Monthly Archives: August 2014

To Sing, Or Not To Sing

To sing, or not to sing.  That is the question prospective contestants, of reality television singing shows, should ask before subjecting themselves to possible ridicule from so-called judges.  The first thing aspiring professional crooners should do, before appearing in front of a national audience, is to at least be honest with themselves about their singing ability.  However, based on what I’ve been hearing through my television speakers, the past few weeks, wannabe singers are not heeding that sound advice.  I am of course referring to this year’s new show, Rising Star, and I’m only aware of it because someone in my household was a fan of the program, although she somehow managed to miss the season’s finale the other night.  I won’t embarrass this lovely woman by revealing her identity.

You know a television network has hit the bottom of the judge’s barrel when Ludacris, Ke$ha, and Brad Paisley are chosen to critique the performances of those hoping to become singing sensations.  Ludacris is a rapper, and we know rappers can’t sing.  I’ve barely heard of Ke$ha, although I’m at least hip enough to know the proper spelling of her name, and Brad Paisley is merely a Country artist (enough said), so who are they to evaluate who can or cannot sing.  The personalities of the Rising Star judges seems to mimic every other panel, of reality show competition analyzers, beginning with talent shows’ pioneer, American Idol.  I did watch the first two seasons, of the enormously successful program, but only because I found performances like William Hung’s to be hilarious, yet even he received a recording contract.  I guess (actually I know) I’m “old school” because I think all artists should have to go through a period of suffering, for their art, before becoming nationally famous.

Now back to comparing the panel of judges from Rising Star and American Idol.  Ludacris appears to be the Simon Cowell of the show, honestly assessing each contestant’s performance, but he does so in a much nicer fashion.  Ke$ha is a younger version of Paula Abdul, but just as annoying, and she elevates the mushiness factor of the show to another level.  She lends her support, during the performance, by always pushing the green ^ button, regardless of how miserable the singing actually was, and then afterwards she has a compliment awaiting each and every contestant.  Brad Paisley’s comments are typically somewhere in the middle (a la Randy Jackson).  I’m positive that even I would receive a compliment from Ke$ha if I was one of the participants.  Heck, I’d probably win the whole competition considering the rest of the contestants on the show.  Not really.  I’m a realist, and although I am a pretty decent crooner I’m not quite that good.

However, I was generous enough to bestow my vocal talent to my junior high school choir, for all three years I was a student there, but I really don’t know why.  Maybe because my older sister had paved the way, or possibly because a lady at church, sitting in the pew behind me, had told my mother I had a nice singing voice.  Most likely though I joined the school chorus after calculating the girl to boy ratio of the class.  There was bound to be only a handful of guys enrolled, so the odds of me finding a special someone was quite favorable especially for a “playa” like myself.  Just kidding of course.  Those who truly know me are well aware I’m a pretty reserved person at heart and don’t yearn to be the center of attention.

For example, when I was a freshman, and our choir was to perform at our school’s annual talent show, I was asked to sing a brief solo during our rendition of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’.”  The teacher had meandered through the male vocal section of the choir, during one particular rehearsal, and narrowed the field down to two, myself and another guy, of who could adequately sing the solo.  I wasn’t near as brave as my sister, who had sung a portion of “Summer Nights” from the movie, Grease, by herself two years prior, so I refused the offer.  The other guy declined as well.  Eventually an alto, of the female persuasion, was man enough to volunteer singing the minimal part, so us two scaredy-cats were finally let off the hook.  I’ll never know how well I would’ve performed, if I had decided to sing that solo, but I do know Ke$ha would have given me a standing ovation.




War.  What is it good for?  Absolutely nothing!  Edwin Starr popularized those lyrics in 1970, with his #1 hit, “War,” and I whole-heartedly agree (in most cases) with that sentiment today.  The American Revolutionary War, the United States’ involvement in World Wars 1 & 2, and the War in Afghanistan were all necessary wars for the U.S. to partake in.  Our Nation’s independence, and retaliation against those who attack us, on American soil, are the most plausible reasons, for declaring war, and is worth the price of bloodshed and monetary costs to this country. 

Some of our presidents have been a bit too eager, whether concluding on their own or being persuaded by those in their administration, to engage our military in warfare.  Many of our wars, in hindsight, have been mistakes and others foreseeably misguided before they even began. Both of the Iraq Wars were certainly mistakes.  I realize it may sound somewhat harsh, and a little insensitive, to say those who served in the U.S. Military, on active-duty in Iraq, were in no way fighting for our freedom, and their service to our country was for not, but that is the truth as I know it.  I absolutely do not place any of the blame on our U.S. Soldiers because the men and women in uniform were simply carrying out their assigned orders. 

Last week The McLaughlin Group listed several Iraq War statistics, from March ’03 – December ’11, and the figures were very sobering.  The death toll of U.S. Soldiers was reported as 4,425 and an additional 31,947 was listed as wounded.  The war also left 134,000 Iraqis (soldiers and civilians) dead.  The cost of the most recent Iraq War, besides the bloodshed, was an astonishing $806 billion (for operations) and an extra $894 billion going towards Veteran care.  Furthermore, there was the mind-boggling $9 billion listed as either lost or unaccounted for.  How in the world can that be?  The United States sure could use that money to put towards our national debt right about now.  The $9 billion admittedly would only scratch our debt’s surface, but at least it could be put to some use instead of being  listed as “missing.” 

At the present time the Islamic State of Iraq, an extremist group, is attempting a takeover of the entire country of Iraq.  Where is Saddam Hussein when you need him?  I’m not joking.  Yes, he was deplorable at times, but he never would have allowed a terrorist takeover on his watch.  To revisit the Iraq War, with U.S. ground troops, would be foolish.  So far, President Obama has stuck to his guns and has refrained from doing just that.  I believe America elected him, in great part, for his promise to end our country’s involvement in wars.  He has succeeded in that area, and I hope he continues to remain true to his word.  Our wars overseas have proven to be disasters.  Keeping the peace in Iraq can be somewhat sustainable, for a period of time, but never winnable, and that’s why the United States should mainly focus on the issues at hand in its own backyard.

The war currently being conducted in Ferguson, Missouri, between the city’s police department and protesters, is hardly worth mentioning, but since the situation is plastered all over our television screens I will offer my short common sense response to the subject at hand.  We know a young man was shot, at least six times, and killed by a police officer.  We also know the victim is suspected of being involved in a robbery, earlier in the day, in which he acted in an aggressive manner towards the convenience store’s clerk.  We really don’t know much more than that at this time.  We can only speculate if the dead young man was an actual thug or if he just resembled one on that particular day.  Regardless, vandalizing and looting your fellow man’s property is a senseless act under any condition.  Waging war, whether at home or abroad, should always be the last resort, and only after the indisputable facts are in.  There must also be a clear and winnable, not just sustainable, objective in sight.  Neither the Iraq War, nor the Ferguson fiasco meets that criteria.



I can only say, to those of you puzzled by the title of this blog, you are either too young, way too old, or possibly just not that familiar with exceptional music.  Stryper is a Glam Metal Christian band whose popularity peaked in the late ’80s, but who’ve continued to create relevant music still to this day.  Don’t be too embarrassed if you’ve never heard of this incredible group because I get the impression there are numerous people like you, living amongst us, who are in the same boat, although that doesn’t make it right.  I have a personalized license plate with the letters – STRYPR – as a tribute to the band, and I’m always amazed at the baffled expressions, found on the faces, of those I’ve noticed gazing at my plate.  They tend to survey the piece of metal as if they’re attempting to decipher some sort of secret code.

One afternoon, while stopped at a red light, I noticed a couple of teenage girls in the car behind me, and they were staring intently at my vanity plate.  They both started giggling, as they simultaneously whipped out their cell phones, and began taking pictures of my cherished license plate.  At least they hadn’t been texting while driving.  I wondered what was going on, as the teens were now laughing hysterically with their phones still fixated on my “rear end,” when it occurred to me perhaps they had misinterpreted my plate as meaning stripper.  I could finally see the humor in the situation since the duo must’ve concluded I was a middle-aged stripper who was bold enough to advertise my controversial profession.  I think the most amusing part of the incident is that my personalized plate is also a specialty plate which is inscribed with the motto, “In God We Trust.”  Maybe those girls thought I was proud to be “stripping for the Lord.”  Well, the Bible does say to be joyful in whatever work you do.

The word Stryper stands for Salvation through redemption yielding peace, encouragement & righteousness.  The backronym was crafted by the band’s drummer, Robert Sweet, and coincides with their famous logo engraved with the Bible verse Isaiah 53:5.  That passage of scripture states, “With his stripes we are healed,” and essentially means the whipping; hence, the stripes, the beating, and ultimately the crucifixion Jesus endured was intended to save those who believe in Him from damnation.  Stryper has been spreading this Good News, through their thought-provoking music, since 1980.  However, the group did take a long hiatus, in the ’90s, to pursue solo projects and other interests.  I fancy many types of music and artists – some wholesome for the soul and admittedly some not, but it’s truly refreshing having the option of listening to positive and inspirational lyrics when the mood strikes.

I have heard many excellent and powerful sermons in my lifetime, but the Stryper concert my wife and I attended in 1988, was the most uplifting experience I have ever encountered as a Christian.  The evening was actually very unsettling at first, when we  were confronted by several picketers, outside the venue’s entrance.  The protesters warned us not to go inside, insisting the concert awaiting us was the work of the devil, as they handed us some religious pamphlets.  The Reverend Jimmy Swaggart supposedly disapproved of Stryper’s style of music, so he had made a national plea for all Christians to picket at their concerts.  I think most of us are aware of what happened to the preacher shortly thereafter.  Rev. Swaggart was implicated in the first of two sex scandals, involving prostitutes, and was initially suspended before eventually being defrocked by the church.  I guess the good reverend never read Matthew 7:1-5, about judging others, or at the very least he decided not to take that passage of scripture to heart.

Maybe Mr. Swaggart should have noticed the log in his own eye before searching for a speck in his fellow man’s eye, and who was he to judge the ministry of Stryper anyway.  Regardless, I’m so thankful we chose not to heed his or the picketers advice because the concert was magnificent, and it utterly warmed my soul.  Although there wasn’t much preaching, coming from the stage, it wasn’t too difficult to know the band’s sentiments with songs like “In God We Trust,” and “To Hell With The Devil” blaring through the massive speakers.  The lead guitarist and vocalist, Michael Sweet, sporadically tossed miniature Bibles out into the crowd during the Christian rockers’ amazing performance.  Stryper ended their show with a heartfelt prayer for the souls of the entire audience and for everyone’s safe travels home.  What a night!  Now go, and be puzzled no more.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

As I was recently pondering some headline news, and being the stalwart fan of old westerns that I am, I noticed a correlation between those newsworthy happenings and the movie title, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. I suppose Clint Eastwood, the star of the classic western, could even be thought of in that same manner. He has proven to be a good actor, director, writer, and musician over his extended stellar career. On the contrary, Mr. Eastwood has made what I perceive as a couple of bad career decisions lately. Lending his talents to a reality television series, Mrs. Eastwood & Company, in which he is now divorcing the show’s main star, Dina Eastwood, and talking to an empty chair, at the 2012 Republican National Convention, is not his best work. Clint Eastwood’s personal life, with his numerous failed relationships and unsuccessful marriages, and with his notable history of infidelity and womanizing is downright ugly. Still, the multiple Oscar winner remains a favorite of mine, along with Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford, and I’ll take the abilities of those aging superstars over the new breed of young actors any day of the week.

Speaking of stars, the National Football League recently suspended the Baltimore Ravens’ talented running back, Ray Rice, for two games. He allegedly punched his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the face during an elevator ride at a casino sometime last February. The only video footage of the incident, made available to the public anyway, is that of Mr. Rice dragging the seemingly unconscious Ms. Palmer out of the elevator. Many people have been extremely critical of the player’s evidently lenient punishment, especially the media and many women’s organizations, but I have no problem whatsoever with the sentence handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. I don’t think any of us should. The police say the couple attacked each other, the “victim” did not press charges against the NFL star, and she even chose to marry him after the incident, so who are we to come to her defense and demand that more be done. Besides, any additional football games, Ray Rice could be suspended from, would only further reduce his income which is ultimately used to support his now wife (aka victim). The Ugly.

Let me be perfectly clear here. I was properly raised to never hit a female, and I never have. Today’s world is very different though, and some women have no second thoughts about getting into a physical altercation with a man. If a woman truly desires equality then she should never be able to place her hands on her counterpart, in a threatening manor, as well. When Inspector Harry Callahan (aka Dirty Harry) is confronted by an abusive female lunatic in the movie, Sudden Impact, he has no qualms about punching her smack dab in the face. I must admit I find that particular scene in the movie to be quite amusing, and dare I say that his actions were justifiable. We don’t precisely know what happened, in that casino elevator back in February, between the Ravens’ running back and his fiancée, so I think we should all just leave the presumably “happy couple” alone. The Bad.

James and Lois Garner, on the other hand, were undoubtedly a very happy couple. Their incredible 58 years of marriage sadly came to an end with the passing of Mr. Garner on July 19th, 2014. The couple’s lengthy relationship was a rarity in today’s society and absolutely unheard of in Hollywood. James Garner left behind a substantial film and television career, and he coincidentally starred with the aforementioned Clint Eastwood in the movie, Space Cowboys. The beloved actor will forever be remembered, by me at least, as Jim Rockford of the hit TV series, The Rockford Files . The private investigator with a criminal past was a different type of heroic character found on television, but Mr. Garner played that role perfectly. Rockford was irritable, somewhat brash, and a remarkable con artist, and let’s not forget about his unregistered gun, hidden in the cookie jar, or that gold Pontiac Firebird he drove the crap out of. However, at the end of the day the cranky P.I. inevitably listened to his conscience and cared deeply for those nearest and dearest to him.

The Tavis Smiley Show recently aired an interview with James Garner, from approximately a decade ago, and I have a newfound respect for the man (not just the actor) that he was. He said respect and commitment to each other was the successful formula behind his extended marriage to Lois. He also joked that the reason he keeps getting up and going to work, instead of retiring, is because his wife keeps getting up and going shopping. Mr. Garner was on Tavis in part to promote the release of the movie, The Notebook. I’m usually not a fan of “chick flicks,” but I might be willing to give the film a chance since the actor spoke so fondly of it. Just don’t tell my lovely wife… in case I change my mind. I would venture to say James and Lois Garner never once struck each other during their long-lasting marriage. The Good.

Addicted No More

Many of my life’s fondest memories includes the use of smokeless tobacco since it was such an integral part of my life for a little over a decade. I remember one time when my younger brother wanted me to give him a ride somewhere and me demanding he take a dip of my Copenhagen as payment for my time and trouble. In addition, I insisted he keep the pinch of tobacco in his mouth for the duration of the presumed short outing. Isn’t that what big brothers are for? I also recall deciding to stop at a carwash, on the way to wherever, to prolong my brother’s first dipping experience. If I remember correctly, and I’m pretty sure that I do, my young passenger got sick while I was washing my car, but luckily I had chosen the self serve option, so we were both outside of the vehicle when the vomiting began. After my car was spotless my brother no longer felt like going anywhere except back home to recuperate. Good Times.

The most memorable time I ever had involving snuff was also the longest I was forced to endure a single pinch of tobacco between my cheek and gum. Immediately after arriving at the hospital, when my wife was in labor, I placed a fresh dip of Copenhagen in my mouth. Eight hours later we had a beautiful baby boy, and I was finally able to leave my wife’s side, for just a moment, to rid myself of the now bland substance. I then immediately, of course, put in a fresh pinch of tobacco and all was well. My most unique experience with the stuff was my most desperate experience as well, and it was obvious proof of my addiction to smokeless tobacco. When I was a young adult I needed my two bottom wisdom teeth removed, so after the procedure the lower half of my mouth was tightly packed with gauze. This presented me with a major problem, of how I would be able to enjoy a dip, while in this predicament.

I summoned my ingenuity and placed a pinch between my upper lip and gum for the first time in my life. The novel idea was definitely outlandish, but it did the trick, and I learned that day I had another option for storing tobacco. The newly discovered technique came in handy whenever my lower gums were too irritated, from so much dipping, to put in a pinch of tobacco the proper way. I did hear somewhere that every can of smokeless tobacco (Copenhagen at least) has chards of glass mixed in; therefore, allowing the tobacco’s nicotine to enter a dipper’s bloodstream more rapidly, through the numerous miniature cuts produced in the lip, and enabling the user to become addicted to their product much faster. I tend to believe that theory because there does seem to be minuscule pieces of something shiny in Copenhagen, when examining the substance closely, and it does appear to glisten like glass in the sunlight.

I no longer have to worry, whether Copenhagen contain chards of glass or not, because I ended my love affair with smokeless tobacco over 23 years ago. I no longer have to be concerned with the financial burden of a nicotine addiction either. The price of a can of tobacco had risen to $1.29, when I ultimately stopped dipping, and I recently noticed my favorite brand of snuff is now selling for about $5.00 a can. I’m so thankful I’m no longer a slave to that stuff. I needed 3 pieces of Nicorette gum, and some tears, to quit my 10 year tobacco addiction. My determination and willpower could only take me so far, until I was at my wit’s end, and then I needed a piece of the Nicorette gum to regain my sanity. The tingling sensation and hint of nicotine in the special gum was sufficient enough, to extinguish my tremendous craving, at least for awhile. The withdraw from the addictive substance was overwhelming and almost unbearable; hence, the tears.

My mother-in-law was certainly thrilled when I finally gave up dipping. She had boldly suggested I quit, even as far back as when her daughter and I were only dating, by giving me some information on the perils of smokeless tobacco. The pamphlets included several photos of young men who had lost portions of their faces, due to mouth cancer, caused by dipping tobacco. At that time the pamphlets weren’t enough to “scare me straight,” so I continued using. I also persisted in superstitiously purchasing only the Copenhagen cans marked with the warning label, “May cause birth defects” instead of the ones stating, “May cause cancer.” What ultimately did motivate me to end my decade long addiction to snuff was my son. One day, while looking at my toddler, I realized I had the responsibility of doing everything in my power to be there for him, during his formative years, and that meant giving up tobacco. The thought of a pinch of tobacco between my cheek and gum, after all these years, is still enticing, but I no longer feel invincible, and I know the consequences can be deadly. I can only hope there’s Copenhagen in Heaven.


I used to be addicted to smokeless tobacco, and I don’t use the word addicted lightly. The term has been tremendously overused in today’s society because I don’t believe anyone can actually have a shopping, gambling, food, or sex addiction. We all have certain passions, and temptations in our lives, but wrongly referring to those as addictions only diminishes the seriousness that true addicts are facing. I do believe in chemical addictions, and I am empathetic towards those who have them. I think all of the other so called addictions are mythical, created by the health care industry, and when labeled an addiction tends to lessen the accountability factor; therefore, enabling bad decision makers to feel better about themselves for the wrong choices they’ve made in life. Furthermore, I’m sure the health care profession isn’t complaining about the substantial amount of money being made off these “addicts.”

I first tried a pinch of tobacco, around the age of fourteen, when my Grandpa McCleary offered me a dip of his Skoal. In his defense I had been bugging him, for a taste of the stuff, for many years. I suppose he thought I was finally old enough to handle the substance, or maybe I simply had worn him down. I do know from a very young age I was captivated by my grandpa and with his partaking of tobacco. I was fascinated by it all. The aroma, the spitting, and even the shiny lid of the can. The aluminum lid would shimmer in the sunlight, like a large diamond, whenever grandpa was outdoors and removed the can of snuff from his back pocket. Usually while corralling his cattle or tending to his garden. I only saw the Missouri farmer twice a year, so I developed a broad sense of who he was, primarily by what I observed, and that was mostly of a man who dipped Skoal throughout most of the day. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed my first taste of the stuff, but that initial experience was enough to ignite my long love affair with the addictive substance.

I may have been introduced to smokeless tobacco by my Grandpa McCleary, but I didn’t fall head over heels in love with it until the start of my high school baseball career. Back in the “good old days” it was quite common for baseball players to dip during games, and although it was against the rules, at the high school level, we took our chances. I remember one particular game, as I was entering the dugout between innings, when the assistant coach took me aside and informed me he could tell I had a pinch of tobacco between my cheek and gum. He then suggested I conceal it better so the umpire wouldn’t kick me out of the game. The high school seemed to have that same blasé attitude towards tobacco use. Many of us used tobacco, during class time, and it wasn’t only the baseball players but the farm kids as well. Now we couldn’t just blatantly go from classroom to classroom carrying around a spittoon all day, so only those of us manly enough to swallow for the entire class period actually dipped during class. We veteran tobacco users weren’t all that hard to spot either. The round shaped hole, found on the back pocket of an otherwise nice pair of blue jeans, was a dead giveaway.

My addiction to smokeless tobacco began innocently enough, as I suppose most addictions do, with me only dipping during baseball games and practices. I soon added snuff to my weightlifting routines and whenever I was outside doing yard work or changing oil in my car. I eventually found myself “needing” a dip when playing board games and watching television. The next thing I knew my addiction had mysteriously progressed, and the only time I wasn’t using was when I was either eating or sleeping. I woke up one day as a teenager dependent on tobacco to survive. My “drug” of choice was Copenhagen. If I was going to use tobacco then I was going to do it right and dip the “hard stuff.” None of that wimpy wintergreen flavoring, found in Skoal, for me. At the time I didn’t mind spending .79 cents, every other day, for a can of the delicious product, and I certainly wasn’t fearful of the possible consequences (gum disease and cancer) because at that age I thought I was invincible. I was thoroughly enjoying my addiction! Coming soon…part 2.