I have a certificate from the Darth Vader School of Fatherhood

Michael, 6, asked for some candy after his lunch. This is the conversation that followed.

Pat Vader: If you play three things on your violin.

Mike: *whines* (Talk about naturally being in character.)

Pat Vader: No whining.

Mike grabs violin and plays some music.

Mike: Done. OK, can Minnie and I have some candy?

Pat Vader: Hmm. You’re still in your pajamas. Get dressed and I’ll. …

Mike: Hey, we had a deal.

Pat Vader: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

Between this and Pajama Day, he’s going to have slot of psychiatry bills.

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I have a certificate from the Darth Vader School of Fatherhood

American ideals and the War on Terror

On Pod Save The World, a wonderful, but dry, podcast about international relations, host Tommy Vietor interviewed Ali Soufan. If you’ve followed how the United States has combated terrorism, you know who Soufan is.

If not, here’s a quick bio: The Lebanese-born American (Lebanon is a shithole country, right?) was the lead FBI investigator in the USS Cole bombing. Shortly after the Sept. 11, he used his knowledge of Islam and Arabic culture to pull out information during interrogations to track down those responsible for the attacks.

If you’re reading this from NEPA, you can feel a sense of pride because Soufan is a graduate of Mansfield.

During the interview, Vietor asked Soufan an interesting question. It was, essentially, “What can the average American, other than signing up to join the armed forces, do to fight terrorism?”

Soufan had a fascinating answer.

“It as simple as standing up against bigotry and hate. You know, believing in American values. Our American values. Our values are the best thing that ever happened to us.”

“You mentioned earlier, Tommy, that I gave an al Qaida member, basically, a high-ranking official of al Qaida, a history book about America written in Arabic. And he was totally shocked to see that America, that, you know, George Washington was a rebel, for example. He never knew something like this about us.”

“Our values, I always find them to basically benefit us on every level. And why did I say Stand against hate and Stand against bigotry? Well, look at the threat that we have in the United States versus the threat that they have in Europe. A country like Belgium, for example, they have 500,000 Muslim. It’s a nation of about 11 million. Of the 500,000 Muslims there is more than ten percent who joined Isis in Iraq and Syria. Five-hundred-and-twenty-eight or 550 people. In the United States, we have about 4 to 5 million Muslims. And we only have 150 that joined Isis in Iraq and Syria.”

“There is a big reason for that. There is a big reason that in the United States we have had only about 150 people who made it to Iraq and Syria and in Europe they have more like 5,000 people who went to Iraq and Syria to join groups like Isis. And the reason is The American Dream. American values. People here are assimilated. They feel that they are part of this great nation. They give their lives for this great nation. And when we start talking about hate and when we start talking about Islamophobia, we start discriminating against others. When we start making them feel less American, or as second class citizens, or feel that they are living under suspicion. Well, then Isis or al Qaida will be able to recruit them as we’ve seen happening in Europe.”

He continues, but it’s basically a repetition of what you just read. It’s profound because it’s not just a bromide. He brings up a specific event, giving the book to the al Qaida member, that is discussed earlier in the show. He also brings up why fighting bigotry at home is important. If you want to listen to the whole interview, please do.

American ideals and the War on Terror

Call me a skeptic on this whole Tide pod thing

It’s a fun narrative that goofy, dumbshit millennials are popping Tide pods like they’re Smarties. Everyone loves hating on millennials. And we know people do stupid stuff all the time. That’s why we have warnings on windshield covers that say don’t drive while in operation.

But I’m a full bore skeptic on this whole idea that kids are going nuts with this stuff. It reminds me too much of the annual story about the razors in Halloween candy. It’s something that fact checkers and researchers claim never happened.

As a former full-time member of the media, I think the press gets a bad wrap. But these trendy stories almost always have little basis in reality. Remember the Knockout Game? Kids were running rampant all over the country, knocking out strangers cold. It was basically bullpucky. Yes, it happened. But if wasn’t some trend from Weehawken to Peoria.

Why do these stories catch fire? I don’t know. Really. It could be a process thing. It makes it onto one wire and it’s a talker, so local TV stations and newspapers run with it. I’d put a lot of blame on the media running trend stories that don’t include specifics. I’d also put some blame on police departments who often notify the press about trends that, upon further investigation often are as real as the tooth fairy.

So why am I skeptical. First of all, were not seeing a log of specifics. Remember when teen pregnancy cults were a thing? Yeah, a lot of that was hokum, too. But the reports were often based out of a specific town. If we’re not derived specific towns where this challenge is happening, that’s a sign this might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Second of all, until we see numbers, it’s not a trend. I tried looking earlier today to see if Poison Control or the Centers for Disease Control had any actual numbers saying the pod-eating was on a rise and couldn’t find it.

But it bares repeating. Don’t eat detergent, goofballs.

Call me a skeptic on this whole Tide pod thing

Heroes

My 6-year-old is all about Martin Luther King Jr. Since early last week, he’s been talking about January 15 and it being Martin Luther King’s Birthday. He was excited his grandfather was going to be here on that special day. Basically, Dr. King is now up there with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Iron Man in my son’s eyes.

What’s funny is we’ve read “Martin’s Big Words” to Mike several times. We have a picture of him in my office, which is shared with the kids’ play kitchen and Thomas the Tank Engine toys. But the boy never took as much of an interest until this year.

He’s been wanting to watch YouTube videos and read more about King.

So I decided to have a conversation with him, to see what exactly he knows about Dr. King.

Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday?

Because he was a hero and he saved the world because the laws were bad laws. Only white people could sit in the front of the bus and black people could only sit in the bus. So Martin Luther King changed that by people … they didn’t take the bus.

Why do you think those laws were wrong?

They wouldn’t let black people drink from water fountains.

Is that fair?

No. Because it’s mean.

Do you think he was a hero? What made him a hero?

He was strong and he changed the rules.

Do you know about any of his friends?

No.

Did you know that when you were a little baby you met one of his friends?

No. Wait, some of his friends are still alive?

Yes.

Did I like him?

Yes. He tickled you and he signed your book.

Whoa!

Did you know he went to jail?

At first I didn’t, but on Kid President, I heard it. Guess what? Kid President went to the real White House and he met the real Barrack Obama.

What do you think it was like for him to go to jail?

Sad. But he wrote letters to the President.

If you could meet him, what would you ask him?

How many speeches did you give and what did you say in them?

Heroes

Cead Mile Failte

Like most Americans, I’m a mutt. My ancestors came from different countries and over generations, they mixed. My mother’s side came from an impoverished land that was relatively new to modernity. It didn’t write its own laws; instead it was ruled by outsiders. At the time those ancestors arrived, they were no doubt considered germ-infested. And their religion was abhorred by many. People assumed they’d never be loyal to this country. They were dangerous. They ended up in menial jobs, doing the work “real Americans” were too good for.

My mother’s ancestors were Irish.

Had they been Polish or Italian, they’d have faced similar allegations of disloyalty. People would have claimed they wouldn’t assimilate either.

Guess what? The Irish never assimilate. Oh sure, they spoke the language by nature so that made it easier for them to fit in. But they lived in their own sections of town, sometimes not by choice. Most Irish didn’t become protestants. They kept their Catholic faith. It’s something they still identify by. They continued worshipping statues, in other words. They had dances. St. Paddy’s Day was their Fourth of July. Oh, and they hung “Cead Mile Failte” signs on their doors. That’s Gaelic for “100,000 welcomes.” Something they weren’t given when they arrived.

But it’s hard to say America isn’t better because the Irish brought some new wrinkles to the American fabric.

My father’s side is a bit more complex. His parents had already mixed ethnicities. His mother was Irish, his father Lebanese. When we bought our home in Wilkes-Barre, we unknowingly did so in the Lebanese part of town. There are two Maronite churches within four blocks of our home. There’s a Lebanese bakery. A Lebanese grocery store closed just a few months after we moved in.

There’s still a vibrant Lebanese community in Wilkes-Barre. Hell, our mayor is Lebanese. But our section of town is changing. Most of the Lebanese moved out.

I’m more likely to hear “Que pasa” than “Kifak” when I’m going for my nightly perambulation around the neighborhood, where most of the stores and restaurants have become Hispanic or Latin American.

My barber, Miguel, is reserved when he speaks English and much more animated when he speaks in his native Spanish. One of the other guys in the shop proudly told me he bought a home. The first his family had in America since they immigrated.

Like the Irish and Lebanese, the hispanics and Latin American are keeping large portions of their culture. This is what has made America great. It’s a place where you can talk about the zeitgeist during Oktoberfest, take in a ceili on St. Patrick’s Day, have Taco Tuesday and read about The Day of the Dead. The genius of America had been the cramming together of so many cultures.

The more cultures we add, the closer we come to being that shining city on a hill.

Cead Mile Failte

Knee deep in Trump’s Swamp

I’m ankle deep into “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s loquacious and scuttlebut filled book on the early days of President Herr Trump’s reign.

It reads like “The Final Days” would have if Woodward and Bernstein had done acid nightly and not had Ben Bradlee looking over their shoulder demanding accuracy and stronger ethics.

Continue reading “Knee deep in Trump’s Swamp”

Knee deep in Trump’s Swamp

Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame

I wanted to do a deep dive into this year’s Hall of Fame Ballot, but never got around to it. I dreamed of covering a major league team. It never happened on a regular basis, but I did get to cover a handful of Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies games. So I had my Moonlight Graham moment. I’d never thought about having a vote, I just loved writing and loved baseball. But I appreciate the writers who understand the responsibility that comes with the vote and treat if with respect. I think the recent changes, in general, are good – particularly cutting some dead weight off the list of those who voted. Still, despite those changes, there are too many well qualified candidates on the ballot.

Here’s how I would vote, with an explanation on some.

Barry Bonds: Yes. Look, Bonds brought shame to the game. And I don’t like steroids. Some of his numbers a hollow. But the executives who let the game be riddled with drugs are in so it’s absurd to exclude the players, particularly ones who would have been locks before they took a drug. Guess what, he doesn’t get to make a speech.

Chris Carpenter: Not this year. I think he has a more legit case than most people realize. But the ballot is too glutted right now.

Roger Clemens: This yes pains me.

Johnny Damon: He’s a borderline candidate, but he wasn’t as good as Kenny Lofton, who belongs in the Hall of Fame and should have sailed in on his first attempt. Instead, voters shit the bed in one of their worst mistakes.

Vlad Guerrero: Yes! Dude hit .318/.379./553 with 181 stolen bases and some solid defense. Played just 16 years.

Livan Hernandez: No.

Trevor Hoffman: No. It doesn’t bother me if he’s in or out. Some people say that’s a sign he shouldn’t be in. That’s the argument of a fool. There are always going to be guys who are tough to gage. The issue with Hoffman is that he was durable and effective. Those our certainly two Hall of Fame traits. For example, Chase Utley won’t get into the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t durable despite the fact that when he played he was one of the six or seven best second basemen of all time. The same is true for Eric Davis in centerfield. The knock on Hoffman is he struggled when it mattered most and he never had that one dominant season. The same could be said of Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray, but they’re justifiably in the Hall of Fame. I vote no basically because there are a bunch of guys who need to get in first.

Orlando Hudson: No.

Aubrey Huff: No.

Jason Isringhausen: No.

Andruw Jones: No. This might be bias because I hated him as a player. But it’s a game of numbers on how many people I vote for.

Chipper Jones: Yes. He was remarkable. And I hated every moment of his disgustingly good career.

Jeff Kent: Yes. More home runs than any second baseman in history. A postseason walk off home rub. An MVP. This is long overdue. Get some of these guys who deserve enshrinement and are languishing on the ballot cleared off.

Carlos Lee: No.

Brad Lidge: No.

Edgar Martinez: Yes. Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas are already in the Hall of Fame as designated hitters. Edgar was better than Molitor. He’s not just a member of the .300/.400/.500 club, he hit .312/.418/.515

Hideki Matsui: No.

Fred McGriff: No, but yes next year. So you’re telling me that if he hit seven more home runs, he’d be a Hall of Famer? That’s asinine. The 500 home run club was about separating the Mantles and Matthews of the world from the Mizes and Kiners who were also Hall of Famers.

Kevin Milwood: No.

Jamie Moyer: No.

Mike Mussina: Yes. Why isn’t this obvious?

Manny Ramirez: No. Next year.

Scott Rolen: No. This ballot has a ton of jerks. But here’s the deal. By new school (70 WAR) or old school (316 homers) he’s a Hall of Famer at third base. But he can wait so we getting the guys who have been waiting.

Johan Santana: No, but closer than people realize.

Curt Schilling: Yes. God forgive me. He earned it.

Gary Sheffield: Next year.

Sammy Sosa: Next year.

Jim Thome: Yes. He was Paul Bunyan in stirrups. Everyone should happily support him.

Omar Vizquel: No. People compare him to Ozzie Smith. Vizquel was good, but he was lightyears worse than Smith offensively and not nearly as good defensively.

Billy Wagner: Not yet. I’d take him over Hoffman, to be honest.

Larry Walker: Yes. Eight years is too long a wait for a guy who hit .313/.400/.565 and stole 230 bases. This is the list of National Leaguers with higher slugging percentages: Barry Bonds and Rogers Hornsby.

Kerry Wood: No.

Carlos Zambrano: No.

Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame