Category Archives: …And More

America the Beautiful: 2014 Coca Cola Super Bowl Ad and Why I Endorse Free Speech for Everyone

Regarding the Coca Cola commercial last night (in case you haven’t seen it, I posted below), there’s a few things that apparently need to be said:

1. Yes, many Americans speak English. Many other Americans don’t speak English. We are a nation of immigrants. The melting pot of the world. What I bet a lot of the bigots who were upset about the commercial don’t know is that America DOES NOT, in fact, have an official national language. Furthermore, “American” is not a language. We speak English. Which originated in England. Which also happens to be more closely related to Dutch than any other language because it comes from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. None of which has any roots whatsoever in America. Next time you say, “Speak American!” or even “Speak English!” understand what that really means.


2. America is a global leader in business. We have the world’s single largest economy. That’s entirely due to the ingenuity of Americans. Americans that have come from every walk of life. And we wouldn’t be the world leader in business if we didn’t have long-standing alliances, partnerships, free trade and relations with just about every other country in the world in all the sectors of business that we excel in. This was a direct result of the entrepreneurship of many millions of Americans. Our economy thrives because we trade with the other 6.7 billion people in the world.

3. So if you intend to boycott Coke simply for spreading a message of solidarity and unity among Americans by celebrating our collective and individual diversity instead of promoting hate and discontent for our differences like we as a nation have done for the last 400+ years, you might want to consider this:

Coke doesn’t care if every bigot and xenophobe in this country never drank another Coke in their life. As much as you’d like to think you have the support of many other people who feel like you do, if you all were to come out from behind the computer, you’d see how very few would actually support you publicly. And those people liking your status or favoriting your tweet now wouldn’t speak up for you if you were standing in front of a room full of regular, normal people. They would quietly sit there and watch you make a fool of yourself. This is because you are in the extreme minority. Which is why Coke doesn’t care if you never drink another one in your life. You won’t make a difference. Oh and because we’re a global leader in business and Coca Cola is one of the most recognizable brands internationally from the middle east to east Asia, Europe to Latin America, to the tiny islands you’ve never heard of in the South Pacific like Vanuatu, and all across the continent of Africa. That’s a market share of over 7 billion people. You won’t make a difference.

4. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
“Better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

I do, however, fully agree with one singular principle whereby you are allowed to express your opinions: the right to free speech. After all, ain’t that what makes ‘Merrica great? This same principle that has given us some of the greatest minds and thinkers the world has ever seen, also allows people to expose themselves as the racists, bigots, nuts, crackpots, fools and idiots they are. Without free speech, it would make it that much harder for the rest of us to differentiate between the fools and everybody else. Please, continue to speak your mind. Freely and openly.

5. God bless America.

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“Daddy’s Girl” (Short Story) by Casey Robbins

I’ve never seen him cry, the man I call Papa. He’s my grandfather, the one who, as a kid I used to arm wrestle with both my hands, practically standing on his wrists with all my weight and still couldn’t beat. Not even close. He’d sit there in his spot on the couch, shoveling peanuts into his mouth and adjusting his heavy bifocal frames. He’d ask me when I was going to try before turning my wrist over and placing it gently to the end table top.

The man who, years later when I was in my late teens and at the strongest and most physically fit, I thought I actually stood a chance of beating at arm wrestling. I still couldn’t. Not even with both hands. He was in his sixties then.

He was always a big man at six-foot-two and easily a stout two hundred seventy-five pounds with tree-trunk legs and Popeye forearms. Despite his belly I’d always known him to have that got bigger with age, despite the heart attack he suffered before I could even remember, he was still the strongest man I’d ever known.

The closest I came to actually seeing him cry was the day I left for the Army. We were always close. I spent a decent portion of my childhood living with my grandparents. And when the day came he was nervous, pacing.

He jiggled the keys in his pocket, stared out the window and finally after some time of doing that over and over again, he said something to me.

 

“Well, you’d better get going, babe. I know how the Army is when you’re late for things,” coming from a man who’d done his tour in the Army many years ago just as the Korean War was coming to a tentative cease-fire. “I’m sure gonna miss you. I better get going. I’ve got things I have to take care of.”

He hugged me tightly, not at all like any hug he’d ever given me. He told me he loved me with a pained look on his face. If I had looked closely, perhaps I could have seen the lump in his throat.

And with that, he got into his truck and drove off. I didn’t see him again until a year and a half later.

I found out months later from my grandmother that the reason he’d left before me is that he couldn’t stand the thought of me leaving and didn’t want to cry in front of me.

And so, I’ve never seen him cry. He took his mother’s death with dignity and acceptance. She was getting worse over the years. At first she didn’t recognize her great-grandkids. Then, she had trouble remembering her grandkids. Her two sons were mere memories of little boys growing up in Melon Valley just outside Buhl in Southern Idaho. Once she got to that point is when I’m sure he felt like he had already lost her. He kept his composure through it all. Many times he even joked about it but you could hear the tinge of pain in his voice even through the jokes. That’s how Papa dealt with pain.

This was different. When I arrived at my grandparents after the news, I was the last to show. I drove cross-country with my wife of four months and my son of three weeks. This was my first time seeing any of my family since joining the Army a year and a half earlier.

My oldest brother, who was also in the Army at the time, had gotten the news before me and been there a day or two ahead of me. My brother and sister, aunts and uncles and of course my grandparents all lived within a day’s drive.

My drive took me two and a half days at roughly 2,500 miles. I couldn’t exactly afford a plane ticket for myself and my wife and my newborn son. So we drove the whole way.  Naturally, we were the last to arrive.

As happy as I was to see everyone, the joy was taken away by the one simple fact of the circumstances of our reunion. Papa was the first one I hugged. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if there was anything I could say. And so I didn’t. I just hugged him.

His hug felt more like the day I left for the Army, only tighter. It was almost as if this man who towered over me was leaning on me. I was his support as much as he was mine.

You see, I’ve never seen my grandfather cry. I’ve felt him, though. As tight and strong as his hug was, his huge frame still trembled and shook as he wrapped his arms around me. I didn’t see the tears. I don’t know if they came any closer than the bottom of his eyelids. Certainly not flowing like mine.

As a new father, I could now fully understand his love—and his loss.

I was a mama’s boy. She was a daddy’s girl. She was my mom, but my God how hard it must have been for him that she was his daughter.

 

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Fear

“Our fears inhibit us from our full potential. Our greatest fear is in anticipation. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Our deepest fear is not that we exist for no reason, but that we exist for a purpose we believe we cannot fulfill.”

-Marianne Williamson, Francis Chan and Casey Robbins

This is for me. This is for you.
This for my son and the select few,
Who believe in me and the good I can do.
Bismallahir rhamanir rahim.

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Qualified (Short Story)

I was nineteen years old when I found out what a clit really was.

Strangely enough, I was in the Army and it was my qualification day on the range. The last time I had qualified on my M-16 was almost a year prior.

Of course, it was another unit running the range. Some infantry unit. I was military intelligence, the butt of many jokes in the Army, not the least of which had to do with our oxymoronic title. I guess the others didn’t realize they were making fun of themselves with that, too.

Before every qualification fire, we were required to battlesight zero our weapon. A cool sounding name for adjusting the sights of our weapon so that what we aim at is what we’re actually shooting. It was simple enough: put three rounds into a 25-meter paper target within a four centimeter diameter in the middle of a human-shaped target.

I was having trouble. Normally you get between nine and eighteen rounds to do it. I was on round 36 and counting.

One of the range safeties was a grizzled old Sergeant First Class, a leftover from the Gulf War era, Grenada, Kosovo and every other conflict we thrust ourselves in after Vietnam. I’m pretty sure he was past the retirement age but one of those guys who loved it so much – or had nothing else to look forward to after the Army – that he refused to submit his retirement paperwork.

“It’s your trigger squeeze.” He was so matter-of-fact and yet still able to instill fear in me with the way he spoke. He pointed to my shot group which had three holes punched in it in a more or less horizontal line. They were on target. Just not good enough to call good by Army standards.

“Yes, Sergeant. I’ll try harder.”

“No! That’s the problem,” he explained to me as we walked back to the firing line. “Do you know what a clit is?”

I looked at him curiously. My mind wandered to the word ‘clit’. I’d heard the word many times before. I found a stash of Playboys and Penthouses when I was younger. It wasn’t a foreign word to me, I just wasn’t entirely sure what or – more importantly – where it was. I simply knew it as a part of a woman’s anatomy (the concept of the elusive G-spot was something much more foreign and something I still wouldn’t learn for many more years to come – pun intended).

I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know what it was. He already looked down on me. I imagined him going back and telling his grunt buddies about this MI geek who didn’t even know what a clit was. I could see them all laughing at my expense around a case of beer and a blazing barbecue (cooking sausages, no doubt).

“Yes, Sergeant.” The uncertainty in my voice must have tipped him off that I had no clue. That and my long response time.

He played along anyway, “You see, you gotta be gentle with it.” He put his trigger finger and thumb together and gently rubbed them back and forth. “You play with it too hard and she screams in pain. You gotta do it nice and soft. Gently squeeze until she pops off. Now imagine the trigger is your girlfriend’s clit. Be gentle. Squeeze it, don’t force it. You got it?”

“Roger, Sergeant.” Clear as mud, I thought to myself.

And as I got myself positioned in the foxhole again, I thought about it. I truly didn’t know what a clit was. Had I been doing things wrong this whole time? Man, I thought I was good at cunnilingus. Apparently I had been fooling myself this whole time. Truth was, I knew a clit was down there somewhere.

I remember my first ever experience. It was high school. And I went down on her one night after a football game. I licked and licked and licked until my tongue got so sore I couldn’t lick anymore. I certainly knew when the time came I would have no trouble with where to put… you know what. Because that’s what I was licking.

I even tried the trick my friend had suggested in spelling the ABCs with my tongue. I got bored around Q and was pretty certain she knew what I was doing. Besides, I could tell it wasn’t really doing anything for her. I never ventured outside of that area enough to know there was something else I should be paying attention to.

I went through high school like that. Granted there were only two other girls I performed cunnilingus on, so it’s not like I had a lot of experience to begin with.

As I grabbed my M-16 and loaded three more rounds, I got the gist of what he was saying: gentle trigger squeeze – in more words than that complete with a visual.

And I did just that. I gently popped off three rounds in a four centimeter diameter, key-holing two of the rounds. It was a great shot group.

Even the Sergeant First Class congratulated me – in his own way, “Yep. I believe you’re ready to go qualify.”

I damn sure was. I was confident. And I shot well enough.

That night, I searched for my girlfriend’s clit. It took a little while and a sore tongue, but I found it. It was the first she or any other girl I’d ever been with had actually humped my face. She moaned and kept grinding her hips. And I thought to myself…

Yep, I’m officially official. I’m qualified.

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Eloi, eloi

And at the ninth hour1, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani.” Which means: “My God, My God why have You forsaken me.”

-Matthew 27:46, Jesus the Christ on the cross

This is perhaps the most perplexing of all the passages in the Bible. Mostly because it was spoken by the Savior Himself. Odd words for a man purported to be the true and living Son of God and God in the flesh. Talk about mysterious.

But if you look at the context of these words, it becomes a little clearer why they were spoken. In fact, this is a direct quote from the Old Testament in Psalm 22:1-2:

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?  O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;  And in the night season, and am not silent.

From the author, we get a sense of his (or her) devotion to God and the situation she (or he) is in. It’s dire and they feel as though God has abandoned them in their time of need.

Ultimately, the author finishes the psalm after much lamenting about their current state of affairs and how so many have surrounded themselves in opposition to them with:

But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee. Ye that fear the Lord, praise Him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel. For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid his face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.

-Psalm 22:19-24

In this, the author reaffirms his belief in God’s ability to carry out His will, though his faith may seemed to have been in question previously. Even that is evidently not the truth from his first lines: “My God, My God why have You forsaken me?” As anyone can plainly see, s/he is in fact, speaking directly to God which in and of itself makes clear that the author still believes in God’s existence.

And when we apply this to Christ on the cross, we catch a glimpse of what Jesus was conveying as he hung from the device that slowly killed him.

In fact, Jesus never questioned the existence of God. To the contrary, he affirmed his faith in His Father while questioning His methods of bringing Christ to salvation and consequently, the rest of mankind. It was a fleeting moment and a recitation of a verse which Jesus knew all too well from His own studies of scripture as well as His own experience.

Think about it: Christ was sent as a messenger of God as Son of Man and of God, in the flesh to tell of God’s ever-redeeming love, grace and mercy. He was criticized and ostracized by the very people he sought to save, took into his arms the ones nobody else thought deserved salvation because of their professions or previous deeds, was betrayed by one of those very disciples, beaten and sentenced to execution by crucifixion in lieu of a known murderer who was freed in His stead, and left to die on a cross like all the common criminals of that time. And after hours and hours of being nailed to that cross, had all but given up hope that the God He believed in was so merciful.

This is a place, whether religious or not, that I’m sure 99% of all human beings can identify with. And yes, our situation is likely not as dire as Christ’s on the cross in His last hours. Very seldom is anybody’s. Even still, there are those out there who have been in Christ’s shoes (not literally but in a figurative sense) in which their death of the flesh was imminent and unavoidable.

And so, we can all, not matter how small our issues may be, relate to this very passage of Christ as a human being. He was, after all, God but still born in the flesh as a human being exactly like us. No different in the flesh.

And yet, Christ, in some of His final words says:

Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.

-Luke 23:46

And His final words echo that of the final passage of Psalm 22(verse 312):

It is finished.

-John 19:30

You see, Christ never doubted God’s existence, much like the author of Psalm 22. And while questioning His methods isn’t exactly practiced or encouraged within the Christian community, it’s through questioning that we gain a greater understanding of ourselves and of God3.

More importantly for us as human beings, it’s essntial to understand that God understands our pain and our suffering. And through it all, we are redeemed. He has never left us. He never will. Although we wish He would take a more active role in our lives and give us everything we wish and pray for, He also knows when grace and mercy are more appropriate. He was made to suffer greatly for our sins despite our deserving the appropriate punishment that comes along with sinning.

And through Christ’s words “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani” we see the understanding God has for us and our suffering. Christ shared His humanity with the author of Psalm 22. God shared our humanity through Christ. We share our humanity with God through Jesus.

The lesson I have come to learn from this is that we can see Christ as more than an unfeeling God. It’s through our common humanity that we can discover a lot about our connection to others, to God and to ourselves. We discover the Christ and God in us and the us in God and Christ. We are revealed to be inextricably bound (in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr.) to our fellow man. And through Christ’s pain and suffering as both a human being and as God, we are also inextricably bound to God as He is to us.

“Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani” was the ultimate act of compassion4, the ultimate observance of humanity and in one sentence, personified the ultimate grace, mercy and understanding of God.

The greatest compliment anyone can give me is not to call me a “Christian” but to tell me, “I see the Christ in you.”

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Footnotes:

1. The three o’clock hour is generally accepted to mean 3:00 in the afternoon. This is also generally marked as the hour of mercy.

2. Psalm 22:31 – They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.

3. John 8:32 – You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (spoken by Jesus)

4. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever shall believe in Him shall have life everlasting.”

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Brush Strokes: Xiaoze Xie

“History only records a few people’s grand deeds; the voices of others merge into silence.”
-Xi Chuan

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but they don’t mention that apparently they’re also worth a thousand paintings. Well, maybe not literally a thousand, but you get the idea.

I recently visited an exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon campus of an incredible contemporary artist. His name is Xiaoze Xie.

Xiaoze is a Chinese-American artist born in Guandong, China in 1966. I’m not a big fan of giving people’s “credentials” before introducing their art. I’m one of those purists who believe one’s art should speak for itself and apart from the artist. No introductions or explanations needed.

However, I do find it interesting that Xiaoze’s first area of study at Tsinghua University in China was architecture.

Ok, so back to his actual art…

It’s amazing. There’s not much I can really say to do it the justice it deserves. Here’s a few pictures just to give you an idea:
*Note: You can pause the slideshow to allow more viewing time for each picture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know what you may be thinking: “Anybody can take some pictures and call it art.” While I won’t disagree with that, if you were to see these in real person, you’d be amazed yourself. I’d attribute that mostly to the fact that these aren’t photographs at all. Each and every one is a painting.

And it takes getting about a foot or so away from one of these paintings (that measures roughly four or five feet wide by about three feet tall) to see the actual brush strokes. At any distance further than that, you feel as though you’re looking at just another collection of photographs.

He captures the detail in clarity and upon close examination, the detail is actually fuzzier than it looks.

As a writer, I appreciate all forms of art. True art. Not the self-import, pretentious crap that floods the media today. Not the vague abstractness of splotches of paint called “Light Breaking Across Darkness” that could really be construed as a three  year-old’s work. Real, true art.

And I appreciate even more (again, as a writer) the subject of these particular paintings. There’s so much power in books and the written (and printed word). And though one single painting couldn’t possibly capture all that power, much like one single literary work can’t, it is a powerful body of work nonetheless. Xiaoze Xie’s art is something akin to a Melville masterpiece or a Hemingway classic.

I’m no painter, nor do I pretend to know much at all about the subject but it doesn’t take an expert in art to know that this is about as good as it gets.

I suggest that if you ever get the chance to see an exhibit of Xiaoze Xie’s, that you take full advantage of that opportunity. It brings a whole new meaning to the art that even the most amateur among us can appreciate.

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Xiaoze Xie is currently a professor at Stanford University.

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Hangman (Short Story)

“I’m innocent.”

S’what they all say. Right about the time they take them last steps up the gallows.

And they get up there and reckon those words mean a hillabeans to the hangman. Hell, ain’t nothin’ no one can say to the hangman to keep him from doin’ his job ‘cept the Sheriff, Or the guvner. That or an act of the Lord Almight from up above. In all my years of hangin’ I have yet to see the hand of God intervene.

No sir, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep the hangman from doing his job. It’s a respectable one at that. Matter of fact, it’s a downright damn fine public service he provides. When folks got a gripe about the justice system, they don’t talk to the hangman. If they’re pleadin’ their case to him, they might as well be prayin’ instead. They’d have better luck asking God to loosen that noose than the hangman.

Round about the time the condemned gets up that last step, they get to realizin’ they only got a few more feet to their death, they start to shake. Their eyes get real big like them fancy saucers they use in the restaurant next to the saloon. My eyes remain the same. Not too big like I feel for him, not too small like I’m judgin’im. But I do understand. The last moment on this here earth before they go off to God knows where.

I’ve even seen some of ‘em fall right down to the boards, clawin’ and scratchin’ their way back to the steps. I gotta pick ‘em back up and drag ‘em to their spot underneath the rope. Damn shame that is to see. Least they could go out with some dignity. But I s’pose ackin’ like a man ain’t what got ‘em there in the first place.
Then the preacher has his words. That’s about the time, if yer close enough, you can hear the sobs and sniffin’. You can see his shoulders shakin’ like a leaf in the wind. And I forget what the preacher’s sayin’ and I’m standing right behind the condemned, put my hand on his back. Usually that stops the cryin’ if only for a moment till the preacher’s done sayin’ his words. Seems like the preacher’s talking more for hisself and the folks watching anyway and ain’t no words from the Book gonna comfort no man in this time.

After the preacher’s done sayin’ his piece, I ask if he’s got any last words. Ev’rybody’s differnt. Some don’t say nothin’ at all. Others start up like a woman, hoopin’ and hollerin’. Usually them’s the ones I had to drag there in the first place. And then others reckon one last profession of innocence is gonna save ‘em like the other hunderd didn’t before. Just like God intervenin’, I never seen an innocent plea free a man in the final minutes. Like I said, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep the hangman from doin’ his job.

Now, I ain’t gonna lie. If I didn’t have a job to do, I mighta felt bad enough for ‘em to hold off the execution for another day. Or least a few hours. Long enough to get himself together and go through with it with some dignity. Hell, I wish I had that much mercy granted me. I’d bet most all of us would.

After the condemned’s done sayin’ what he’s gotta say, I put the hood over’im. That’s when he starts breathin’ real hard and fast. I can doggone near see his heart jumpin’ outta his chest. And I always wondered what went through a man’s mind at this point. I always wondered what his last thoughts were.

I always imagined I’d be thinkin’ ‘bout my last steps up the gallows. ‘Bout how my knees plum gave out. Not outta weakness or nothin’. They just gave out. If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lyin’. But I thought about all the men before. And I thought about how I wanted to keep my dignity. Still them damn kneesamine got tricky.

I’d be thinkin’ bout the preacher sayin’ his words even though I wasn’t listenin’. I could hear his voice and that was mighty nice. I’d think about how I made sure nobody’d see me shake or hear me bein’ such a woman about it all. I’da thunk about how I didn’t have no hand on my back. Course, I s’pose that’s my fault I ain’t teached him properly. And I’da thunk about that, too. And now, I’m telling you all this, I reckon when they put that hood over my head I wouldn’t be no differnt than all those others. I’d be scared. My heart may wanna jump outta my chest waitin’ for them trap doors as the noose tightens around my neck.

And as I stand here now before you, I know exactly what I’ll be thinkin’ when the hood comes on. I won’t profess my innocence. No sir, I done it. I’m guilty as all the rest and maybe even more. But that sonuvabitch deserved what he got and if I had it to do over again, I’d do just the same. And that’s that.

Hangman, you can go ‘head and put that hood on now. I’m ready.

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