December 25, 2011

The real meaning of Christmas

Isaiah 9, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 12, Jeremiah 31, Luke 2, Revelation 21, Revelation 22

This is the time of year when many people pull out the Bibles they have ignored all year long in order to read the nativity story in the second chapter of Luke. They are joined by pastors, preachers, deacons, Bible-study teachers, theology students, and ordinary Christians everywhere who read their Bibles daily and on this day, open it to the second chapter of Luke for the same reason. Although in much smaller numbers, there are even some Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindis, Animists, and followers of religions both great and small who borrow a Bible, read over a friend's shoulder, or look up the second chapter of Luke online in order to read along. Granted, there are billions who will not read Luke today, there are also billions of others who will and not all of them are believers.

All of those billions upon billions of Christians and non-Christians who take this day to read that one chapter are missing the real point. Yes, Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth, the redeemer of Israel, the savior of us all, but in the grand scheme of God's vision, Bethlehem and even Cavalary are but footnotes in an ongoing narrative beginning in the distant past and ending in the far future.

Prophecies concerning the messiah are scattered throughout the Jewish Torah. Some are so obvious everyone who reads the Torah acknowledges them as true prophecy, others are so deeply shrouded in metaphor and symbol that no two theologians from any Judeo-Christian religion in the world can ever quite agree on what they mean. The two key prophecies that Jewish and Christian theologians alike mostly concur on as being messianic in nature are Isaiah, chapters 5-11 and Jeremiah chapter 31. These two prophecies came about in opposition to one another, not in unity, and it was only after Christianity became a major force in the Jewish world that scholars and casual readers alike began to link them together.

The history of the Kingdom of Israel is not easy to provide exact dates for, mostly because record-keeping in that era was not an exact science. Generally, the founding of the Kingdom of David is set at around 990 B.C., the division into Israel and Judah in about 850 B.C., and the final dispora in about 585 B.C. In about 750 B.C., Judah and Israel both knew an Assyrian invasion was imminent. Different nobles, educated merchants, and literate peasants began to circulate through the land attempting to rally the people to prepare for this invasion. Some preached submission, some preached rebellion, some preached martyrdom. Two of the most important prophets were Isaiah in the court at Jerusalem and Jeremiah who roamed through the Judean countryside. By the similarities in their surviving works it is apparent to any honest reader that these two men knew of one another and even influenced one another's prophecies. Both agreed that the coming Assyrian invasion was punishment for the growing sensual, materialistic nature of their societies and the casual acceptance of idolatry. Some of their prophecies deal directly with issues we still face in today's world. For example, Isaiah 8:11-18 is particularly relevant:
This is what the LORD says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
“Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
He will be a holy place;
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.”
Bind up this testimony of warning
and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
I will wait for the LORD,
who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.
Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.

As I compose this entry the North American and South American continents are celebrating Christmas Day, 2011. Europe has just finished her celebration and Asia is already finishing work on Monday. Despite the violence and enthusiasm of the "Arab Spring" and "Occupy Wall Street" movements, so far the "World Revolution" sought by collectivist and anarchist agitators everywhere is pretty much a non-event with little historical relevance. A few dictators lost their lives, thousands of protesters spent a night in jail (many of them more than one!), a great deal of damage was done to public structures, but the overall social and political impact has been negligible. Considering the goals of the more extreme leaders and advocates, this ineffectiveness is probably something to be grateful for. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and even Yeshua (Jesus Christ) himself were political agitators of a sort both different from and similar to the protesters that have torn through cities all around the world over the past two years.

Foreseen by Isaiah and Jeremiah (among others), Yeshua was born into this world on a cold winter's night. Luke tells us that his parents were headed to their hometown for an imperial tax census and as a result, Yeshua was born in the stable of a roadside inn. A much more likely, though less romantic, possibility is that Joseph made his living as an itinerent laborer who routinely traveled through the various cities and villages of Gallilee looking for day jobs and short temporary employment. The important aspect of Luke's story is that Yeshua was born into a humble peasant family with little hope for any kind of earthly success. The real miracle is not his birth, but the simple fact that two millenia later we remember him and celebrate his birth throughout Christendom. Regardless of whether you accept the historicity of the man, the one fact that cannot be denied is that billions of people around the world do accept his historicity and because they accept his historicity, they also acknowledge him as their rightful king.

The real meaning of Christmas is far more than the simple birth of a peasant's son in the stable of an overfull inn. The real meaning of Christmas is the ongoing relationship between God and humanity. The hope of the season, the hope embodied in Yeshua for believers and in Santa for non-believers, is the hope of a genuine redemptive relationship between the divine and the mundane, between ordinary people and the unseen power that drives the universe relentlessly down the river of time.

The real challenge is to carry that relationship beyond this day and into every day of our future. Not for the sake of some collectivist salvation or global utopia, both of which have always been and still remain impossible to realize. Instead, the goal of God outlined in the pages of the Bible is an individual one-on-one relationship with each of us personally. What makes Christmas different from Ramadan or Oshogatsu, or Samhain, or any other religious and communal feast day, is the promise made first to a wandering shepherd and later extended to everyone who chooses to believe. According to that promise, God himself, creator and master of all that exists, is intimately concerned with the individual happiness of every single one of us. And yes, that includes you. The only thing required in return is to accept him for who he is and to love our neighbors as deeply as we already love ourselves.

December 16, 2011

Eric Holder Oversaw the FBI Transfer of Explosives to Timothy McVeigh

This is the most horrifying revelation of the past five years, maybe of the past ten.

AFP: AG Holder Tied to OKC Bombers

A relevant quote:
According to the documentation provided in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought against the Department of Justice by Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue, the Oklahoma City bombing had aspects of being an FBI sting operation that went out of control. Holder had authorized the FBI to provide explosives to Nichols and McVeigh, then lost track of both the explosives and their targets. McVeigh went on to detonate some of the explosives outside the federal building,...

December 10, 2011

It seems I was wrong

I could not find those portions of the NDAA (S.1867, National Defense Appropriations Act) that had everyone up in arms, so I wrote my Senator and asked him to confirm if the version of this act being debated on the Senate floor actually contained language that would allow the U.S. President to order the U.S. Army to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without legal counsel, courts, and so on. It seems I was wrong, which is fine. No one is perfect after all. Senator Sherrod Brown, my representative in the Senate, responded to my concerns with this letter:
Dear Mr. Miller:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about the detention and prosecution of suspected terrorists.

I share your concern about provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that would have changed existing law that has been effective in trying al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The Justice Department and the Department of Defense have determined that trials of detainees can be conducted safely in the United States, whether they are conducted in federal or military courts. Furthermore, the Department of Justice has a long and successful history of prosecuting maximum security terrorism defendants in U.S. federal courts.

I voted for several amendments to the NDAA that would have removed the proposed changes. Senate Amendment 1107 would have removed language in the bill regarding the legal status of detainees suspected of terrorism. This Amendment would have instructed Congress to hold hearings on the matter before changing existing laws. While I voted for this Amendment, it was defeated by a vote of 38-60.

I also voted for Senate Amendment 1126 to the NDAA, which would have limited the military’s authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without being charged or brought to trial. This Amendment was also defeated by a vote of 45-55.

Finally, the Senate was able to adopt Amendment 1456, which determined that the NDAA would not modify current law regarding holding U.S. citizens in military detention. I voted for this Amendment and it was included in the final version of the NDAA, which passed the Senate on December 1, 2011.

The war on terrorism must not be an excuse to circumvent our constitutional rights and values. As a United States Senator, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. I will continue to do so.

Should the Senate consider this matter further, I will keep your concerns and our nation’s Constitution in mind. Thank you again for getting in touch with me on this important matter.

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

November 28, 2011

Sen. Udall works hard protecting terrorists

It all began with the usual alarmist and deceptive ACLU blog in a post declaring, "Senators Demand Military Lock Up American Citizens". They are in a panic about S.1867. The provision they were concerned with is this one:
(b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:

(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.

(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

Strangely enough, there is nothing in there about "American citizens", nor is there anything declaring the U.S. homeland is part of the global battlefield in the war against terrorism. Oddly, Sen. Udall is proposing an amendment that would replace that section with this:
(a) In General.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with appropriate officials in the Executive Office of the President, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth the following:

(1) A statement of the position of the Executive Branch on the appropriate role for the Armed Forces of the United States in the detention and prosecution of covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)).

(2) A statement and assessment of the legal authority asserted by the Executive Branch for such detention and prosecution.

(3) A statement of any existing deficiencies or anticipated deficiencies in the legal authority for such detention and prosecution.

(b) Covered Persons.--A covered person under this section is any person, other than a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, whose detention or prosecution by the Armed Forces of the United States is consistent with the laws of war and based on authority provided by any of the following:

(1) The Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40).

(2) The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution 2002 (Public Law 107-243).

(3) Any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force.

(c) Congressional Action.--Each of the appropriate committees of Congress may, not later than 45 days after receipt of the report required by subsection (a), hold a hearing on the report, and shall, within 45 days of such hearings, report to Congress legislation, if such committee determines legislation is appropriate and advisable, modifying or expanding the authority of the Executive Branch to carry out detention and prosecution of covered persons.

(d) Appropriate Committees of Congress Defined.--In this section, the term ``appropriate committees of Congress'' means--

(1) the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate; and

(2) the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives.

In other words, Sen. Udall's amendment protects people who are clearly terrorists with direct connections to 9/11 and the ACLU is lying in order to whip up fear and help him succeed.

Those, my friends, are the simple facts.

November 25, 2011

Black Friday? Bah, humbug!

The news is filled with headlines about "Black Friday", the infamous day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping season "officially" opens. Italy is on the verge of defaulting, Portugal is not far behind, and Spain is an "any day now" proposition while fighting to hold themselves afloat until next year. The Euro trembles but does not tumble, comforting bankers and worrying economists. In Egypt the military is calling their hold on power a "curse" while Israel and Iran stare at each with malevolence. But the news of the day at every network is Black Friday.

Don't misunderstand. Free market capitalism is still the most reliable economic system humanity has come up with, even though the current version is far from perfect (as all human systems must be).

Sometimes, though, when the news media jumps on the marketing bandwagon and basically orders shoppers into the streets, or in times like the days after 9/11 when President Bush told the American public to "go shopping" as way of demonstrating their resilience, the alliance between big business, big media, and big government becomes a major annoyance.

When a merchant builds an ad campaign around Black Friday I applaud them, but when the media ignores real news in favor of interviewing fools who spend all night camped in front of a shopping mall, then I say, "Bah, humbug!"

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

In the fall of 1621, 90 Wampanoag Native Americans and 13 English Pilgrims joined together to celebrate the Pilgrim's first successful harvest in their new homeland. They did not realize they were setting the stage for a grand alliance that over the next century and a half would defeat multiple Native empires and two European empires. Here today, 390 years later, I am deeply and profoundly thankful that these two disparate peoples could join together in friendship and mutual support to lay the foundations for the greatest nation the world has ever known. The key to understanding American Exceptionalism is first understanding the true foundations of our pluralistic society. From that first harvest in 1621, the key virtues of America have remained individualism, cooperation, and mutual respect for cultural differences. Thanksgiving Day is what America is really all about.

Wikipedia: Thanksgiving (United States)
Scholastic: Thanksgiving Day Teaching Site
Plimoth Plantation: English Village
Plimoth Plantation: Wampanoag Homesite
Wompanoag Tribe of Gay Head
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe
Plimoth Plantation

November 16, 2011

Self-fulfilling Prophecy, OWS, and Project Gunrunner

Right from the beginning I have said that the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is going to become more violent with the passage of time. That has always been their overall strategy. As recently as one week ago, events in Oakland bore this out.

Remember "Project Gunrunner"? Under the guise of chasing down gunrunners working for Mexican drug cartels, ATF agents were instructed to escort straw buyers who purchased military-style semi-automatic rifles at American gun shops and gun shows into Mexico, observe and/or assist in the hand-off of the weapons to the cartels, and identify the cartel purchasers. Naturally, by then it was too late to actually interdict the weapons and confiscate them. Under this program, at least 2500 weapons passed into the hands of cartel foot soldiers under the direct supervision of the ATF! While AG Holder and President Obama were signing off on this program they were also heading up a massive PR campaign claiming that American gun shows were intentionally selling guns to drug cartels. Every licensed dealer involved directly informed ATF about these suspicious sales and in every case the ATF told them not to worry about it.

This effort was a two-pronged strategy designed to reach a single goal: providing legal and moral justification for infringing on the Second Amendment by passing restrictive gun control laws which would have made it difficult or even impossible for private transfers of firearms between individual sport shooters and collectors. Ordinary law-abiding citizens would have had their freedoms severely restricted if Project Gunrunner had succeeded in its true, overall strategy.

The same thing is happening with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I have to admit, when I read about crackdowns in Denver, Oakland, Atlanta, and New York, I was pleased that a dangerous and unhealthy situation in public spaces was finally being dealt with. Then I read this:

CBS New York: OWS Plans Day of Action After Losing Camp in Zucotti Park

Remember, it was reported early on that there are multiple direct links between Mayor Bloomberg and both the owners of Zuccotti Park and the OWS Protesters. In short, the Mayor's office is supporting both sides of the protest and playing them off against one another. Despite the occasional criticism, Mayor Bloomberg is a strong supporter of President Obama. The day before the OWS protest started Mayor Bloomberg also predicted class-based riots were coming to America. Prophecy is easy when you are part of the command structure planning and carrying out a given action.

If, as I suspect, the Occupy Wall Street folks become violent over the next couple weeks you can expect to see the media blaming the Tea Party either by proxy or by inspiring the OWS movement. To date, the media has been lavish in their praise of OWS and although they have stopped refering to the Tea Party as potential terrorists. I suspect any form of violence from the OWS movement will bring back the same old labels and misdirection. Being the beneficiaries of America's most liberal progressive universities, most media pundits really can't help themselves. It is the only frame of reference they have for interpreting the world they are "reporting".

November 14, 2011

So, you want to defeat the superrich?

It's really not that difficult. The first task is identifying them. Fortunately, that's not too difficult either. Thanks to the wonders of modern communications, they are quite public about their activities, ambitions, and identities.

Let's start with your grocery list. Where do you buy groceries? Don't jump up and down and proclaim loyalty to Occupy Wall Street if you depend on any sort of chain store for your weekly food and toiletries. Safeway, Buehler's, Walmart, Piggy Wiggly, all of them are in the hands of the superrich. Every dime you spend in a modern grocery chain sends about a tenth of a cent into the bank account of one superrich person or another. Unfortunately, the alternative is to wash your clothing and house with lemon juice made from a lemon tree in your front yard, drive out into the country and buy your vegetables direct from local farmers, shake hands with every dairy owner in a hundred miles until you find one that will sell directly to you. It can be done, even if you live in a big city, but you're going to have to sacrifice your weekend barbeques, Monday Night Football, and your kid's Friday night ballgame because you'll be out scouring the countryside for groceries. Unless you grow your own, naturally. Even if all you have is an empty window sill then with a little work you can grown tomatoes, herbs, and even strawberries. Too much work? Really? Then why are you protesting against all the conveniences those greedy, ambitious superrich earned their wealth providing for you?

Okay, well, maybe you don't eat much. Maybe the thirty or forty dollars per year you contribute to the superrich through the grocery chains doesn't matter that much. I can see that. are you reading this blog? Who makes your computer? Honestly though, it doesn't matter what brand is on the case. I can guarantee you that 80% of the components, if not all of them, were manufactured in a factory in one of three countries: China, Indonesia, Taiwan. Okay, there's a few from South Korea or Japan, but even most of those companies now have their factories in one of the big three. And naturally the corporations who operate those factories are either headed up by or owned by members among the superrich. Warren Buffet, for example, owns stock in dozens of electronics manufacturers. The head of GE, naturally, is Jeffery Immelt, our wonderful "Jobs Czar" who specializes in sending American jobs to China. But don't worry about that, Warren only made a few cents off your computer, and Jeffery a few cents more, the estate of Steve Jobs took a few cents, naturally, and Bill Gates owns stock in both Microsoft and Macintosh, so he gets paid no matter what you buy.

Well, naturally you have to have a computer to function in today's world. I understand that. And really, it's only another thirty or forty dollars per year, right? Of course, that's on top of your grocery bill...

The banks! That's it! Nobody really needs a bank, right? You can withdraw all your money, cancel your credit cards, sell your house and get out from under that mortgage. You're underwater now anyway, right? Nobody stands to profit from your house but the bank, so just walk away from it. Can't squeeze blood from turnip, as they say. File bankruptcy, clear the books, start over again. This time keep your money in a cookie jar and never, ever take out a loan. I'm sure you can manage. Well, granted, wages are depressed right now and you probably work for minimum wage (less if you wait on tables or tend bar), so it'll be hard, but it's the principle, right? Gotta stick it to those superrich right where it counts, in the pocket book!

Or maybe not. Maybe that couple hundred dollars a year you pay in bank fees is just one of those things. After all, Robin Osmond and Ken Robins don't make more than a few pennies off of you personally, right? So maybe it's okay if you keep your bank account and credit cards.

Are you feeling disgusted yet? Do you feel like a slave? That's what the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Libertarian Party call you. Isn't that what Alex Jones keeps saying? Heck, even I say it sometimes! You're nothing more than a slave. "Sheeple", right? Just trying to get by and being victimized by every superrich with a mutual fund. Since you can't sacrifice your lifestyle to fight them, joining a camp in a big city near you is as good a way as any, right? You're not a "sheeple" if you join one of the Occupy groups, right? Now you're a revolutionary!

Or maybe not.

Forbes: The World's Billionaires
Forbes: 400 Richest Americans

Take a good long look at these two lists. These are them. These are the people you claim you want to destroy and right below each name you can find their corporate affiliations. Well, here's the downside. If you destroy them, you destroy your modern lifestyle. Are they too rich? Have they earned too much money? I dunno. Maybe. I spend a ton of money every year. I spend it in local stores buying local goods. I avoid chain stores, chain restaurants, and anything made in China (whenever possible, which gets harder everyday). The richest of the rich still bleed a few dollars off of me every single year. But that's okay with me. I really don't mind. The reason is simple: someday I'd like to be one!

There's been a lot of changes during my life. Some of those changes scare me half to death. The superrich don't scare me at all! Heck, I've even had lunch with a couple of them. The Patriot Act, on the other hand, is the single most frightening piece of legislation passed in my lifetime. It opens the door for arbitrary arrests of anyone and everyone. The only thing any government official needs is to label that person a terrorist. They don't even have to prove it, applying the label is enough. So when the media labels the Tea Party "terrorists" and then labels rapists, thieves, and vandals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, "patriots", I get doubly worried. And all you folks down there "occupying" major cities need to worry, as well. Because politics in America changes with the wind. Maybe this year I'm being a labeled a terrorist. Next year it might be you.

So if you really want to defeat the superrich, the one thing you need to do is get to know every politician who represents you. The city council, the county supervisor, the state legislator, your senator and your representative. Write to them. Call them on the phone. Attend every single townhall and other event you can make it to. Cancel your doctor's appointments and skip a few football games. Make sure they know you by name. Send money to the ones you like, don't send money to the ones you don't like. The maximum contribution you personally can make is too limited to matter. It's far more important for them to see you active. Then they know that when you're not happy, neither are your friends and family, including all those friends you have online that you talk to daily but never see face-to-face. Next time one of the superrich walks into your representative's office, he (or she) needs to immediately be able to call your face to mind. You see, just like you that superrich person only has one vote. They have cash, but they still only have one vote. So make your vote count.

Whether you realize it or not, votes are still far more important than cash. Every politician gets the voter rolls from the local county and state offices. Your name and address appears right alongside those of your voting neighbors. Your party affiliation and your voting record is there, too. If your rep. scans down that list and sees names belonging to faces he knows, then there is no doubt in his mind who he has to answer to if he wants to keep his job. Political jobs are the most lucrative jobs in the land, but not because of their pay, benefits, and generous pensions. (Although those are pretty generous in and of themselves!) The real value of a political office is access to inside information that no one else has. Every politician has that access and they use it. They know where to buy property before anyone else and they know which companies to buy stock in before anyone else. That information is priceless and is the real source of their wealth. If your rep. knows that in order to keep his access to that information he must ignore the lobbyist, the big donor, the banker and the CEO, then he will politely take every gift they offer and vote against their agenda anyway. If your rep. ignores you and advances the agenda of the superrich, then rally your friends, campaign against him, and vote against him. It might not happen this election or next, but over time, your efforts will yield results and either your rep. will change his tune or lose his access to the most priceless information on planet earth: civil planning.

Or, if politics and home farming are just too difficult for you, and giving up your electronics is just too much of a sacrifice, there is still another option. Granted, it's the most difficult of all, and there is no guarantee of success, but it also carries the greatest potential for reward: join them.

That's right, you too can be one of the superrich. And no, you don't have to win the lottery (although that helps). You will have to do some homework, though. The trick is to master a skill the superrich need and are willing to pay for. You could go back to college (or start college if you're young enough) and get a business degree. If you don't like business how about architecture, law, computer science, accounting, or something truly exotic like tactics and personal defense? You could write a book, compose music, or become a graphic designer. The key point is to pick one skill and master it completely, then go out and market yourself to companies like JP Morgan, GE, Barclay's Capital, Goldman Sachs, or any of the companies that the members of the two lists above belong to.

And, if nothing else, you could run for office. Become a politician and take advantage of all that inside information.

November 09, 2011

Newt Gingrich and the Future of our World

Four YouTube videos courtesy of Hollywood2NY. Copyright owner for these videos is CNN, naturally. I have not contacted either CNN or Hollywood2NY, so if the links stop working somewhere along the line you'll know that CNN forced Hollywood2NY to pull them. If you didn't see the broadcast, I'd encourage you to watch all four of these videos.

YouTube Video: Newt Gingrich on Piers Morgan Part 1 of 4
YouTube Video: Newt Gingrich on Piers Morgan Part 2 of 4
YouTube Video: Newt Gingrich on Piers Morgan Part 3 of 4
YouTube Video: Newt Gingrich on Piers Morgan Part 4 of 4

Newt Gingrich is a career politician and like any career politician his record is a mixed bag of strong initiatives, glaring failures, and personal scandals. He knows how Washington D.C. works inside and out. He is a strong Constitutionalist, a profound thinker, a fiscal conservative, and a historian. I'm not certain that I will vote for him in the primary, but if he does win the candidacy, he would definitely be a far better president than Barack Obama has been. Congress knows him and would probably be far more inclined to work with him than they would be with either Mitt Romney or Herman Cain, especially if we wind up with a mixed bag of hyper-conservative and neo-Marxist representatives.

The real question mark in my mind is the same one that has bothered me in the pre-election year for every presidential election since 9/11, namely, "will there even be an election and if there is one, will it be honest?"

Our entire global system has been teetering on the brink of collapse ever since the first American cruise missiles struck Baghdad in January, 1991. In a very real sense, Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait shifted an ongoing world war from the anarchist-inspired reign of terror that began with the Munich Olympic Massacre of 1972 into the realm of full-scale international combat. The current rise of Iran into a nuclear power, which began with the collapse of the Shah and the student siege of the American Embassy back in 1980, is part and parcel of this global war. Newt Gingrich has been in politics throughout this tumultuous period. He has firsthand knowledge of all the primary actors, the chaos they have caused, and the multitude of failed solutions that have been attempted. It is entirely possible that no one alive has a better understanding of the global scene over the past fifty years than Newt Gingrich.

Someone once told me that definition of "experience" is "having done something every way except the right way." Newt Gingrich has been directly involved in or peripheral to every American political initiative of the past five decades, both the few that succeeded and the many that have failed. No one alive has that kind of experience. Is it possible that perhaps what America needs now, more than ever, is a president who brings to the job real-world experience with both failed policies and successful ones? Perhaps, perhaps not, in all honesty I am not entirely certain that if he gained the Whitehouse the Newt Gingrich we would see would be the clear-minded intellectual who as Speaker of the House led Congress through the most fiscally responsible era of the past century. We might wind up with the confused and floundering Congressman Newt Gingrich who contributed to the spiraling inflation of the Reagan era and that would be disastrous.

We are teetering on the edge of world war, global economic collapse, and the implosion of world civilization. If the wrong decisions are made in households and political offices stretching from the tiniest hamlet to the halls of the United Nations, then our children and grand-children will inherit a world with one-tenth the current population, rampant disease, crushing poverty, and a decaying, toxic biosphere. If we survive as a nation long enough to hold an honest election in November 2012, then the winner will have days, not weeks, not months, and not years, but mere days to transform the direction of the entire globe.

America can lead the world into a global civilization based on maximization of individual freedom, respect for genuine inalienable human rights, the rule of law, and the realization of our potential as the most evolved species on this planet, or we can oversee the complete collapse of our world and the beginning of a dystopian era that will last for at least another millenia. Everything is riding on the 2012 presidential election. Beseiged villages in Africa, oppressed hamlets in Myanmar, starving refugees in Darfur, ancient aristocratic families on every continent, and ordinary working class people on four continents will all suffer the impact of the 2012 American presidential election. It really is that important.

We did not ask to be the most powerful nation in the world, but we are. For six decades America has led the world through the greatest era of peace and prosperity in human history. No one else can carry us forward. China cannot, Russia will not, and Europe is hopelessly unable to recreate the glory of her past. It is up to us. It is up to you and I, the middle-aged American voter, to choose the direction the entire world will take for the next thousand years. Our parent's generation has squandered the prestige and prosperity our grandparents died to provide for us and now you and I are the ones our children will hold accountable if the system fails.

Bases are loaded, the score is seven to five against us, the count is three-two with two outs on the board. Can we step up to the plate and slam home the winning run or will we strike out? You, and you alone, have one year to figure out which it will be and how to achieve it.

Our Lack of Strategic Thinking Is Destroying Us

Too many people in positions of influence are not thinking long-term. The Tea Pary movement and its supporters have become locked on November 2012. The public face of the Occupy Wall Street movement is obsessed with punishing the Koch brothers and other rich Americans without any understanding of why America's wealthy should be treated any differently than any other global elite. Our mass media is so paranoid of the Republican Party they will lie and create fictional news stories in order to keep President Obama in the Whitehouse. Congressional representatives in both houses are making deals under the table to drain the treasury and retire with fat bank accounts that our children and grand-children will have to pay for. Union bosses are doing the same thing by draining pension funds their members are expecting to depend on for the rest of their natural lives. Shallow, narrow-minded planning with zero long-term reasoning is endangering our entire world in ways that no one seems to appreciate.

Washington Post: Israel Warns Iran A Military Strike is Possible
Hurriyet Daily News: Russia, Europe, China Warn Israelis Not to Attack Iran
Financial Times: China's Gold Imports Jump Sixfold
Click Green: IAEA Warns of High Carbon Future
Incentive Travel: WTM Vision Expands to Russia and China Congress is no Different than Mubarak
HillBilly Report: Oath Keepers and Tea Party Plan to Infiltrate OWS Understanding the Wealth Gap
PDF of IAEA Report on Iran's Nuclear Programs
Oath Keepers Throw Their Support Behind OWS

When I put all of these bits of data together I do not like the picture it creates. There is an overall strategy in place that leads directly to the collapse of the American and European economies, leaving China and Russia as the only two viable economies in the world. Just in case economic pressure is not enough, any day now Iran will finish developing an EMP warhead which can be placed on a medium-range missile. That missile can deliver its payload directly from Iran to Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, or Israel, destroying the power grid. Or, if they prefer, they can hide it in a cargo container, place that container on a merchant ship, position the ship off the coast of Japan, South Korea, China, or the United States and destroy one of those power grids. Once the chosen power grid goes down (and I'm betting it will be the East Coast of the United States), China will have the largest power-generating capability in the world, the largest industrial base in the world, and the largest gold reserves in the world.

Chaos in the streets of American cities does not help America's poor, does not harm America's rich, and does not move our country into the future. The only thing it does accomplish is to keep us distracted long enough for Iran to finish their warhead. This is a strategy, folks. This is strategic thinking and if we do not have a counter-strategy in place it will succeed and it will succeed in the very near future, possibly by year-end. Obsessing over whether or not Hermain Cain abused half a dozen women fifteen years ago does not help. Ignoring politics, ignoring economics, zoning out on narcotics, getting lost in an online social network, or spending your days worrying about who will "win" your favorite reality television show will not save our country nor will it preserve our children's future.

We are being played. We are being manipulated into oblivion while Chinese sovereign funds, Hong Kong industrialists, and Iranian Islamists work together with our very own political activists to insure that no one peeks behind the curtain long enough to divine our future. Corrupt politicians, criminal bank presidents, and crooked industrialists in both Europe and the United States are not the problem, they are merely the symptom of our current state of cultural decline. Our obsession with our own inner worlds has blinded us to the realities tearing apart our society while Chinese, Russian, and Islamic leaders work together to assist our demise and profit from it.

It is entirely possible that there is no one running this show. I can readily concede that there is no conspiracy by China or anyone else to take down the United States and Europe. It is very easy to believe that China, Iran, and Russia are merely being opportunistic, taking advantage of a pre-existing chaos to shore up their countries against the inevitable result of American infighting while also positioning themselves to profit from it both politically and economically. Either way, if we continue to tear ourselves apart, or even worse, continue to lose ourselves in virtual worlds and drug-induced euphoric states, then one day very soon we will wake up in a world controlled by China.

Somehow, we must stop this political infighting. We must stop expecting the government to solve our problems for us. If we do not, if we continue this "Occupy" idiocy, if corruption continues being the normal state of American politics, if class warfare continues to be the foundation of our political debate, then we are doomed.

Each individual American's personal sense of responsibility has become the razor thin edge our children's future is teetering on. That is simple reality. This is the end, folks. It is here and it is now. It is entirely possible that we are days away from war in the Middle East, a war that could easily escalate into a global conflict between America and the rest of the world. It will be a multi-dimensional war the likes of which no one has ever seen before. Not only will there be conventional land, sea, and air battles, cyberspace will be a battleground with viruses, trojans, and other programmed attacks. The targets will be cities, power grids, energy supplies, food crops, and civillian distribution networks.

When the dust settles, China will be the most powerful nation on Earth. Is that really the world you want your children to live in?

November 08, 2011

Cain Accuser's Son Works for Politico

Everything traces back to Politico and Politico is funded by George Soros. This garbage is rapidly becoming far too predictable. There has got to be a RICO case in here somewhere. Time to indict Soros and his minions.

Real Clear Politics: Karen Kraushaar's Son Works for Politico

November 07, 2011

Oakland and the Future of the OWS Movement

I have great respect and admiration for Karl Denninger, also known as "the ticker guy". Some of his posts, like a recent one in response to a Bloomberg op-ed on healthcare, are positively genius. He tends to be short, precise, and focused on the real-world math behind what is happening in the finance and politics. Sometimes mathematics can get pretty theoretical. When it does, the relationship between the equations and reality is tenuous at best. However, it is important to recognize that there are just as many times when mathematics is simple, profound, and directly related to events in the real world. For example, the Debt Clock is a doomsday clock counting down to the implosion of modern civilization. If we do not make different choices, and make them immediately, then the end result of spending more than we produce is as inevitable as the sunrise and will be as destructive as a Category 5 hurricane. Karl Denninger has been pointing this out for almost a decade now. If by some strange fluke I wound up President, I would beg and plead until he agreed to be Secretary of the Treasury.

That doesn't mean I always agree with him, and thus brings today's post. As I mentioned yesterday, things at the Oakland version of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement have gotten way out of hand.

Oakland has long been a war zone. A major contributing factor to it's devolution into the dystopian land it has become has been a massive "poverty relief" agenda driven by five decades of progressive politicians. Oakland has city benefits exceeding the already excessive California benefits, which when piled on top of Federal benefits, all work together to provide massive incentives not to work. By staying home and having children, a young woman in Oakland can make five or six times what she could earn starting at a part-time job and working her way up into management. What does she do with all that money? She buys drugs and booze and has parties with all of her friends. The local newspaper and media all tell her that there are no jobs out there anyway, so she shouldn't bother looking. Much better to sign up for every government benefit under the sun and then supplement that assistance with prostitution and drug sales.

There are still a few neighborhoods that have not fallen into ghettos. The people who live there are sheltered by rank upon rank of police, local security, and other "defenders". They never see nor interact with the results of their constant electoral affirmation of progressive politicians. They live off of old royalties from books, movies, and music published three generations ago, or from dividends earned by careful stock investments made by their grandparents back when Oakland derived most of its income from military bases and defense industries. Being both of good conscience and stable economic position, they vote for every politician who promises they can fix the myriad problems in the other half of city by raising their taxes just a trifle and using the money to finance some new progressive anti-poverty scheme. After five decades of this combination of naivete and utopian planning, the city has fallen into these two camps, the one forever impoverished and the other forever stable.

Yesterday Karl wrote an enlightening article about police pensions. On November 1st, the Oakland Police Officer's Association wrote an "open letter" to the public. I don't know if Karl read the letter before or after his article on pensions. Regardless of whether the letter inspired the article or vice versa, the letter itself is not really intended for the entire citizenry of Oakland. The audience for the letter is the economically stable, taxpaying, progressive-voting half of the city that funds the police payroll. Notice, for example, this sentence from the opening paragraph:
We are severely understaffed with many City beats remaining unprotected by police during the day and evening hours.

Those "unprotected" neighborhoods compose the vast majority of the dystopian side of Oakland. The police dare not enter them, pretend they do not even exist, and try to go through life hoping that they are not on duty when something major happens and they actually have to drive into those neighborhoods to pick up dead bodies, conduct interviews, or perform some other required task. These neighborhoods receive almost no routine patrols. When police do enter on unavoidable police business, they travel in groups and exit again as quickly as possible. Naturally the residents trust the police even less than the police trust the residents. The incident involving a Mercedes running over two protestors took place at 11th and Broadway, smack dab in the middle of one of these dystopian neighborhoods.

Today Karl Denninger wrote this article: "The Mentality of the Cops." He lives in Florida and has spent his life working in internet-related jobs. He founded a couple of very successful companies and now speaks at a variety of events and rallies. Finance is something he excels at. I assume that is because it has been a lifelong passion of his even though his work was only partially related to the financial industry. He understands the number side of capital markets better than just about anyone I know. On the other hand he is only human and like all of us there are limits to both his knowledge and experience. As far as I know he has never been to Oakland and yet he has the temerity to blame the rapidly escalating violence on the police. Either through ignorance or his own political bias, he does not realize that the violence in Oakland has as much to do with the publically stated demands and concerns of the folks in Zuccotti Park as he himself does with the current Tea Party.

You see, Karl Denninger originally inspired the movement that eventually became the Tea Party. The Occupy Wall Street movement may or may not have inspired the protests in Oakland. It could just as easily be that the connection between Oakland and Zuccotti Park is deliberate, planned in advance, and has nothing at all to do with either inspiration or politics. If we peek behind the curtain of Occupy Wall Street we find something entirely unconstitutional, revolutionary in nature, and decidedly Marxist in orientation: the US Day of Rage. This group is directly connected to Europe's "Invisible Committee", which is turn finds implementation through the activities of "AdBusters" and "Anonymous", both of whom helped in the planning stages for many of the "Occupy" protest sites and even now oversee the communications channels.

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement has nothing to do with restoring the Constitution to prominence, preserving our freedoms for future generations, and insuring that everyone in America has equal opportunity to realize their full potential. The Occupy Wall Street movement was created by and is even now backed by global anarchists and Marxists. Once in awhile they succeed in hiding this backing, but as soon as we scratch below the surface we find the global anarchists making key decisions, providing logistics, and making sure Occupy Wall Street has a global audience. Consider their sudden surge in financial support. Nearly a million dollars from "anonymous" supporters, which in turn is being used for logistics in Zuccotti Park and nowhere else. At least, not officially.

Another point to consider, whenever a celebrity shows up at Occupy Wall Street or one of the supporting protests, they are welcomed with open arms. But when famed civil rights leader John Lewis showed up at the Atlanta protest, he was denied permission to speak. Granted, after realizing their mistake they invited him back, but still, why refuse a genuine civil rights icon after accepting multiple celebrities who are dedicated members of the economic 1% the protesters are claiming to be against? If this kind of delusional, reputation-dependent rationalization is indicative of "free-thinking", then I want no part of it!

Karl is often elitist and condescending in his remarks, but so am I. We are both human, after all. The real problem is that I see the Occupy Wall Street movement continuing to descend into violence and chaos while he is blind to the sometimes violent and often illegal actions of the protesters. I expect the violence to continue escalating because that is the stated goal of the people who organized it and brought it to fruition. Anarchists and Marxists are not "taking over" the movement, they created it! For some reason, Karl Denninger and much of the mainstream media does not see the connections between the relatively peaceful protest in Zucotti Park and the daily more violent protest in Oakland. They grab every hint of sanity or every straw of lucid thinking the movement publishes, ignoring as they do so that the channels this information comes through are controlled, managed, and supported by the most radical and extreme globalists out there.

It is no coincidence that AdBusters and Anonymous are providing the logistics for the Occupy Wall Street movement. They were instrumental in its planning and they laid the foundations it is built upon. The only way for the Occupy Wall Street movement to not become more violent is for the more rational minority to snatch control away from the organizers and force the movement onto a peaceful track. Unfortunately, I don't see any evidence of that happening.

November 06, 2011

Two Occupy Oakland Protesters Hit by Mercedes

I'm not going to belabor the point. It seems to me pretty simple. Both the driver and the two protestors created this incident. There are no victims here, only criminals preying on one another. The protester who was least injured literally jumped in front of the Mercedes to prevent his driving through the intersection. When the driver began honking his horn, the protestor began pounding on the hood, terrorizing the car's occupants. The driver responded by hitting the gas and driving right over two of the protesters. Both were hospitalized, and the one who pounded on the hood was released the next day. I don't know about the second protester, but I hope they have a full recovery from their injuries.

Yes, the driver should have been arrested on the scene. I am sure that sooner or later he will be arrested and indicted. His fate will rest in the hands of a jury of his peers. However, that does not mean the people he ran over are free of guilt! They are not "innocent" victims. They intentionally impeded the driver, crossing on a red light, jumping right in front of his car, and pounding on the hood. They forcefully terrorized the vehicle's occupants with their body language, words, and behavior. Yes, that's right. I call it terrorism. Their sole intent was to create a climate of fear so intense the driver would cower to their demands. Prosecute the driver, absolutely, but also prosecute the protesters.

Cellphone video captures moment Occupy Oakland protester hit by car |

Matt Kibbe's Op-ed

I've been pondering for several days now how to construct a post examining the core ideological differences between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. Turns out Matt Kibbe's already done the job for me.

Wall Street Journal: Matt Kibbe's "Occupying vs. Tea Partying"

Absolute perfection!

November 01, 2011

Fake Reviews? Really?

USA Today: Fake Reviews Appearing Online

My mind meanders all over the place. From time to time I write up reviews and post them to my blog. No one, and I do mean absolutely no one has ever paid me to write a review. Even if someone did pay me to write a review, that review would still be my honest evaluation of whatever the book or product happened to be. A relative once got furious at me for writing up a book review on that was less than complimentary. Honesty is paramount in everything I do because one lesson I learned early in my childhood is that I'm simply not smart enough to lie convincingly. And believe me, there have been many occasions where I wished I could be a good liar.

When I was young I once worked in sales at a Hyundai dealership for a couple of months. I finally had to quit because I could not lie to the customers about the cars I was selling. They were good cars. They were a good value. Still, they were cheap and the reason they were cheap was because in many cases the manufacturer took shortcuts in materials. They would last a few years, but they would not last a lifetime. At the time, the top of the line Hyundai was about the same price as a bare bones Ford Taurus and of the two, the Taurus was a much better value. Anyone who asked got recommended the Taurus. Unfortunately, none of the Ford dealers were hiring at the time so when I left the Hyundai dealership I wound up working at the central warehouse for CarQuest auto parts. At the time, CarQuest was a mid-size distributor with a couple dozen stores. Now they are nationwide and giving Napa a run for their money. And as far as I know, the Ford Taurus is still a far better value than the Hyundai.

A final caveat. When I review something I will often link the name of the book or item to Yes, I do have an affiliate account there and if someone clicks on the link and buys the book or item, I get a small commission. However, that affects neither the review I give nor the reason I choose to write the review. To date, I have not earned enough in commissions from this blog for Amazon to bother cutting me a check. In short, even through the Amazon Affiliate program I'm not getting paid to review! And yes, that does get a bit frustrating, but I can't control who visits here and I can't control which links they click or even if they click any links at all.

October 31, 2011

Head of Italy's Central Bank takes over European Central Bank

Bloomberg: Draghi Takes ECB Helm
The Guardian: Europe Takes an Inspiring Leap

Italy has one of the worst economies in Europe. So when I read that the head of Italy's Central Bank has just taken over the European Central Bank I cannot help but wonder if the smartest people in the world might actually be guilty of plotting to destroy the global economy. The people who have the most to lose in a global economic collapse and the most to gain from a global recovery have spent the past three years consistently making choices that will hasten the end of our way of life. It is as if the top economic 1% of our world have all decided to commit a collective suicide, taking the rest of us down with them.

I don't understand why they keep shooting themselves in the foot. Stupidity? Ideology? Ignorance? Sheltered childhoods? Boredom? For the past five years I have been trumpeting the need to keep capitalism alive for the sake of our children and grandchildren and for five years men like Warren Buffett and George Soros have repeatedly made decisions and funded organizations dedicated to unraveling the world economy and impoverishing themselves.

Why? It doesn't make any sense at all! This latest move is just another nail in the coffin of global capitalism and free markets. Draghi failed to find a solution to Italy's debt crisis. Now in their wisdom and foresight the world's bankers have placed him in charge of the single most powerful central bank in the world.

It's enough to make me wonder if maybe Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have the right of it. Maybe the people who really ought to know better do know better and have decided to destroy the very civilization that made them who they are.

October 28, 2011

1977 Community Reinvestment Act

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act required banks to sign off on mortgages they knew would never be repaid. The bankers followed the law, knowing that someday it would blow up in all our faces. They used credit default swaps to preserve their positions as best they could and forestall the collapse as long as they could, but the law itself made the crash of 2008 inevitable. When the smart bankers saw the system about to implode, they did was any rational person would do, cashed out and retired in luxury.

And gee, whaddaya know, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act is still on the books, has never been repealed or amended, and is just sitting there waiting for the economy to recover enough to do the same damn thing all over again! Congress knows this, the bankers know this, the talking heads at all the major networks know this, and NOBODY IS TELLING YOU!!!!!

The Tea Party brought the issue up, but then immediately shelved it. I still don't know why they shelved it. The Occupy Wall Street movement does not know it exists, does not undertand it's connection to the mess we are in now, and could really care less because fixing the problem is not what they are concerned with.

In 1977 Democrats controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was the President. This whole bloody house of cards, which is still sitting there waiting to strike again and again and again, is the product of the Democratic Party and their constant showering of YOUR tax dollars into the hands of people who will not work for a living, don't love our nation, and spend their entire lives with their hands out palm up waiting for someone to give them their daily bread. I grew up in that subculture. My parents are still in that subculture. Most of my childhood friends are still deep believers in raiding the "bottomless" pockets of Uncle Sam. Governor Mitt Romney, Governor Rick Perry, and Senator Rick Santorum are all deep believers in big government doing its best to help the little guy by offering them cheap credit, research grants, agricultural subsidies, and industrial subsidies.

Nothing is going to change until you and I stop expecting Uncle Sam to be our sugar daddy, stop expecting the government to solve our problems, and stop electing people who promise us access to the city, state, and federal treasuries.

It ain't pretty, but it's real, and if we don't get real this country will not last another decade, let alone another generation.

(Update: Oct. 30, 2011, 6:51 a.m. JST)

At least one economist at Bloomberg agrees with me:

Bloomberg: Americans are Addicted to Entitlements

I hope the American people themselves figure it out before our way of life and our Constitutional Republic both implode in a massive, global economic collapse. And yes, I know, we're already in the begining stages of one.

October 27, 2011

Grassroots? More like old-school anarchism

First things first. Here is a graph tracking employment vs. partisan control of the Congress:

Second, a comparison of important statistics between the OWS and Tea Party, both of which claim to be "grassroots" protests responding to overreaching government control, unemployment, and corruption:

I neither created nor did the research behind either of these charts. However, they are consistent with my own findings and observations.

Last of all, a poster using the pseudonym "Zombie" posted a vast collection of videos and photographs from the Oakland riots last night:

PJ Tatler: Oakland Occupiers Clash with Police

There are facts. Make up your own mind.


(Update, 12 hours later)

The NY Post reports that kitchen workers in the Occupy Wall Street protest camp are angry because homeless and others are coming to the camp for food.
NY Post: OWS Kitchen Workers Protest Feeding Homeless

There are a number of different aspects to this "protest-within-a-protest" that the article above discusses. One detail that caught my attention is that a small band of OWS protesters clashed with NYPD officers, resulting in ten arrests. They were angry over violence in Oakland, violence that began when Occupy Oakland protesters refused orders to disperse and began pelting police with M80 fireworks, spray paint, paint cans, rocks, and other objects.

Another graphic comparing the OWS and Tea Party protests appeared on Facebook while I was asleep. This one focuses more on divergent ideologies than statistics.

I was at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington D.C. It was a peaceful, enjoyable day and we left the Washington Plaza cleaner than it was when we arrived. Free water was available to everyone who asked, even if they weren't there for the rally. Granted, passing out bottles of water is much different than preparing organic meals on outdoor stoves, it still strikes me as odd that people who are demanding a more tolerant and generous American society would complain when they are forced to be both tolerant and generous as individuals. That level of hypocrisy is too much of a paradox for my poor old mind to grasp. How can you demand the government be generous with you when you are unwilling to be generous with the people around you?

October 24, 2011

Book Review: The Crossroads Cafe

I have read thousands of books, maybe tens of thousands. Books from every genre, every style, and dozens of cultures have passed through my hands. There are probably a few librarians and editors who have read more books than I have, but not many. Reviewers in magazines and newspapers don't even come close. At one point in my life I was reading a new book every single day. For a very short time, two books a day. And not speed reading, either. I've never studied it and never wanted to.

Because I have been an avid reader my entire life, I'm also hard to please. Over the last couple of years finding a book worth reading has become a painful experience. I have reference books a plenty, but most modern novels bore me to tears within the first few pages. There have been far too many occasions in recent years where I spent hours prowling the aisles of a bookstore only to finally walk away without spending a dime. I have over three hundred books on my Kindle, but most of them are merely replacements for favorite hard copy books lost by the U.S. Customs service when I moved from Japan to Ohio. Some of these books (like Heinlein's "Glory Road" or Gaiman's "Stardust") I've read a dozen times over the past couple years just because nothing else has interested me.

Awhile back, I was browsing through's "Recommended" list. For some reason a book called "The Crossroads Cafe" had wound up on my personalized recommendations list and it was available for free (or nearly free) because the writer was about to come out with a new novel. Amazon reviews written by readers were mostly positive, so I took a chance and downloaded the book. It sat in my Kindle for almost a year before I opened it. I read the first five chapters or so, got bored, and put it aside.

The characters kept haunting me. I'd find myself thinking of them as I was reading something completely unrelated. The ambience of Crossroads Cove and Wild Woman Ridge lingered in my subconscious and popped up during political discussions, while watching news reports, or when reading sociological and anthropologic works that were attempting to "define" modern American culture. I'd see Jennifer Lopez advertising her fashion line or Lindsay Lohan back in court and find myself wondering what had happened to Cathy (a movie star main character who I'd left in the burn ward of an L.A. hospital when I put the book aside). This constant bubbling up from my subconscious fascinated me and took me completely by surprise. Very few modern writers have had the skill to create characters that could catch my attention so completely. Even some of the minor characters. For example, Alberta and Macy (lesbians whose berry farm is also a halfway house for battered women) would march out from time to time to compare themselves to Ellen Degeneres or Janeane Garofalo before finally marching off again satisfied that sane women do not belittle people and political movements they disagree with.

There was one scene in particular that simply would not leave me alone: Thomas (one of the main characters) coaxing a suicidal local off of a ridge. Thomas is so hung over he can barely see straight. The only thing on his mind is getting off that ridge so he can get back to the Cafe and have a cup of coffee, or better yet, back to his truck for another dose of vodka. And yet, he has the presence of mind to actually listen to the suicidal man's words, reply in a constructive way that shows he is listening, and by doing so, allow the fellow to convince himself that jumping is maybe not the best solution to his problems after all. There is nothing therapuetic or formulaic about the dialogue that passes between the two men. There is nothing shallow or unnecessary in Deborah Smith's descriptions of their emotional state, their body language, and their expressions. The passage is not only technically perfect, it is emotionally charged, suspenseful, and demonstrates with calm casualness the normal, everyday use of strong, positive communication skills that I get paid top money to teach to weary, burnt-out business managers who are struggling to understand and motivate much younger workers with whom they have nothing in common. This brief scene, barely two dozen pages, is one of the most powerful literary passages I have ever read.

"The Crossroads Cafe" unfolds with deliberate, measured slowness. The characters are in no hurry to go about their daily lives and the writer is in no hurry to get to the meat of her story. There is a powerful poetry in the slow, casual, and skillfully drawn-out prose. True, it bored me at first, but even after I put it down it would not leave me. Since at the moment I'm in Japan and I have nothing to do, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to pull up "The Crossroads Cafe" and finish it. To my pleasant surprise, I picked up right where I left off over six months ago and did not have to spend a single minute reviewing the material. I opened to the page where I had stopped, started reading, and was instantly back into the story. It was like I'd never stopped reading. That takes a powerful writer to pull off, so powerful that almost no writer in the past century has achieved it. This is the magic of a Charles Dickens or Louisa May Alcott. Ever since Hemmingway's journalistic terseness swept over the field of modern writing, this ability to capture the essence of a story on every page has been lost. It is beyond refreshing to see it revived. It approaches the miraculous.

Consider this scene: Cathy, a starlet who has been disfigured from massive burns suffered in a car crash, is now paranoid of flame. She finally gets up the courage to visit her cousin Delta, the owner of the Crossroads Cafe. As they are renewing their acquaintance, one of the employees lights the gas fireplace that heats and decorates the main dining room.

The entire herd surrounded Cathy with kindly but obsessive scrutiny. She plastered a smile on her ashen face as Delta introduced each family member in colorful detail. Cathy's anxious gaze went to me. Sign language. They're staring at my face.

All I could do was nod. So let them.

"Thomas, people will remember this day a hundred years from now," Delta whispered to me. "The legend of Cathy Deen has begun."

"Lord, thank you for bringing Cathy to be with us," Cleo announced, looking heavenward. "But excuse me while I get this room warmed up for the dinner crowd." She hurried to a hearth on one wall, squatted on the heels of her running shoes, pulled a long-handled butane lighter from her jeans' pocket, fiddled with a control for the fireplace's pilot light, then clicked the lighter.

The logs ignited with a loud whoosh of orange-and-blue flames.

Cathy bolted out the front doors and staggered to a porch rail. She vomited over the side with ragged, humiliating force, splattering a neat coil of garland on the ground below, waiting to be stapled along the balustrades.

"Somebody get a wet dishcloth," Delta ordered, then went to Cathy and held her forehead while she vomited again.

I grabbed a pile of paper napkins off a serving table and started out the porch doors, but both Becka and Cleo stopped me.

"What's worse than puking all over the Christmas garland in front a bunch of strangers," Becka asked.

"Having your new boyfriend wipe the puke off your face," Cleo answered. "Amen."

"I'm not---" I began.

"Like hell you aren't," Becka said drolly.

They took the napkins from me and I let them.

The whole book is like this. Intimate details woven seamlessly into a narrative that is essentially a romance between two broken people. Characters are writ large with nothing more than a few lines of dialogue or a carefully placed bit of body language, and often both. The world of English novel writing has not seen this kind of artistry in over a century. There are many passages where my breath catches and tears well up in my eyes. Nothing affects me this deeply anymore. I have not experienced this kind of visceral emotional reaction to a story in so long I cannot even remember the last time it happened.

In reading "The Crossroads Cafe" I have had to go back and relearn how to read a novel. I am exercising critical facilities that have grown rusted over from lack of use. Walls of cynicism and disappointment are melting before the warmth of characters drawn so realistically it shames me to think that so very few of us in the real world still display this level of humanity. Deborah Smith has captured something that I have not seen from a novel since I was a teenager: real human emotion. Modern novels have become too fantastic to interest me (The Twilight Saga), too dreary to bother with (Einstein's Shutter), or too depressing to recommend even to an enemy (Fated).

I don't know why the "Recommendations" algorithm put "The Crossroads Cafe" onto my list, but I am very glad it did.