather not send his tax money to Belgian bureaucrats or foreign governments that can’t balance their own checkbooks, it’s a good thing. If you’re just somebody who thinks the world could do with a little less bureaucracy and a little more local control, it’s a good thing. And if you’re someone who enjoys watching the ruling elites of Europe and America wet their pants, it’s a very good thing.

Again, I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I sometimes base my opinions on the “Right People Mad” theory: if something is making the right people mad, then it’s probably a good thing. And this is definitely making the right people mad.

— Since the Brexit vote, my 401(k) has lost enough money to pay for a lifetime supply of fish’n’chips. And yet you say it’s a good thing, which makes me want to punch you in the face. Why should I not punch you in the face?

If there’s one thing the financial markets hate, it’s uncertainty. Change makes them flip out, and that in itself tells you nothing about whether the change is a good, bad, or neutral one.

What is new and scary today will be business as usual in a week or two, and the markets will settle themselves down. This changes nothing about the global economy except the names of the treaties under which it does business.

— Does any of this have anything to do with soccer?

I don’t know, maybe. Europeans really like soccer.

— I’ve heard a lot of people say this move is racist. Why is that?

Two reasons: 1) Anytime something happens that liberals don’t like, it’s racist. It’s racist when the waffles at the breakfast bar are soggy. It’s racist when they have to sit through the same stop light three times during rush hour. Any person who doesn’t continually rub their bellies and tell them they’re wonderful is racist.

And, 2) Leaving the EU would give the UK more control over their own immigration policies. And so… I don’t see any reason to think this in inherently racist. But, since it involves people looking out for their own best interests rather than than being told what to do by a distant ruling authority, liberals don’t like it. Therefore: racist.

— Will the British still have those cool accents?

You mean these? Why, yes, yes they will.

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Speaking for Fathers, Let’s Kill All the Alligators

no_alligators_highway_sign_The juxtaposition of two nightmarish incidents in Florida last week provide a harsh life lesson for all of us about how ugly the world can get. But the more I see the general reaction unfold, the more I think that maybe it wasn’t harsh enough.

A family, vacationing at Disney World, lost their toddler son to an alligator attack. They were wading in some water and watched it happen right in front of them. It’s hard to imagine anything more horrible.

Since the attack there has been much commentary — about what the parents should have done, what the resort should have done, and on and on. One of the points I’ve heard most often is that the water where the family was wading had “No Swimming” signs, but had no notice that there might be alligators. So naturally the “solutions” we’re going to get to this problem are more signs, bigger signs, maybe a pamphlet on alligator awareness included with the Gideon Bible in every hotel room.

After that’s done, everybody involved will wipe their hands and figure that they’ve done what they needed to do. Meanwhile, everyone who really wants to solve the problem, who really wants to make sure that no more kids get dragged off by alligators, knows that no one has even considered the only sensible solution: kill all the alligators.

Not all the alligators in the world, or even all the alligators in Florida. But within the perimeter of the resort, where the people are, they should kill every single alligator, destroy their eggs, and obliterate their nests. Any alligator that wanders onto the grounds should be shot on sight.

Could they ever bring themselves to do this? I doubt it, considering that when they were cutting open alligators to search for the boy’s remains, they couldn’t even use the word “killing,” saying instead that the gators were being “euthanized,” which is just precious. Did they play soothing music and hold the alligator’s head in their lap while they did it?

Likewise, after 49 people were mowed down in an Orlando gay bar, lots of people are screaming that we should do something in response, and they’re suggesting pretty much every possible solution except something that would actually do some good.

One suggestion that seems to be getting some traction is the idea to pass a law preventing people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This is the equivalent of a law preventing Florida alligators from buying dentures.

It’s hard to know what gets someone added to a terrorist watch list (which is part of the problem with terrorist watch lists), but if they have any significance at all, why should people on that list be allowed to buy anything? Indeed, why should they be allowed to set foot in public without being smothered in a dog-pile of city, state, and federal law enforcement officers? If we’re not doing that, then what is the list for, anyway?

Anyone who has any ties to, or expresses support for, Al Queda or ISIS should be arrested and charged with treason, at least. That’s what would be happening if we were a serious country. Not waiting for a long-time supporter of our enemies to murder a bunch of people. Not waiting for another child to be dragged into the lagoon. We’d be going out and killing the alligators.

I’m afraid, though, that we’re just going to put up a few signs (“If you see something, say something about how you’re a bigoted Islamophobe!”), pass some meaningless laws, and congratulate ourselves about how smart and good we are. But we have enemies who are not impressed by our smartness or goodness. As a father of two, I hope that somewhere out there we’ll find enough common sense to do what has to be done: kill all the alligators.

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5 Things I Learned: May 2016

My lovely wife has challenged me to make some blog posts that are more personal, and one of her suggestions is a post every month with a “5 things I learned this month” format.

This is a challenge because I am fairly dense and don’t learn a whole lot. I could go several years without learning five things. The only things I learned from 1989-1997 were how to register for college classes and how to operate a debit card reader in a gas pump.

However, getting married and having kids does nothing as much as forcing you to learn and grow with regularity. At this point in my life, the learning opportunities come at you life dodgeballs at a fat kid. So without further ado, here are a few things I got out of May.

5 Things I Learned this Month

1. I am old — My 45th birthday landed on me this month. I still feel young, and perhaps even look younger than I am to other people (helped by the fact that, though I am a grown man with two children, I dress like I work at Hot Topic). But on the inside, I can tell that my body is starting to betray me.

When I climb stairs early in the morning, I’m accompanied by a soundtrack of creaks and pops and weird grinding noises, which would be great if I was in the cast of Stomp!, but I’ve been strictly forbidden to wear garbage can lids on my feet.

My sad condition is exacerbated by the fact that my sister has challenged me to run a half-marathon with her next year. I’m trying to get back into shape with a body that may have decided it doesn’t want to be athletic anymore. Getting to the refrigerator and back during a commercial break is a challenge; getting to thirteen miles will be an epic struggle of the will. I’ll let you know how that goes.

2. Marvel makes some darn fine super hero movies — I got to see the latest Captain America movie on its opening weekend. It’s obvious to me that the people who are making Marvel’s movies are people who grew up on comic books just like I did; people who appreciate the fact that these characters weren’t created out of whole cloth yesterday — they have a history that, to the fans, is as real as the history of any other historical figure.

When you respect that history, you make a better movie and you make the fans happy. Twelve-year-old Jason loved these characters, and he would heartily approve of how they appear in Civil War and most of the rest of the Marvel oeuvre.

3. Angry Birds is a challenging screenwriting class exercise — My son is going through a period in which Angry Birds has the same effect on him as the Beatles had on the front row at the Ed Sullivan show. So of course we were going to see the Angry Birds movie.

And see it we did. To my boy, it was a film making achievement that makes Citizen Kane look like outtakes from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. To me, it was a very interesting creative exercise for a screenwriting class — take a simple video game and turn it into a legitimate, 90-minute, theatrical-release movie with plot, laughs, character development, the whole nine yards.

Could you do it with Crossy Road or Cut the Rope? I don’t know, but you can do it with Angry Birds. It’s a real movie with some legitimate laughs. I now look forward to Plants vs. Zombies: The Movie.

4. How to kill a snake in my laundry room — I spent a couple of days cutting some brush around my house, and apparently I disturbed some natural habitats, because one day I noticed a little snake hanging out in our laundry room. Just lying there, on the cool linoleum.

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who can immediately come up with a lot of proven strategies for dealing with snakes in the laundry room. Maybe there are some really comprehensive multi-tools that have an implement just for that. But I don’t have one of those. What I had was about ten minutes of Mexican stand-off — me staring at the snake; the snake staring right back at me — while I tried to come up with a plan and prayed in the name of all that’s good and pure on God’s green earth that he didn’t slither off where I couldn’t find him and pop up later in my son’s underwear drawer or my daughter’s Alpha-Bits.

Are you dying to know what I did so that you, too, can have a plan for dealing with snakes in the laundry room? Well, here you go:

  • Step 1: Pin snake to floor using one of those suction cups on a long pole that you use to change light bulbs that are way up high.
  • Step 2: Try to kill snake by stepping on its head. Notice how the snake keeps shrugging this off. Be amazed at how resilient snakes are.
  • Step 3: Spend really long time putting all your weight on the pole while looking for something you can use to separate the snake’s head from its body without cutting up the linoleum.
  • Step 4: Find your wife’s craft scissors and craft that little bastard a new neck hole.
  • Step 5: Clean up crime scene. Do laundry for the rest of the week.

5. Steph Curry is from outer space — You can’t compare Steph Curry’s playing style to Michael Jordan. But Curry is starting to justify a comparison in the sense that he is also a seemingly unstoppable basketball force of nature. He could shoot from any place on the floor at any time and it would always seem like a good idea.

I haven’t watched a lot of NBA since the Pat Riley Knicks ruined basketball in the ’90s, but I watched game seven of the Warriors/Thunder series, and I’m glad I did. I’m getting a chance to see one of the all-time greats.

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Everything I Know About Culture I Learned from Bugs Bunny

And it shows, am I right? But seriously, I’m glad the Wall Street Journal is finally acknowledging what cartoon aficionados have always known: while you’re watching those old Warner Brothers cartoons, you get a ton of exposure to some pretty highbrow stuff.

In the video below, real live opera singers tell about how they were inspired by Bugs and Elmer Fudd (“Yo-ho toh-HO!”)

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Lessons from My Wife about How to Be a Good Wife

I was only prepared to choose a college after I had already been to college. When I was in high school and deciding what college I wanted to attend, I thought I knew what I wanted — racquetball courts, high girl/guy ratio, frozen yogurt dispensers in the cafeteria, things like that.

It was only after I had been through the college experience that I figured out what was really important. And it wasn’t any of that stuff. It was more like: professors who actually teach and interact with their students instead of sending some poor English-as-a-second-language GA to do everything. Also parking.

In the same way, I thought I knew the qualities to look for in a prospective wife. And I have to say, I did better on that than on the college thing. But there were still a lot of things that I didn’t realize I should’ve been looking for until after the fact.

Luckily, my wife Rachel happens to have all of those qualities; both the ones I wanted and the ones I didn’t know I needed.

So as a service to all the wives and future wives out there, I want to let you in on some of the qualities that a man will figure out that he wants in a wife about four or five years after he marries her. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I am married to one.

— When your husband tries to high-five you, don’t leave him hanging. Guys aren’t going to stop being guys just because they get married. They’re going to continue to do things that guys instinctively do: yell at sports figures on TV for things they did 17 years ago, sometimes eat things before checking to see if they’re food, and high five people frequently for various reasons. It’s important to give your guy room to continue to be a guy.

No matter how long you are married, a lot of this stuff may never make sense to you. Nonetheless, whenever he does something you would never do, take a moment to ask yourself, “Is it dumb, or is it just because he’s a guy?” If it’s the former, join him in celebrating his guyness.

When you forgive, really forgive. You don’t have to make a big production about it, but you do have to mean it. On occasions when I apologize to my wife (and is anybody surprised to know that those occasions are more than occasional?), she usually just says, “That’s okay,” but she says it in such a way — so sweetly, without a hint of clench or reservation in her voice — that I know it really is okay. And then that occasion is forgotten and never mentioned again.

And I can’t overstate how important that last part is — the forgetting. If you’re using forgiveness as a tool for gaining future leverage over your significant other, your marriage will be a brutal, 40-year-long game of Monopoly, where nobody can win because one person owns Boardwalk and the other owns Park Place and you’re out of snacks and surrounded by screaming children and dirty laundry.

Trust him with the kids. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the “let him be a guy” point above. Your husband will probably have some different parenting techniques than you, simply because he’s male and you’re female. Don’t fear these differences; appreciate how his style and your style complement each other.

Every once in a while, tell your him you’re prepared to kill him. There are times — not often, but often enough to make an impression — when my wife and I are sitting together and watching TV or reading or something like that, and she will turn to me and say, out of the clear blue sky, “You know, if you ever try to leave me, I’ll kill you.” And then she’ll go back to doing whatever she was doing.

Chilling, yes. But also flattering. If my soft-spoken wife is that passionate about me, that makes me feel special. And frightened. But mostly special. Why is it that you very rarely hear a guy complain about being stalked by a girl? Because we kind of want girls to feel that way about us. A touch of wild-eyed possessiveness is appealing, in a dangerous sort of way.

So if there’s nowhere your husband could run where you wouldn’t hunt him down like a dog, go ahead and let him know. He’ll appreciate it, even though his appreciation may look a little like terror.

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Pray For Mojo

The Frinkiac is a search engine for quotes from The Simpsons, so it’s pretty much the pinnacle of human achievement already. But now it can make animated gifs from Simpsons scenes too. Yeah, I won’t be wasting time with that or anything.

I’m only mentioning this because it’s so awesome, and I wanted to explain why I’ll be posting a ton of Simpsons gifs in the future. Considering the state of affairs nowadays, I’ll probably be using this one a lot.

PrayForMojo

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Trump VP Suggestions

As I mentioned before, since I don’t have anyone to vote for, I’m only following the 2016 presidential election for it’s entertainment value.

With that in mind, I’d like to see Trump pick the most entertaining vice presidential running mate possible. Here are my suggestions, along with their equivalent entertainment value.

bernie-sanders-hair1. Bernie Sanders

Would this not be hilarious? The sound of heads exploding would be deafening. From the time the announcement was made until they had to vote in November, supporters of both candidates would have the same look on their faces that Stephen Rea had during the second half of The Crying Game.

Sanders might accept if Trump asked him, too (C’mon! At this point, can you really say anything is impossible?). He and Trump, as nationalists and populists, have more in common than not, and after Hillary strong-arms him out of the nomination, he might be itching to stick it to her.

Entertainment value: Someone turns on the sprinklers while your football rival’s marching band is on the field.

bill-clinton-frown-AP-640x4802. Bill Clinton

Also hilarious. And don’t tell me Donald and Bill wouldn’t have a great time together. You know he’d rather campaign with Trump (and Melania, and Ivanka) than be dragged all over the country by the ball and chain.

I’m sure Bill is contractually obligated to make some campaign appearances for Hillary, but there’s no reason he couldn’t do both. “You can vote for history this November and elect our first woman president! But… if you’re not interested in that, Trump’s really good too! It’s win/win! Bubba out! Peace, y’all!”

Entertainment value: An America’s Funniest Videos montage of guys getting hit in the nuts with whiffle ball bats.

Christies-Pants3. Chris Christie’s pants

Not Chris Christie; just his pants. And Trump should force Christie to stand there on stage with him and hold up the pants while Trump makes jokes about them.

“Look at those things! How much fabric is in those? Make a few more of those and we could bring a lot more textile jobs back to our country, I’ll tell ya that much!”

Would the pants actually make a good vice president, you ask? What, compared to Biden?

Entertainment value: That scene from Goodfellas where Joe Pesci keeps asking Ray Liotta, “So, how am I funny?”

no-twitter4. Twitter

As the number one source of intellectual arguments for the Trump presidency, I think Twitter should at least get consideration as running mate.

Think of all the inspirational messages we’ll hear on the campaign trail. “Hey loosers! TRUMP is teh b0$$!! GEt on teh TRUMP TRAIN or geton the jew boat back to jew land! #Unity”

Entertainment value: Being 6 years old and singing “On Top of Spaghetti” all the way through on a long car trip.

2015Pats5. The 2015 New England Patriots

Trump wants to surround himself with winners. And obnoxious people. So hey, 2-for-1. And just think of the potential for all the “deflated balls” jokes vis a vis Hillary.

Entertainment value: New baseball cap with pre-cupped bill

PIRaudience16. The back row of the audience from an episode of “The Price is Right”

Wooo!! Trump! Woooo! Wooooooo!!! Trump!! One dollar!! One dollar!!!

Entertainment value: Videos of building implosions

plastic-surgeon-questions-chicago7. Melania Trump’s plastic surgeon

“You know he’s good because he does good work. Am I right, people?” Entertaining because Trump would then be able to turn literally any question into a discussion about his trophy wife.

By the way, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Melania is all that good looking. She’s like what Bruce Jenner would look like if he knew how to do makeup.

 Entertainment value: Bruce Jenner’s appearance on “The Love Boat

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Welp, We’re Truly Screwed Now: A Very Early Pre-Post-Mortem

Classiest First Family Ever!

After Donald Trump’s big win in Indiana the head of the Republican party says that he is now the party’s presumptive nominee for president, and I have never felt more like I am taking crazy pills.

So, it’s time to start accepting some unpleasant facts. The most likely outcome of all this is that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. The next most likely outcome is that Donald Trump will be the next president. We have to get way down the line of improbability before we can see a possible future that doesn’t make me want to slam my head in a car door.

Whoever wins the presidency, this election will probably be devastating for Republicans in the House and Senate. Let’s face it: Hillary and Trump will have pretty much the same policies, so with no substantial resistance in Congress, the Obamafication of the country will be cemented in place much more firmly than Reagan’s revolution ever was. Speaking as a pro-free-market, small-government, individual-liberty-loving, conservative Christian, the future of the country now looks to me like a loooong dark tunnel with very little visible light on the other end.

It’s not the country I thought it was. At least, not anymore. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from this, our national re-enactment of the pie fight scene from Blazing Saddles:

— Some people love power way more than freedom: And I don’t just mean the Frank Underwood wannabes who run for office. When given the choice between a principled candidate in favor of the rule of law and a thug who promises to give them everything they want and make their enemies suck hind teat, a whole bunch of voters will pick the thug.

— … Or principles: A lot of media and political professionals who built their careers espousing the joys of small-government conservative principles have happily pitched all of that over the side so they can suck up to the Upper West Side’s Huey Long.

— You can’t exaggerate how much the American people hate their government: The biggest thing Trump has going for him is that he’s never held elective office. He stinks, but at least it’s not like normal politician stink. He is the personification of the attitude, “Let’s just burn it all to the ground.”

— … And you can’t blame them: I’m disappointed in the number of people who claim to be evangelical Christians who are voting for Trump in the primaries. But at the same time, they’ve seen politicians who claimed to share their values forget about them as soon as they step on the plane to Washington. The political class, left and right, simply does not care about their voters.

So here we are. I’m not voting for either of the major party candidates for president this time around, and that’s actually kind of liberating. I’m going to sit back and watch this election purely from an entertainment standpoint, like a NASCAR fan who enjoys a good wreck, right up until the moment that a stray tire hops the retainer fence and clocks him in the head.

Again, the most likely outcome is that Hillary wins, but there has been too much craziness over the last year to assume that anything is a sure thing. It could turn out better; it could turn out much, much worse.

For example, for all the talk about Trump getting blown out in a match-up with Hillary, if protesters keep showing up at Trump rallies turning over police cars and waving Mexican flags, he’ll win in a landslide. He couldn’t get better campaign publicity if he paid for it himself. (Hmmm…)

And if the black swan comes home to roost and Trump does get elected, my hope is that his administration will be such chaos, such a complete goat rodeo, that it locks the government up for four years and prevents anybody from doing too much damage.

That, my friends, is what we call low expectations. But it’s all I’ve got, so I’m rolling with it.

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Things I Would Be Tweeting if I Were Tweeting

no-twitterAs previously noted, I’m cutting down my exposure to current events, because lately they just make me angry and sad.

Part of that “cutting down” involves spending less time on Twitter, because if Twitter were an engine, its fuel would be anger and sadness. Check that — its fuel would be anger and more anger, and that would make me sad.

Twitter is a tough habit to break, but so far, it’s going pretty well. With the time I’ve saved, I’ve been able to read a lot more books. Here’s what I’ve read just so far this year, with brief reviews:

  • No Country for Old Men –  As good as the movie, which was pretty good. And Cormac McCarthy proves that real writers don’t mess around with all that spelling and punctuation crap.
  • Moneyball – As good as the movie, but good in a different way. Compelling for people who like inside baseball info about, y’know, baseball.
  • The Question of God – Author uses writings of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud to stage a debate between the two about God. Lewis comes out looking good; Freud comes out looking, as he always does to me, like a bitter crank.
  • Desiring God – What Freud wasn’t doing in the previous book. Much more thoughtful and deliberate in its arguments than I expected. I liked it a lot.
  • Mostly Harmless – An installment in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of funny, sci-fi novels. It’s both funny and sci-fi, but it probably falls into the “contractual obligation” portion of the series. Meanders around for 250 pages and then stops. Good for a larf.

So I’ve steered my reading habits away from Twitter, but it’s been harder to change my thinking habits. My brain is still wired to come up with pithy 140-character comments that I want to throw out into the internet churn to see what kind of response I get.

#ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion – I often like the Kidz Bop version of a song better than the actual song.

But I know that if I get on Twitter to post them, I’ll start reading and I won’t be able to stop. To save myself from that, I’m just going to try to clear the mechanism by posting tweets on my own little corner of the internet right here.

You know soccer is boring b/c soccer highlights are always penalty kicks. If the most exciting part of a basketball game is a 3rd qtr free throw, that’s a bad basketball game.

This does nothing to grow my twitter followers, but there are more important numbers to worry about, such as “number of Oreos currently in my mouth.”

“Roadhouse” is the best bad movie of all time. #BeNice #UntilItsTimeToNotBeNice

I’ll probably end up back on Twitter from time to time. I need to treat it like candy: good sometimes in small doses; overuse will make you sick.

#ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion – Officiating w/ instant replay is terrible in all sports at all times. The few meaningful reversals aren’t worth the wasted time and Zapruder-level analysis of every call.

Wife told me the plot of #MoneyMonster. I said “So it’s a comedy?” She said “No.” But I think it’ll turn out that I was right.

For now, I’m going to get back to reading things that don’t make me want to punch the internet in the face.

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Lessons I Learned from Nana

My grandmother, my last remaining grandparent, passed away last week at the age of 92. We called her “Nana.” She wasn’t the kind of person who sat around dispensing nuggets of wisdom, but I learned a lot about life just from her example. Hey, if you can’t learn something from someone who’s cleared 92 years, you’re just not paying attention.

Here are just a few of her best life lessons:

sweet+potato+dinner+rolls+22You need another dinner roll: Do you already have a dinner roll? Well, you’ll probably eat it soon, so here’s another one. Just pulled it out of the oven. You’ve already had four? You must really like them. Here’s another one. It’s warm.

Not only would Nana not eat until everyone had food, she literally would not stop serving until everyone was so full they physically couldn’t stop her from giving them more. If you put up a fight, she’d just cram another roll in your mouth. Only when your speech started slurring from mashed potato overdose would she sit down and eat.

Don’t touch anything in the living room: Nana was a person well aware of how much work it took to have nice things. In her house was the den, where family fun and TV watching took place, and the living room, where you had to sit in such a way that the nap of the sofa cushions stayed brushed uniformly in the same direction. If something is worth working for, it’s worth taking care of, and covering with a plastic slip cover, and putting in a room where no one ever goes.

The Braves are probably going to be terrible: My grandparents were longtime Atlanta Braves fans. So long that the period of success the Braves had in the 90’s and early 00’s was a relatively thin slice of their lifetime experience with Braves suckitude. Even in the middle of that period, Nana never took winning for granted. She started every conversation about baseball with, “Are the Braves ever going to win another game?” No, ma’am. Probably not.

Get your hair done every Thursday whether you need it or not: There’s something to be said for taking time for yourself, and being consistent about it. I never saw Nana when her hair wasn’t coiffed and hair-sprayed thoroughly enough to deflect a bullet. However, she still made a point of getting to the hair salon every Thursday. I can’t say for sure, but I might guess that once her ‘do passed a certain point on the Mohs scale, her visits had less to do with hair and more to do with just having a little “me time.” And that ain’t a bad thing.

The kids will be fine: Until my grandfather died a few years ago, my grandparents lived in a house they built themselves with a big porch off the back. On one end of the porch, there was a fifteen foot drop to the ground. There was never a guard rail and never even a discussion about installing one. My sister, my cousins, and I played on that porch, unsupervised, constantly. No one was ever injured. Amazingly, we were all smart enough to stay away from that edge and only jump off where it was close enough to the ground to be safe.

So there you go — just a few life lessons from my Nana. Feel free to take and apply to your own life as needed.

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An Attempt to Explain the Current Madness

As I mentioned previously, I’m trying to stay away from politics for the sake of my mental and intestinal health. I’m having limited success, because it’s not like trying to keep from rubbernecking at a car crash; it’s like trying to keep from rubbernecking as the Hindenburg plows into a football stadium full of Elvis impersonators driving monster trucks through live electrical wires.

From what I’m seeing, people are having a hard time finding an explanation for the mess we’re in. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of explanations, but they all seem like darts thrown at the Big Board of Standard Political Explanations — “the voters are angry”; “rejecting business-as-usual”; “celebrity candidate”; blah, blah, blah.

As depressing as the whole phenomenon is, I think it’s pretty easy to explain if you understand what American politics really looks like. And that’s the problem; most people don’t. So I think it’s worth revisiting a couple of posts I previously wrote about this.

In those posts, I noted that most people think that the political landscape in America looks like this:

We talk about Democrats, Republicans, and independents (or “undecideds”) and just assume that everyone fits into one of those categories. I made this diagram one election ago, but you can replace “Mitt Romney” with “Jeb Bush” and keep the same flavor.

The conventional wisdom is that if you win your party and win 50% + 1 of the independents, then you win the presidency. I can’t think of a presidential election in my lifetime that wasn’t run based on that strategy.

But these assumptions are wrong, because this is what the political landscape in America really looks like:

The people who care enough to label themselves “Democrat” or “Republican” (or even “undecided,” people whom, as you might guess from the label, I don’t have a ton of respect for) make up only a small subset of the general population, over there on the left.

Now, see that big oval area that says “Everybody Else”? Those are the people who don’t care about politics. They don’t vote. They don’t work for or give money to political campaigns. When a pollster calls, they hang up on him. They couldn’t name their congressman or either of their senators. They couldn’t pick the vice president out of a line-up. They think that “separation of powers” means the Wonder Twins are locked in different rooms so they can’t touch their rings together.

And you know what I say about those people? God bless them. They are the glue that holds the country together. They do their jobs, raise their kids, volunteer at their churches and in their communities. In short, they have better things to do with their time than mess around with politics. And considering the people who are most involved in politics, their avoidance of it does nothing but speak well of them.

As long as everything seems to be clicking along ok, those people will continue to live their lives and let politics take care of itself. But when they start to notice things going wrong, then they start to get involved. And lately, they’re starting to notice some things.

They’re noticing things like the fact that their health insurance payment has tripled over the last couple of years. Or that it’s a lot harder to find work lately. Or that it seems like there are a lot more riots than there used to be. And when America spoke, didn’t other countries used to, y’know, listen and respect it? It seems like they did, but they don’t now.

So these people say, “What gives?” and they flip on the news looking for an explanation. But all they see is a steady stream of people telling them that they should be grateful for the swell new health insurance system, and what we need is a whole bunch more immigration, and everything is just hunky-dory in the Middle East and Europe, and when there are riots, it’s your fault because you’re a horrible bigot.

Knowing that this is a presidential election year, Everyone Else then looks to the candidates to see if anyone is saying anything that bears the vaguest resemblance to reality. What they find is a bunch of people looking and acting like politicians and saying all the things that politicians normally say. Except for one guy.

Out of the eight dozen people who started out running for president, there was one guy who was treating their concerns like they were legitimate and saying things that they thought needed to be said.

Sure, that one guy is a notorious self-promoter, blowhard, and scumbag, but you could say that about most politicians. At least this scumbag wasn’t just ignoring them.

Those people in the Everyone Else part of the diagram don’t get involved very much, but they smell smoke, and they see Donald Trump as the first person to break the “In case of emergency break glass” glass. So they’re turning out in droves to vote for him; they’re setting voter turnout records in every Republican primary, and not by a little, either. Everyone Else is showing up en masse.

Even people who are complacent don’t like to be ignored. It’s a shame that The Hairpiece is the only candidate who’s figured that out.

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Cam Newton Shows That We Are All Bad Parents

(Note: For those who don’t follow college sports and don’t understand the Alabama/Auburn dynamic, the following contains criticism of a former Auburn player, Cam Newton, by an Alabama fan, me. This being the case, Auburn fans will react to my comments the same way a new mother would react to a stranger saying her baby looks like the underside of a roadkill opossum. There’s nothing we can do about that. I only ask everybody to take my word for it that I’m trying to be as objective as possible.)

It is obvious what the deal is with Cam Newton. He’s a personality type that’s as common in the South as Krispy Kremes and people who aren’t allowed to buy Sudafed without a doctor’s note: the pampered athlete.

Cam has clearly spent his entire life being the biggest, strongest, fastest, prettiest kid on the playground. And when you’re that kid, especially if you’re playing football in the South, it’s easy to find yourself surrounded by people who will fall all over themselves to make excuses for every jerky thing you do — coaches, teammates, fans, and unfortunately even parents.

After a lifetime of not being held accountable for anything even as basic as common sportsmanship, you get what you got at Cam’s infamous post-Super Bowl press conference.

Now, before I go any further, let me concede that Cam’s display at that press conference is what everyone who loses a big game feels like on the inside. That feeling is completely understandable. But there is a word for a person who always expresses whatever he feels on the inside without regard for anyone else, and that word is “baby.”

Adults inherently know that the proper remedy for this kind of behavior is for the perpetrator to be called on it and held accountable. That is, they inherently know it… unless the perpetrator is their kid. In that case, they think the proper remedy is everybody does it and you’re just jealous and shut up.

And that, of course, is exactly what made Cam what he is in the first place. That’s the part of this episode that’s been both amazing and depressingly predictable to me: Everybody knows arrogance when they see it, and they know what causes it, and yet so many people lined up to make excuses for Cam they same way people have made excuses for him all his life, because they’re fans and he’s their guy.

It’s an object lesson on how people will instinctively defend someone who’s dear to them. We’ll all do it for our own kids, even while we watch other parents do the same thing and think, “Well, that kid’s going to grow up to be a jerk.” We know what makes that kind of a person, but we do it anyway.

It’s almost sweet, in a maddening way. Some people buy into your life in such a way that there’s nothing you can do that they won’t defend. It feels good to get that kind of support. But it also guarantees that certain species, like the idiot jock, will never go extinct.

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A Celebration of Phineas and Ferb

At Catholic Digest, Steven D. Greydanus recaps pretty much everything that was great about Phineas and Ferb. Bear in mind that if you’ve never seen the show, this article will probably make no sense at all. But if you know, you know:

Phineas and Ferb should not exist to begin with because it’s too complicated; at the same time it’s too formulaic. It’s weird-looking—which isn’t much of an obstacle these days—but it goes into deeper weirdness far from the beaten path for mainstream family entertainment. There’s lots of music, generally a mark of kiddie entertainment, yet much of the witty humor is clearly aimed at older audiences. Who on earth is this show for? I mean, besides me, and my kids, and everyone I know, and everyone else.

Mostly, Phineas and Ferb shouldn’t exist because its dominant spirit of exuberance, innocence, optimism, and generosity is so out of step with the abrasiveness of TV animation in the post-Simpsons era.

Take SpongeBob: SpongeBob may be as cheerful and optimistic as Phineas, but he’s also a moron; other characters, like Squidward, are jerks. On Phineas and Ferb, no one is really nasty; all the characters are ultimately endearing, even busybody Candace, bullying Buford, and Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, an underachieving evil scientist with an endless parade of failed doomsday devices (“inators,” as in “Destruct-inator” or “Inside-Out-inator”) who has no greater ambition than to take over the Tri-State Area.

This dynamic is very different from the pat uplifting or heartwarming sentiments often tacked onto cynical postmodern entertainment from The Simpsons to Community. On other shows, inspirational speeches and unifying sentiments often (though not always) play as rote convention, or even ironic deconstruction, as much as, or even more than, genuine uplift. After 20 minutes of conflict and selfishness, the characters share a two-minute group hug, but both the storytellers and savvy viewers see through it.

Phineas and Ferb’s great innovation is to reverse this dynamic: Here the conflict is rote convention, and the uplift is sincere.

I endorse this celebration wholeheartedly but for one quibble: the author lumps in The Simpsons with the rest of the misanthropic TV shows, so you know I’m going to leap to its defense.

I’ll admit that for the last half (or maybe two-thirds) of the show’s Methuselah-like run, The Simpsons has been a pretty run-of-the-mill, more-cynical-then-thou TV sitcom. But in the beginning–when it was good–it was good because it had a heart. That version of The Simpsons very much influenced the uplifting vibe that you saw in Phineas and Ferb.