Saturday, December 30, 2023

Saturday Snippet - video, not written, but still criminal


Earlier this week I thanked Greg Ellifritz for choosing my memoir of prison ministry, "Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls", as one of his best reads of 2023.

He says of it:

This [book] is great for providing an understanding of the criminal mindset as described by stories experienced by a prison chaplain.

That's one of the reasons I wrote it, to illustrate what we're dealing with as far as the mindset of professional (?) thugs and criminals goes.  They're a breed apart, and can be very frightening when you run into them for the first time.  Cops, of course, deal with them all the time, as do corrections officers (and prison chaplains) . . . more's the pity.

Yesterday, via MeWe, I came across a link to an 8m.25s. video on Twitter (or X, or whatever it is these days).  It shows in graphic detail what cops have to put up with these days when dealing with hardened criminals.  Note how the perpetrator knows exactly what "politically correct" phrases to say, and when to say them;  how to act out his "feelings" at being unable to breathe;  and how to essentially dare the cops to take stronger action against him, because he knows that if the ever-present cameras catch even one unprofessional incident, he can use it to get out of jail free due to "police brutality".

Is it any wonder that so many cops and corrections officers are leaving their profession?  They can't win.  The pro-criminal, anti-law-and-order crowd have teams of trainers going around our big left-wing cities teaching crooks how to behave so as to score points like that.  They get loud and in-your-face, intimidating the cops and medics, because they know they're bulletproof as far as left-wing, progressive DA's are concerned.

I strongly urge you to take the time to watch that video in full.  Adjust the sound so you can hear what's being said.  Study the histrionics and the careful acting.  It's all a con game, nothing less.  I assure you, I could resolve that man's problems in less than ten seconds if I were allowed to . . . but in this day and age, I won't be allowed to.  Instead, we're all plagued by assholes like that getting out on the street again, and doing precisely the same thing again, and washing, rinsing and repeating ad nauseam.

I rather suspect that as things get worse, more and more criminals are going to be picked up bleeding, possibly shot, rather than held for the arrival of the cops.  They've made it so that the easier option is the deadlier one - and if there are no witnesses to the easier option, so much the better.


Friday, December 29, 2023

Food for thought


Matt Bracken makes a thought-provoking observation.  Clickit to biggit.

Hmmm . . .


Interesting speculation


Rolf posted this conversation from Reddit on Gab the other day.  It raises all sorts of interesting questions.

Is my dog transphobic??

I (20 mtf) came out as trans in January and started transitioning back in March. My family has a 6 year old border collie that we have had since he was a puppy and ever since I started my transition he has acted more and more strange towards me. In the past he always let me pet him, cuddled with me, got excited when I was around and just generally normal dog stuff, but recently all that has stopped. If I try to pet him now he growls at me and has even barked a few times. When I enter a room that he's in he will get up and leave as if he's actively trying to avoid me all together. He never looks happy to see me anymore. I thought at first maybe he didn't recognize me and just thought I was a stranger (I have longer hair and wear girl clothes and the estrogen is slowly making me very female in appearance). But it continues and he seems to keep getting worse. And he still acts exactly the same as before around my parents and sibling. It's just me that he doesn't like!

Has anyone else experienced anything like this with their pets when they transitioned?? Is it normal or is my dog just a transphobe?? Do you think maybe he can smell the estrogen I'm taking and doesn't like it?

I hadn't previously heard about such complications (?) among the transitioning.  Has anyone come across them before?  Are they pretty similar among M-to-F or F-to-M transitioners, or are they more specific to one regendering?  Has anyone been able to suggest a medical or biological or zoological reason for the situation?

My personal, non-scientific wild-ass guess is that the dog has seen the entire structure of his family turned upside-down because something that was a solid, stable pillar of his existence has been taken away from him, and he doesn't like it at all.  It's hard to blame the poor critter.


On the mend, slowly


I think this may be the most debilitating seasonal cold and flu that I've ever experienced.  I've had two very unpleasant weeks, and this week, from Christmas Day until yesterday, I was almost completely out of it.  I slept up to 18 hours a day, and had no energy whatsoever.  I couldn't even eat - no desire for food whatsoever.

Yesterday saw the start of healing, I think.  By late afternoon I was feeling more human, and was able to keep down some food - although much less than I normally eat.  I'll try to do better today.

Friends, if you catch the current bug, please be very careful.  It'll exploit any physical weakness you have and beat you over the head with it.  A "normal" seasonal bug hits me for only one or two weeks, but I think this is going to keep me pinned down for double that.

Anyway . . . enough complaining.  Onward!


Thursday, December 28, 2023

The crud is still going strong...


I'm still battling to overcome the crud that hit me a couple of weeks ago.  I feel like death warmed up, and I'm trying to do as little as possible while I give my body time to heal.

I won't be putting up more blog posts today unless things improve significantly.  Sorry about that, but this bug is a very nasty one.


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

"The Fall of Minneapolis" - an "evil cancer running through our nation"


That's how PJ Media correspondent Kevin Downey Jr. describes the documentary "The Fall of Minneapolis".

As scary as it is to see the Marxist politicians, news media bootlickers, and street-thug brown shirts work in lockstep to destroy a city — and spread violence across the nation — we are better off knowing that We the People have evil cancer running through our nation now while we still have a chance to carve it out.

"The Fall of Minneapolis" is a documentary about how the Marxists in the United States twisted the death of George Floyd to fit a narrative and light a powder keg.

I won't give it all away because this documentary is too important to miss. Reading my crib notes cannot suffice. But here are some not-so-shocking highlights.

There's more at the link.  It makes grim reading, but I recommend it for its depth of detail about the George Floyd case and what appears to be a wholesale, colossal miscarriage of justice over his death.

I highly recommend watching the documentary.  It's almost two hours long, but it describes political machinations that have become all too common in our "big blue" cities, those with liberal/progressive justice systems that are more focused on ideology than on justice.  You can read background information on the documentary at its Web site, and also watch the video there if YouTube and other social media sites take it down.

If you live in such a city, or a left-wing/progressive-governed state, move out.  Now.  Because things are going to get a lot worse there, before (if ever?) they get better.

Let's also remember that there had to have been a staged, ready-to-go organization or plan, just waiting for a suitable "cause" to swing into action and achieve its political ends, behind the George Floyd imbroglio.  Things moved far too fast, and were far too well organized right from the get-go, for it to have been spontaneous.  That plan and/or organization undoubtedly still exists, and is being readied for the next suitable "spark to a flame" to come along (or be manufactured out of whole cloth).  We should all be aware of that, and prepare ourselves accordingly.  Seen in that light, "The Fall of Minneapolis" can be regarded as an advance briefing of enemy intentions based on their past patterns - invaluable intelligence for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.


An unexpected Christmas gift


Greg Ellifritz, whom we've met in these pages on several occasions, is one of the better-known instructors in personal security and avoidance of crime.  I have a lot of respect for him, and I've learned a lot from his blog.

I was therefore delighted when yesterday, he listed my memoir of prison ministry, "Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls", as one of his "Best of What I Read- 2023" book recommendations.

Greg says of it:

I have several recommendations for academic textbooks to teach my students how to better understand criminals.  Many people don’t like dry scientific research and won’t read those books.  This one is great for providing an understanding of the criminal mindset as described by stories experienced by a prison chaplain.

I was particularly pleased to read the last sentence, as that's one of the objectives I set myself when writing it - to explain the criminal mindset to the average reader who's never had to deal with it themselves.  There were other objectives, of course, but that was an important one.  I'm glad Greg thinks I managed to get that point across.

Go read his other book recommendations for the past year.  I plan to get hold of them over the next few months and read them.

Thanks, Greg!


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Memes that made me laugh 191


Gathered from around the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.  There are a fair number of Christmas-themed memes this week, for obvious reasons.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Remembering a Christmas long ago that changed my life


I wish all my readers and friends a blessed, holy, merry and happy Christmas (in that order!).  May the "Reason for the season" be alive in our hearts this day.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote about a Christmas experience that changed my life.  I've re-posted it, or a link to it, every Christmas since then.  I see no reason to depart from that practice.  Here's "The Night Christmas Became Real".

It had been a bad day. A very bad day.

Members of the so-called 'Mass Democratic Movement' (MDM - a front organization for terrorists) had been trying to 'politicize' a township in South Africa for some time. Most of them were members of one particular tribe - and in Africa, one's tribe counts for quite a lot. Their efforts had been resisted by many residents, who were members of another tribe, and didn't see why these upstarts from an 'inferior' tribe should be allowed to push them around.

Needless to say, the apartheid police, always eager to 'divide and rule', had encouraged the rivalry through not-so-discreet egging-on of the resisters. If Black people could be induced to spend their time fighting each other, instead of uniting to fight apartheid, it was a net gain for the State. Who cared about those who got caught in the crossfire? They were only Black, after all, and the State was White. That's the way it was, in that year, in that part of the country.

Matters came to a head the week before Christmas. The MDM moved a group of 'comrades' into the township, trying to enforce a consumer boycott of White businesses, threatening violence to those who resisted. Some women were forced to drink the liquid soap and cooking-oil they'd bought, and ended up in hospital. Others were threatened. Minibus taxis taking shoppers to a nearby town were met at the outskirts of the township, and forced to turn back. In response, the police shut down deliveries to the few shops in the township itself. Very quickly, people began to run out of food and essential supplies.

I got a phone call in the afternoon of December 24th from a pastor in the township. I'll call him 'Fanyana' for his safety (he's still working there).

"Hey, Fanyana, what's up, brother?"

"It's bad, Peter." (Sound of scattered gunshots in the background. He was breathing quickly, shallowly, the fear evident in his voice.) "The 'comrades' have been trying to shut the place down all week, and the miners have finally had enough. They've ganged together and they're out on the streets, looking for the outsiders. It's bad, man."

I sobered, very fast. If Fanyana was this scared, and didn't mind showing it, it was bad indeed. The previous year he'd dragged me clear of a riot, both of us bleeding, me almost unconscious. He had guts to spare.

"What about the cops?"

"Oh, hell, man, the usual, you know! They're sitting on the outskirts, watching the fighting, and doing ****-all. They don't care."

"What do you need?"

"Can you get the brothers and sisters together, Peter? I'm opening the church to refugees, but we have nothing. Nothing. The 'comrades' have stopped all shopping in (the White town nearby), and all the shops here are empty. We need food, medical supplies, and anything else you can find for us."

"We're on our way. Usual meeting-place?" (A crossroads on the outskirts of town, on the bush side, where the police usually didn't go.)

"Yes. I'll try to have someone there in three hours to meet you. Be careful, my brother. You've got the wrong color of skin to be in here after dark, remember."

He wasn't joking about that. To have the wrong color of skin, or be a member of the wrong tribe, or have the wrong political sympathies, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, had been a death sentence for all too many South Africans of all races in the past few years.

I set the telephone chain in motion. We were a small group of people who cared. We didn't give a damn about the politics of those in need - although all of us were opposed to apartheid, and wanted to see South Africa a genuinely democratic nation. We were all believers in our particular faiths, and saw it as our duty to help the helpless, rather than shout political slogans. We went into townships where violence had erupted, tried to get the injured to safety, took in supplies for distribution through local churches, and generally tried to bring a little light into the darkness of the turmoil that was spreading throughout the country like a cancer.

We were of all races, and all religions: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, animist, Hindu... you name it, and the odds were we had at least one member of that faith in our loose network. It didn't matter to us. If you believed strongly enough in your faith that you were willing to put your life on the line to help those in need, that was all that counted. We were brothers and sisters from that moment. We would worry about the theology later.

Of course, the fact that we were trying to help the victims of violence made us targets. The terrorists wanted to make the Black townships, segregated under apartheid, ungovernable, havens of sanctuary for their resistance. If they had to do so by a rule of terror, they had no scruples about it - and they didn't want anyone giving hope to those living in fear. The authorities, on the other hand, didn't want the true conditions in the townships to be exposed. They used the Group Areas Act and other legislation to keep outsiders away. If you didn't have a permit to be in an area reserved for another racial group, you could be - and often were - arrested on the spot. People like us, who ignored the law and went in to help others, were a threat to them. The fact that we were a multi-racial group, not segregated, made it worse in their eyes.

As a result, we faced violence from both sides. Twenty-seven of us would die in the course of the unrest, and many more of us bear the scars of those years to this day.

It took almost two hours for various people to get away from work, pick up what supplies they had available, and get them to our meeting-place in Hillbrow, a high-rise, run-down, seedy suburb of Johannesburg. Those who could brought money, and hastily shopped for essentials at a local supermarket, competing with long lines of people doing last-minute Christmas shopping. Their carts and baskets were filled with cheap, tawdry gifts. Ours held cornmeal, beans, cooking oil, kerosene for cooking stoves, bandages, disinfectant.

We loaded the boxes and bags into a rattletrap old minibus that one of the group had made available to us. It was a Toyota Hi-Ace, similar to those shown below (and the same color as the first), dating from the mid-1970's.

It smoked, wheezed and backfired with every mile, and shook like a dervish on even the best-paved roads. Rust streaked the body, and a couple of the windows were cracked, held together with tape... but it ran, and it was inconspicuous in a township environment. That could keep a man alive, in those days. To stand out was sometimes to die.

It was a hot, dry night. (South Africa's in the southern hemisphere, so Christmas falls in high summer, to the confusion of many in the Northern hemisphere who associate the season with snow and cold. To us, it was a time for salads and sodas, not heavy meals and eggnog.) We set out as the sun sank low on the Western horizon, myself driving, three others - one Indian, one Colored (mixed-race in South African parlance), and one Black - in the seats alongside and behind me, the back of the van piled high with supplies. We threaded our way through the late rush-hour traffic and headed South.

After an hour, we turned off the freeway and headed into a farming area. We were coming up on our destination from behind, through the farmlands and bush, rather than approach it from the nearby White town, where police were sure to be manning roadblocks. They wouldn't be in a good mood. They wanted to be at home with their families on Christmas eve, wrapping presents for the kids. Instead they had to stand guard while the kaffirs fought each other. (The term was originally an Arabic word meaning 'unbeliever', but in South African parlance had become a derogatory term for a Black person, similar to - but worse in meaning than - the US term 'nigger'). Those of us trying to help them were contemptuously referred to as kaffirboeties - 'kaffir brothers', meaning much the same as 'nigger-lovers' in the US.

We could see smoke rising ahead of us in the fading light. Buildings were already burning in the township, that was clear. We slowed down, and crawled closer to the crossroads. All of us tensed as we saw the flashing lights of a police roadblock ahead. Too late to turn back - they'd only be suspicious, and pursue us to find out who we were and why we'd tried to run.

I moved up to the roadblock, and stopped. A uniformed Sergeant came to the door. I relaxed slightly. I'd met him before. While he was no friend, and as racist as any other policeman at the time, he was amenable to 'persuasion'.

"What do you - oh, it's you again!" He spat contemptuously into the dirt. "Come to help those dumb ****ers again, have you? Just look at the stupid ****ers!" He gestured at the smoke billowing up behind him. "It's ****ing Christmas, and they haven't the sense to stop their **** and shut up for a bit so we can have a break!"

"Er . . . yes. We've brought supplies. We want to take them to the **** Church, where the pastor's setting up a refugee center."

"No way, man. The township's ****ing closed to outsiders. You know the drill. Come on, let's see your ID."

I did, indeed, know the drill. I extended my arm through the window, handing him my 'Book of Life', the fat passport-like identity document issued to all South Africans. Inside the front cover I'd tucked five twenty-Rand notes - not a small sum, at that time.

He flipped through the pages, glancing casually over his shoulder at his men, who were lounging in and around their vehicles, watching us disinterestedly. He handed the document back to me. The banknotes had miraculously disappeared.

"You get into trouble, you're on your own, hey? No way we're coming in there to get you."

"I understand."

"On your way." He waved at the two constables standing in the road, assault rifles held ready, and they stepped aside. I accelerated past them, weaving my way down the dirt track.

We arrived at the crossroads as the last of the light began to fade. A stripling in ragged shirt and trousers was waiting, jumping up and down and waving at us as we approached. He ran to my window.

"Oh, Baas Peter! Baas Peter! The Pastor says to come quick! Is bad!"

I hated to be called Baas ('Boss', a common subservient term of address from Black South Africans to White, a relic of the days of slavery), but this was no time to stand on ceremony. "Get in, quick, and show us a safe way to get there."

David got out of the passenger seat next to me, getting in the back, and the boy took his place. We bumped into the back roads of the township, the familiar smells growing stronger by the yard. The stench of excrement overlaid every other odor - this township didn't have a sewage system, and relied on buckets to catch the 'night soil' deposited by its inhabitants. Acrid smoke mingled with the fecal smell, and if you had an active imagination, you could smell the fear too. You could certainly smell it in our vehicle - all of us knew what we were facing.

The dirt roads were dusty, except where runnels of sewage ran down the middle of some of them, adding a noisome mud to the scenery. Feral dogs cringed out of our path as we drove past. No-one was visible on the streets at all. They were either locked in their homes, hoping and praying that the violence didn't move in their direction, or they'd fled to a place where they imagined they'd be safer.

We came to the church hall, a run-down mud-brick structure with a corrugated asbestos roof. No lights were on in the hall, but two or three strong men stood guard outside, armed with sticks and spears. As we pulled up, two of them moved towards us.

"Who are you? What's your business - oh, it's you!" Smiles broke out across their faces, their white teeth gleaming against their dusty charcoal-black skin.

"Yes, we've brought you what we could. Can you help us unload?"

"Yes. Pull your van over there, out of sight. It's not safe for you to be seen right now."

Our cargo was swiftly offloaded by eager hands. Within five minutes the roar of kerosene stoves was added to the distant tumult, as women set them up outside and balanced huge pots on top of them, heating water to make putu (a thick cornmeal porridge, almost dense enough to be cut with a knife). Others opened tins of beans and a few precious luxuries, cans of corned beef, cutting the meat into cubes and adding it to the beans as they bubbled in their pots. Fanyana came out and hugged us, tears of gratitude in his eyes. He had over two hundred refugees crammed into his church hall, all of them having fled from homes near the center of the violence, and they had only the clothes on their back. At least they'd eat tonight.

We passed out the paper plates and cups and plastic eating utensils we'd brought, and everyone was given a small helping of the putu, covered with a ladleful of beans and a few shreds of corned beef. For many, this was the only meal they'd had all day. There was no tea or coffee: those who were thirsty drank water from the tap at the corner of the hall. (This township had no indoor plumbing - if you needed water, you got it in cans from communal taps, set every hundred yards or so. There was no electricity either, candles and kerosene lanterns providing the only light.)

I put down my plate, to have it swiftly taken by a young child, who carefully washed the plastic utensils and put them in a bag. In a place where poverty was so rampant, there was no such thing as 'disposable' cutlery. Even the dirty paper plates, which couldn't be washed, would be kept after being scraped clean. When dried and torn into strips, they would serve as kindling to light fires. Nothing was wasted here.

It was full dark now. Fanyana and I stood silently together outside the hall, watching the skyline to the East. It glowed and flickered as burning buildings sent up the light of their flames. We could see them reflected from the smoke clouds . . . black, sooty smoke, from car tires. If those nearby were fortunate, the tires would be burning only as barricades across the street. If they weren't, some of those tires would be burning around the necks of anyone suspected of being an informer, or lacking sympathy for the 'revolution'. They'd scream their last as the gasoline-soaked 'necklaces' roasted their faces and heads into charred caricatures of a human being.

I almost lost my faith that night. I'd been on the brink for some time, furiously angry at Church leaders who preached politics instead of the Gospel, who supported political factions instead of standing for all believers, who talked a good fight instead of going into the streets and actively ministering to those who most needed their help. To me, the Gospel was deed rather than word - and all I was hearing from these leaders was words. It made me sick, and I was on the point of abandoning my membership of any organized Church. Looking at those flames in the distance, knowing that people were suffering and dying there, I cried out internally to God, asking Him, "Where are your bishops and priests and pastors and ministers now? Why aren't they here, with Fanyana and others who need them? Where is the love they proclaim so loudly, but never live out?"

I got no answer... not right away.

A man ran along the street, staggering, at the last extremity of exhaustion. He came up to us, wobbling on unsteady feet, and Fanyana and myself caught him as he almost collapsed.

"Pastor! The tsotsis (thugs) are moving towards you! They've heard that people have gathered here. You must get out!"

Fanyana looked at me. "We can head for the old factory. It was burned out long ago, but the walls are still standing, and part of the roof. I think we'll be safe there." He hesitated. "We've got some old people who can't walk fast. Some can't walk at all. Some are in here, some are still at home. Can you help us get them out?"

"Let's go!"

The next hour or two was organized chaos. Groups of men, women and children hurried from the hall, carrying kerosene stoves, the supplies we'd brought, and the pitifully meager possessions they'd been able to salvage. Some of the men formed a fighting group, armed with sticks, axes and spears, and moved down the street, to hold off the forerunners of the gang heading in our direction, buying time for us to get clear. David, Alex, Sammy and I made a dozen shuttle runs in our old minibus, loading it with old people, one of us driving them to the ruined factory building while the rest of us went from door to door, checking whether anyone needed a ride, organizing them into groups of six to eight people, ready for the next run.

The last run was the worst. The 'comrades' had been setting fire to buildings and tires as they moved in our direction, and the wind had shifted, covering us in the rank smoke. We coughed and spluttered as we urged the last group together. One old man tried desperately to persuade us to bring his bed as well - the only possession of any value in his home. We had to be brutal in forcing him out, leaving the bed behind, great wracking sobs coming from him as he abandoned all he had in the world to the violence he could not understand.

We loaded the last group, and Sammy headed for the factory while the rest of us ran up the street with Fanyana, yelling to the fighting group to disengage and fall back to the hall. They did so, several of them bleeding from cuts and bruises, two wounded by bullets. Some of the 'comrades' had brought AK-47's with them, it seemed. We heard several full-auto bursts of fire, the distinctive sound of the Communist weapon a familiar and dreaded backdrop to the discordant symphony of violence being played on the stages of townships across the country.

Fanyana's wife, Miriam, stood at the hall, waiting for us. His face contorted with fear as he saw her. "What are you doing here? I sent you to the factory! Where are the children?"

"They are there, safe. Did you think I'd leave you to die, not knowing what had happened?"

I had to smile. No shrinking violet, this. She'd stand by her man in the face of mob violence and death if she had to.

Fanyana wasn't impressed. "I'm not dead, and you're a fool! Come on!"

As we ran up the street into the darkness, abandoning the church hall, the rest of us had to try desperately to hold back our laughter as his wife told Fanyana in no uncertain terms that she was no fool, and if he thought she would leave him to die alone, he'd better think again, and...  One of the men muttered, "Hau! And to think my parents want me to get married to a good Christian girl! What do I want with a woman who'll talk to me like that?" Those around him chuckled grimly. In a male-dominated tribal culture like theirs, the pastor's wife was an exception to the rule.

We moved out of the township into open scrub land. About two hundred yards ahead of us, the silent, black ruins of the old factory loomed up beneath the starlight. We ran across the grass, stumbling on hummocks and stepping in holes, wrenching at our ankles, our breath catching in our throats. We slowed as we came to the walls, and stopped, and looked around. Behind us the glow of flames and the billowing smoke was higher than ever, moving in our direction. We knew the church hall would most likely not survive the night. One of the men said as much to Fanyana, and he shrugged. "Buildings... are just buildings. At least we are alive."

We walked into the ruined main building. Its walls were standing, but most of the roof was gone, leaving only a third of it covered. Already those who'd first arrived had swept the concrete floor clear of the debris and detritus of years, and several hundred people were sitting down in family groups. Candles and kerosene lanterns flickered here and there, shedding an eerie dim light over the scene.

Another group of women had lit the kerosene stoves from the church, and were boiling water. As we came in, they beckoned to us, and cleaned and bandaged the wounds of those who'd been injured covering our escape. They organized men to go with buckets to fetch more water from the nearest tap in the township, and David took the minibus to help them get it as quickly as possible. He made several trips, and they filled every available container to the brim. We didn't know when we'd be able to get more, after all.

I knew the four of us were stuck here until at least daybreak. We wouldn't be able to see whether we were driving into danger, so we couldn't risk trying to return to Johannesburg. While the others found their families, or fetched water, or helped in other ways, I walked outside, looking up at the stars. I was in a foul mood. Anger at the pettiness and political shenanigans of organized religion, frustration at not being able to protect these people's homes from destruction, bitterness at yet more destruction in the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence that had engulfed my country, the disgrace of police sworn to 'protect and serve' who instead sat back and let rival groups destroy each other, enjoying the spectacle... I was in a bleak state indeed. I couldn't even pray. If I'd tried, at that moment, I'd probably have cursed God.

I don't know how long I stood there, my mood as black as the night. It was a long time.

I was brought out of my miserable reverie by a tugging at my hand. I looked down. A small girl was standing there. She'd got hold of my finger, and was pulling at it.

"Baas Peter, come. Come! We are going to sing."

Sing??? What on earth could there be to sing about, on such a night? Still internally numb, angry, withdrawn, I allowed her to lead me back into the ruins.

Fanyana and Miriam had cleared a space in the center of the factory floor. The children had gathered together there. There must have been five or six hundred people inside, of whom maybe a quarter were kids under the age of ten. They were from two or three different tribes, and several different churches... but tonight, that didn't matter.

As I stood there, my tiny escort smiled up at me, then scampered to join the others. She reached them just as Miriam raised her hand.

The kids broke into a soft, gentle song. The words were in Zulu, but they'd originally been written in German... and I knew them well enough in English.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
'Round yon virgin mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Saviour is born;
Christ the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth;
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

And I went outside, and I wept from the depths of my heart and my soul. I wept for Sue, my fiancée, who'd answered a call such as this on a night several years ago, and never came home, and was buried far away. I wept for my friends who'd died serving this seemingly hopeless cause. I wept for myself, for my own heart, which had hardened to near stone under the blows of the world, and which I'd allowed to harden... because I hadn't listened to the words of the One who came to us on that blessed Night, almost two thousand years before.

My concerns about church leaders preaching politics instead of the Gospel?

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:3)

Children are not born with these things. They become thus after learning from adults. I'd forgotten to learn from God, rather than the chaos and anarchy around me. Those leaders had made the same mistake. Many of them are still making it to this day.

My inability to see God even in the midst of suffering? 

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
(Habbakuk 3:17-18)

The press, and the politicians, and the so-called 'religious' leaders, preaching doom and gloom and disaster, hatred and violence, envy and rebellion?

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You have broken the yoke of his burden
And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:2-6)

The lack of care shown by most so-called Christians, so few of whom were willing to share burdens such as ours, on this night?

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

(Luke 2:1-16)

Jesus didn't come to a cathedral, or synagogue. He didn't appear in majesty before the prelates of the Sanhedrin, or the hypocrites of the Pharisees. He came as the lowliest and most helpless of humans, a new-born child: one for whom there was no room at the inn, and who was placed in a manger of straw. I think he - and Mary, and Joseph, and the shepherds - would have felt right at home in that ruined factory, that night.

And so a new journey of faith began for me that night, one that was to lead me to become a pastor. Even so, I've grown more and more disillusioned with organized religion in all its forms: but the message of Christmas has never been in doubt for me since that night.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

May His birth be a reality for you, this night.

God bless you all.

It's been a difficult 2023 for most of us.  May 2024 be (if possible) easier and more blessed;  and if that's not possible, may we be reminded that in the midst of trial and tribulation, we are not alone.


Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sunday morning music


On this Christmas Eve, there's only one song I'd like to play.  There's any amount of excellent, outstanding, holy Christmas music out there, so much that it's almost impossible to say which are the best examples of the genre.  Nevertheless, one of my favorites is this simple, reflective, prayerful song by Fr. John Foley SJ and the St. Louis Jesuits.  It's never ceased to appeal to me.

Amid all the great orchestral and choral pieces of the season, this seems to me to be the sort of simpler Christmas carol that might have been played and sung around the crib in Bethlehem, that first Christmas night, many years ago.


Saturday, December 23, 2023

Saturday Snippet: Uncovering the past


The late Wilbur Smith was an icon among adventure novelists for more than half a century.  He lived in Cape Town, South Africa, not far from where I grew up.  I got to meet him a couple of times in my younger days.  Many of his novels accompanied me on my journey to adulthood, and I still re-read some of them with great enjoyment.

"The Sunbird" is his account of the archaeological search for a Carthaginian society in Southern Africa after that city was destroyed by Rome.  It segues into a living vision of the last days of that society as it was destroyed by the tribes around it.  It's a remarkable feat of storytelling, and has kept its freshness with age.  That's added to, for me, by the fact that I know many of the areas in which the story was set, and took part in anti-terrorist operations there as well.

The blurb (from the hardcover edition) reads:

Dr. Ben Kazin is a brilliant archeologist. Louren Sturvesant is rich, impulsive, and physically imposing, everything Ben is not. Now, the two men--friends, competitors and partners--are searching for the legendary lost city of Opet, built by an Egyptian culture that reached Africa two thousand years ago, then vanished completely.

For Ben, the expedition is a chance to prove a controversial thesis. For Louren, it is a chance to spend millions--and make it all back in gold and glory. But what awaits them is an astounding discovery, a siege of terror, and an act of betrayal that will tear the two men apart and bind them together forever...

Hidden beneath water, jungle, and blood-red cliffs is a lost world where two men and a beautiful woman were caught in a furious battle of passions two thousands years ago, but which has begun once again...

I've chosen an excerpt describing the discovery of the primary historical sources for the city of Opet.  (A quick note:  the value of gold described in the text refers to 1972, when the book was written.)

At breakfast, which seemed to be the only time we spent together these days, Eldridge asked me to resume the work of removing the pottery jars from the archives. To be truthful I welcomed the excuse not to have to face the blank accusing stare of the sheet of paper in my typewriter, and Ral seemed as pleased to have a change from his fruitless search of the cliffs.

In the cool, peaceful gloom of the archives we worked in our established routine, photographing and marking the position of each jar after we had labeled it and entered it in the master notebook. The work was unexacting, and Ral did most of the talking for my mood of lethargy still persisted. Ral lifted down another of the jars from its slab, and then he peered curiously into the space beyond where the wall opened into a squared stone cupboard.

“Hello,” Ral exclaimed. “What’s this?” And I felt my lethargy fall away like a discarded article of clothing. I hurried across to him and I had a feeling of pre-knowledge as I stared at the row of smaller, squatter jars of the same pottery which had been hidden away in this carefully prepared recess. I knew that we had made another major advance, a significant step forward in our search for the ancient secrets. This idea came into my mind fully formed, it was as though I had simply mislaid these small jars and now I had rediscovered them.

Ral moved the arc-light to obtain a better lighting of the recess, and immediately we noticed another unusual feature. Each of the jars that we could see were sealed—a loop of plaited gold wire linked lid and body of the jar, and a clay seal bore the imprinted figure of a bird. I leaned forward and gently blew away the dust that obscured the impression on the seal. It was of the crouching vulture, the classical soapstone bird of Zimbabwe culture with its base of sun discs and rays. It came as a distinct shock to find this emblem of modern Rhodesia upon a seal of indisputably Punic origin 2,000 years old, as it would be to find the lion and unicorn of the British coat of arms in an Egyptian tomb of the twentieth dynasty.

We worked as quickly as was reconcilable with accuracy; labeling and photographing the large jars which obscured the recess, and when we lifted them down we discovered that there were five of the smaller jars concealed behind them. All this time my excitement had been increasing, my hope of a major discovery becoming more certain. The concealment of the jars, and the seals indicated their importance. It was as though I had been marking time, waiting for these jars, and my spirits surged. When finally we were ready to remove them from the recess, I reserved this honor for myself despite Ral’s protests of, “But I found them!”

Balancing on the top rungs of the step-ladder, I reached in and attempted to lift the first of them.

“It’s stuck,” I said, as the jar sat immovably on its slab of stone. “They must have bolted it down.” And I leaned further into the recess and carefully groped behind the jar for the fixings which held it in place. I was surprised to find that there were none.

“Try one of the others,” Ral suggested, breathing heavily on the back of my neck from his lofty perch atop those lanky legs. “Can I give you a hand?”

“Look, Ral, if you don’t give me a bit of room you’re going to suffocate me.”

“Sorry, Doc,” he muttered, moving back a full quarter of an inch.

I tried the next jar and found that it was also solidly anchored to the shelf, as were the next three.

“That’s very odd,” Ral understated the position, and I returned to the first jar, and bracing my elbows on the edge of the shelf I began to twist it in an anti-clockwise direction. It required my full strength, and the muscles bulged and knotted in my forearms before the jar moved. It slid toward me an inch, and immediately I realized that the jar was held down on the slab not by bolts but by its own immense weight. It was fifty times heavier than the jars twice its size.

“Ral,” I said. “You are going to have to give me a hand, after all.”

Between us we moved the jar to the front edge of the shelf, and then I cradled it in my arms like a new-born infant and lifted it down. Later we found that it weighed 122 pounds avoirdupois, and was not much bigger than a magnum of champagne.

Gently Ral helped me to settle it into the fiber-glass cradle we had designed for transporting the jars. We each took a handle and carried it down the archives, out through the access tunnel and past the guard post at the entrance. I was surprised to find it was already dark, and the stars were pricks of light in the high opening above the emerald pool.

Our disparity of heights made it awkward carrying the cradle, but we hurried down the rock passage and down toward the camp. I was relieved to see that lights still burned in the repository. When Ral and I carried in our precious burden the others hardly glanced up from their work.

I winked at Ral, and we carried the jar to the main workbench. Concealing it with our bodies, we lifted it out of the cradle and stood it in the center of the bench. Then I turned back to the three bent heads across the room.

“Eldridge, would you mind having a look at this one.”

“One moment.” Eldridge went on poring over an unrolled scroll with his magnifying glass, and Ral and I waited patiently until at last he laid the glass aside and looked up. Like I had, he reacted immediately. I saw the glitter of his spectacles, the rosy glow suffuse his bald pate like sunset on the dome of the Taj Mahal. He came quickly to the bench.

“Where did you find it? How many are there? It’s sealed!” His hand was actually trembling as he touched the clay tablet. His tone alerted the girls and they almost ran to join us. We stood about the jar in a reverent circle.

“Open it.” Sally broke the short silence.

“It’s almost dinner-time.” I glanced at my watch. “We had better leave it until tomorrow,” I suggested mildly, and both girls turned on me furiously.

“We can’t,” Sally began, then she saw my expression, and relief flooded her face. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that,” she told me sternly.

“Well, Professor Hamilton, what are we waiting for?” I asked.

“What indeed?” he demanded, and the two of us went to work on the seal. We used a pair of side-cutters to nip the gold wire, and then carefully worked the seal loose. The lid lifted easily, and there was the usual linen-wrapped cylinder. However, there was not a suggestion of the unpleasant leathery odor. Eldridge, whose arms are like a pair of thin white candles, was unable to lift the jar. I tilted it carefully onto its side, and while he steadied it I withdrew the weighty roll. The wrapping was well preserved and folded off in one piece.

Nobody spoke as we stared at the exposed cylinder. I had guessed what it would contain. There is only one material which is that heavy, but it was still a delicious thrill to have my expectations realized.

It was another writing scroll, but it was not of leather. This scroll was a continuous rolled sheet of pure gold. It was one-sixteenth of an inch thick, eighteen inches wide and a fraction over twenty-eight feet long. It weighed 1,954 fine ounces with an intrinsic value of over $85,000. There were five of them—$425,000, but this was a fraction of the value of the contents.

The beautifully mellow metal unrolled readily as though eager to impart its ancient secrets to us. The characters had been cut with a craftsman’s skill into the metal with a sharp engraver’s tool, but the reflected light from its surface dazzled the reader.

We all watched with complete fascination as Eldridge spread lamp-black across the blinding surface and then carefully wiped off the excess. Each character stood out now, etched in black against the golden background. He adjusted his spectacles, and pored deliberately over the cramped lines of Punic. He started making noncommittal grunts and murmurs, while we crowded closer, like children at story-time.

I think I spoke for all of us when at last I blurted out, “For God’s sake, read the bloody thing!”

Eldridge looked up, and grinned wickedly at me. “This is very interesting.” He kept us all in aching suspense for a few seconds longer while he lit a cigarette. Then he began to read. It was immediately clear that we had chosen the first scroll in a series, and that Eldridge was reading the author’s note.

“Go thou unto my store and take from thence five hundred fingers of the finest gold of Opet. Fashion therefrom a scroll that will not corrupt, that these songs may live forever. That the glory of our nation may live forever in the words of our beloved Huy, son of Amon, High Priest of Baal and favorite of Astarte, bearer of the cup of life and Axman of all the Gods. Let men read his words and rejoice as I have rejoiced, let men hear his songs and weep as I have wept, let his laughter echo down all the years and his wisdom live forever.

“Thus spoke Lannon Hycanus, forty-seventh Gry-Lion of Opet, King of Punt and the four kingdoms, ruler of the southern seas and keeper of the waterways, lord of the plains of grass and the mountains beyond.”

Eldridge stopped reading, and looked about the circle of our intent faces. We were all silent. This was something far removed from the dry accounts, the list of trade and the Council orders. This scroll was imbued with the very breath, the essence of a people and a land.

“Wow!” Ral whispered. “They had a pretty good press agent.” And I felt irritation scratch across my nerves at this irreverence.

“Go on,” I said, and Eldridge nodded. He crushed out the stub of his cigarette in the ashtray at his elbow and began to read again. Pausing only to unroll and lamp-black each new turn of the scroll, he read on steadily while we listened, completely entranced. The hours fled on nimble feet, as we heard the poems of Huy Ben-Amon sung again after 2,000 years.

Opet had produced her first philosopher and historian. As I listened to the words of this long-dead poet, I felt a curious kinship of the spirit with him. I understood his pride and petty conceits, I admired his bold vision, forgave his wilder flights of fancy and his more obvious exaggerations, and was held captive by the story-web he wove about me.

His story began with Carthage surrounded by the wolves of Rome, besieged and bleeding, as the legions of Scipio Aemilianus pressed forward on her walls to the chant of “Carthage must die.”

He told us how Hasdrubal sent a swift ship flying along the shore of the Mediterranean to where Hamilcar, the last scion of the Barcas, a family long since fallen from power and politics, lay with a war fleet of fifty-seven great ships off Hippo on the north African coast.

How the besieged leader called for succor and of the storm and adverse winds that denied it to him. Scipio broke through into the city, and Hasdrubal died with a reeking sword in his hand hacked into pieces by the Roman legionaries below the great altar in the temple of Ashmun upon the hill.

As Eldridge paused, I spoke for the first time in half an hour.

“That gives us our first date. The third Punic war and the final destruction of Carthage, 146 BC.”

“I think you’ll find that is also about the date point of the Opet calendar,” Eldridge agreed.

“Go on,” said Sally. “Please go on.”

Two biremes escaped the carnage, the sack and rape of Carthage. They fled with the great winds to where Hamilcar lay fretting and storm-bound at Hippo and they told him how Hasdrubal had died and how Scipio had dedicated the city to the infernal gods, had burned it and thrown down the walls, how he had sold the 50,000 survivors into slavery and had sowed the fields with salt and forbidden under pain of death any man to live amongst the ruins.

“So great a hatred, so cruel a deed, could only spring from the heart of a Roman,” cried the poet, and Barca Hamilcar mourned Carthage for twenty days and twenty nights before he sent for his sea captains.

They came to him all nine of them, and Huy the poet named them, Zadal, Hanis, Philo, Habbakuk Lal and the others. Some would fight but most would fly, for how could this pitiful remnant of Carthaginian power stand against the legions of Rome and her terrible fleet of galleys?

There seemed to be no sanctuary for a Carthaginian, Rome ground all the world beneath her armored heels. Then Habbakuk Lal, the old sea lion and master navigator, reminded them of the voyage that Hanno had made 300 years before beyond the gates of Hercules to a land where the seasons were inverted, gold grew like flowers upon the rocks, and elephants lived in great herds upon the plains. They had all of them read the account that Hanno had written of his voyage inscribed on tablets in the great temple of Baal Hammon at Carthage, now destroyed by Rome. They recalled how he spoke of a river and a mighty lake, where a gentle yellow people had welcomed him and traded gold and ivory for beads and cloth, and how he had lingered there to repair his ships and plant a harvest of corn.

“It is a good land,” he had written. “And rich.”

Thus in the first year of the exodus Barca Hamilcar had led a fleet of fifty-nine great ships, each with 150 oarsmen and officers aboard, westward beneath the towering gates of Hercules and then southward into an unknown sea. With him went 9,000 men, women and children. The voyage lasted two years, as they made slow progress down the western coast of Africa. There were a thousand hardships and dangers to meet and overcome. Savage tribes of black men, animals and disease when they landed, and shoals and currents, winds and calms upon the sea.

Two years after setting out they sailed into the mouth of a wide, placid river and journeyed up it for sixteen days, dragging their ships bodily through the shallows, until finally they reached the mighty lake of which Hanno had written. They landed upon the furthest shore under a tall red cliff of stone, and Barca Hamilcar died of the shaking fever which he had carried with him from the pestilential lands of the north. His infant son Lannon Hamilcar was chosen as the new king and the nine admirals were his counselors. They named their new land Opet, after the legendary land of gold, and they began to build their first city at a place where a deep pool of water sprang from the cliffs. The pool and the city were dedicated to the goddess Astarte.

“My God, it’s four o’clock.” Ral Davidson broke the spell which had held us all for most of the night, and I realized how tired I was, emotionally and physically exhausted, but well content. I had found my Pliny, now I could go to London in triumph. I had it all.

I hope you enjoyed that.  I highly recommend the book.


Friday, December 22, 2023

Time for some heavy-duty lightning strikes!


Courtesy of a link over at Vox Day's place, I was disgusted to read this report.

Messiah Queered — that’s the title of a reimagining of Handel’s classic oratorio performed through an LGBTTQ+ lens.

The oratorio, a staple at Christmas time for many people, will be performed by the Rainbow Harmony Project choir, together with soloists and a 16-piece orchestra made up of professional and amateur players at Holy Trinity Anglican Church Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The idea for the performance came up during a conversation between Nathan Poole, a local violin and piano teacher, and Sandra Bender, music director at Holy Trinity Church.

Bender, who is bisexual and the soprano soloist in the performance, thought it would be a great oratorio for LGBTTQ+ people.

“It’s the story of a transient who hung out with marginalized people, who offered love and self-sacrifice and who experienced rejection and betrayal — something LGBTTQ+ people understand in all too real a way,” she said.

There's more at the link.

No, Ms. Bender.  "The Messiah" has nothing whatsoever to do with all those trendy, politically correct, "woke" artifacts you mention.  It celebrates the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God and has been worshipped as such ever since.  By denigrating that reality, by forcing one of the greatest pieces of orchestral and choral worship ever written into your worldly, sexually charged framework, you've merely pissed off untold legions of people who take Christ seriously, and at his word, and know full well that he had, and has, nothing to do with your agenda.

Methinks it's time we started praying for some well-directed lightning strikes on that church this evening.  Some of the Seven Plagues of Egypt might be appropriate, too.




To US Navy veterans, and those who understand aircraft carrier operations.  Found on MeWe last night.  Clickit to biggit.


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Some people are simply beyond human redemption


Two ghastly crimes caught my eye among the news headlines this week.

Murfreesboro man sentenced to life for rape of 5-year-old boy

Dad who drowned 3 kids to spite estranged wife pleads guilty: ‘If I can’t have them, neither can you’

I won't publish details of them here.  If you want to know more, click on either headline to be taken to the article concerned.  Be advised, the details are not safe for work, family or children.

I saw a lot of that kind of attitude when working as a prison chaplain.  An individual with that sort of mindset - "What I want is all that matters;  if you won't let me have it, or won't do as I say, I'll destroy you" - is as unsafe to handle as old, sweating dynamite.  Anything can prompt an explosion, and there's no telling when or where it might happen.  There's no sense of morality on the part of the perpetrator except "I want it, therefore I have the right to take it/do it/make it happen, no matter what the cost to you".

I wrote about a man like that in one of the "Convict To Chaplain" vignettes in my prison ministry memoir.  WARNING:  If you're squeamish or easily triggered, you don't want to read any further.

Yeah, you ain’t seen me before ’cause I just got transferred here, Chaplain. Why am I inside? I killed two old ****s. Didn’t mean to, though. It was their own stupid ****ing fault. Should never have happened.

**** it, man, I needed a car to go see my woman, and they had one. I jumped ’em as they stopped at the corner. Hadn’t even locked their doors, the dumb ****s! If they’d only listened and showed sense they’d have been all right, but that old **** started acting up when I hauled his woman out in a hurry. ****, he musta bin eighty years old, a real feeble old ****er. I punched him. That’s all — I just hit him. He fell down and hit his head on the curb and went real quiet. Out like a light. Then his damn fool bitch started screamin’ and hollerin’ that I’d killed him. I had to shut her up — people were startin’ to look outta their windows. I tried to put my hand over her mouth, but I musta twisted her neck somehow. There was this funny crackin’ noise, and she went limp. I didn’t stop to check, man — I dropped her and jumped into that old car and burned rubber outta there. Damn thing even smelt like old ****s inside.

The cops stopped me before I got halfway to my woman’s place. Those ****ers were mean, man! They ****ed me up real good. Rights? What rights? If the cops want you, they park their cruisers so those dash cameras don’t see ****, and they walk you down the road a bit so the mikes won’t hear the noise, and they go ape**** on your ***, man. They took me back to town and threw my *** in a cell, still bleeding and hurting bad, and those ******s wouldn’t even get me to a doctor for almost a whole day. Mother******s!

****in’ DA charged me with murder and I drew life twice. Murder? **** no! I didn’t mean to kill either of ’em. Those two old ****s were on their last legs anyway. I only did what they made me do with their damnfool hollerin’. Hell, I probably did ’em a favor! No pain, no waiting to die while their minds went crazy — just a quick, easy out, both together, no mess, no fuss. At worst I shoulda got five years for each of ’em. It’s all they had left! ****in’ judge an’ jury didn’t see it that way, of course.

I’m twenty-five years old, and they tell me I’ll live another fifty years or more in here. No way, man. I’m not taking this **** for the rest of my life. I’ll be outta here one way or another. Either I’ll escape, or they’ll kill me when I try. They’ll have to, ’cause I’ll sure as hell kill them if they try to stop me or bring me back here. No other way, man. You watch. You’ll see my name on the news one night. I’ll be dead, or I’ll be out — and either way I’ll be ****in’ free.

Now, what about that phone call, Chaplain? I gotta talk to my woman. Word is she’s goin’ with some other ****. Can’t have that, man, her dis-ree-spectin’ me like that. If she don’t listen to me, I’ll have to get my homeys to take care of the bitch — and her new guy. I mean, you unnerstan’, right? A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Right, Chaplain?

Want another example?

Finally, let’s take Howard. He got drunk one night and began to smash the furniture and fittings in his uncle’s home. His uncle tried to stop him… a fatal mistake. Howard beat him until he collapsed, then for two days and nights drank himself into a stupor, periodically getting up to kick and stomp his uncle as he lay moaning on the floor. Howard eventually passed out. He was found next morning, unconscious at the table, with his uncle dead on the floor beside him. He’d been in enough trouble with the law on previous occasions that this crime earned him a life sentence without parole. He’s still a relatively young man, and still just as violent. He’s been known to get bombed out of his skull on prison hooch (of which more later). When he gets that way, everyone steers clear of him, even the prison ‘hard men’ — all except the reaction squad, who have to subdue him and put him in the Hole to sober up. He’s quite capable of killing anyone who crosses him.

Howard’s eyes scare me. They’re pitch-black and utterly lifeless. When one looks into them, one strives to detect a spark of life, of humanity, of the person inside the body… but it’s not there. I’ve never looked into the bottomless pits of Hell, but I’ve got a good idea what they must be like after working with Howard. He’s one of the few convicts who genuinely frightens me. I take care not to show it, but I also try to have support available if I’ve got to see him about something. He could snap at any moment (and has in the past). I want to make sure that if he does so while I’m around, I have the best possible chance of coming out of it relatively unscathed.

There's no point in my saying, "Don't get involved with people like that".  All too many victims do, because such people are past masters at hiding their warped, twisted, self-centered evil until it's too late to avoid crashing headlong into it.  Please join me in praying for the mother who's lost all three of her children, and the five-year-old boy who's had the innocence of childhood ripped away from him.  They may never recover from such trauma.  A lot of people don't.

As for the guilty . . . we're supposed to leave open the possibility of Divine intervention, of repentance and genuine conversion.  However, in my experience, once one is so steeped in evil, it's almost impossible for the person concerned to turn around.  It's not altogether impossible - I've seen a few conversions that I can only regard as miraculous - but it's very, very difficult and, sadly, very, very unlikely.

You'd be horrified to know how many people like that are out on the streets around you every day.  I'd guesstimate that at least one out of every hundred people is a genuine danger to those around them, and perhaps one in a thousand is so psychopathic as to resemble the individuals mentioned in the headlines above.  In a United States with about 330 million inhabitants, that works out to three million, three hundred thousand seriously dangerous criminals, of whom three hundred and thirty thousand are psychopathic and/or potentially violent to an extreme degree.  I'd say the odds of any one of us running into one of them at some time are so high as to be almost guaranteed, over the course of a lifetime.  The fortunate among us won't even realize their presence, and will go away undisturbed.  The unfortunate . . . not so much.  Go click on those headlines and read for yourself.

I've said for years that the most die-hard opponents of the right to keep and bear arms should work behind the walls of a high-security penitentiary for just a day or two.  They'd come out with a completely different outlook, and head straight for the nearest gun shop to equip themselves for defense, because their eyes would have been opened the hard way.


I guess that makes sense, even if it's infuriating


I read yesterday one of the simplest - and therefore probably true (see Occam's Razor) - explanations of why all sorts of payment apps are suggesting tips for the shop staff.

American tipping culture has spiraled out of control, with more consumers opposed to higher service charges and suggested tipping amounts, according to a new Pew Research study published last week ... The problem isn’t tipping per se—it’s the pressure of leaving a gratuity when the service doesn’t warrant it. This so-called “tipflation” is irritating and confusing.

. . .

There’s a good reason businesses continue to nudge their customers with excessive tipping requests: wage inflation.

The service industry is struggling with labor shortages as more workers “reshuffle” into higher-paying jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association revealed that 62% of operators don’t have enough employees.

Coffee shops, restaurants, and other service establishments have ramped up wages to attract and retain workers. But they’re weary of raising menu prices to accommodate those higher wages.

“The wage workers are receiving isn't sufficient,” Boston University professor Sean Jung told NPR. “So now everybody is using this very weird way to increase wages while maintaining the same menu price.”

There's more at the link.

It's relatively easy for consumers to simply refuse to tip, or tip negligible amounts - particularly if they're financially stressed and can't afford the expected 15% or 20%.  (I don't know why some payment apps are suddenly suggesting even higher percentages.  Do they think I'm Croesus or something?)  Sadly, the people caught in the middle of this fuss are the shop staff.  Their employers pay them as little as possible, because they're also financially stressed;  but their customers refuse to tip, because they've never tipped for that kind of service in the past, and see no reason to do so now.  If the employees ask customers to tip, the refusal is often less than polite.

I've seen this in many settings.  I've never bothered to tip someone who merely gives me advice on where to find something in a store, or rings up my purchases, or makes a pizza behind the counter for me to collect.  They're not rendering me any personal service like a waiter or waitress.  My wife and I try to tip well, because we've both been short of the ready more than once, and we know what it's like to not be able to afford the necessities of life;  but we're both getting tired of the increasing tip entitlement attitudes (for want of a better description) that we're seeing around us.  The other day I heard a friend complain that she'd been asked to tip at an oil quick-change shop - something I've never heard of before.  Why?  I can't for the life of me see any personal service involved in that transaction.

How about you, dear readers?  Let's hear your tales of tipping woe and inflated expectations.  I'm sure there are plenty of stories out there.


Nothing illustrates the financial plight of consumers more clearly than this news


I was not just worried, but horrified to read this press release.

Affirm, the payment network that empowers consumers and helps merchants drive growth, today announced it has expanded its services with Walmart to bring Affirm’s transparent and flexible pay-over-time options to self-checkout kiosks at over 4,500 Walmart stores in the United States. Now, eligible shoppers can easily pay over time for their favorite electronics, apparel, toys, and more in simple monthly payments when checking themselves out in-store.

“Recent Affirm research revealed that more than half of Americans (54%) are looking for retailers to offer a buy now, pay later option at checkout. Moreover, we’ve found that 76% of consumers would either delay or not make a purchase without Affirm,” said Pat Suh, Affirm’s SVP of Revenue. “Expanding our partnership with Walmart and bringing Affirm’s transparent monthly pay-over-time options to their self-checkout kiosks in the U.S. will help even more consumers increase their purchasing power during the holiday shopping season and beyond.”

There's more at the link.

The press release speaks of "electronics, apparel, toys and more".  It's the "and more" that worries the heck out of me.  Many US consumers are tapped out right now, struggling to make ends meet every month, living paycheck to paycheck - and sometimes relying on loan sharks to cover periods when they have nothing else.  This plan from Affirm seems to me to be nothing more or less than an attempt to cash in on the payday loan business by offering such credit - and, probably, the high interest rates associated with it - at the point of sale.

The trouble is, it will almost certainly get out of control for most lower-income consumers.  Say a family buys food for the month, but doesn't have enough money to pay for it.  It's so simple for the purchaser to simply click on the "Buy now, pay later" icon and defer payments over the next four months or so.  So far, so good . . . but what about next month?  And the month after that?  Their actual disposable cash income is now less than before, because they have to make provision to pay off the Affirm loan.  What happens when they have five, or six, or seven such loans?  It'll be the easiest thing in the world to run up debt, and a nightmare to pay it off.

I think this idea may have catastrophic implications for lower-income Americans.  It seems the authorities agree - and one wonders whether they'll take action to curtail it.

A top U.S. banking regulator on Wednesday warned banks to manage the risks to consumers posed by increasingly popular "buy now, pay later" financing for retail spending, saying the service creates pitfalls for retail shoppers.

As the year-end holidays approach, the statement from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an independent arm of the U.S. Treasury, was the latest sign that federal regulators are scrutinizing the increasingly popular form of consumer credit.

. . .

Consumers with fewer dollars to spend are increasingly turning to "buy now, pay later" loans, with a record number borrowing nearly $1 billion this way during the annual Cyber Monday shopping spree alone, analysts say.

Again, more at the link.

To make matters even worse, interest rates on consumer credit cards are also spiraling out of control, largely due to the ever-increasing number of cardholders who default on their payments.  The credit card companies have to make provision to cover such losses.  The interest charged to non-defaulting customers provides that.

“Consumers are just waking up to the fact that they’re financing their spending by running up their credit cards, and that the interest on those credit cards is over the top, out of control, off the hook right now,” the chief economist of High Frequency Economics told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

“That’s going to lead to, I think, a retrenchment in consumer spending, as we get into the new year ... the risk is, and I agree it’s a nontrivial risk, that consumers get into trouble,” Weinberg said, noting figures from the New York Federal Reserve showing a rise in delinquencies on credit cards.

“Real incomes have just started coming back again, and not by nearly enough to cover some of the increases in the debt burdens that we’re seeing. So credit to the household sector, consumer credit cards, that’s where the downside risk is.”

More at the link.

I'm sure most of my readers understand this, but if you have friends and family who don't, please point out to them - loudly, if necessary, and in words of one syllable - that banks and credit providers ARE NOT THEIR FRIENDS.  They're in existence to make money, and they make it off us.  If they offer us what seems like a wonderfully easy way to afford what we need, it's not for our benefit at all, but for theirs.  We're the sheep they want to shear.  We're the cash cows they want to milk.  So, when you see a company like Affirm claiming that their new credit arrangement will "help even more consumers increase their purchasing power", you may rest assured that they don't mean a word of it.  Rather, they're saying - in so many words - that it'll help them rake in even more money from the hard-pressed consumer.  They wouldn't be doing it if they couldn't achieve that.

I think this is an extremely dangerous economic development.  It illustrates very clearly the deepening gulf between the rich and the "average" American.  As I pointed out just last week:

We're dangerously, frighteningly close to an Argentina-style economic collapse.

When consumers have to use credit to fund their normal, everyday household needs - the food on their plates, the soap in their bathtubs, the clothes on their kids' backs - we're in very deep trouble indeed.

You can take that to the bank.