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Saturday, January 31, 2009

GOP's Man is Steele

In the 2nd most important political moment of the month, the Republican National Committee yesterday elected former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele as our party Chairman.

The 50-year old Steele, elected on the 6th ballot after a spirited 3-man battle, becomes the first-ever black American to hold the top position within the Republican Party national governing body.

Steele, who has been charged within the party by some of his rivals as being a closet social liberal immediately set the tone by stating unequivocally that "Conservative principles have made us the strong and proud party we are."

Only the most ideologically far-right wing members of the party would try to make a case for him being anything other than conservative, as Steele has always espoused solid conservative principles even as he has occasionally taken more moderate positions on particular issues.

His election shows that the majority of the party wishes to retain those conservative values while also being unafraid to show moderation when situations warrant, not for political expediency, but out of common sense.

"It's time for something completely different and we're going to bring it to them," Steele said in referring to the Republican Party and its relationship to all Americans. "We're going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community." 

Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Easy to Root for Kurt Warner

He is 37 years old now, which is getting pretty long in the tooth for an NFL starting quarterback.

He is also a decade removed from his first trip to the Super Bowl, when he led Dick Vermiel's Saint Louis Rams to victory and was named the MVP of the Super Bowl. He also won the first of two NFL MVP awards that season.

The Midwest boy, born and raised in the Iowa corn fields, grew into one of the most accurate passers in the history of the National Football League. But perhaps more importantly, Kurt Warner grew into a leader of men, and a strong, positive example for mankind.

That's a mouthful to say about a football player, but the Arizona Cardinals quarterback is far from being your normal high-profile athlete. First, that football career.

Kurt Warner stayed home and played college ball at Northern Iowa. He was not able to win the starting job there until his senior year when he was named the Gateway Conference Player of the Year.

Still, the NFL did not come calling. Warner went undrafted in 1994, and so he went to work at a grocery store.

In 1995 the local Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League offered him a contract, and over the next three seasons he played well enough that he was considered the best quarterback in the AFL.

Officials with the Saint Louis Rams noticed, gave him a tryout, and signed him to a contract for the 1998 season. Warner spent that 1998 season riding the bench and went into 1999 expecting to again be a backup.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lost Opportunity to Teach Charity

Two small private schools that were little-known outside of the Dallas, Texas area were thrust into the spotlight last week. The Covenant School girls basketball team put a whuppin' on the girls from Dallas Academy, a whuppin' to the tune of 100-0.

You read that right, Covenant scored 100 points in a high school girls game. That might be worth talking about under some circumstances. Most girls basketball contests end with the winner scoring in the 40's or 50's. Scoring 100 points shows that you either have an outstanding club, or the other team was really bad (at least in comparison), or some other freakish thing occurred such as a multiple overtime game.

In this game, we can blame some of the above. Covenant is a Texas state-championship contender, Dallas Academy is not very good, and there was indeed something freakish afoot here. But that freakish event was not some multiple overtime thriller in which one team scored those 100 points and the other scored in the 90's.

No, in this one, Dallas Academy scored zero points. None, nadda, zilch. They came up empty. They put up a donut. Nothing on the board, no balls through the hoop.

Think about how hard this 100-0 thing is to have happen. There are 48 playing minutes in a regulation girls high school basketball game. Each basket is worth two points. To score 100 points, Covenant was scoring at better than a basket per minute throughout the game. Meanwhile, Dallas Academy did absolutely nothing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Octuplets? That's How Many?

There is nothing like a new life being welcomed into a family to bring up the spirits of everyone involved.

My niece Cheri Clegg, my wife Deb's sister's daughter, was admitted to a hospital over in New Jersey today in order to have her 3rd child.

Cheri was overdue and has been in our thoughts and prayers, and we are very much looking forward to meeting the new entry into the family.

It was just six months ago that my eldest daughter, Christine, brought my grandson Reznor Lloyd into the world.

It is blessed events like these that grow and sustain a family, and we look forward to even more grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in the future.

Just yesterday, at the Bellflower Medical Center in California, a woman gave birth and her family also grew. Why the interest in a California family welcoming a new birth? Well, that birth involved the family welcoming not one child, but multiples. No, not twins, not even triplets.

Nope, not quadruplets, quintuplets, or sextuplets. That would be six, by the way. Do you even know what they call a 7-baby birth? I didn't, I had to look it up. That would be septuplets.

But no, Natalie Suleman, the California woman, had even more. She gave birth to what might end up as an American first should they all survive. They are only the second set of octuplets to be born alive in this country's history.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Islamism Series: Fort Dix and Beyond

Two headlines blared across the tops of the front pages of Philadelphia's two major newspapers within the past four days.

The Bulletin was first when last Thursday their front page headline read "Islamic Terrorists Forming Cells in US", and the Inquirer followed suit on Sunday when in reference to the Fort Dix case the headline read "They were going to do it".

Here are the cold, hard facts for everyone who has not yet caught on to what this 'Islamism Series' is all about: organized Islamic forces with the full backing of some Arab nations and with the tacit support of others are at war with the West. They see the United States, Great Britain, and Israel as their main enemies in this war.

The war did not end with the election of Barack Obama, just as it did not begin with the election of George W. Bush. It will not end with the closing of Guantanamo Bay. It will not end with the withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East. It will not end with the death or capture of Osama bin Laden.

The leadership and forces of Islam have made it abundantly clear how this will end: with the end of our civilization, or theirs. Their dream is to reestablish what they call the Islamic Caliphate under Sharia Law, that Islamic rule by Muslim religious, legal, and cultural laws.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Temple of You

We've all done it from time to time, taken a good, hard, long look in the mirror. That isn't meant to be rhetorical. I mean actually looked at our visage as it is reflected back to us, our physical appearance.

The reactions to that visage spread out across a wide spectrum from "yeah, baby, I got it goin' on" to a panicked scream. People who don't like what they see have sometimes taken extreme measures to change their bodies, but this does not always change the reflection.

Some of these include turning to an eating disorder such as anorexia and bulimia, even plastic surgeries that are not for some medical necessity. Some decide they just want to forget or push away the image. They turn to the bottle or to drugs. Some need constant reinforcement of their worth, and in doing so turn to numerous sexual partners in an effort to constantly stroke their egos.

This isn't going to turn into one of those 'hell fire and brimstone' speeches against the evils of the flesh. God knows that I have fallen victim many a time in my own life. Taking control of some of these reactions to the reflection has taken me most of the 47 years that I have looked in the mirror.

But maybe it would have all clicked in a bit sooner, and maybe I would have control of my weight and its related concerns, if I had the experience that I had a few days ago at an earlier point.

In the past few days I have been re-exposed to an old, famous quotation, and had it more clearly expressed and explained, and I hope that this renewal finally changes my approach to this problem.

We have all likely heard the old saying "Your body is your temple", but how many of us have really ever thought much about the meaning behind that saying? The saying comes directly from the Bible.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All That Junk

You know, we can't always write and talk about the big things like religion, politics and culture. Sometimes you just have to get something that is relatively small and insignificant out on to the table and off your chest.

I was going through my mail today. Perhaps you see where this is going. Is it not incredible the amount of junk mail we receive at our homes? Junk mail alone probably keeps tens of thousands of U.S. Postal employees in their jobs.

Unless there is something of obvious interest or importance, during the week I will let most of our mail pile up and then go through it on Saturday mornings.

This morning's haul included items from the American Cancer Society, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Verizon, Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, and Comcast. These were just the mailings that you could tell from the outer envelope were from particular businesses or organizations.

There were a number more that were important looking, but that had no identification on the outside letting me know where they were coming from. Of course by experience in opening them in the past, the odds were that most of these would be credit card or bank loan offers.

Let's open them and take a look. Capital One loan offer, American Express gold card offer, BJ's member value program, Mealey's mattress 'overstock blitz' sale, and finally a notice that my property might be involved in some class action law suit involving PGW and mercury poisoning. Nice. And this is all before today's mail delivery has even arrived.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marching For Life

January 22nd, 1973 was one of the worst dates in the history of the United States of America. On that date 36 years ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered its opinion in the case of 'Roe vs. Wade'.

According to the SCOTUS decision, most laws restricting abortion in America violated a constitutional right to privacy under the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling basically overturned all state and federal laws restricting abortions. It centrally held that a mother could abort her pregnancy for any reason up until the point at which the baby, referred to in the ruling by its scientific developmental stage name 'fetus', became 'viable'. It defined viability as the baby having the potential to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid, and placed this term at between 24-28 weeks.

The court also held that abortion after viability must also be available in order to protect a woman's health, and this 'health' was defined broadly in a companion case called 'Doe vs. Bolton'.

The court based its ruling on its desire to protect personal freedoms and privacy. A woman should be able to make medical decisions involving her health along with her doctor, and the government should in no way be interfering in this process.

Of course never anywhere in their ruling did the court recognize the very apparent fact that there is not just one life, not just one person's health, being affected by a decision to abort. There is a baby alive inside of the mother.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Islamism Series: al Qaeda's Black Death

When most people think of attacks or attempted attacks by Muslim radicals against the United States, Israel, England, and others who they perceive as their enemies we think of bombs and guns.

The radical Muslim group Hamas continues to bombard Israel with rockets from Gaza, prolonging a conflict that the Israelis tried to halt days ago.

But it is not just these 'conventional' weapons that we need to be concerned with when addressing the problems of Radical Islam.

The British tabloid 'The Sun' recently published a report that al Qaeda members in Algeria had been killed during experiments with a strain of the bubonic plague.

A report in the Washington Times stated that a U.S. intelligence official dismissed that claim, but did say that the terror group had to close a base of operations in the African nation after an experiment with 'unconventional weapons went awry' killing at least 40 al Qaeda operatives. The experiment was believed to likely be either biological or chemical in nature.

Intelligence officials estimate that Muslim terror groups have been pursuing biological and chemical weapons for at least a decade.

The Times article goes on to quote a 2005 U.S. commission report that the al Qaeda bio/chem weapons program "was extensive, well organized, and operated two years before" the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trying to Find a Silver Lining

I have always been a pretty positive person. It's hard to get me down for long, and I've learned in the course of a life that is now well into its fifth decade that most of the things that we worry over are somewhat insignificant.

For instance, my hometown Philadelphia Eagles lost a heart-breaking NFC Championship game yesterday to the Arizona Cardinals. The defeat means that the team falls just short of reaching football's ultimate goal - the Super Bowl.

It was very disappointing and somewhat frustrating as the final seconds ticked away and we came to realize that our team was not going to make it. What is even more ludicrous to me is what will happen over the next week or so, as all of the 'Monday Morning Quarterbacks' come out of the woodwork to criticize every poor play and missed opportunity. I will most definitely be avoiding all sports talk radio stations for the next couple of weeks.

As for me, I try to find the silver lining. With the Eagles it will be in the way they played for the last six weeks of their season, when they had to win nearly every week to keep their season alive. They won most of those games, and it was a fun time to be a fan.

To me, Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid showed that they are still among the best quarterbacks and head coaches in the league, and some strong young players leave me believing that next season will be a strong one for the team. So football is over for 2009 here in Philadelphia. Only the Arizona-Pittsburgh meeting in the Super Bowl remains for the NFL.

Tomorrow will be an even bigger challenge for me in trying to find a silver lining. Today marks the final day of the Presidential administration of George W. Bush.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Playing With House Money

I just heard a reporter on the ESPN flagship program 'SportsCenter' mention that the Baltimore Ravens players feel that they are playing today's AFC Championship game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers with "house money."

It struck me because I had just prior to that been reading in the newspaper that some of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals were both using that same phrase this past week, that their respective teams would be playing the NFC Championship game with that same "house money."

For those who don't understand, what the term 'playing with house money' refers to is the attitude that you have nothing to lose. It is an old gambling phrase that alludes to being so far ahead already in your expected winnings that you are not playing with your own money, you are playing with that 'house money' (the casino or sponsoring organization of the gambling being referred to as the 'house'.)

So what the NFL teams here are saying is that they were not expected to get this far, or that they are such underdogs in todays games, that they have nothing to lose.

I would argue that this is nothing more than a way to handle the pressure that they actually are feeling. I would argue that this is misleading in the sports context, and the same goes with your own life.

Just as in today's respective conference title tilts, there is no such thing as a day in your life with nothing on the line.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TV Watch: Big Love

The 3rd season of the outstanding HBO drama 'Big Love' from Executive Producer Tom Hanks kicks off tomorrow (Sunday) night at 9pm. For those who have access to a service, such as Comcast's OnDemand product, that allows you to catch up on the first two seasons, now is the time to catch up on the interesting and well-acted story line.

The basic premise of "Big Love" is a polygamist Utah family trying to emerge from the shadowy cult-like past and into mainstream society. As a Catholic, there is no way that I will ever advocate the family lifestyle of the featured Henderson clan. As a Christian, however, there is much to take from their struggles.

There is a basic recognition, love, and respect for God here, albeit with a number of misguided principles and interpretations inherent in some of Mormon teaching and in the polygamist community in particular. "Big Love" also draws strength from its extremely talented cast who you will mostly know from their motion picture work.

The show is set in the suburban town of Sandy, Utah. Family head Bill Henderson, played by veteran actor Bill Paxton, was born and raised in a polygamist cult community, but escaped as a teenager and eventually blended into normal society. But after establishing himself with a normal family, fate brought drastic change to the Henderson clan.

In the show, he has set up three single homes in a row. From the outside they appear to be three different families. But a shared rear yard shows the true story. In each home lives one of Bill's three wives, and with each wife lives the children that they have conceived with him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ann Coulter is Guilty as Charged

For over a decade now, conservative writer Ann Coulter has been directing her sharp wit and keen mind as well as her biting sense of humor at everything that liberals hold dear.

Coulter has emerged as the single most articulate and beloved voice of the far right in American politics, and the honesty and clarity of her works has gained her fans across the vast conservative Republican populace.

Her latest book titled "Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America" generally covers just what it says in that title.

"Guilty" speaks of the 'victim mentality' prevalent in all liberal quarters, and that has been particularly embraced by the Democratic Party over the past few decades.

The libs and the Dems take segments of society who feel they have been victimized by the American culture and government, embrace them, and tell them that they, the Democrats, will take care of all of their problems. They care about the 'victims', and will make sure that these 'lowly' have a 'voice' if elected.

What the liberal Dems never mention, of course, is that the vast majority of these 'victims' have created or exacerbated their own situations. The 'culture' or 'government' or 'the man' or 'the system' had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Philly Residency Part of Larger Problem

In May of 2006, an ordinance was introduced in the city council of Philadelphia addressing modifications to the city's residency requirement.

For decades the policy in Philadelphia was that in order to be employed by the city you needed to live in the city for a year prior to employment.

What council proposed was that city employment opportunities be opened to anyone living outside, but that any such person who accepted a position had to move into town within six months.

Many of the comments in the summary of the ordinance either directly state or imply some of the reasons that such a measure was believed to be needed. Among them that Philly had lost half a million residents since 1950, and that the current residency requirement had 'helped foster stable neighborhoods and economic opportunities for its residents...'

The summary also stated that a new approach would 'encourage people to move into the city...'

This is such pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous thinking that it almost defies belief and makes one wonder if the authors and sponsors of the bill actually believe it. There is absolutely no correlation between the city residency requirement and the loss of a half million citizens since 1950.

The current residency requirement has not fostered 'stable neighborhoods' in any way. All you need to have done is lived in the city for the past few decades to know that there are very few 'stable neighborhoods'.

End of the Holidays 2008

A quick peak inside Deb and Matt's living room and dining room all decorated for Christmas as the 2008 holiday season winds down on Larkspur Street. Deb and Petey relax as New Year's Day 2009 draws to a close.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin

In the city of Philadelphia, the Bulletin is back, and just in time to save local newspaper readers from the quagmire of liberal junk for which we had no alternative for years. Actually, the Bulletin has been back since 2004. I had heard something about it, but didn't know the story and didn't pay much attention to it. I just figured that someone else was coming out with yet another newspaper. Same old same old. However this all began to change when I attended a Christmas party a few weeks ago. At the party, my wife and I were introduced to some of the party-goers as "the Republicans", almost as if to say "the vampires." There was another such couple at the party, and we were naturally introduced, paired up, and left at the dining room table together. It was the wife in this couple who told us that we simply had to try The Bulletin. She stated that it was nothing like the liberal hogwash pushed everyday in repetitive fashion by the Daily News and Inquirer. She said that we would enjoy the fresh, fair, slightly conservative slant in which the news was portrayed, and especially the editorial section. When the woman told us that The Bulletin would deliver to you free for thirty days as a trial offer, I was sold. I made the call during the following week and the deal was that they would indeed deliver to you free for a month. You would be billed during that time in order to continue your subscription. If you didn't want to continue, you just ignored the bill. It was a deal too good to pass up. The only problem is that The Bulletin has not yet grown in circulation to the point where it has a carrier in every section of our area. The woman at the party said that her Bulletin comes in the morning via the same carrier who delivers her Inquirer. There was no such arrangement in my area of Somerton, and so the paper would be delivered daily with my regular mail. This seemed a bit odd, but it has worked out. The paper does indeed arrive every day with my mail. More importantly, the content is everything that I was told it would be. It is informative, well written, and largely conservative. Back in 2004, investment banker Thomas G. Rice had the great idea that I had thought of for years. A conservative slanted newspaper to counter the overt liberal bias of the current local newspapers. Rice bought the naming rights of the old Evening & Sunday Bulletin from the McLean family and began publishing on November 22nd of that year. With receipt of the new version of The Bulletin daily at my home, much has come full circle. Back in the early-late 1970's, I was a newspaper delivery boy for the old Bulletin, as well as eventually becoming an assistant branch manager. The old Bulletin was the first company from which I ever received an official paycheck. Now I am back with The Bulletin as a regular subscriber and reader, and I whole-heartedly endorse the paper to anyone out there. The Bulletin presents the news clearly and concisely, fully covering all of the major stories of the day, and does so with that conservative slant that many of us have hungered for years to read. It will take you a week or so to get used to the paper's format. It does not cover all of the 'fluff' of the other papers, but also does not have as much advertising to wade through. I believe that you will find The Bulletin a great addition to your daily newspaper reading, and eventually may find that it is the only paper you want and need. There is no specific weekend edition, publishing from Monday to Friday, so if you like just order the weekend Inquirer and the Bulletin as your daily. You absolutely will not regret it. The news will be much easier to digest. Blood will stop shooting from your eyes when you read these editorials. You will remember what a great newspaper was like. Back in its former heyday when for 76 years it was the largest circulated evening newspaper in the United States, the old saying for the paper was "Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin". The new version of the paper may not have grown to that level yet, but it has the content and the potential. Give it a try, and if you are like me you will find a reason to believe that perhaps the newspaper business is not dying. The Bulletin should be read by nearly everybody, and certainly by anyone who leans to the right-of-center culturally and politically. Just call 215-735-9150 to start your free trial subscription.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It Is What It Is

Father Joseph Garvin was wrong. Man, I hope that doesn't get me in any trouble.

In his homily at the 10:30am Mass yesterday our Pastor at St. Christopher's Church in Somerton said that he hated the phrase "It is what it is." When the words came out of his mouth they hit close to home because I use that phrase all the time.

But as he went on to explain his opposition to the sudden popular usage of this phrase, I came to realize that there has obviously been a misunderstanding in either his interpretation or the use by some of the phrase.

Father Joe was making the point that the phrase lent itself to our having to accept certain situations, when in fact those situations were indeed subject to change, if we just wanted it bad enough and worked towards such change.

For instance, the statement "I am an alcoholic, and that isn't going to change. It is what it is." Now we all know that the alcoholic can indeed make a change in his or her life. Buying that bottle is a choice. Drinking the bottle is another choice.

Change our choices, we change our lives. Under these types of conditions "It is what it is" just doesn't hold water, and that is what Father Joe was pointing out. No one says it will be easy, but we can accomplish change if we really want it bad enough and are willing to dedicate ourselves to it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baptism of the Lord

Today we bring the official Church season of Christmas to a close by celebrating another important moment in the life of Jesus Christ, his baptism.

As preparation for His coming, Jesus' cousin who is known to us as John the Baptist has emerged from the wilderness and is preaching that change is coming. John is telling people that they must turn from their evil ways, repent, and be baptized as new children of God.

John was so charismatic that many were asking if indeed he were the awaited Messiah. These questions became so regular and consistent that John eventually felt he had to answer, and so he did most forcefully:
"I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy of loosening the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 
Jesus knew that the time had come for his public ministry to begin, and felt that the most important symbolic measure that he could take in beginning was to be baptized publicly by the most famous baptizer in John.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Elysia at Disney on Ice

Elysia goes to 'Disney on Ice' with Mom-Mom and Pop at the Wachovia Center over the Christmas break in late December 2008. Here we are getting settled in for the big show...

Reznor Christmas 2008

Pop and Mom-Mom Debbie visit with 'The Rez' at his place on Christmas Day 2008

Aunt Debbie Meets Ayden

Deb meets and holds nephew Ayden James Clegg for the first time. Ayden is the grandson of Deb's sister Arlene. Also featured around the table are Arlene, her daughter Cheri Harvey, and Arlene's mother-in-law Cass Clegg who is Ayden's great-grandmom.

New Life in Death for a Moral Compass

"He has now been gathered by the Lord, in whom he trusted."

Those are the words of Fr. George Butler, who administered the last rites of the Church on Thursday to one Richard John Neuhaus.

At age 72, the former Lutheran clergyman turned Catholic priest died after a short battle against the cancer with which he had been diagnosed in late 2008.

If you moved on after having caught a blurb of his passing on the TV news, or having seen a headline in a newspaper the past couple days, wondering why the big deal about a priest's death from cancer, you moved on too quickly.

This was not simply the death of your Average Joe after one of life's most common end games. This was, as Philadelphia's great newspaper The Bulletin called it, the loss of a "moral compass."

Fr. Neuhaus was one of the leading voices in the Church and in the country in defense of the millions of innocent children butchered each year in abortion procedures.

He was said to be an articulate defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and perhaps the leading conservative Catholic voice in the country.

Fr. Neuhaus also had a vision, the dream of many of today's Catholics, to see the Lord's Church whole again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles Need to Replace...

...Brian Westbrook.

What! What are you nuts, Veasey?

Well we already know the answer to that question. After all, you're the guy who picked George W. Bush as your website 'American of the Year' for 2008. You're the guy who has consistently supported Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.

You think Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter are hot. You whole-heartedly believe in this Jesus fellow, and that he died on a cross specifically for your individual sins that would not even be committed for another two millenia.

But Brian Westbrook needs to be replaced? Well, now you are just simply over the top. If the old Byberry Hospital were still around, we might have you committed. Well gang, this is the response that I would expect, but let's talk about the facts that lead me to make this statement.

First let's dispense with the obvious. For right now Brian Westbrook is one of the most important players on the Eagles roster. Some would make a solid argument that he is the single most important player to the team. I concur with their assessment, for this particular playoff run. He does not need to be cut, does not need to be replaced right now.

But here is something to seriously consider, something the the Philadelphia Eagles management had better be seriously considering.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Won the Powerball Grand Prize Jackpot !

...now what do I do next? We've all had the dream, haven't we? We hit the Powerball lottery jackpot, or whatever major lottery might be held in your area. Last night's Powerball drawing in our area was worth $105 million dollars. No one won the big jackpot by matching all five numbers and the Powerball, and so now the jackpot will rise once again for Saturday night's drawing. It will likely be in the $120 million neighborhood. That's quite a nice neighborhood. So it always results in our setting aside a few bucks for a few tickets and thus a few chances at the dream.

I am quite sure that anyone reading this has had the dream: what would I do if I hit a huge lottery drawing? Well, first let's address the practical. MSN Money did a piece on this very situation recently, so let's cover their advice. After jumping up and down and screaming and crying and hugging everyone in sight, remember this quickly: do not run outside and bang on your neighbors doors or yell in the street about your new fortune. In fact, do not pick up the phone and call all of your relatives either, even the close ones. The fact is that your life is about to change in a huge way, and you are going to need some time to digest it all and seek some good advice before releasing this good news to the world.

Your first job is now to keep that ticket safe. You must find a place that it simply cannot be destroyed, damaged, or lost. The safe deposit box at your bank is a great spot, but make sure that someone you love and trust has access in case something happens to you before you can cash it. Remember the song 'Ironic' by Alannis Morissette? "..he won the lottery, then died the next day..isn't it ironic?" No, Alannis, that's not ironic. It's a freakin' tragedy of the first magnitude. But back to the situation at hand.

You secured your ticket in some way that has you comfortable. The second situation that you need to address is your job, assuming you have one. If so, you need to get some time off without letting them in on your little jackpot just yet. Vacation time, call in sick for a few days, whatever. You will likely quit at some point, but right now is not that time. Get that time off, clear the decks of your personal and professional schedule, you are going to need that time in the coming days and weeks.

Now that you have the ticket safe and some time off, get to work on securing your three new best buddies: an accountant, a lawyer, and a broker that you can trust - preferably three different people/firms. The best way to go about this, assuming you don't already work with any of these for your personal matters, is to seek references.

Many of us know people in the financial and legal industries. Call them and tell them that you need some advice for a little money that you are coming in to, and ask them for a reference. Your bottom line is that you want to end up dealing with major public firms and companies with individuals that you feel secure in trusting. Going around and talking to people at these firms, basically your interviewing of them and asking how they would help if you did business with them, is why you got that time off from work. That is your job over the next week or so, setting those meetings and making those decisions.

Now, let's assume that you are taking the 'lump sum' option for your winnings rather than the 'annual payment' option. You usually have to make this choice when buying your ticket. You should know that you will not be receiving the amount advertised by the lottery commission. First of all, if you take the 'lump sum' as most do, that cash payout is almost half of the overall jackpot. Then you have your favorite uncle, 'Uncle Sam', coming in for his slice in taxes.

So for instance if you were to win a $120 million dollar lottery, your cash payout would probably be about $70 million. Then your good uncle would take about $30 million more before you see a penny. In the end, your $120 million dollar jackpot ticket will be worth about $35-40 million to you in reality. Certainly not chump change. Your financial advisers are going to take a slice for their advice. One of the things that will happen is that you will have a special account setup by your financial adviser.

Of course as all of this is put in motion, you will be making a trip to the lottery commission headquarters to cash-in your ticket. Lotteries demand that you turn in those tickets in person if the win is for over $50,000 bucks. So you need to travel to Harrisburg, or whatever location is the HQ for your commission. You can do this by limo, airplane, or that new car you just bought, because you can afford it. You might as well make it a celebratory trip, just stay straight and sober.

The lottery commission will closely check over your ticket, hopefully verify your win, and then try to cajole you into taking one of those 'winners' pictures. You know, the one where you are holding the giant replica check that says your name and $120,000,000 on it? If you can avoid it, don't do it. Why put your mug out there for every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Al Capone to see? Besides, you and I both know that you actually only won about $40 mill. The lottery commission legally has to release your winner information, but you don't have to do it via press conference.

So now you actually have the money. The lottery has verified your ticket, and wired the winnings to your special account. Now is the time to quit those jobs in the nicest way possible. The thing that you want to be sure of with your financial people is that they understand that they work for you. They can and should give good advice, but in the end they should understand that when you want to do something reasonable with it, their answer should never be that you can't do it, only figuring out how it can be done best.

Assuming there are others in your immediate life, especially a spouse, then you should have already been well into the process of talking through this situation. The single most important thing that you can agree upon is this: money isn't everything, and it most certainly is not going to change your relationship. If you would have stayed married poor, or struggling, or middle class, then you should stay married rich. Marriage is not something to be thrown away over money.

The fact is that you should already realize that you answer to a higher authority in God, and He is not going anywhere. You cannot buy Him off. Despite the popular saying, no one has more money than God. Whether you are as rich as Bill Gates, or the poorest peasant in Southeast Asia, you are going to die some day, and if you are rich it is a fact that you can't take it with you.

Remember what Christ said: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven." This wasn't meant to say that no wealthy people reach Him in eternity, but was a warning not to put all of your faith in money. Your decisions now are more important than they were before. Love your spouse and children, and make sure that they are number one in being taken care of emotionally as well as financially from here on out.

It is fully appropriate to reach around now to your close family members and help them out. Paying off mortgages and debt of your own and those you love is a great way to say "thanks for all your were when I was not wealthy." But the fact is also going to be that you will have to establish limits, and these will have to be things that you agree on with your family.

Finally a last practical measure. Change your phone number. You may wish to start getting this done via cellphone on your ride to the lottery commission. Your new number should be unlisted, and only given out to your closest family and friends. Anything public of yours is about to be swamped with requests: phone numbers, email addresses, etc. This includes your mailbox at home. There is no possible way to cover every situation, but these are the basics.

The ultimate bottom line also is to make sure that you enjoy your $40 million. Get a nicer, reasonable home, maybe in a beachfront or mountain community. Get new cars for the family. Take a couple of magnificent, relaxing, enjoyable vacations. Buy season tickets to your favorite team. And also, find a way to include charity into your plans. Take care of your close family as best you can. Make charitable donations to groups and individuals that mean something to you.

If planned right, you should never have to work again, outside of managing your wealth and your life. God knows that I don't need it, that I have been blessed enough in life already. But it would be nice...it would be nice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cast Off Whatever Drags You Down

I have seen it lamented in numerous publications and on broadcast television that there is a general negativity out there among today's youth. And when they talk about 'today's youth' in this fashion, they haven't been referring only to the old stand-by of 'teen angst.' It is a phenomenon that seems to be embedding itself in the entire under-30 generation. Where does such wide-spread negativity come from? I am going to blame two places. First, the old bugaboo of increasingly destructive and negative media. There is no doubt that over the past couple of decades, beginning with the explosion of interpretive music videos on MTV in the 1980's and expanding through ever more dark and violent motion pictures and television shows since that time, those 'today's youth' have been inundated with negative sounds and images unlike any generation before them. It has grown to the point where some visuals or words that would have been completely taboo when I was growing up just as recently as the 1960's and 1970's have now become mainstream. There is a continuing regression in the influential pop media areas of song and motion picture as far as morals. But it is a total copout to blame this all on media, for the second place that we can lay the blame for the ennui of 'today's youth' is right at our own parental doorsteps. We allowed ourselves to get sucked into this lifestyle, these lower forms of expression. As the 'Pandora's Box' of sexual, artistic, lyrical, visual and other expression was cracked open over the past few decades, we were seduced by newly liberating 'freedom' of expression. Little did we know that we were not becoming more free, but were becoming more enslaved. Sin creeps into lives in an insidious manner. It doesn't usually explode on us. Sin slips up behind us, envelops us slowly, sinks in deeply, and drags us down slowly. For the most part my generation did not turn off the television, did not turn off the music videos and radio songs, did not stay away from the motion pictures and television shows. In fact, we embraced them, and our kids watched our behavior, as they always do, and not only modeled it but went beyond it as society 'opened up' even further. I firmly believe that this overwhelming exposure to negative and sometimes profane media is at the root of the problems of 'today's youth', but that there is little or nothing that we can do now to shut it down. You truly cannot close that box once it has been opened. But we can do a couple of things. For one, we can expose ourselves to this media in a more discerning manner. There are positive lessons that can be taken from any story, song, or program and we need to understand that and search for them. If we find no redeeming value in something, then we simply must respond by publicly denouncing whatever the medium might be. We can also begin to publicly and outwardly stand up for the positive values and traditions of our Church. The lessons taught by Jesus Christ and his true followers down through the ages are things that we all should be exposing ourselves to more, and should be exposing our families to more. Turning to Christ is always the best and most effective thing that anyone can do in times of trouble, and the same is true for today's youth. Finally we can realize that there is a great deal of positive, affirming, enlightening media available out there in song, on television, and in theatres. We just need to be more discerning in seeking it out and exposing ourselves to these outlets and resources. All good music does not need to be profane. All interesting films do not need to be violent. All entertaining television does not need to be sexually exploitative. We need to make better choices in our lives a little at a time. For those with young children, you need to take control of what you allow them to be exposed to, and ensure that they are exposed to frequent positive messages, especially the Word. For those with older kids, it may have reached the point where your influence is not enough on its own. In that case, we have to hope that they are intelligent enough to figure the 'right' and the 'good' out for themselves as they get older. To today's youth my message would be to search your life, to search your habits, to search your influences closely. Whatever you come to realize is dragging you down, cast it off, remove it from your life. And if you take the next step of replacing it with more exposure to Jesus Christ and the Word, you will be amazed at the positive transformation in your spirit.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Real American Hero: Jon E. Swanson

Former American President Harry S. Truman once said that he would rather be a Medal of Honor recipient than be the Commander-in-Chief.

More than speaking to how difficult was his role as the nation's top military commander, Truman was paying homage to the people who are honored with the Medal, people who are referred to here at the website as 'Real American Heroes'. You can read stories of some of them by simply clicking into the label by that title at the bottom of this piece.

On the morning of February 26th, 1971, the Osmonds had the #1 song in America with "One Bad Apple", and 28-year old U.S. Army helicopter pilot Captain Jon E. Swanson most certainly had his young wife Sandee back home in Denver with his two small daughters, Holly and Brigid, on his mind.

After all, besides his calling to the American military, they were his life. A life that none of them realized was seeing its final sunrise.

On that morning, Captain Swanson prepared for his role in a military mission that was going to take place that day in the Kingdom of Cambodia, which itself was directly related to the war going on in Vietnam.

The military guerillas of the Viet Cong used areas of neighboring Cambodia for their home base, and this frequently drew Cambodian territory into the conflict. Swanson's job that day was to fly an OH-6A aircraft in support of the ARVN Task Force III, which was tasked with taking out two well-equiped enemy regiments in the area.

Swanson was to pilot his craft and pinpoint the exact positions of the enemy. To accomplish this, Swanson had to fly the aircraft low over the tree tops at slow speeds, making him a highly vulnerable target.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Lies Ahead in 2009?

When the calendar turned from 2007 into 2008 a year ago, how many would have been able to envision so many of the events that would transpire in the new year. Pretty much everyone knew that there was going to be a tough, divisive political race in the Presidential election campaign. But how many just one year ago would have given Barack Obama much of a chance against Hillary Clinton? Not many. Clinton had been the 'presumptive nominee' of the Democratic Party for a couple of years leading into 2008. And how many of you had ever heard of Sarah Palin, let alone knew that she was the governor of Alaska? The media-driven Obamamania of the past year showed that the man can campaign. But can he lead a nation? We will begin to find that out as certainly one of the biggest stories of the year unfolds. In just a couple of weeks Obama will be sworn in as the first half African-American President in U.S. history. That will indeed be one of the biggest moments of 2009, but the real stories will be how the new Obama administration handles domestic and world events during the year. From Iraq to Israel, Afghanistan to India, Pakistan to Iran, the Middle East will remain a cauldron bubbling with potential Islamism-inspired disasters. The U.S. economy continues to struggle thanks to the short-sightedness of government bailouts of failing businesses, a situation that is only likely to worsen in the new year. The new President may need to make a Supreme Court nomination in 2009. SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens will turn 89 years old in April, and likely only held on to his court seat hoping to be replaced by a similarly liberal thinker, now more likely with the Obama election. Who will be among the famous deaths in 2009? In the last year we lost silver screen legend Charlton Heston, director Sydney Pollack, politician Jesse Helms, and musicians Bo Diddley & Levi Stubbs among many others. Closer to home our Philadelphia police department had lost officer Chuck Cassidy at Halloween in 2007, that coming on the heels of having lost officer Gary Skerski who was similarly shot and killed by a robber in spring of 2006. Who could have imagined that 2008, rather than offering a quiet respite from those tragedies, would heep on even more with the murders of four officers in the line of duty: Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, and Tim Simpson. We can only hope and pray that 2009 is a quiet, safe year for our police officers and fire fighters in Philly. We certainly deserve that much. On a lighter, brighter note, who could have foreseen the stunning, thrilling rise of the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series championship. The antics of Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Brett Myers, Shane Victorino and company brought sports excitement that the city had not seen for a long time, and finally ended our quarter-century title drought. Can any other Philly team step up and take us on a similar ride in 2009? Across the country, around the world, and right at home in our own families 2009 will likely prove to be a year of changes, challenges, and highlights. There is no such thing as a true crystal ball. There is no one who can foresee the events of the coming year. We just have to let them play out while working them to the best for ourselves and our families when possible. Remember that through it all, God has a plan, both for humanity overall and for you in particular. Stay strong, keep a positive attitude, and always remember to turn to Him for help in times of struggle and in thanks during the good times.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Greatest Question Ever Asked

About a half century ago, literally on the other side of the world, the Reverend Billy Graham was delivering one of his typical fire and brimstone sermons 'Down Under' in Australia.

The theme of his sermon that day revolved around what he called "the greatest question ever asked by any man."

That questioner to whom he was referring was a bit notorious. It was Pontius Pilate, the first century Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea who has become legend for having condemned Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion.

While being questioned by Pilate, Jesus stated "...for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

Pilate responded with his simple question that has resounded through history as that greatest ever to be asked: "What is truth?"

However, Pilate asks his question dismissively of Christ. As he asks the question, he waves Jesus off and walks away, as if to say 'yeah, right' or 'gimme a break'.

It is not as if Jesus Christ had never answered this question, for he had done so on numerous occasions previously, and none more famously than is presented in the Gospel of John.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Israel is Not the Problem

About a week or so ago we suddenly began hearing stories in the news about Israel bombing targets in Gaza, Israel attacking in the Gaza Strip, and so on.

The picture that was painted was one of the State of Israel suddenly waking up one morning and deciding to attack, attack, attack for no particular reason. This perception was foisted on the American people by what has become a decidedly anti-Israeli American media.

Think about it from any reasonable perspective. How would you feel if Mexico was lobbing bombs and missiles at targets in California or Nevada or Texas, destroying businesses and buildings, killing hundreds of Americans?

Then one day the U.S. decided enough was enough, and fought back by attacking strongholds in Mexico where those who were attacking us were operating. Suddenly the world press is all over their broadcast news and in their newspapers with stories that the U.S. was attacking Mexico. How would that make you feel?

Do you think that the Europeans and those in the Middle East, Asia, Africa who were reading these headlines and listening to the talking heads on the news broadcasts would get the full picture? Or would they simply be left with the impression that the Americans were being bullies with the poor, little Mexicans? That is exactly what is happening with Israel, and it is a dangerous game.

The 'Arab-Israeli conflict' as it has come to be known in modern times has no resolution.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year Resolutions

What will yours be? To perhaps lose some weight? Statistics show that weight loss, getting in shape, and other such related items are the #1 resolution that folks make for the New Year.

This is going to be the year that you finally drop those extra 10, 20, 50, 80 pounds and whip your sorry butt into real, solid physical condition, and then keep it that way with regular maintenance.

Unfortunately, as I know all too well, the vast majority who make this resolution will drift away from it by the spring, definitely by the summer.

The #2 on the resolution list is perhaps even more likely to fail: quitting smoking. How many times have you said that this will be the year that you put out your last cigarette, and never pick up another?

The 'patch', some type of drugs, your own will power, all of it is begun in an earnest effort to rid yourself of the vile weed. But for smokers, this one usually is surrendered even quicker than a weight-loss resolution.

As far as I can recall, there is only one resolution that I have made in all of the 30 or so years that I have been making them that I have managed to keep. Several years ago I realized that I had gotten away from one of the things that gave me great joy as a young man. That was reading good books. I was reading the newspaper, even reading some articles online, but I hadn't picked up a book in years.

That wasn't the case when I was younger. From the time of my childhood and mostly through my twenties, I read books regularly. So at about age 40, I made the resolution that I was going to read books more.