What About Dad?

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Through the course of recent history, there are thousands of photos that would be considered iconic. There’s the photo of a navy sailor kissing a girl in Times Square following the end of WWII; the girl running down the road after having been napalmed in Vietnam; three fireman raising an American flag over the debris of the World Trade Center following 9/11. Those are just three examples from a list that could go on and on.

The photo at the top of this post is never going to be widely seen outside of our family and so it will never belong in the same conversations as those photos noted above. But for the Ryan and Shannon Rapier family, this photo has already become iconic.

It represents so much. But for me, more than anything it represents the day our family died.

Now, I can already hear the voices out there. “Whoa, dude! Slow down. I know it hurts, but don’t you think you’re overreacting just a bit? Your family’s fine and hundreds of thousands of families have gone through this. Dial back the melodrama already!”

And trust me, I get it. I am fully aware how over the top my statement of familial fatality is. But let me explain.

I’m talking about my family of children. Now some could argue it had already died and I would concede that it had been on life support for three years since my daughter, Abby, graduated high school. But she still lives nearby and I see her regularly.

This was different. On Monday, June 6, 2020, I watched my son walk away from us for two years. To make it worse, that boy who walked away isn’t coming back. Ever! On top of that, if all goes according to plan, Abby will leave Thatcher within the next few months and I will have two children gone from beyond my regular sphere.

I know it is the natural order of things. I know that from a religious perspective there is no place I would rather have him be. I know it’s supposed to be the best/worst day ever. Except it mainly it felt like the worst.

Now before anybody reaches out to me and tries to console me with insights meant to make me feel better, please know that I already know. I know that if he had not gone, I would be sad in a whole different and probably worse way. I know that he will be better for having gone through this experience. I know it all. For those who aren’t clear, I actually did it myself almost 30 years ago and I am familiar with the outcomes.

I just miss my son.

You see, unlike most teenage boys, this kid actually seemed to enjoy being around me. Our Rapier male bonding road trips across the country these past two summers were carried out at his request, not mine. He would wander into Shannon and I’s bedroom at night just to talk and we would have to beg him to leave so we could go to sleep. Long story short, he’s my friend. One of my best friends.

And what sucks is that when my wife posted the picture associated with this post on her Facebook page, that post was inundated with comments of friends telling her it was okay to have “mom cries” or something like that. Tons of female supporters expressed to her how difficult it is to be a missionary mom on day one and expressed sympathy while offering support. It was wonderful. For her.

I posted that day too. You know what I got?

“He’ll be a great missionary!” Or some variation of that sentiment.

No offense folks, but thanks a lot! I actually already know that. What I want to know is where’s my permission to cry? Heaven knows I did far more of it standing there in the middle of an airport than I’m comfortable with. Especially in front of people I don’t know.

Where’s my support group of dads who are there for me in case “I just need to talk”?

I’ll tell you where they are. In the same place I would, and will be. Looking at the pictures of families crying and thinking, yeah, that sucks. But…whatcha gonna do?

Sometimes it just bites being a man. Not being able to express your feelings out of fear that you will appear weak. Not being able to cry like a dang baby when your world gets flipped on its head because…I mean, c’mon. We’re men!

I experienced every emotion conveyed in my wife’s face as she clings to my son in the picture above. I desperately wanted to keep him here, take him home and tell the Church that, I’m sorry, Braden Rapier is apparently not available until further notice. Which made it suck even more when I had to be the one to say it was time to say final goodbyes. To be the one who forced the end upon everyone else. I despised not being able to give in to the selfish desire to sneak one more hug in after Shannon was done because I had to adhere to the unwritten rule: Mom goes last.

In short, I hated having to be the Dad.

So, to make up for all that, I decided the best thing to do was throw myself this pity party on my blog and document what I actually have felt and not a bunch of platitudes conveying what I should be feeling. Does that make me weak? Probably. Do I care? Not so much.

Now before anyone reaches out to me based on what I have I written, let me just say: Please Don’t. In this situation, I will truly be fine with letting the thought count.

In the end, I am a guy and in many ways I have already retreated into my natural male tendencies of suppressing my feelings and focusing on the logistical and mundane as a coping mechanism. I’m fine with that.

Also, the only thing worse than not being able to talk about my feelings of sadness over my son leaving would probably be talking about them. It sucked! I miss him like crazy already. What more is there to say?

Finally, I know the platitudes are correct. I’m glad he’s where he is. I am so grateful for the experiences I know he’s going to have. I can’t wait to meet the man who is going to come home. It will be wonderful. And the family that died on June 6, 2020 will be reborn, like a Phoenix, into something greater and more wonderful.

But in the short term, when I am alone and I allow myself to dwell on what is missing in our home, I can’t help but fight back tears. I know what is happening is a good thing, but I was under the incorrect impression that all the painful growth of a mission was supposed to happen to the missionary, not the family. I didn’t sign up for that.

So I guess in the end, I’m telling everyone to ignore everything I have written in this post. These words are the just the irrational ramblings of a crazy man who is struggling to process what has happened to him in a world where men are expected to do that kind of thing on their own. I both hate that and completely understand it all at the same time.

To finish, I guess what makes this whole process most difficult is that I know what he’s going to face. I know how hard it’s going to be. Nobody else in my little family understands it, but I do. And there are going to be things that happen during the next two years to my son that I wouldn’t wish on an enemy, and there is nothing I can do about it. That, more than anything, hurts so very bad. I know it will be for his good, but my natural instinct is to protect him from things like that, and I can’t. I mean, I could…but I can’t. And I’m having trouble dealing with that. I know there will be wonderful things that happen as well and for those life-changing events I am so excited for him. But as he goes to bed tonight in a place that is foreign to him and he is finally left to himself to deal with his thoughts and feelings, I have an inkling of how he feels. Like I said, I did it myself 28 years ago this month. It’s a very lonely place. And it doesn’t matter how much you know the Lord is with you or that you are where He wants you to be, it’s not home. And that’s when the reality begins to sink in that the life you left behind isn’t going to be there when you return.

He’ll be fine. He will survive the hard times like literally hundreds of thousands before him have. But I’m a parent. And I can’t help but worry. However, as a male parent (this blog post aside) I will do it quietly or with as much faked bravado as possible. That’s just what we do. But every great once in a while, I find myself wishing there was a manly way to break down.

Until then, though, we’ll go with everything is fine. We’re all good and there is nothing to see here. I am proud of my son and I am praying for him morning, noon and night. And I know for a fact, he will be a fantastic missionary. He better be. Because his mom didn’t give him up for two years to be anything less. And because I’m a dad, that’s the last thing I told him before we watched him walk away through the gateway to adulthood.

White America Can’t Let This Go

Today, I didn’t want to write about the ongoing issues regarding race that are enveloping our country at the moment. I wanted to write a much lighter piece about our family selling a vehicle that we’ve owned for 16 years. But talking about anything other than the death of George Floyd, the current state of race relations in America and the desperate need for institutional change in our country just seems wrong.

Which I suppose it the whole point, isn’t it? As a white American, if I get down or depressed or stressed out about the plight of African-Americans in our country, I can just choose to not think about it anymore. I can focus on something else. The color of my skin allows me to leave those overwhelming problems behind.

Which is why for decades nothing has changed.

I can tell myself that I’m not racist. I truly do believe I’m not. I certainly try not to be. I’ve empathized with African-American families who have lost loved ones to police brutality, but I’ve also been guilty of becoming judgmental when negative aspects of the victim’s life come out. I have to admit to having thoughts of, “Well, maybe he did something to deserve this. I mean, he’s barely in his early twenties and he already has an extensive police record.” If you’re white and reading this, be honest. Have you not had similar thoughts as well?

I’ve also found it easy to dismiss the plight of the African-American community when protests have turned to riots. I have, in the past, justified myself in moving on to other thoughts because if that is how those individuals feel about their own community, why should I get too worked up about it? I have my own problems. Which I would then move on to and forget about what day to day life might be like for people in this country with skin color that is different than my own.

Writing those two paragraphs makes me ashamed. It legitimately brings tears to my eyes because I have always thought of myself as a Christian person who wants to do good.

And at that same time, I know that my failures in this area do not define me in total. I really don’t believe I’m a bad person.

I’m just privileged. So privileged in fact that I have the luxury of not having to think about race problems.

A few years ago, I got pulled over crossing the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The Native American officer who pulled me over wasn’t a police officer. He was a tribal equivalent of a game and fish officer. He had been driving in front of me for several miles at a rate of speed that was at least ten miles below the posted speed limit. When the time arrived, I passed him legally and did not exceed the speed limit in doing so. He pulled me over anyway. He took my license without specifying what I had done wrong and left me sitting in my vehicle on the side of the road for over 10 minutes before returning to ask me what my hurry was. He then suggested I slow down. He never told me how fast he clocked me going. I’m not sure he had the equipment in his vehicle necessary to do so. He just stopped me because he felt I was going too fast and he had lights on top of his truck that gave him the power to do so.

It was extremely frustrating. I whined and moaned about that experience for weeks and declared I would never stop for any law enforcement on the reservation again. My attitude was that if tribal cops wanted to call ahead and have me stopped by “regular” law enforcement, I would be happy to deal with them.

Now, after two days of reading account after account of African-American men who have been pulled over, detained and harassed-simply because they match a description of being black-I feel pretty silly. For them, there’s no one to complain to. There is no “regular” law enforcement coming to help them in their search for justice.

They just have to take it.

And that has to stop.

The problem is, I feel powerless. What am I supposed to do? I am a pretty average white guy in rural Arizona. I have no power. I have no ability to enact change.

Except I do.

I am friendly with a number of people of color. I say friendly, because I worry about granting myself the designation of friend based on my lack of interest in what their American life experience has been. One of these people I have great respect for is a woman named Royce Hunt. She’s amazing. Yes, she never gets me the form I need on time for an annual event I oversee, but it is well known where I live that if you want someone committed to getting things done in our community, you call Royce. Over the years, we have talked on occasion about the struggles African-Americans face in society, but the truth is I could have listened more. I should have listened more without the prompting of national riots. Now, one concern I do have is that people of color are likely to be bombarded with people like me suffering from white guilt who suddenly want to know “their story.” I don’t know that forcing those conversations now is necessarily the answer either.

But what I can do is vote. And those are the conversations I can have. I don’t need to badger people who are different than me to share their most uncomfortable experiences. I’m certainly open to hearing them should they want to share them. But what might be more productive is talking to Royce, or talking to my brother who is Asian-American, or talking with many other voices I know about political issues. Issues that I think I understand, but maybe could understand better with added perspective from a person of color. I can then act on that information and add my voice at the ballot box to those who would make our country better for EVERYONE. I can vote for candidates who will fight for better funding for schools that teach predominately black and Latino students. I can vote for candidates who are willing to stand up and say we need to open up the hood on law enforcement in this country and seriously evaluate what we can do better. I can vote for candidates who recognize that statues of Confederate heroes are an abomination to entire communities within in our country. It’s not a culture issue, it’s a form of intimidation. We never erected a single statue honoring the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor. So why would we recognize the men who committed treason against our nation and caused the death of over 400,000 loyal American military men just to protect the institution of slavery? We shouldn’t, and I can vote for candidates committed to tearing those abominable monuments down. And lastly, I can vote for issues I don’t even know about yet because to this point they have never affected me.

Bottom line, I can vote for a lot of things. And I can speak up on those issues and let others know why I am voting for those things. I can also be more compassionate. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do. It’s what I, as a privileged white American in the middle of nowhere, can do. And by doing that, I can go from being “not a racist” to being a person who is actively against racism. I believe it’s my duty as an American. But significantly of more importance, I believe it’s the answer to a question I try to ask myself everyday:

What Would Jesus Do?

Today, I believe He’d tell me that Black Lives Matter and to do what He would do if He were here.

So to the best of my ability, I will. I hope we all will. Because if we don’t, then we may have to acknowledge that America isn’t as great as we all think it is, and never was.

End The Riots? Demand Real Change Now!

George Floyd – Killed by an officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This officer had 18 previous complaints filed against him and had been involved in three police shootings with one fatality.

Ahmaud Arbery – Shot and killed by two men who took it upon themselves to be neighborhood protectors. They followed Arbery, who had stopped at a house construction site, looked around and left without removing any item, and confronted him with shotguns. When Arbery tried to run around them, they blocked his path. He then grabbed the shotgun of the man closest to him in an attempt to get past his assailants and he was shot three times. The killers were a father and son and the father had been a local police officer before his retirement. This former police officer had been suspended by the department one year prior to this event for failing to take mandatory firearm training. The local department found no reason to charge either man with a crime following the shooting. Two months later, after footage of the exchange was released, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took up the case two months after the incident and within 36 hours had found evidence sufficient to charge both men with murder.

Breonna Taylor – Was shot eight times as she lay in bed by officers who were not in uniform who broke through her front door. Officers claim they knocked first and identified themselves. Taylor’s boyfriend and neighbors stringently deny this account and claim officers broke through the door without identification. Taylor’s boyfriend then fired his legally licensed gun at what he thought were intruders and three police officers returned fire. It should be noted that neither Taylor nor her boyfriend were thought to have committed a crime. The “no knock” warrant to search her house was issued because there was a belief that an acquaintance of Taylor’s had used her house to receive a package of drugs. The acquaintance had already been arrested and no drugs were found in the apartment. Why this raid had to be conducted at midnight has never been explained by police.

Atatiana Jefferson – Killed by an officer who fired at her through a back yard window of her own home. The officers had been called to investigate a non-emergency situation by a neighbor who was concerned about her front door being left open. Officers arrived at this non-emergency situation, drew their weapons and proceeded to circle the home and at no time approached the front door.

Oscar Grant III – Shot and killed by an officer who had 10 previous complaints issued against him for excessive force before he shot and killed Grant who was lying unarmed on his stomach begging not to be tased.

Freddie Gray – Killed en-route to jail inside a police van by injuries consistent with those experienced by individuals in major car wrecks. Gray was placed in the back of a police van without restraints (seat belts) despite policy that required such action. Many speculated he was taken on a “rough ride”, a practice where a suspect is placed in a police van without restraints and without the ability to see or use their appendages for protection. This was never proven, but the fact that the practice had a name was of significant concern to prosecutors who tried the police officers involved for multiple crimes connected with the death.

Laquan McDonald – Shot in the back and killed while walking away from a police officer who had over 20 complaints previously filed against him, including 10 for use of excessive force.

Tamir Rice – Shot and killed while holding an Airsoft gun by an officer who had literally just arrived on scene and had been deemed “emotionally unstable with a lack of maturity” by the previous police force he had worked for (and was in the process of being fired from when he resigned) before he was hired by the Cleveland PD without any background checks having been processed.

The list could go on and on.

I believe the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line each and every day are good and amazing individuals who want to provide safety and security to the communities they serve. I work with some through my role as a town councilman. I know they feel as disgusted by what they saw on screen with the death of George Floyd as the rest of us. I believe what is happening in our country is that a very small number of officers are giving the rest a bad reputation.

But there are clearly problems. And they demand address.

Bad cops are getting into the system when they shouldn’t and then are not being weeded out as evidence mounts suggesting that they should be. This has got to stop.

Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that addressing this specific problem will fix all of the issues that currently exist with well-documented institutional racism in select police departments or over-policing of predominately black neighborhoods or any of the other race issues that exist between police departments and minorities across this country.

But it would certainly help.

It’s time to demand that those whom we give the right to use deadly force meet stringent personality tests and guidelines during their recruitment. And what should happen when red flags arise regarding propensities toward excessive violence? Officers must be IMMEDIATELY removed from situations where those opportunities to apply excessive force come into play. It simply has to happen.

It’s time to stop ignoring truth. I support good police officers and I stand with the many officers who put their lives on the line to protect us and our freedoms. I am a huge believer in people like Sheriff Chris Swanson who kept the peace in his town of Flint, Michigan by joining protesters and being a part of the community while fulfilling his role to serve and protect. I support the cops who have stood and knelt in solidarity with protesters, disgusted by the acts of the men who murdered George Floyd while wearing a badge. I stand with cops who are tired of having their hard work flushed down the toilet by idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to have jobs as mall security.

But unfortunately, not every cop is worthy of that support. And to those who aren’t, I refuse to offer it anymore.

So as white Americans, can we all just stop being afraid to join in saying Black Lives Matter? They do! Saying it doesn’t diminish the value of other lives. It simply acknowledges injustice being unfairly borne by a specific race of people. They deserve our support, not our suspicion. They tried kneeling, they tried turning their back, they tried/are trying peaceful protest and they tried/are trying rioting. To this point, none of it has moved us in White America to demand change. Well, today it has moved this middle-aged white guy. It’s time to do something. I mean, actually DO something. So let’s start by getting rid of bad cops. It truly is the least we can do.

It’s Time To Own That I Am Human Scum, And Proud Of It

I miss my mom. She would have turned 71 this year. Unfortunately, cancer took her in 2009 at the age of 59.

She was a great mom. She was an even better grandmother. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to nurture that talent nearly long enough. It’s incredibly sad to me that two of her grandchildren were born after her death and that a third was too young to remember her at all. We, her family, are all a little less because of time lost with a truly inspirational woman.

And in memory of my mom, I will tell you that she was one who never ran from a fight. She was very active in her community and she was a tireless advocate for the children and families she counseled with later in life. She believed in standing up for what you believed in even if it was hard. I’ve spent my adult life trying to live up to her example.

Which is why I am no longer content to rage away here on my own personal blog or whine and moan among my tight circle of friends who feel the same way I do politically. Anyone who has ever read a posting from this blog knows my feelings about President Trump. I am not a fan.

I find President Trump to be reprehensible and a true threat to the soul of who we are as a nation. Despite his MAGA campaign slogan and his constant draping himself within the flag, I believe his approach to governing and life in general to be un-American. It has nothing to do with issues. In a number of instances I probably agree with what he has tried to accomplish. But the price has not been worth it.

So if that is what I believe, what am I supposed to do? Sit back, keep my mouth shut, and hope he doesn’t get re-elected? Write the occasional blog post that highlights his latest example of buffoonery or worse? I suppose I could do that. But I decided to try something a little more.

A couple of months ago, I reached out to the organization, Republicans for the Rule of Law. They are an organization made up of individuals who believe in conservative values, but cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump. This group asked me to submit a short video explaining my background as a Republican and why I can’t support the president. I did so.

That short explanation turned into a conference call which produced material that was edited into a three minute video and was released this morning on the website, http://www.rvat.org. In conjunction with the release of this page, the New York Times ran the following story covering the initiative.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/us/politics/republican-voters-against-trump.html?referringSource=articleShare&fbclid=IwAR0xjakSw0d-CDr65SNWGY1SJByjbOgsnkZh6MQDLZMtm8yww89YAd7fx2g

My picture sits atop that article, so I guess I’m out there whether I like it or not.

In a tweet dated October 23rd of last year, President Trump described people like me who are known as Never Trumpers as HUMAN SCUM!

Well, like the Trump supporters who reveled in being labeled deplorables, I take great pride in this label. I will happily be recognized as someone Donald Trump thinks is human scum. However, there are some labels that I will not accept from him nor anyone who supports him. To those individuals, I would say the following:

  1. I am not a liberal. I believe in the same compassionate conservative values I held when I voted for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. I didn’t shift. You did!
  2. I am not a RINO (Republican In Name Only). In fact, I’m not a Republican at all anymore. I waffled on leaving the only party I had ever known during my adult life up until the day Donald Trump turned his back on the Syrian Kurds who helped us defeat ISIS in exchange for protection from a Turkish invasion. They kept their end of the bargain. Donald Trump did not and as a result, thousands of our allies lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes and join the massive ranks of the world’s refugee population. I won’t be a member of a party that accepts that. In fact, I would suggest that such a move is totally against all values I understood Republicans to stand for. So who are the RINOs really?
  3. I do NOT hate America. And how dare you suggest otherwise! I respect your right to espouse your views without calling your patriotism into question. I vehemently disagree with them, but I respect your right to espouse them. Loving all things Trump does not make someone a patriot. Conversely, calling out reprehensible behavior on the part of our president does not disqualify an individual’s patriotism either.

For the last four years, I have heard the following justification of Mr. Trump: Oh, I wish he wouldn’t say some of the things that he says, but he’s doing such a good job. Well, I’m sorry but what he says matters a great deal. Mr. Trump has spent the last two weeks basically accusing a media personality he doesn’t like of murder, without the slightest shred of evidence. Think about that for just a second. The leader of the free world is trying to intimidate a member of the press by repeatedly accusing him of crimes of which there is not one shred of evidence and which can also be easily refuted. That’s horrifying! And that kind of behavior can be directly tied to protesters in Kentucky hanging their governor in effigy. You know, the kind of idiotic crap that third-world dictators pay their mobs to do in the streets.

Well, that’s just Trump being Trump.

No, it’s a problem. It’s unacceptable. And if it were President Obama doing the exact same thing, Trump supporters everywhere would be calling for his removal. If we lived in an alternate universe where the president today was Hillary Clinton, the cries of “Lock Her Up!” would be ringing across the nation. Unfortunately in 2020, it’s just another day at the office in the Trump White House.

I can’t accept that anymore. Not without trying to do something about it.

I fully recognize that my efforts will amount to little more than nothing. As I have indicated in a previous post, I unfortunately believe Mr. Trump will probably be reelected. I hope not, but I suspect it will happen.

But I am going to follow the example my mother set for me and stand up and do what little I can. I’m doing it for a number of reasons, but first and foremost because I want my children to see in me the same resolve that I saw in her. That’s important to me.

Secondly, I believe in my country. America didn’t need to become great again. It was great already. It was great before Donald Trump got elected and it was on the road to becoming greater all the time. I believe in the years since his election, he has become the largest impediment to its greatness. And I believe we as Americans deserve better. So let’s demand better, even if we have to spend the next four years putting our house back in order to do it.

Predictions For The Back Half Of 2020

There aren’t many things in this life that will get an American more excited than an opportunity to make a prediction about future events. And even though we’re wrong about 97.6 percent of the time, the dopamine rush when you get a prediction right is just intoxicating. Which is why we feel the need to share what we think is going to happen in every facet of life despite having no qualifications, knowledge, experience or insight. We just know we have better brains than the experts and we’ll trust our guts over the generals eight days a week and twenty times on Sunday.

So with that said, I am here to present my own list of predictions for the rest of this year based on keen observation and my generally myopic view of the world. And be prepared: if even one of these suckers works out, know that you all are going to hear about my genius for years to come.

  • A High School In Washington State Changes Its Native American Themed Mascot To The Murder Hornet.

In 2012, the Washington State Board of Education passed a resolution asking all educational institutions in Washington who still had Native American themed mascots to consider changing them. At the time, approximately 50 schools still had mascots which met this criteria. But with the arrival of the Murder Hornet in the state, these schools have been provided a special opportunity. I mean, no school is going to get too excited about changing their mascot to the Hornets. Hornets? Big Deal! An appropriately placed boot can wipe out several standard hornets in one stomp.

But Murder Hornets? That’s a whole different ball game. Think of the intimidation factor. “You better not mess with us Murder Hornets, or we reserve the right to kill up to 50 of your small children over the course of the next year. Uh huh! That’s what I thought!”

You heard it here first. Be on the lookout for the St. Mary’s Blessed Children of the Poor Murder Hornets, the charter school of your nightmares, coming to a high school athletic contest near you in 2020/2021.

  • Mike Pence Contracts COVID-19 Through An Outbreak That Occurs At The National Republican Convention And Requires Hospitalization And Isolation In The Very Mayo Hospital He Toured Without A Mask In April.

Republicans have said they are moving forward with a live, in-person convention in Charlotte, NC in August. This is likely precipitated by the strategy the president is taking of declaring victory over COVID-19 and doing all he can to focus the election on a recovering economy. I do understand his strategy and I understand the reasoning of moving ahead with an in-person convention. It would be hard to make the case that you fearlessly defeated an enemy if you are delivering the speech touting said victory in a zoom meeting while you hide from said enemy.

  • No Movie Released During The Rest of 2020 Surpasses A Worldwide Box Office Of $500 Million.

I realize $500 million is a lot of money. But for perspective, in 2019 two movies made over $500 million in North America alone. A movie making $500 million worldwide last year would have been the 15th most successful movie of the year. But this year, despite the loud voices of a few, I don’t believe the general public is going to be in a hurry to head back to theaters. In fact, as a second associated sub-prediction, I believe we’ll see the trend of releasing films directly to rental streaming continue beyond social distancing requirements. I also sub-predict several national movie theater chains will suffer the same fate as JC Penney.

  • Demand For New Automobiles Decreases Such That The Average Overall Price For A New Toyota Camry Drops Below $20,000.

I’m planning on buying a new car later this year. It just so happens I’m very interested in a Toyota Camry. There’s a chance this may be more wishful thinking than an actual prediction.

  • This Will Be The Ugliest Presidential Campaign Of Our Collective Lifetimes.

What do you do if you are a generally unlikable human being and you are put in a position of trying to make someone else look even more unlikable than you? That’s the predicament now facing Donald Trump. And boy, don’t doubt for an instant that he, and his vile little mini-me 1 and mini-me 2 aren’t up to the task.

Over the weekend, Donald Jr. leveled the claim that Biden is a pedophile. No proof of course, because in Trump-world proof is never required. What is required is to define your opponent with a slanderous allegation first, before that same definition can be assigned to you. With 23 named women-some of whom were minors at the time-on record with allegations of sexual misconduct against the president, it’s going to be important for the Trump campaign to get the stink of sexual miscreant slathered all over Biden as soon as possible. That way, when the damaging label comes calling for him, the hope is that we the public will have given the entire subject of sexual deviancy a collective shrug. Sounds almost Clintonesque doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Eric Trump spent his weekend trying to breathe life into the ridiculous claim that COVID-19 is an overblown hoax meant to take down his father. He further claimed that once the election is over, COVID-19 will magically disappear. I could offer further thoughts and perspective on this, but instead, I’ll just go with what most rational human beings would say to this idiocy…Man, just shut the h*** up, you freaking Jack-wagon!

But here’s the problem. This is just a preview of what’s to come. You see, Trump isn’t just going to dust off the Clinton playbook on how to deal with your political adversaries, he’s going to give it a massive overhaul complete with dual exhaust, gold rims and a hydraulic lift system. He knows he is going to have to generate as much dislike for Biden as existed for one of the most unlikable presidential candidates ever to come down the pike in the form of Hillary Clinton. That’s not an easy task. It’s gonna take a river of money the size of the Amazon all spent on advertising designed to bombard us into the stone age. And that’s just on the Republican side. I’m already tired of this election and it hasn’t even really started yet. And to make it worse, I live in a designated swing state. Maybe I should just join a monastery for the next six months. Or better yet, I’ll just disconnect my Facebook and stay in quarantine with just my Disney+ subscription to keep me company. When is the second season of The Mandalorian supposed to drop anyway?

  • Republican Senators Will Eventually Attempt To Have Former President Barack Obama or Current Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden Testify Regarding “Obamagate”.

Boy have we seen this movie before. President Trump throws out the wackiest of claims and then demands that nationally elected GOP Senators and Reps back him up. Initially, these elected officials do all they can to avoid getting swept up in the latest hi-jinx of Trump’s on-going reality series Keeping Up With The KarTrumpians. But in the end, after months of non-stop conspiracy theory validation (minus any actual proof, of course) from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, the pressure from their radicalized base gets too high and these GOP politicians trade in their solid reputations for a ticket to board the express train to Wackoville. Republican senators will follow this model once again and we should expect hearings on this Trump self-described “biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.”

Which leads me to my next prediction:

  • Republicans Will Lose Control Of The Senate.

Way back in 2016, I made a prediction that despite how much fun it would be for Republicans to throw the world’s biggest temper tantrum and elect Donald Trump, in the end, The Notorious DJT would ultimately damage the party so severely that it would take decades to recover. For the record, I am standing by that prediction. For evidence, I say look no further than my home state of Arizona. I recognize that election day is a long way off, but polling today suggests that by January 2021, Arizona will be represented by two Democratic senators for the first time since 1953. It didn’t have to be this way. Had Republicans not run off Jeff Flake in 2018, there is sufficient evidence to suggest he would have held on to his seat in a general election. But he had committed the ultimate crime in the new Trump-GOP era. He spoke ill of the king. That’s not allowed. He voted for the president’s agenda over 90% of the time. But that’s not good enough. You have to kiss the ring, or anything else for that matter, whenever The Don says so or you are a Dead Man Walking. Well, it’s possible that the GOP could follow Jeff Flake into attaining Dead Man Walking status in Arizona if trends don’t change. The same is true in Maine, Colorado and Nevada. Georgia is now looking to be in play nationally in 2020 as is North Carolina and possibly even Florida. Now I don’t believe those states will all flip over into the blue column, but the writing is on the wall. Trump has done nothing to expand the base. Nothing! He may still win the White House based on his Reality TV/Larger Than Life persona, but those traits don’t play well down ballot. And a scenario that seemed all but impossible to Mitch McConnell one year ago now looks more and more like a real possibility: his days as senate majority leader may be coming to an end.

  • Democrats Will Screw Up A Prime Opportunity And Lose The White House In 2020.

The playbook is simple. Republicans laid it out for them in 2012 and 1996. You can’t win a presidential election by simply pointing out what an idiot/miscreant/sultan vile betrayer/demon overlord the other guy is. It never works. These parties live in a bubble and listen to what their base is saying and always fail to hear what the voters who make the difference are saying. Loyal democrats hate Trump. They hate him more than cats hate water. But while the middle of the road voter might not actually care for Trump, their overriding concerns are about actual issues that affect them. They care about their jobs. Voters that will decide this election in the states that matter care about manufacturing jobs, oil production jobs, and maintaining a way of life that mirrors the romanticized lives of their parents and grandparents. For all of his faults, Trump gets this. Time and again, Democrats have proven that they don’t. We’ll see if Biden figures it out in time, but if he’s forced to placate the progressive wing of his party then we’ll know he hasn’t. And we’ll know that he’s going to lose.

  • By December 2020, A Majority Of Folks Will Just Be Too Exhausted To Be Angry And Scared Anymore.

I wish this was a real prediction. Heaven knows we need it to come true. Everyday just feels like we’re all on a never-ending loop of the Jerry Springer Show and it sucks. We need to stop. We need to start seeing every other person for who they actually are and not for the radically segmented portion of the population they supposedly represent.

So instead of a prediction, let’s call it my 2020 Christmas wish. I wish for us all to calm down. I wish that if a world-threatening pandemic strikes us again, our most concerning thoughts will be on the welfare of others and not on who should take the political blame or what political statement I’m making if I wear a mask. I wish for 24-hour news channels to be banned as part of the final COVID-19 bailout bill. I wish for people to care about each other. All the time.

Bottom line, I wish for the impossible…and I know it. But like I said at the top of this post: ridiculous odds aren’t gonna stop me from making such a wild prediction. Because imagine the dopamine rush I would get should I happen to call this one right.

A Heavy Dose of the Bittersweet

When you break it down fully, life has very few moments that truly live up to “memorable” status. For me, I would guess there are maybe 50 moments in my life that have deep enough significance that I remember them clearly. Relationships are similar. In the grand scope of people you know over a lifetime, there are very few that gain admittance into your inner-circle. At least for me anyway.

But over the last two days, I’ve been given plenty of opportunity to reflect on both.

Like everyone else, the Rapiers have been learning to cope with an altered reality over the last two months. As days settled into weeks, it became easier to forget all we had given up. But as Arizona started its reentry into the “normal” this past week, we realized that our aimless drifting through time had placed us smack up against a hard deadline.

My son, Braden, received his call to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Dallas, TX, on March 10, 2020. Three days later, the country literally began to shut down. Going on a mission is a rite-of-passage for young adults in my faith, and it is no small undertaking. A great deal of preparation is required, much of which requires shopping.

Unfortunately, shopping for mission supplies and clothing is not very conducive with worldwide pandemics and so we coasted along, basically avoiding thoughts of how we might deal with Braden’s approaching report date of June 17. That was all good at the end of March. It wasn’t really that big of a deal throughout April. However, when we learned that some retail stores might be opening this past weekend, it was shocking for us to realize we are not months away any longer, but rather weeks and days. And we were nowhere near ready.

Going on-line, I quickly learned that most retail shopping was still unavailable and that if we wanted to get anything accomplished, it would likely require an appointment. Thankfully, the good people at Pomeroy’s clothing store in Mesa worked with me and we were able to get in for their first appointment of the morning, even though there were technically no appointments available. I played the “woe is me, we’re from out of town” card pretty hard and they took pity on me.

Anyway, all that to say that I had no idea how emotional shopping for suits and slacks was going to be. I can’t explain it, but seeing my son in his suit for the first time made this whole adventure he’s embarking on a lot more real. And it also drove home how close we are to having him leave…in some ways for good. Standing next to rows and rows of shoe boxes, I actually teared up a bit watching him get sized. Thankfully, between my glasses and my mask (which was required) I don’t think anyone noticed.

I have a feeling that time will make the poignancy of that moment fade. But I also think I’m never going to forget it. Maybe I will. Maybe I’m overreacting and maybe events still to come in the next month or so will push this one deeper into the vaults of my memory than I realize. But in the moment, this one was pretty powerful.

Meanwhile, during our drive down to the Valley for this touching and yet ridiculously expensive family outing, I received a text message from my bishop. The message informed me that a man in our congregation had passed away in the early hours of the morning. Due to the list of tasks I had to accomplish, I did my best to push this news to the back of my mind. However, roughly 18 hours later when dawn broke on Mother’s Day, I was no longer in such a position.

The man in question was a person I would unequivocally declare as good. There really isn’t any other way to put it, he was just a good, good man. I have known his family for much of my life, but I never really knew him until we moved into our current home 15 years ago. But once I met him, and felt his all-encompassing arm around my shoulder welcoming me into the ward, I have consistently looked up to him.

To make matters worse, his passing reminded me that I would spend yet another Mother’s Day without my own mother. I miss her. You would think a decade going by would make things easier, and in some ways it does. But on other days, the feelings of intense sadness and loneliness are just as raw as the day she said goodbye to this earthly existence.

I look at my two young daughters, one who was not yet a year old when she passed and the other who was four years too late to meet her at all. I mourn for the love they will never feel physically from a grandma who quite literally lived for her grand kids. I think of my oldest daughter who I sometimes fail to connect with fully. She was my mother’s first grandchild and there was a bond there. I can’t help but wonder what their relationship would be like now.

I have the best wife in the world. My children have one of the two greatest mothers I have ever known as their mother. They’re lucky. I’m lucky. And sadly, I don’t think I make a big enough deal about how special she is on Mother’s Day. For some reason, I just never seem to have the heart.

So as Mother’s Day weekend 2020 fades into the past, I pray for a lot of things. I pray my son will be safe. More than anything I want him to be safe. He’s going to struggle, and that’s okay. I just want him to go, learn what he needs to learn, and then come home safe. I pray for the Gardner family. I’ve been where they are. Sadly, they’ve been where they are all to recently with the loss of a son and brother. I hope they know that their father was not just special to them, but was special to a number of people they will probably never fully realize. In the months following my mother’s death, people I had never met would come up to me and tell me about the significant role she had played in their lives. I was stunned at all the things I never knew about her. I imagine the same will happen for the Gardners. It should. He was that good of a man.

I also pray for the women in my life. I pray that everything I believe is true. Because I can’t stand the thought of never seeing my mom again. It just has to be true. It just has to. And I pray for my sweet girls. This world is not getting easier and I worry they have such an imperfect father to try and help them get going in it. I worry I’m failing them. And I’m left praying that a Father in Heaven will somehow make up for my shortcomings.

And lastly, I pray for my wife. She’s amazing, but I don’t think she knows it. I try and tell her, but for good reason I believe she stopped putting stock in my opinion a long time ago. This life of mine would empty and useless without her. I love her. And hopefully, between homemade waffles (okay, Bisquik) and a card, she got just the slightest glimpse in to how much. Happy Mother’s Day, Sweetheart, one day late. I’m sorry you’re stuck with me, but don’t think about it too hard. Instead you should buckle up and hold on. I think this sending out a missionary thing is going to kick both our butts a whole lot harder than we think.

One Man’s Hoax…

Lately, I’ve discovered a fascination with nature shows. It started several months back when I happened upon Planet Earth on Netflix and it continues to this day. The beauty of life and the complexities of what happens on this big ol’ planet of ours is unreal. And it can also be horrifying.

Earlier this week, I was watching a National Geographic show called Wild Yellowstone. Shockingly, it was entirely about Yellowstone national park. Anyway, there was this very intense scene where a young elk calf was being pursued by a hungry male Grizzly. The calf had to hide and basically hope that the Grizzly passed it by while the mother elk could do nothing but watch helplessly from a distance.

As my six-year-old daughter and I watched, I was totally prepped to cover her eyes as I was pretty sure this was going to go badly for the young elk. To my surprise, things went the other way as the Grizzly finally gave up and moved on. Wisely, the mother led her young calf to a swift flowing stream/river to get away and wash away their scent. As they started across the flowing waterway, much to my surprise, shock and horror, it proved too much for the calf and it got swept away. The mother looked on helplessly as the narrator said, and I quote, “The calf survived the hunt of a Grizzly, but Yellowstone claimed him anyway.”

Ouch!

But there it was on full display, the harsh realities of life and death. And in the case of wildlife in Yellowstone, only the strong survive.

As we enter this new phase of COVID-19, there is a growing chorus of themes that are picking up steam among the population. One of those themes is that all this virus is doing is thinning the herd and that we should probably let it run its course. Of course, this isn’t exactly the way this theme is worded, but that’s the general gist. People are going to die and as unfortunate as it is, we’re just going to have to accept it and move on.

As much as I hate this viewpoint, I have to admit that it has a certain level of validity. I can actually see it from both a scientific and spiritual point of view. One, mother earth has a way of keeping populations from getting out of hand. And at our growth rate, it is an easy argument to suggest the human population might be getting out of hand. Two, according to scripture, God has sent plagues to torment his people before. And in the grand scope of biblical plagues, this one is not remarkably severe.

Either way, for those making this argument, I can grudgingly see their point. I don’t know what the correct way to handle reopening our country is, and the longer this goes on, I’m beginning to believe that no one really does. But I will acknowledge that if the majority of our citizens begin to subscribe to the idea that we have to get back at it regardless of the human toll, then that’s what is going to happen, in spite of what I may think.

But there is one idea percolating out there that I cannot grudgingly accept. Along with the anger that has built up regarding the loss of jobs, or the loss of milestones in life, or even the loss of basic human interaction; a political anger has sprung to life that has reignited the talk of this entire exercise being a hoax. This insidious idea suggests that nefarious forces have been conspiring in the background to use a normal everyday illness, that really isn’t that bad, to sink the economy and ruin the reelection chances of Donald J. Trump.

I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable.

78,000 people confirmed dead at the hands of COVID-19 in a matter of four months is not a hoax.

But wait, those numbers are inflated. I mean, nobody dies of pneumonia or the flu anymore. They’re just calling everything COVID-19, so it’s really not as bad as they say.

Yeah? Prove that!

And I’m sorry, verbal diarrhea spewing forth from the mouths of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham is not proof. Anecdotal urban legends about your cousin’s wife, who works at a hospital and is the person responsible for reporting COVID-19 deaths, being bullied into changing numbers in favor of more virus deaths is not proof. I want to see actual data where confirmed COVID-19 deaths are being fabricated. Otherwise, shut the h**l up!

Because you see, for a lot of people who have really faced this first hand, they know for a fact this has not been a hoax.

Take for instance, the family of Kious Kelly. For them, to suggest this excruciating nightmare we’ve been living through is a hoax would just be cruel. Kious was a nurse who worked at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. When his hospital ran short of PPE, he volunteered to continue seeing patients without that protective gear so that others wouldn’t have to. Kious was remembered as a kind individual who was always providing small acts of service to everyone around him. Were it not for COVID-19, he would still be providing those acts of service. Kious Kelly was 48.*

For the 18-year-old daughter of Madhvi Aya, COVID-19 is anything but a hoax. Madhvi was a physician’s assistant who worked in the Emergency Department of Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. Her daughter, Minnoli, is studying pre-medicine at the University of New York at Buffalo and would talk with her mother every single night to catch up and share their daily experiences. She says what makes this entire grieving process worse is that she has absolutely no bad memories of her mother. To quote her, “All of them are good.” Madhvi was confident that she had contracted the disease from a patient she had cared for at work. Were it not for COVID-19, Minnoli would still be talking to her mother every night.*

Finally, for Dr. Lorna Breen, the horrors of COVID-19 were most definitely not a hoax. As the Emergency Department medical director for New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, Dr. Breen contracted COVID-19 while treating dozens of patients infected with the disease. After recuperating, she returned to work and continued to try and stem the tide of COVID-19 patients flooding through their doors. In the end, it proved too much for her. She was sent home to further recuperate and eventually moved in with her parents in Virginia. In the days that followed this move, she spoke to her father repeatedly of the scenes she had witnessed including those of patients dying from the virus before medical personnel could even get them out of the ambulances. After several days of mounting detachment and exhibiting symptoms synonymous with depression, Dr. Breen killed herself. According to her family, she had never suffered from mental illness prior to her experiences associated with COVID-19.**

These are just three of the thousands upon thousands of stories associated with those who have lost their lives to this scourge. All of them real people with real families who would still be with their loved ones had COVID-19 not torn through our country and their lives.

That is not a hoax.

To me, one of the greatest tragedies that will be associated with COVID-19 will be the politicization of this pandemic. It will be that we lived in a time where caring about our fellow human brothers and sisters all too often took a back seat to our political indulgences. In 2001, 2,753 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. In the weeks that followed, people stopped being Republicans and Democrats and just became Americans. Millions of us had never been to New York, but we mourned with our fellow citizens just the same.

Since February, 26,581 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19. And sadly, there are far too many people on right-wing media and social media discounting their deaths as a ploy by the left to defeat President Trump in the fall. I’m sorry, but that’s just not right.

Because once again, I can understand the desire to get back to regular life. And I can understand those who would argue that death is part of the grand scheme and we are just going to have to accept it as we open up our country and move on. I may not entirely agree, but I can understand and empathize.

But a hoax? That’s vile!

This world is bigger than Donald Trump. Human life and the dignity of those we have lost are bigger than Donald Trump. And I can say unequivocally that millions of people did not become infected with COVID-19 to undermine Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide did not die just so they could stick it to Donald Trump. To suggest otherwise is just stupid.

As I see it, we had a worldwide pandemic that caught us all by surprise. We weren’t ready and in many situations we responded too slowly. Not Republicans, not Democrats, all of us. We had people doing the best they could. We had experts trying daily to get their arms and minds wrapped around what was happening and they did their best to try and protect as many of us as they could. Did they do it perfectly? No. Should we have even bothered with all of this shutdown business? Well, Dr. Fauci said from the beginning that if we handled this thing right, then we’d all be complaining that we overreacted when we were done. And now two months later, there are a lot of people claiming we overreacted. And that’s with 78,000 deaths and counting.

As the months and years go by, there will be a lot of armchair quarterbacking of this pandemic event. But the one thing that can’t be changed is that it happened. People died. A lot of people. And for most of us, at one point or another it was scary. Let’s never forget that.

And let’s also not allow ourselves to continue this talk of a hoax. That kind of argument devolves our entire shared experience in to being about one man. And I’m sorry. Despite what he himself may believe, he’s just not that important.

*These examples were provided by an article entitled, American hospitals have lost dozens of medical workers to the coronavirus. Here are some of their stories, published May 3, 2020 on the website, Business Insider.

**Details of this story were provided by an article published in the New York Times on April 27, 2020, entitled, Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide.

The Hypocrisy of Being Pro-Life

On March 17, a post/meme appeared on Facebook that read:

U.S. deaths since 1/22

COVID-19 – 27

Flu – 4,700

Abortions – 118,000

Facebook removed the post due to the fact that both the flu number and the abortion number were not actually known for that exact time period and that based on previous year’s data, both would significantly incorrect. But like most data driven arguments on social media, it’s not really about facts. It’s about generalities that are kind of true that make your point regardless of how factual they are. And to be fair, on March 17, those numbers would paint an abstract argument that would land in the ballpark of accurate.

For instance, in the most recent year we have data for (2017) there were 862,000 abortions performed. Should that number be broken down into the time frame referenced in the post/meme, evidence suggests that the number referenced was actually a little low. As for the flu number referenced, it also would be a little low based on data from previous years. COVID-19 numbers? Well, we know that the number referenced on March 17 is probably not a fair representation either.

But regardless, the message of the meme was clear: why are we going to all this trouble to save a few lives from a virus that isn’t that bad when we let almost a million lives get terminated each year through abortion. As someone who is adamantly opposed to abortion, I think it’s a good question. However…

Can we flip that around? The argument against abortion is that life is precious. Right? All life! That’s why the anti-abortion movement prefers the moniker, Pro-Life.

Let’s put this on hold and come back to it a little later.

Since the inception of the COVID-19 crisis, the political movement behind: minimizing the virus, suggesting the virus is a political tool to weaken the president, isn’t as bad as the flu, is pretty much the same as the flu, and pushing for an end to “tyrannical” rule and “martial law” has been the Republican party and “conservative” media. This movement has even gone so far as to say the following:

It is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter…. It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils. It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils and we intend to move forward that direction.” – Indiana Representative, Trey Hollingsworth (R)

Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life.” – Wisconsin Senator, Ron Johnson (R) after advocating for the reopening of the US Economy despite scientific data that suggests doing so would result in additional deaths which would not occur if the economy remained shuttered.

The Cure Cannot Be Worse Than The Disease.” – Donald Trump.

Some may argue that the last quote does not advocate sacrificing more lives for the sake of the economy, but I would say those would be pretty weak arguments since the cure clearly refers to lock downs and the disease would be infections and deaths associated with COVID-19.

I could provide dozens more examples from Fox News personalities and politicians along with memes posted by private citizens on social media that further my point. But I would just be repeating myself and frankly the message from President Trump and a large swath of conservatives is brutally clear:

An individual life, or even tens of thousands of lives, are NOT more important than the economy or jobs.

But the economy and jobs are not the only thing less important than life. Take for instance this same political movement’s stand on assault rifles.

I mean, I get it. I understand the second amendment. US citizens have the right to own guns. However, they are not allowed to own RPGs. Nor are they allowed to own surface-to-air missiles. Heck, the United States doesn’t allow most countries to own nuclear weapons. So it would appear that there are limits as to what kind of weaponry should be allowed into the hands of private citizens. After seeing the amount of death an assault rifle can deal to unarmed and unassuming citizens, it might be safe to ask what benefit do they provide by being in the hands of private citizens, especially if we are concerned about life.

Because crazy people are always going to be with us and things like mass shootings are probably just a new normal we have to accept. But the reality is, the number of lives lost if we banned assault weapons would likely drop dramatically in those horrific situations. Do we honestly believe 59 people would have died during the Las Vegas shooting if the shooter had not been able to spray the crowd with bullets from assault rifles? An honest answer would be no.

Nevertheless, conservatives and Republicans the across the nation (a vast majority of which do not own assault rifles) continue to rail against gun control specific to assault rifles. The message?

Life is NOT more important than gun ownership, even in the most extreme of circumstances.

Finally, hundreds of thousands of refugees are spilling out of Syria and other nations of the middle east where war has destroyed lives and Islamist extremism has displaced individuals and families from all socio-economic levels. Some refugee camps are well run and relatively clean. Others, not so much. Death as a result is common. And that’s if refugees can even make it to the camps. In 2019, over 1,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to cross on ill equipped rafts. Almost 2,500 deaths were recorded in the same year for migrants travelling on well-known refugee migration routes.

Meanwhile, the Americas have their own refugee concerns. Over three thousand people are murdered in Honduras a year. A vast majority of these murders are gang related. To give perspective, in 2012 Honduras had 7,172 murders among a population of 9 million. The EU that same year had 5,000 murders among a population of 500 million.

Honduras is not alone, and as a result, thousands of people flee this area of the world headed for the United States in the hopes of saving their lives, or at least the lives of their children.

And what is the response of the United States?

In 2019, Donald Trump signed the Asylum Cooperation Agreement with Honduras which will allow the US to send asylum seekers to Honduras, even if the people seeking asylum aren’t from that country. The US already has similar agreements in place with Guatemala and El Salvador-additional countries known for their high gang activity and murder rate. People sent to these nations will not have the ability to seek asylum in the United States.

The basic responses from Republicans and conservatives are: These people just need to go about it legally. They should stay in their own country and try to improve it. It’s sad, but we just don’t have room for everyone. They would take American jobs.

Under the current administration, practices such as separating children from their parents and not allowing asylum seekers to reside in the United States while their cases are being considered have been put in place. According to an article in The Guardian by Ed Vulliamy from February 18th, kidnappings of migrants have gone through the roof with a report finding that 80 percent of migrants waiting to enter the US have been kidnapped by mafia controlled gangs in Mexico. 45% of those kidnapped have experienced violence or violation. Prior to President Trump’s directive, those individuals would have been in the US awaiting their hearings, not in Mexico.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees allowed to resettle in our country has been slashed over the last four years. In 2016, the ceiling for refugees who would be allowed to resettle in our country was 85,000. That number in 2020 is 18,000. The message?

Life is NOT more important than immigration law and keeping people out of our country.

Bottom line, I’m tired of hearing about the Pro-Life movement. I was told how important it was to vote for Trump in 2016 because we needed supreme court judges who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. Apparently, stopping abortions was so important that we needed to sell our souls to an immoral, dishonest narcissist who has time and again shown himself to be unworthy of our highest office. Why? Because life is that important, right?

However, to a majority of those making that argument, it is clear that life really isn’t THAT important. Only unborn life. The lives of those who have already passed through the birth canal are pretty much meaningless and disposable.

So please, can we stop calling it the Pro-Life movement? Calling it the Anti-abortion movement is fine. But to call Republicans and conservatives pro-life, especially those who unequivocally support Trump, is the ultimate in hypocrisy. And frankly I’m sick of it.

The Album Challenge

So, as we all continue to wait out COVID-19, much of the country is looking to Facebook to provide needed escapism. Of course, if your Facebook feed is like mine, much of it is filled with political opinions regarding COVID-19 from a variety of sources who are just as clued in to epidemiology as you or I are. But hey, if they’re wearing scrubs and were ER physicians at one point in their lifetimes, they must know more than everyone else, right?

Anyway, I find that Facebook memes regarding COVID-19 are my personal favorite. The world is full of truly gifted comedians who just keep pumping these things out day after day by the dozens, and yet here I am still laughing. My personal favorite today is:

Image may contain: 4 people, meme, possible text that says 'PEOPLE WHO SAY CORONAVIRUS PEOPLE WHO SAY COVID-1 19 PEOPLE WHO CALL IT THE RONA දත'

I’ve always wanted to wear a cravat. And if my religion didn’t forbid smoking, a pipe is probably the way I would choose to ingest my daily tobacco allowance, so I think this meme has merit. However, I also own some golf shirts that would give me street cred cover to call it The Rona from time to time as well, so…

Anyway, a current Facebook trend is the Album Cover Challenge. The Album Cover Challenge says that each day for 10 days you should post an album cover that influenced your musical preferences throughout your life. You aren’t supposed to make a comment, you’re just supposed post an album cover and then let everyone else comment on how crappy your musical taste is.

Well screw that!

I blog and therefore, I will post all of my album covers at one time and I will comment on each and every one of them. So there!

(Yes, I’m a talker and I am just as bored of this COVID-19 quarantine as the rest of you. Commenting far and above what is necessary is what’s keeping me sane. So indulge me a little. Plus, if I don’t explain some of these…well, I just feel better commenting here and there.)

So without further ado, I will now present the top 10 music albums that have been most influential on my music listening over the course of my life. I will not go in order of current favorite, but rather chronologically. And who knows, maybe it will be more than 10 or maybe less. I don’t know.

Oak Ridge Boys X4 Autographed Signed Fancy Free Album Flat AFTAL ...

This is the first album I remember owning myself. The song was Elvira and I was eight-years-old. I played the living crap out of this album. I mean, to this day I worry that my brother Jerry might have recurring nightmares of being stuck in an Eastern European prison as the words, “Oom-papa, oom-papa, mow, mow” echo off the stone walls in time with the dripping water outside his cell. I loved this album and although I cringe a little when I hear that particular song today, I still have a great love of four-part harmony (not barbershop, so calm down Mike Bradley) that I believe began with Oak Ridge Boys. Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers died this week and it reminded me of this album and the Statler Brothers and Alabama and all the country groups I used to listen to religiously as a kid.

Young MC - Stone Cold Rhymin' [LP] - Amazon.com Music

In high school, I went through my rap phase. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as white as the next white guy and the rap music I loved was limited to the commercially successful rap that was packaged largely for the suburbs. But man, I loved Bust A Move. I still love Bust a Move. I have It Takes Two on my iPod, as well as the Run DMC/Aerosmith version of Walk This Way. I owned the 45 single of Parents Just Don’t Understand back before we learned that Will Smith had a real name and wasn’t actual royalty. But this album was my favorite and definitely got the most play during my high school days.

ERASURE - Innocents - Amazon.com Music

I still can’t explain what happened my junior and senior year when I became enamored with this album. I played it over, and over, and over. Not just to the point that I drove my family nuts. I played it so much that now if I hear songs from this album, I want to punch a hole in my wall. A Little Respect was the song, but the whole album was like a high school romance. Intense, powerful, and something I can’t explain to my children.

Ropin' the Wind by Garth Brooks on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

This marks the peak of my Garth phase that just about everyone my age went through at some point and time in the early ’90s. I think No Fences is a better album top to bottom, and I did purchase In Pieces after returning home from my mission, but this was the album that got the most play on my car stereo and was his current album when I liked Garth Brooks the most. Also, it should be mentioned that Papa Loved Mama is right up there with Goodbye Earl as one of the best upbeat songs about murder you’ll find.

I no longer care for Garth all that much. He’s as annoying as h**l to watch sing live. (I mean is there anyone who comes off more like a used car salesman when he tries to sing songs meant to tug at the heartstrings?) And I really got annoyed when he started releasing greatest hits collection after greatest hits collection and you had to buy each one in order to get the one new song he had produced. He was also one of the last holdouts with regard to iTunes. But if you go back to the early ’90s before all of that, he was pretty good. And I did play this album a lot as I drove around Eastern Arizona College in my father’s prized 1970 Chevy Nova in the years before I left on my mission.

Joe Diffie - Third Rock From The Sun (1994, CD) | Discogs
Byrd, Tracy - No Ordinary Man - Amazon.com Music

To understand the number of country albums that appear in the early part of this list, you have to understand that growing up in the small town where I did, we had two radio station options and both of them were country. It was kind of inevitable. So when I returned home from my mission, where my music selections consisted of hymns, Michael McLean and…pretty much Michael McLean and hymns, it was inevitable that I would jump as far into the genre I had been deprived of as possible. Neither of these artists have a song on my iPod currently. However, with Joe Diffie passing away recently from COVID-19, I have thought about adding John Deere Green and Pickup Man to my playlists. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve thought about it. Tracy Byrd, on the other hand, no longer holds any interest for me. His album is kind of like that girl/guy you semi-dated back in college that you smile about real quick when you initially think of her/him, but then immediately shudder and thank all that is good in this earth that the relationship didn’t last.

Alan Jackson - The Greatest Hits Collection - Amazon.com Music

For the first ten years after I got married, I purchased every Alan Jackson CD that came down the pike. But the Greatest Hits Collection probably got the most play because it had most of his best songs as well as being the only album that the single Livin’ On Love appeared on. I don’t listen to much country today, but I still like his smooth voice and the easy melodies that he put out album after album. One of my favorite concert memories is going to see Alan and George Strait in Sun Devil Stadium when Abby was just a baby. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that all of those Alan Jackson CD’s are somewhere in my storage closet. I should go pull those out and…nah, it’d take way too much effort and I don’t even own a CD player anymore.

Brad Paisley - Time Well Wasted - Amazon.com Music
Brad Paisley - 5th Gear - Amazon.com Music

We’re gonna count these as one because I can’t decide which would be more representative. I listened to both of these, A LOT! Just ask my wife. Brad would be the last country artist I really consider myself a fan of and I think his lyrics are truly some of the most clever and effective out there. Plus, how many people can duet with B.B. King and hold their own on the guitar. Brad’s awesome and I still have a ton of his music on my playlists. Just ask my kids. (They are not fans, by the way.) The interesting thing about Brad Paisley is that he and I are roughly the same age. So as he was experiencing things in life that affected his music, they happened to line up with my life experiences, such as getting married, having kids, becoming more socially aware, etc. I’ll always feel connected to Brad even though he would probably consider that statement just a little bit stalkerish.

Chris Isaak - Best Of Chris Isaak | Releases | Discogs

Speaking of being a stalker, I have been to Chris Isaak concerts five times and, thanks to my wonderful brother and his husband, Kirt, I have met him and sat front row with my wife and son at one of those concerts. I have a signed picture on my wall (not in my bedroom, just clarifying). I actually have video of his base player’s guitar stalk swinging out over my head.

I knew who Chris Isaak was, barely, when I was in college. But in my late thirties I rediscovered him and realized how much I loved his music. Amazing guitar and catchy tunes. Plus, best rock-a-billy falsetto singer, hands down! Bottom line, he was a better Dwight Yoakam than Dwight Yoakam ever was.

VAULT: DEF LEPPARD GREATEST HITS (1980-1995) | Def Leppard
Album Covers - AC-DC - Back In Black (1980) Album Cover
Bon Jovi - Greatest Hits - The Ultimate Collection | Discogs

We’re going to count these three as one. I know it’s cheating, but…crap, I’m not even doing this on Facebook so…my blog, my rules. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t really listen to these artists, or anyone else in the big hair band genre until long after I was married. I knew who they were. I knew their songs, somewhat. But I just didn’t really have an interest. Now, I have all of these artists on my playlists while most of the music I listened to in high school and college has gone away. Go Figure! However, I still don’t like Guns & Roses, despite my wife’s affinity for Don’t Cry, November Rain, and Sweet Child o’ Mine. I just think Axl Rose’s voice is the musical equivalent of raking a cheese grader over a chalk board. But let ASU’s marching band play the first three notes of Highway to Hell, and I am ready to jam out to the three bands above all the way home (which is a three hour drive from Sun Devil Stadium.)

Basil Poledouris, Various Artists - Les Miserables - Amazon.com Music

This album is symbolic of my growing love of Broadway musicals. It started back in my 20’s but has only grown with the passing of time. I love music from a lot of the biggies: Phantom, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Joseph, The Producers, and so many more. But I also love the experience of going to the theater and being taken away to another place in a way only live theater can. Assuming COVID-19 allows, The Band’s Visit is supposed to come to Gammage this season and I desperately want to get tickets. But so far, all of them pale in comparison to my first experience seeing Les Mis. I know it has to do with the power of the actual story, but the music of Les Mis is, in my opinion, inspired. I first heard it 25 years ago and yet I could still put on the soundtrack tomorrow, sit in my comfortable chair, and drift away. As long as it’s the original London cast that is. No Russell Crowe as Javert for me, thank you very much.

Seal - Soul (2008, CD) | Discogs

This is my last album on the list and my current obsession. I love the songs. I love his voice. But add his voice to R&B classics from the 1960’s and you have something special. This album actually represents my love of R&B in general. I have never really cared for Jazz, but I can groove to R&B all night long.

So there you have it. My answer to the Album Cover Challenge. Some of those listed make me nostalgic. Some just make me a little embarrassed. But, whether I like it or not, the above is a pretty good representation of my historical taste in music. Feel free to let me know how sad it is or simply laugh in private. I’m good either way. But right now, I just feel like plugging in my headphones and letting all thoughts of COVID-19 melt away. Because there is nothing better than music to do just that.

In Defense of the Politician

Have you ever noticed how much people who live in America claim it’s the greatest nation on earth? I live here and I think it’s pretty great and so I tend to agree (mainly out of national pride), but it’s a pretty common refrain among Americans. In fact, I’d be willing to be you individuals from other nations who have had to deal with us Americans are probably pretty sick of hearing it.

But do you know what else is a pretty common refrain among Americans? That politicians suck! That anyone who has ever held political office should be thrown out and replaced by like-minded individuals who will actually work for the people who sent them there. You know, the voters!

You know what is also interesting, though? That the system works pretty much the way it’s supposed to. Majority voters in just about every congressional district and state are represented by people who act in a way their voters want them to. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear conservatives rail against dirty and corrupt liberal politicians they don’t like, such as Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. It’s also fairly common to hear liberals cry out for the head of Mitch McConnell. But if you ask a majority of voters in San Francisco, New York or Kentucky about those individual politicians, you’ll find that they are pretty satisfied with the job their own representative is doing. So it’s not that we dislike all politicians, we just don’t like the ones who represent people who disagree with us.

Now, all of this quarreling about politics and who is right and who is of the devil is all well and good when times are normal, but when something like COVID-19 comes up, then…not so good. And when lives are literally on the line, it can become much more difficult to be the representative your constituents want.

But the problem is, in the age of social media, people have more power than they have ever had before. You see, the public that thinks all politicians are corrupt and moronic (except their personal favorites, of course) has a much more direct say on what they expect of their representatives. Social media mobs can form in a heart beat and they can kill a political career faster than an affair with an intern ever could. And unfortunately, here’s a sad truth that most people aren’t going to like to hear. In large groups, human beings as a whole become very ignorant and…frankly non-smart, very quickly.

Which brings me to my ultimate point today. Being a politician during this pandemic has got to be the worst. Especially if you are a politician that actually wields a significant amount of power. It’s this reality that actually makes me feel a little bit bad for President Trump. Not real bad, but at least a little bit.

You see, conservative media and President Trump downplayed COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, which turned it into a political issue rather than the health issue it always should have been. It was called among other things: a hoax, a tool of liberals to bring down the president, nothing more than the common flu, etc. But as days went on, it became more and more clear that COVID-19 was serious. How serious? The truth is we’ll never know. Many states followed by the President started issuing directives designed to “flatten the curve” and limit the effects. When this started, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that if those efforts were successful, we would all claim that we as a nation had overreacted. But regardless of how successful we’ve been at limiting the damage of COVID-19, there is no doubt that it was serious and it was something never to have been taken lightly.

Which is why I now feel bad for the president. For reals! I feel bad for the president and frankly any governor who is faced with the responsibility of how soon and how widely to open back up our country.

You see, it’s easy to be a media commentator who coins the phrase, “The cure can’t be worse than the disease.” It’s also easy to be a media personality who downplays the realities of facing another day without a paycheck to pay for rent or food or any other necessities. It’s incredibly easy to be a protester who goes and waves a sign around demanding that your God-given freedoms be returned to you, when in actuality your freedoms to endanger the lives of others were never granted under the constitution, nor by God. On the other hand, it’s quite simple to be a social-distancing shamer who happens to be living out their quarantine in a comfortable home with a loving family while their income continues to be automatically deposited into their bank account as opposed to a battered wife who is now imprisoned 24/7 with a much more immediate danger to their life than COVID-19.

In other words, it’s easy to be anyone other than the person who has to make these ultimate decisions.

I’ve never seen the problem our president and our governors face better illustrated than in the movie, The Dark Knight. In that movie, there is a scene where two ferry loads of people are pitted against each other and given the choice of blowing up the other ferry boat before they themselves get blown up. The ultimate catch is that if neither boat chooses to “turn the switch” then both boats will explode, killing everyone.

When the situation is presented to the passengers, everyone has an opinion. One boat even takes a vote, with the vote producing the outcome that the passengers on the other boat are expendable because they are prisoners currently serving time. The catch is, they only need someone to turn the key.

And nobody can.

Because it’s easy to claim life is expendable when placed in comparison with the greater good. It’s easy to say that 60,000 additional lives are a reasonable sacrifice if the rest of us can get back to work. Heck, it’s easy to SAY anything. DOING? That’s hard. Because if you are a governor, or a president who gives in to the pressure to open everything back up too early and COVID-19 deaths spike as a result of your decision, that’s on you. No protester, media personality or low-rung politician whose vote ultimately didn’t matter is going to step up and take responsibility for you. You’ll be on your own.

But on the other hand, if a large swath of population have nothing left when they emerge from their homes because you let the economy go completely down the toilet due to an over-abundance of caution, that’s on you too.

The difficulty of this situation is playing out before our eyes. It’s obvious the president wants to open things up, like…yesterday. He tweets about it like we should move forward right now. He makes comments practically goading governors to open non-essential businesses. But when the governor of Georgia actually makes the call on opening up his state, the president immediately says he’s acting too soon.

So which is it? Liberate Michigan? Or is the current liberation of Georgia irresponsible? We’re not sure. No one is. But those people we denigrate and run-down every day as corrupt and dirty politicians are now the ones we have to trust to make those decisions.

And as far as I’m concerned, I have to believe they are doing their best. Because, at the end of the day, we Americans live in the greatest nation on earth, right? So then we have to acknowledge that the system we’ve had in place for over 200 years demands that politicians make these calls. Politicians we voted for as well as politicians that our political foes voted for. It’s just the gig.

So to bring it home, I wish President Trump all the best as he wades through this time of extreme trial. I still think he’s a disaster. I still think he should shut up just about every time he opens his mouth. But he’s the guy who has to make tough decisions that I’m very glad I don’t. And as an American, I need him to get those decisions right. So I’ll pray for him. And I’ll pray for Governor Cuomo and Governor Newsome and most especially Governor Ducey. Because I, and 350 million of my closest friends, can’t really DO anything else. We can talk and argue and speechify all we want, but the doing is in the hands of a very select few. And boy am I glad it’s not me.