Friday, November 25, 2011

Fighting the Grinch

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Allegedly, today is a major shopping day in these states united. According to Bloomberg, during the first 24 hours of Black Friday, sales were up $27 Billion, or 8%, over sales during the same period last year. I doubt the relatively flat increase has anything to do with the Occupy Wall Street protestors' call for a boycott of major retailers. But, alas, questions about Holiday spending haven't been reduced to the fringe down at Zuccotti Park.

One source that I consider to be uniformly insightful has not only questioned the wisdom of such a frenzied shopping blitz, but he has also hinted that America should resuscitate long dead 'blue laws,' mandating that businesses close on Sunday. Even the normally estimable Zen Habits has gone so far as to encourage his readers not to spend money during the Holiday Season at all. Minimalism indeed.

Naturally, such notions are misguided.

In fact, perhaps the worst thing consumers could do during this time of economic downturn is not spend money - since (surprise!), our economy is largely driven by consumer spending. If Americans stop spending money, then companies have no incentive to hire and greater incentives to downsize. This leads to greater unemployment, and even slower economic growth. I get that families should be prudent with their personal finances, but if everyone took Zen Habits' advice, our economy would probably tank before most people have time to put up the Christmas tree.

Given our economic morass, and quite unlike my betters, I want to do my part to help fight the army of Grinches. Accordingly, I have published my personal Christmas list below. In the event that readers are tempted to abstain from making holiday purchases, consider my list, and if you can't be moved to buy something for yourself, at least buy something for me. After all, our economy needs you to make these purchases. That I am a side beneficiary of your concern for the greater good, well, I'll just try to find a way to live with myself.

Whatever the motivation, I call that a win, win for everyone.

And in the event you would rather not purchase presents for yours truly (you scabs), then maybe the list will give you a few ideas for the lowly grad student/blogger/technophile in your life - conveniently sorted into four categories. You're welcome.

Entertainment

1. Mad Men (Seasons 1 - 4). Cost: $79.99. Store: Amazon. Description: Set on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, Mad Men is quite simply the finest television series currently being produced. The character development perfectly suits each member of the cast, while the writing remains consistently smart and witty.

MadMen

2. Californication (Seasons 1 - 4). Cost: $97.99. Store: AmazonDescription: Californication has been a guilty pleasure of mine for the past two years. Im' already counting down the days until the series resumes with Season 5 starting in January. For those with greater moral scruples than me, I should warn that the series is completely debauched. But it chronicles the exploits of a struggling, alcoholic writer who dances on the razor's edge of genius and disaster. My own dance trends more toward disaster, but I like the idea of knowing that someone has it worse than me.

Californication

3. Atlas Shrugged (Part 1). Cost: $14.99. Store: AmazonDescription: This book radically, and inexorably reframed my world view and thoughts about politics. In fact, I quite nearly lost a job simply for reading this book - but that's another story for another time. While I don't buy into all of Rand's philosophy, or even most of it, one cannot read this novel and walk away unaffected. The film adaptation of the book came out this year. Unfortunately, I never made it to see the movie while it was in theaters. I would like to correct this by owning the movie.

AtlasShrugged

Lifestyle

1. Garmin Edge 200. Cost: $149.99. Store: AmazonDescription: I took up cycling over the summer, and oddly dropped it once the weather cooled. I would like to resume my habit, and the Garmin Edge 200 is a spiffy new "GPS-enabled cycling computer," tracking time, distance, speed, location, and calories burned. It also appeals to my inner nerd by syncing all of the data with Garmin's servers. Whoa.

GarminEdge200

2. Nike, Oklahoma Sooners Replica Football. Cost: $30.00. Store: Dick's Sporting GoodsDescription: Early last month, Gwyn and I were playing "keep  away" with my Nike football from our young Pit Bull Alexas. Unfortunately we lost, and my football now looks like it took a couple of turns in a blender. It's not fair to say she ripped it to shreds. But it is fair to say the ball is hers and completely unusable. An OU Sooners Nike football would make a fine substitute.

OUFootball

3. Hi-Point, 9mm Carbine. Cost: $274. Store: Local Gun DealerDescription: Eventually the zombies will attack. The CDC says so. When they do, I intend to be ready with my 9mm carbine. Better for mid-range situations (à la zombie attacks), and more maneuverable than a rifle, Hi-Point's carbine is both economical and effective. In the words of former President George W. Bush, "bring it on".

HiPoint9mmCarbine

Sartorial

1. Kenneth Cole, Leather Laptop Messenger Bag. Cost: $117.33. Store: AmazonDescription: Rumor has it, my doctoral foray will end this Spring. Should I land a gig as a real-life professor, I will need a new 'backpack' to match my status. This product from Kenneth Cole would do nicely. Trust me. I'm almost a doctor (SJD).

LeatherMessengerBag

2. J. Crew, Vintage Oxford Shirt. Cost: $68.00. Store: J. CrewDescription: There are few more traditional items sold by men's clothiers than the vintage, Oxford shirt. I have a few, but this is an eminently practical Christmas request - and it's not quite so cliché as a tie. Plus, it would match quite well with the leather laptop bag above. Yes. I said 'match.' Good style is not metrosexual.

JCrewOxford

3. Nike, Dartmouth Men's Hoodie. Cost: $48.95. Store: Dartmouth CoopDescription: Although I sometimes deny it, yours truly is a graduate of the College on the Hill. Unfortunately, this Dartmouth man has very little in the way of Dartmouth gear. As I approach my 30th year on this earth, I think it's time to get a hoodie from my alma mater.

DartmouthHoodie

4. Adidas, Men's Tiro Training Jacket. Cost: $65.00. Store: AmazonDescription: My point in selecting this item is not so much this particular jacket as it is to suggest a jacket of a similar style. I've concluded that track jackets are really quite good for cycling during the late fall and winter months. And, true to form, I do not have one.

AdidasTrackJacket

Inspirational

1. The Macallan, Single Malt Scotch, 12 yr. Cost: $35.00. Store: BevMo, etc. Description: When I'm not busy cooking up content for the blog, working on my dissertation, or being a thumb warrior on MW3, I love a glass of scotch in the evenings while I read. If I can add a cigar to the mix, that makes the night even better. My poison of choice is the inexpensive Johnny Walker Red, but on occasion I indulge myself with a scotch of the single malt variety, and this bottle is by far the best.

TheMacalan

2. SoHo Bar Glasses. Cost: $49.99. Store: Wine Enthusiast. Description: Being a fan of the finer things, I purchased a set of nice scotch glasses a couple of months ago. Being also a huge klutz, I dropped one of my glasses on the tile in our kitchen floor. It didn't end well. This set would be a fine substitute for the one my clumsiness destroyed.

ScotchGlasses

3. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. Cost: $17.88. Store: Amazon. Description: The Steve Jobs, authorized biography has been on my tentative list of reads ever since it came out. The man's life absolutely fascinates me. That his technology has changed my life and our world, goes without saying. Note also, this is the only book on my list.

SteveJobs

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Some Thoughts from Locke

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For those interested or inclined to ridicule, I am in the thick of writing my SJD dissertation. This basically means I spend many late nights over scotch considering the thoughts of better men - mainly because I am too ADD to consider their thoughts during the day. I've been told I have a flair for the dramatic, but I swear, somewhere in Africa there's a tsetse fly with an attention span longer than mine.

Most recently, I've spent my wee small hours of the morning drafting a chapter on libertarian political philosophy and how it can be used to improve many of the Federal Government's policies toward Native Americans.

My readings tonight took me to the works of John Locke and his 1689 manuscript Second Treatise of Government. In the selection below, Locke argues at length against the absolute monarchy and its attendant evil, absolute power.

Locke writes:

For he that thinks absolute power purifies men's blood, and corrects the baseness of human nature, need read but the history of this, or any other age, to be convinced to the contrary.

-John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Sec. 92.

I find that the quote above is both inspirational and aspirational. It is inspirational in that Locke sounds like an old friend, warning against the largesse of government, rallying patriots to freedom's cause as if the British were already en route to Cambridge from Boston.

The quote is also aspirational because in the 322 years that have intervened between Locke's work and our present day, civil society has yet to reign in the scourge of absolute power - particulalry in the halls of government. As Solomon would say, nothing new under the sun.

N.B. I hope to explain later in my own research how the notion of absolute power is notoriously troublesome in the area of Federal Indian Law. The Arizona State University Law School has a helpful summary here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Pit Bull Documentary Campaign

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Alexas Fodder

I haven't mentioned our dog Alexas here on Pax Plena nearly enough - although my post about the Royal Wedding last spring is a notable exception. Still, having welcomed Alexas into our lives, we could (and perhaps may) write a lengthy book about the adventures we've had with her. I like to think she's a small tornado of fun.

I won't regale you with personal experiences, unless you ask, but it's obvious that the American Pit Bull Terrier has developed quite the image problem in the past decade or so. Thanks to Michael Vick's infamous dog fighting ring, and the biased or inadequate media coverage of local markets, Pit Bulls are now considered roughly along the same spectrum of evil as Joe Paterno and the Serpent of Old himself.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of a nascent documentary campaign in the works called "Pit Proud." Led by an intrepid team of filmmakers called the Dog Files, the effort aims to create a high-quality documentary that rights the Pit Bull's reputation. It's difficult to believe given today's media coverage, but Pitties were once one of America's most beloved dog breeds. In fact, they were even the "poster dogs" of America's effort during WWI.

[Link]

The goal of the documentary isn't so much a return to these golden years, as it is to dispel the harmful myths that have led to reactionary local legislation, and blanket bans on the breed in cities across the country.

The campaign's goal is to raise some $32,000 in 19 days. The group is a little less than 1/3 of the way to their goal, so if you're inclined to give, you can access the group's campaign here.

Check out the first part of the documentary below:

Dog Files Ep.12: Pit Proud: The History Of The Pit Bull from GP Creative on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me

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Jesus My Father The CIA and ME

On the shelves of our office library are a number of biographies. From Winston Churchill to Johnny Cash, we have no shortage of books about the lives of other, much more interesting, people. The number of memoirs, or autobiographies on our shelves is relatively paltry by comparison. This is not an accident. I tend not to buy memoirs because they are uniformly terrible. Given my reluctance to even read such a dust jacket, I was pleasantly surprised when I read Ian Morgan Cron's Jesus, My Father, The CIA And Me: A Memoir…of Sorts (Thomas Nelson, 978-0-8499-4610-3, $15.99, June 2011).

From the outset, it's important to recognize that writing an engaging memoir is difficult. Most attempts at autobiography try to paint life in its best light (think Sarah Palin's Going Rogue). But it's the rare, brave author who communicates the essence of a life as it was actually lived, as opposed to producing a censored version of how one would like life to have been. This sense of honesty is what really sets apart Cron's book. Taking the back drop of an interesting, and complex childhood, Cron communicates in 252 pages the simple idea that life is messy.

As I noted, giving life a sincere rifling isn't an easy undertaking. Ours is a veritable age of depression. Whether it's feeling inadequate for being stuck in the 99%, or latent concerns about the future of humanity, we homo sapiens tend to have more skeletons in our closet than Conrad Murray after a fresh supply of Propofol.

But somehow, Cron's memoir reassures readers that this is ok - that wading through the bullshit of life isn't a journey taken alone, but something we all do to cope with the complexity or our own existence. Somewhere between page one and the end, readers come to understand that they are reading Cron's piece, but the themes explored could well be their own.

The most important theme of Cron's memoir is how he copes with the chronic feeling of being unloved. I realize that at first this theme can sound a bit like a cliché. It's fair to say that no one gets through life without developing some sort of "daddy" issue. But in Cron's case, the daddy issue wasn't a simple matter of Father threatening to pull the car over after roughhousing in the backseat finally got unbearable - say, hypothetically, on a trip to Taos, NM, circa 1989. Cron's issues with his father involved the profoundly more complicated reality of having an abusive father who was not only an alcoholic, but also an agent for the CIA. As one would expect of a good Company Man, Cron describes his Father as being a bit "like Darth Vader, only less empathetic."

Detailing the life of a true Darksider, Cron painfully recounts numerous instances of abuse meted out by his father over drunken nights of scotch. While this is tragic in itself, the author suggests that the greater tribulation of his relationship with the elder Cron was the complete lack of interest he took in his son. The result is that the author was left to "begin life without a center of gravity," foreshadowing the many ways in which the author would mirror the actions of his father.

The second major theme of the memoir is something I've already alluded to. As a recovering law student, I've long taken it for granted that the majority of law students and attorneys are functioning alcoholics. And perhaps in Arizona more than most, we tend to revel in our reputation for debauchery. In fact, my alma mater the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law was recently dubbed "the top party law school" in the Nation. Work hard, play hard as the adage goes.

While alcohol may be all fun and games here in Tucson, the hooch played a far more harrowing role in Cron's memoir. In fact, some of the book's most disturbing, and heartrending scenes come when the author describes the drunken physical abuse he endured at the hand of his Scotch-swigging father. What makes these moments even more poignant is that they serve as a dark segue into Cron's descriptions of his own drunken nights and his painful mornings after. Even Darth Vader himself would mourn for the son who is controlled by the same ghosts that haunted his father.

Finally, all of these stories, in some way reflect the final major theme of the book, the author's journey as a person of faith. This shouldn't be confused with dogmatic moralizing. The book is far from an exercise in Christian apologetics. Instead, Cron uses his life to illustrate how complicated it is to maintain faith in the Divine when so many aspects of life are unknown, unknowable, and often contrary, to the teachings of theologians and the various sects of Christendom. Rather than avoid doctrinal crises and moments of doubt, Cron honestly, and openly questions where exactly God was during his childhood, while admitting that he still "sees through a glass darkly," lo these many years later. (1 Cor. 13.12).

This is what makes the book so easy to appreciate. Unlike many Christian authors, Cron recognizes that grace isn't cheap. Accordingly, he does not attempt to cheapen grace with empty platitudes of a "loving God," or with talk of "damnation" for the sinner. Rather, Cron seems to recognize that in our own way we're all damned -- if not spiritually, then perhaps emotionally, as we struggle to confront the demons of our own past; or perhaps physically, as we yearn to strike a balance between work and life; or maybe even intellectually, as we attempt to maintain a sense of what is right, while also keeping our minds open to new ideas and change.

Whatever the challenge, Cron never shies away from the truth. The events are never understated. The stories are simply told. This makes the entire account read less like an exposition of morality, and much more like a beautiful meditation on life. Cron reminds readers that life cannot honestly be separated into good and bad because both coexist on a continuum. There is good. There is evil. In the book, a father drunkenly beats his son. And later, a father overcomes his alcoholism, as he lovingly tries to shield his children from harm. And so the light rises from darkness.

In the end, Ian Morgan Cron uses his life to demonstrate that mere existence can be tough. But it is only through this dose of realism that Cron can use his own life to demonstrate how one can also endure, and thrive.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Reviews for November and December

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Book Reviews Nov and Dec

Late last week, I was pleased to receive the opportunity to review two more books in the near future. The titles released earlier this year, but newly minted paperbacks are just hitting the shelves.

The first review will be of author Ian Morgan Cron's newly released memoir titled Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts. Cron's book chronicles the early years of his life, and explores the complexity of growing up with an alcoholic father who was also a spook for the CIA.

N.B. Cron is also an Episcopal priest, so the memoir traffics into some weighty topics including depression, alcoholism, and the concept of grace. For those who avoid such books, consider yourself warned. And for those curious, Cron's memoir has received excellent reviews from Publishers Weekly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

The second review comes from a similar genre, although it's more historical in tenor than spiritual. Author Eric Metaxas is most widely known for having written the biography of William Wilberforce that inspired the hit movie Amazing Grace. (A personal favorite of yours truly). His latest biography titled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is poised to become a similarly big hit. Released in April 2010, the book cracked number four on the New York Times Bestseller List only this September, and received glowing endorsements from such sundry quarters as the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Christianity Today, and even former President George W. Bush.

The lengthy biography, of course, details the paradoxical life of pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian cum spy who was intimately involved in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler during World War II. Bonhoeffer was summarily executed for his heroics by the Third Reich, leaving the pastor/spy's legacy shrouded in myth, and reverence among modern Christians.

Check out the Thomas Nelson Trailer here:

As always I would be remiss if I did not thank the appropriate parties for providing me the opportunity to review their works. Special thanks to Ms. Meryl Zegarek and her team at Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc.

More to come...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bad Idea of the Month

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October's Last Laugh

With October in the books, it seemed only appropriate to provide a monthly does of inanity from old Winterfylleth.

To be sure, there were many candidates. From the Occupy Wall Street protests, to Kim Kardashian's divorce, to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, the month of October had no shortage of individuals competing in a race to the bottom.

But in the words of Jack Donaghy, sometimes you have to climb down into the crevasse. And waiting at the bottom of this dark, dark chasm was the following advice from a normally irreproachable source, Life Hacker.

The topic was mundane enough - what actions should one take when being chased by a dog? It would seem there would be plenty of sensible courses of action that one could take. Running, for example, strikes me as a perfectly reasonable response. Shrieking for help seems to me a close second in reasonability. Walking softly and carrying a big stick, sounds to me like a distant, albeit third, reasonable alternative.

Life Hacker's advice?

Learn How to Bark a Dog Down to Get It to Stop Chasing You

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Short of wearing a meat dress and running through a pound, it's actually difficult for me to think of worse advice for Life Hacker to give. Being but a human guinea pig, your humble blogger tested this theory of 'barking a dog down,' while enduring a deluge of kisses from my Pit Bull Alexas.

The result was four-fold:

1. Kept kissing

2. Stopped

3. Cocked her head sideways

4. Wagged her tail vigorously

5. Resumed the deluge of kisses

Given that my dog is incredibly docile and the advice still failed miserably, I'm highly skeptical that an angry dog would be even remotely phased by a human's lame attempts to bark.

A far better solution is to order the dog to her crate. And reward her with a peanut-butter-filled Kong Toy when you feel guilty later.