Monthly Archives: July 2016

America’s Love with Misery: Ten Habits of Miserable People

I just turned off my television in disgust.  This misery fest that has engulfed our nation is getting very old and out of hand.  However, it appears that everyone, including the politicians, the news media, and the people, are having a grand time being miserable!  Why?  Our country in spite of its problems is still, by far, the greatest nation in the world.  No other country can come close to matching the military power, the freedoms, and the opportunities offered to citizens in The United States of America.  Nevertheless, misery seems to be taking over the country.

Whether it is politics, the economy, world events, or simple everyday life, it seems misery is fast becoming a way of life in America.  Every day, more and more people appear to be jumping on the misery bandwagon.  Maybe, it gives them a sense of self-importance or a sense of camaraderie with other miserable people.  Maybe, miserable people sustain one another by providing empathy and encouragement to each other.  I don/t know, but for some reason, the ranks of the miserable are swelling.

In today’s society, miserable people are more likely to be accepted than happy people.  It is unfortunate, but happy people tend to make unhappy people uncomfortable.  The reason is that happy takes effort while misery grows freely like weeds in an unkempt garden.  Like bad habits, the weeds are allowed to fester and grow until the garden as a whole is poisoned and smothered out completely.  To this point, I have listed ten of the most common habits of miserable people below.  As you will see, most of these habits, like common weeds in a garden, occur with little or no effort.

Ten Habits of Miserable People

  1. Stuck in an on-going relationship with a cell phone. People who constantly have a cell phone at their ear or in front of their nose often do so at the expense of family and friends.  Over time they grow more disjointed from those that matter most;
  2. Living your life as an impending funeral rather than a celebration. Yes, the world is a mess, and God may indeed intervene soon, but that doesn’t mean you must be miserable while you wait.  God expects us to be prepared for his return, but in the meantime, he put us on earth to love life, love others, and love ourselves.  He didn’t put us here to worry when the world will end, or to use his return to scare the hell out of people;
  3. Keeping things pent up inside. Sometimes you just need to go into a closet and scream or say a bad word.  Sometimes it is okay to relax and indulge in that second glass or bottle of wine;
  4. Taking yourself too seriously! Every once in a while, it is okay to laugh a little, act silly, read something none political, read something non-religious, read something unromantic, read something not work-related, and indulge in the lighter side!  Turn the news off!  Shred the newspaper!  Listen to children’s songs instead of the radio!  Go to the park and swing from the monkey bars!  Read Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, or Mark Twain!  Fart occasionally!
  5. Having nothing better to do than be bored or engaged in self-pity. Idle time rarely breeds anything worthwhile, and it does nothing to cure boredom or self-pity.  People need face to face human engagement and stimulation that cannot be provided over a cell phone or in front of a computer;
  6. Waking up looking for something to be pissed off about. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed is a personal choice!  Nobody controls your outlook on life and people, but you!
  7. Blaming others and playing the part of the victim! Those who point fingers rather than seek solutions are the problem.  Those who point out blame enjoy the role of the victim;
  8. Glorifying the past! Like the present, the past is no better and no worse than you made it.  You are living tomorrow’s “good old days,” so make the best of it today.
  9. Believing everything seen, heard, or read in the news or social media! Occasionally, tune out the outside world and tune in the inside world of family and friends to discover what really matters.  There is nothing on a TV, cell, tablet, or computer screen more important than family and friends;
  10. Enjoy misery! Miserable people enjoy misery – the misery of others as well as their own.  If they didn’t, they would not let it consume their lives.

Look around!  You will more than likely see people entangled in these habits everywhere.  Turn on your television or sign-in to Facebook or some other social media, and these habits will jump out at you.  Unfortunately, America is in love with misery, but why shouldn’t it be?  Misery is easy; happiness takes work!

Jl

©Jack Linton, July 31, 2016

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Silver Spoons, Plagiarism, & Arrogance: The Gateway to Improving Public Schools

Despite the controversy swirling around Melania Trump’s plagiarism Monday night and the alleged plagiarism thrown Donald, Jr.’s way Tuesday night, I thought both of them presented themselves well at the Republican National Convention, especially Don, Jr.  He was well prepared, articulate, and came across as a strong future candidate for public office.  In fact, he even stuck his foot in his mouth like a true politician when he spouted off about the dire condition of public schools in The United States.  A guy raised with a silver spoon in his mouth and educated at a $50,000 dollar per year boarding school should be the last person to speak about problems in public schools, especially when that part of his speech, as his principal speech writer later admitted, was borrowed.  Borrowed or plagiarized, every schoolboy, even the ones in public schools – the schools that Junior said are run “like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and administrators and not the students,” – know to give credit where credit is due, but maybe schools that cost more per year to attend than most Americans earn per year are not so superior to public schools.  I am sure many are, but I am also confident there are many public schools that can compete with the elite schools of the rich as well.  You cannot assume a school is excellent by its price tag no more than you can assume a school is inferior by its “public” tag.

I agree improvements are needed in many of the nation’s public schools, but as a former private school and public school educator, I am tired of hearing people (mostly Republican politicians) criticize public schools without also acknowledging there are many excellent public schools.  Yes, there are public schools that are horrible, but to lump all public schools into one large cesspool of despair is wrong and blatantly dishonest.  It is also transparently deceitful for Republicans or anyone else to propose plans of improvement more aligned to disembowelment of public schools than improving them.  The present Republican plan of taking money from public schools and giving it to big business, loosely controlled charter schools, and school privatization ventures will not cure the problems in America’s public schools.  If anything, such actions will eventually break the backbone of the American public school system, but that is likely a part of the plan as well.  The current Republican solution to improving public schools is little more than thinly disguised re-segregation of public schools.  The Republican call for neighborhood schools simply means white neighborhoods should have their schools and black neighborhoods should have their schools.  Such a plan along with so called parental choice plans will eventually lead this nation to a greater gap between the haves and have nots – only this time it will impact white children as well as black children.  When that happens, Republicans and the nation as a whole will not have to worry about public schools being “an elevator to the middle class” as Donald, Jr. stated in his speech since there won’t be a middle class!

Most likely, Donald Trump, Jr. has spent very little time, if any, in a public school, good or bad, but yet he speaks as an authority as to what transpires within them.  Has he or his father ever walked in the shoes of a teacher or a school administrator?  No, they are businessmen, and they can no more tell public school teachers and school administrators how to improve their schools than teachers and administrators can tell them how to run their corporations.  Schools are not businesses!  In the business world the Trumps have the luxury and resources to pick the best materials to make their business a success, and even then, they sometimes fail and have to claim bankruptcy.  Teachers and administrators do not have the same luxury and resources.  They are dependent on the meager funding provided at the local and state levels, and their success is largely dependent on the children conceived within the boundaries of the school district.  Private schools like The Hill School, where Don, Jr. attended school, can choose students they want based on academic standing, family affluence and the thickness of mama and daddy’s wallet.  Public schools do not have such choices!  They must serve all children regardless of academic standing and family pedigree as well as serve the children of mamas and daddies without a wallet.  They must take the kids they are dealt regardless of background, physical and/or mental state, and home environment.  Unlike a business, public schools cannot choose to work only with the best raw materials; they must do the best they can with what they get often with little parental or political support.  Teachers and administrators in our public schools are brain surgeons on a thirty minute time clock with less than adequate surgical tools and resources.  For the most part, they are devoted, caring, hardworking people working in a bankrupt social and political system.  So, yes, it bothers me that Donald Trump, Jr. has the audacity to lump all public schools together as failures and talk negatively about public schools that he knows little if anything about other than what a speech writer wrote for him.

Don, Jr. said, “Growing up, my siblings and I were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have.  We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.”  Let’s be honest, and look beyond convention rhetoric.  Donald, Jr. and his siblings had the choices they had because they have a rich father.  The idea or assumption the Trumps or anyone else in the Republican party will dig deep into their pockets to provide poor or middle class children the same opportunities for an education as the rich is preposterous, especially when you consider that Republicans consistently refuse to fund even an adequate education for poor and middle class children in Republican dominated states such as Mississippi.

Maybe, Donald Trump will be different if elected, but I have yet to hear him say anything about education that the Republican Party does not want to hear.  I sincerely hope he is at least a notch above the kind of education reform Mississippi has in recent years been subjected to at the hands of state Republicans – reform that includes bullying educators, refusal to fund an adequate education for public school children, even though it is the law, funneling public school dollars into unproven charters and privatization, and bankrupting the state fiscal system that students, parents, and educators depend upon to support public school education.

If Donald Trump wins the election and truly wants to improve public schools, he needs to get with public school teachers and administrators personally and listen to them; he needs to get with education researchers and universities and listen to them; he needs to listen to these people because, like him, they also want to improve public schools in America.  When it comes to public school education, he needs to stop listening to the business world and the politicians and do what he has always done – surround himself with knowledgeable people in education that includes people who have actually taught in public schools – good and bad.  He needs to work with education leaders and education innovators who recognize the good things that are happening in education and how to replicate them; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who understand the problems schools face and how to best address those problems; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize the educational needs of children; and, he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize and understand the barriers keeping schools from meeting those needs.  What we do not need is another Republican or Democrat who thinks he knows the problem and how to fix it without including educators in the discussion.  What we do not need is more education rhetoric from Mr. Trump, his son, or anyone else including politicians and educators.

When it comes to the education of our nation’s children, educators across this nation have had a belly full of political leaders who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk .  It will take more than a big ego spewing generalities to bring about needed changes in public schools; it will take a big man who has the wisdom, vision, and guts to stand against a political system and public handicapped by tunnel vision when it comes to public school education.  It will take an extraordinary leader to put a stop to the norm of browbeating educators into humbled submission.  It will take a leader with high expectations for success, but an even higher appreciation for the humanity and educational expertise of teachers and school administrators devoted to the children of this country.  Is Donald Trump that man?  I don’t know.  Like thousands of educators, I am waiting to see, if silver spoons, plagiarism, and arrogance are the gateway to improving public school education, or if someone will finally realize it takes people who know what they are doing and talking about, hard work, and common sense to bring about improvement.

JL

Jack Linton, July 21, 2016

The Trial of Silas Washington

Silas Washington’s opinions were no different than anyone else. Like most people, he said whatever came to mind regardless who he offended.  He didn’t intentionally offend anyone, but he didn’t worry about it if he did either.  Why worry?  In BS 16 (before shoulderboards), every spoken word or sentence, no matter how innocent or politically correct offended someone somewhere.  No matter what was said, around the clock organized groups specializing in the study and contextual dissection of words and phrases turned anything said into something offensive to someone.  In a common sense world, this should have made people choose their words and comments very carefully or shut up all together, but in a conspicuously combustible society such as America, the opposite occurred.  People threw common sense aside and became increasingly free with their opinions.  However, by BS 11, people across America, including Silas, finally said enough is enough.  They demanded something be done to reel in an opinionated society, and bring a semblance of sanity back to the nation.

Believing the federal government was largely to blame for the insanity, the 51 state legislatures took on the task of setting things straight. However, Cuba, the newest state, a state motivated by the tobacco tea industry and a surreptitious government rumor mill designed to invigorate tourism, declined to participate.  The 50 remaining governors called a convention in St. Louis in November of BS 11 to discuss and collaborate on measures to resolve the problem, but the meetings were cut short after only two days due to an overabundance of self-serving opinions on how to handle the situation.  In March, BS 10, Mississippi became the first state to introduce a solution.  The GOPAU (Good Old Politics as Usual) Party in Mississippi introduced a law forbidding opinions of any kind, especially those not favorable to the convictions and beliefs of the authors of the law.  HB 1313, as the law was called, was so simple in design and content, that other states enthusiastically adopted it as well.  By the summer of BS 8, anyone with an opinion – with the exception of select membership in the GOPAU – was subject to a $100,000 fine and solitary confinement in a state or federal prison for up to ten years.  It was not the best of times, but like the majority of people, Silas was not overly concerned.

By fall BS 6, with opinions banned, social media collapsed, and all elections were canceled since it was illegal to vote for the candidate of choice.  Rather than hold elections, elected offices were filled by drawing names from a fruit jar, which proved to be much more efficient and credible than the old election process.  Anyone Tweeting, texting, or sending a message that could not be supported by hard data was arrested for an opinion crime.  Since all beliefs were classified as opinions, churches closed and converted to one choice bicycle shops, and libraries, a viable source for opinions for the few people who actually used them, were sold to storage vendors.  Television was relegated to unopinionated news and weather reporting, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and Sponge Bob Square Pants.  All other programming was strictly forbidden.  As a consequence, and shortly after all musical instruments were re-classified as blue devices and outlawed, the entertainment business declared bankruptcy and ceased to exist.  No one had an opinion on anything, or at least they kept it to themselves, which Silas thought wasn’t such a bad thing.  In Mary Kay vs The United States of America, the Supreme Court ruled wearing makeup was an opinion crime since a person would have to be of the opinion their natural complexion needed adjusting to be acceptable.  Not even the stock markets were spared as thousands of stockbrokers on Wall Street were locked out of the exchange – speculation was most definitely an opinion crime.

With people tight lipped and prisons growing into gigantic city states, life was pretty hard boiled in The United States – that is until The Great Caffeine Rebellion.  Silas thought the rebellion was a good idea, but of course, he kept the thought to himself.  The rebellion began and ended April 1, BS 3.  The limited news reported thousands of people gathered in DuPont Circle and surrounding streets and restaurants in Washington D.C. to peacefully protest HB 1313.  With their plain black coffee – the only choice allowed – hoisted high in the air, the people slowly poured their drinks over their heads in protest of the discombobulation of America.  In Hot Coffee, Mississippi, several people, mostly kin, gathered outside Knight’s General Store and poured hot coffee down the front of their pants in protest against the law.  Other than a couple of nasty sticky comb overs in D.C. and some reports of serious shrinkage caused by scalding in Mississippi, no one was seriously injured in the protests.  Fox News staged an illegal analytical forum as to the effectiveness of the rebellion, but the government shut them down citing the forum as a violation of HB 1313.  As far as a rebellion, The Great Caffeine Rebellion of BS 3, wasn’t much, but the idea of once again being able to make simple choices such as the color of clothes worn, being able to choose to salt or pepper food, have an opinion on what was pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, acceptable or not acceptable, as well as have a choice in friends was so overpowering that in BS 2 the 30th, 31st , and 32nd Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America were presented before Congress.

Ratification of the Amendments was tricky.  As long as HB 1313 was law, the states could not ratify any new Amendment since the law strictly prohibited a change of opinion on the law; therefore, the nation’s lawmakers found themselves in a catch-22.  As a last effort, Congress released the Amendments to the states for individual consideration, but under HB 1313, the states were just as powerless.  However, one state, Mississippi, had no problem ignoring the law they created and becoming the first state to ratify the 30th Amendment to the Constitution.  Once again, the rest of the nation followed Mississippi’s lead.  Silas marched proudly in the July 4 Emancipation of Opinions parade.  The next day, newspapers across the nation were filled with local, state, and national opinions and wonderful blatant gossip.  It was a great day of celebration in America!

The 30th Amendment struck down HB 1313 as well as closed all loopholes or questions as to the patriotic heritage of opinions by linking them forever to the First Amendment and the American pursuit of liberty and happiness.  To once and for all resolve proprietorship issues concerning opinions and establish opinions as a sovereign right, the 31st Amendment established the right of first opinions with guaranteed copyright protections and benefits regardless of position, wealth, entitlement, political correctness or degree of sensitivity.  The 32nd Amendment protected individuals from incarceration for being opinionated.  Finally, to assure everyone happiness, conformity, and whatnot, the government contracted with Disney, Intel, and a newly invigorated social media to develop a Personal Integrated Sensory System Imagined Network Grid, or PISSING Network for short.  The first prototype was a monstrous insect-looking virtual reality helmet, which frightened little children and the elderly.  The helmet gave way to a more user friendly and breathable device, although slightly more cumbersome, known as a shoulderboard.  Wearing the shoulderboard guaranteed people in their everyday life the same anonymity and lack of accountability they had loved so much with the old social media.  The device was such a hit with the public and government officials that The United States Congress passed the Disassociation Act requiring shoulderboards be worn during all hours of the day except when sleeping.

Silas despised the four sided digital shoulderboard that sat on his shoulders surrounding his head, but he had to admit the apparatus was an ingenious time saver.  Get up in the morning, unplug the unit from its charging port, slip it over the head, and punch in the desired look for the day.  Presto!  No more hours doing makeup, shaving, or fussing with hair.  The manufactures still highly suggested bathing the rest of the body at least twice weekly, but from the shoulders up forget it.  To become whoever a person wanted to be, all that was required was to simply speak into the Intel 2022 mic or punch in a descriptor on the nifty Intel sychromatic wristband, and instantly the desired image appeared on the board in amazing Disney Realmation  3D.  Not only did the boards provide a look, but wearers could express any opinion or say anything they desired without physical association or accountability just like they did in the old days of social media.  People could literally be whoever they wanted to be; or at least who they wanted everyone to believe them to be, and therein was the problem for Silas.

Silas was a little man, and the shoulderboard hurt his shoulders, but that was a minor problem.  He was an old soul, and simply wanted to be.  His few friends told him to relax and let the shouldrboard work for him, but it simply did not work for him.  No matter how he tried to fit in with the shoulderboard crowd, that world did not click for him.  He tried a macho muscle man image on his shoulderboard for several days, but just as he was getting use to the part, a gust of wind sent him toppling into a nearby shrub with his feet kicking frantically in the air.  For children and smaller adults like Silas, the boards made a person top heavy and prone to tip over, which in Silas’s case did not speak well of his implied masculinity.  Another time, he presented himself as a square jawed, no nonsense cowboy with Southern roots.  He was opinionated, conspiracy loving, and ultra conservative.  As long as people believed as he believed, he championed their cause.  For several days, he had a blast criticizing opinions disagreeing with his and warning that stocks would plummet and the world would end if people failed to share his beliefs.  Nevertheless, after a couple of weeks of being better than everybody, he grew tired.  He was just not the in your face type, so he turned off his shoulderboard and set it aside, and didn’t bother to plug it into its charger.  He had no intention of ever wearing it again.  Three days later his home was surrounded by SWAT teams, helicopters, foaming at the mouth dogs, the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security.  Poor Silas was taken away in chains.

 

To make sure everyone tuned in, Silas’s trial was held on a Sunday afternoon in Federal court.  The government determined they would make an example of him that the people would long remember.  The prosecuting team was confident his treasonable act of refusing to wear his shoulderboard would be a slam dunk case in their favor.  The defense team agreed.  They were envious of the prosecution’s case, and hoped for mercy at best.  Unless something went terribly wrong, by the end of the day, they fully expected to be home watching their client on the ten o’clock news as he was ushered off to prison in chains.

In spite of his attorneys protests, Silas refused to wear his shoulderboard in the courtroom and appeared natural – unshaved, hair knotted, and unwashed.  Warnings were flashed across shouderboards around the nation that some images (mainly Silas) might be too intense for small children and pregnant females.  Although his unkempt appearance frightened many young children, embarrassed his family, and sickened the majority of onlookers, not a single person turned away.  The nation was captivated by him.  For many in the watching audience, he was the first nonviolent individual they had ever seen held accountable for anything.

The court room was packed with people wearing shoulderboards – all except Silas. Everyone expected Silas’s attorneys to challenge the Constitutionality of his arrest under the 32nd Amendment.  In fact, most observers felt the trial might be more about the Constitution than Silas.  Therefore, the Honorable Joseph Summit, the foremost authority on the Constitution, came out of retirement to convene the court.  The President of the United States, with Ronald Reagan smiling warmly from his shoulderboard, sat directly behind the prosecution table along with several national, local – including the Governor of Mississippi, and even foreign dignitaries.  Silas’s family and friends sat directly behind the defense table; several of them had flashing banners scrolling across their shoulderboards that read “We are so sorry, Silas was brought up better than this,” and “Please, don’t judge us by our cousin’s actions.”

Silas sat with one elbow on the defense table with his chin propped in the palm of his hand.  Five defense attorneys with shoulderboards depicting Teddy Rooselvelt, Samuel L Jackson, Brett Favre, Jerry Clower, and Clarence Darrow, hovered around him all talking at once, begging him to take the government’s offer of five years in solitary confinement and a meager $25,000 fine.  They insisted he could not hope for a better deal.  Silas thought differently and refused to discuss the offer much less accept it.

As soon as the judge was seated, Bobby Joe Stalwart, aka Clarence Darrow, the lead defense attorney and a six four former linebacker for Mississippi State, jumped to his feet.  “Your Honor,” he said, “I move this case be thrown out by virtue of the 32nd Amendment.”  The crowd in the courtroom and at home sat up straight.  There it was; the case everyone had expected.  “My client,” he continued, “was unlawfully incarcerated, and he is owed an apology by The United States of America.”  The crowd nodded its approval.  Sitting directly behind the President, the Governor of Mississippi, Theodore G. Bilbo smiling from his shoulderboard, pumped his fist proudly.  It was nice to see a Mississippi boy take it to the feds, even if it was in a losing cause.  There was no way Silas was going to walk out of court a free man; not when a 450 million dollar deal for a shoulderboard factory in Issaquena County was on the line.  A rebel like Silas could ruin everything.

“Mr. Stalwart,” said Judge Summit, Judge Greg Mathis looking very serious from his shoulderboard, “first, you are out of line, and second, the 32nd Amendment applies to incarceration for opinions and does not apply to this case.  The defendant has been charged with the treasonable act of refusing to wear his shoulderboard in direct violation of the Disassociation Act.  His opinion is of little concern to this court.”

“Oh,” Bobby Joe said, and he and Clarence Darrow sank into his chair next to Silas.

“Oh,” gasped the crowd.  They had not seen that coming.

The judge stared Bobby Joe into his seat, and then turned his attention to Silas.  “Mr. Washington, will you please rise?” he said.  Silas stood.  As his attorney, Bobby Joe halfway stood, decided better and sat down, thought better of sitting, and started to stand again.  The judge watched him a moment.  “Mr. Stalwart, please make up your mind to either stand or sit?”

“If it pleases your Honor,” Bobby Joe said, “I sure would like to stand with my client.”

“Then I would sure like for you to stand with your client, Mr. Stalwart,” said the judge.  “Just be quick about it.”  Bobby Joe stood, towering over Silas.  “Mr. Washington,” the judge continued, “do you understand why you are here today before this court?”

“Yes, sir,” Silas said, “because you people won’t let me be.”

Judge Summit and Mathis smiled.  “And, what would you like for this court to let you be?” he asked.

Silas held his chin high.  “Alone,” he said.

From the back of the room, Jessie, Silas’s second cousin on his mama’s side, who had a 3D image of Dolly Parton smiling sweetly from her shoulderboard, yelled, “You tell’em cus!” The courtroom erupted with laughter.

Summit and Mathis frowned with remarkable synchronization.  The gavel pounded the sound block several times to restore order.  “If there is another outburst like that, I will clear this courtroom!” Summit and Mathis shouted in unison.

“Your Honor,” Bobby Joe said, “if I may speak?”

“Go ahead, Mr. Stalwart.”

“Your Honor,” Bobby Joe said laying a hand on Silas’s shoulder, “as this court and everybody in it and at home can plainly see by my client’s continued refusal to wear his shoulderboard, his ragged appearance, and his lack of clarity to your Honor’s questions, Mr. Washington is not of sound mind or body.  Therefore . . . .”  Silas brushed Bobby Joe’s hand from his shoulder, reached up and grabbed him by the base of his shoulderboard, pulled the much larger man down to his level, and whispered to Clarence Darrow.  Clarence Darrow jerked erect, red faced.  He stared in disbelief at Silas for a moment, and abruptly sat down at the table.

“Mr. Washington,” the judge said, “there will be no secrets or whispering in my courtroom.  What did you say to your attorney?”

“I told him to shut up and sit down,” Silas said.

“That is highly inappropriate,” the judge said.  “Mr. Stalwart is your attorney.”

“Sir, no disrespect intended toward you, but this court is inappropriate, and Mr. Stalwart is not my attorney.  I also told him he was fired.”

Ronald Reagan coughed loudly, and everyone sitting on the first row behind the prosecution table began high-fiving and slapping each other on the back.  Everyone else in the courtroom sat in silence, not believing what had just happened.  Without a lawyer, they knew Silas had probably cheated them of the courtroom drama they came to see.  The judge pounded his gavel to bring the room under control.  “Mr. Washington, are you sure this is what you want to do?” he asked.  “I highly recommend you reconsider.”

“No doubt in my mind,” Silas said.

“As you please, but Mr. Washington, if at any time, you wish to reconsider let me know.”

“I object!” the lead prosecuting attorney, Elrod Gladstone aka Vince Lombardi shouted.

“To what?” asked the judge.

“Your Honor,” Gladstone said, “you can’t let him change his mind later if it suits him.”

Judge Mathis sat back and laughed.  “Yes, I can,” said the judge.  “This is my courtroom, and I’ll do as I please.  Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” Elrod and Vince said, and sat down quickly.

“Thank you,” said Judge Summit.  “Now let the trial of Mr. Silas Washington on the charges of treason against the United States of America begin.  We will not hold his foolishness to dismiss his attorney against him.”

The judge turned to the prosecution table.  “Mr. Gladstone,” he said, “as lead attorney for the prosecution, the floor is yours.

Elrod Gladstone stood slowly.  He looked at Silas and shook his head sadly.  Walking toward the twelve jurors, he stopped halfway and looked back over his shoulder at Silas and again shook his head sadly.  The jurors watched him intently as he walked from member to member of the jury sitting in the first row of the jury box.  Six times he stopped, looked over his shoulder at Silas, and turned back to the juror to shake his head sadly.  “Your Honor, Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I will not take any more of the court’s time than is absolutely necessary.  Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, it is the opinion of the prosecution and The United States of America that the defendant is guilty of treason against the United States as outlined by the Disassociation Act, but to avoid a long and costly trial, the prosecution wishes to exercise its protected right of first opinion as promised by the 31st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The judge nodded.  “Mr. Gladstone, I was wondering how long it would take you to get to the bottom line in this case.  Your point, Sir, is well made.  By virtue of the 31st Amendment protecting your right of first opinion, the judgement of this court must rest in favor of the prosecution.  I therefore find the defendant guilty of treason as charged.”

The President was the first to his feet.  He grabbed the Governor of Mississippi, and kissed Bilbo square on the lips.  He then turned to the Governor of North Carolina and lay a fat slobbering kiss on the shoulderboard image of Andy Griffith.   The room was in complete bedlam.  The judge pounded his gavel, but no one heard.  The defense team of Rooselvelt, Jackson, Favre, Clower, and Darrow stared in disgust at Silas, but he looked straight ahead unconcerned.  After several minutes, the room settled down and order was restored.

“Mr. Washington,” the judge said, “do you have anything on behalf of your defense you would like to say before I announce your sentence?”

“Yes, your Honor, I do,” Silas said, and stepped forward to face his judge and jury.  “Your Honor, I am not a treasonable fellow . . . .”  A snicker escaped from the row where the President sat.  “Sir, I believe in the United States of America.  I respect the Constitution of this great nation, and I respect the prosecution’s Constitutional right of first opinion in regard to the verdict in this case.  However, I also have right of first opinion as to how the sentence is determined.  Therefore, Sir, it is my opinion, I should be held harmless of further incarceration or penalty.”

A deep silence hung over the courtroom.  The prosecuting attorneys and the President and his pals looked back and forth at each other not believing what they were hearing.  Judge Summit raised and pounded his gavel.  “Mr. Washington,” he said, “your point, is well made.  By virtue of the 31st Amendment protecting your right of first opinion in the sentencing phase of this trial, sentencing is hereby established as time served without further penalty.  Well done Mr. Washington.  Case concluded.  Good day.”

“You can’t do that!” the Governor of Mississippi shouted jumping to his feet.  “That’s not right!  The right of first opinion can’t be used twice in the same case.”

Judge Summit stopped at the door to his chambers.  “Sir,” he said, “it was used once for the verdict and once for sentencing, which is very permissible under the law you helped write and the Constitution.”

The President turned to the Governor of Mississippi, “I thought you said this was a done deal?  You said your 32nd Amendment was flawless.”

“This doesn’t change anything,” Bilbo sputtered.

“Wrong!  This changes everything” Reagan hissed.  “Andy!” he called after the Governor of North Carolina who was walking to door.  “Andy!  Do I have a deal for you!” Ronnie called, and hustled after the shoulderboard that had just turned to Barney Fife.

 

The heavily influenced government newspapers didn’t know what to print, so they didn’t print the story at all.  The Bureau of Bureaucratic Syphoning, BS for short, hurriedly rushed prepared statements to all the television, radio, and shoulderboard networks, thanking everyone for tuning into the realistic legal docudrama pilot that was scheduled to be broadcast on television in the fall.  A week after the trial, a follow up bulletin was sent out saying the pilot had not lived up to rating expectations and future shows had been canceled.  Three months after the trail, no one remembered the bulletins much less the trial.

Silas continued to refuse to wear the shoulderboard.  Due largely to the misinformation pumped through the networks after the trail, there were no reports of others following his example and casting aside their shoulderboards.  Six months after the trial, he walked outside one morning to pick up the paper from his driveway, and noticed a helicopter just above the tree tops.  “That’s the guy!” yelled a man in the helicopter through a megaphone.  Within seconds, Silas was surrounded by SWAT teams, helicopters, foaming at the mouth dogs, the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security.  Once again, he was arrested and taken away in chains.  The government had decided they could not just let him be.  He screamed, kicked, and shouted his rights under the 32nd Amendment, but this time it didn’t matter, the Mississippi Legislature was back in session, and change was once more in the air.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 17, 2016

The Toymaker: A Story of What Really Matters

The toymaker made people happy – little people and big people alike.  From sunup to sundown he worked in his shop building the most magnificent and beautiful toys.  He loved to hear the dancing laughter of children when the toys came to life in their hands, the chuckles and excited chatter of teens and young adults as they punched buttons and twisted knobs on the more sophisticated toys, and he especially loved the sweet sing-song laughter of the elderly when one of his toys sparked a picture of simpler more romanticized times in their lives.  Each toy was created with pride and love, and his hand painted work showed the skill and precision of a master.  No toy received more attention to detail or color or imagination than another – each one was a magical masterpiece.  He finished each by passing his skilled, though crooked fingers, across its surface and explored each crevice and joint to ensure it was as he visualized it should be.  In the final test, he pulled it close to his face and inhaled deeply.  The smell of paint mixed with the aroma of the molded material or hand carved wood whispered the color to him as well as its readiness to belong to someone young at heart.  To the blind toymaker, every toy mattered to someone, but most of all each and every toy mattered to him.

No one knew how long he had worked building toys; they only knew he had made them for a very long time.  However, he knew exactly how long he had been making toys, and more important, he knew time was catching up to him.  Over the years, he learned to work around the arthritis that curled his hands into painful claws, and he learned to deal with the loss of his sight, but there was no working around time.  He was old, and he needed to find someone, an apprentice, to pass his work to before he was called away.  So, early one morning, he closed his shop for an hour, something he rarely did, and posted fliers around town announcing interviews for an apprentice.  The only stipulation was the applicant must be young at heart and between the ages of thirteen and medium done, which meant not too old or overdone.

On the day of the interviews, the street in front of the toy shop overflowed with apprentice hopefuls from thirteen to ninety-two.  Having once been a youthful ninety-two, he was pleased to see, Herb Gomm and Phillip Heygate, in the crowd.  He knew them well.  Since the day their fathers brought them in the toy shop for the first time, they were two of his most loyal customers.  The spirit of play still showed brightly in their eyes.  In spite of their well-seasoned youth, he would have been proud to have either as an apprentice.

The interview consisted of one question, “Why do you want to be a toymaker?”  Herb Gomm said, “To make toys for my grand and great grandchildren,” which was an excellent answer, but a toymaker cannot show partiality, so he was sadly turned away.  Phillip Heygate said, “So I can say I accomplished at least one worthwhile thing before I die.”  That was also an admirable answer, but he was, nevertheless, sent on his way.  The toymaker told the toys watching the interviews from the shelves that Phillip was a tad too morbid to be a toymaker.

Unfortunately, interview after interview was always the same; some very good answers, but never the right one.  “Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked over and over and at times even pleaded.  The responses always strayed just a little off the mark – “To get rich,” Marlo Simpson said; “So I won’t have to buy toys,” said Bilbo Snider; “I need a job,” pleaded Melvin Moses – but though each of the hundred plus answers had some merit, none of them appealed to the toymaker enough for him to want to share his knowledge and shop with any of them.  The day grew long, tiresome, boring, and ultimately disheartening.

Finally, tired and disappointed, he called the last person to be interviewed into his shop.  He shook his hand, and though he could not see him, the size of the hand and smooth tight skin told him this candidate for the apprenticeship must be very young.  The person also had a slight whiff of wet puppy about him, which aroused the toymaker’s suspicions even more.  “Are you sure you are at least thirteen?” he asked. “You feel and smell awfully young.”

There was a long pause.  “I am twelve,” the candidate said softly and honestly.

The toymaker’s heart ached, and he slumped onto the bench at his work table.  A tear hung at the corner of his eye.  Was there no one worthy to be his apprentice he thought?  “Thank you,” he said, “but I am afraid the position is no longer open.

“Have you filled it?” the boy asked.

“No,” said the toymaker.

“Then it’s not fair,” the boy said.

“Why is it not fair?  It’s my interview!”

“I stood in line all day, to see you,” said the boy, “and now you say the position is closed, yet unfilled.  How can that be fair when I have yet to be interviewed?”

“What is your name young man?”

“Thomas,” said the boy. .

“Well, Thomas, you say you are twelve, so I must assume you can read.”

“Yes sir, I can.”

“Then I am confident, since you are here, you must have seen the fliers I posted around town.  The fliers clearly stated you must be at least thirteen for the position.”

“So, what,” the boy said, “what does age have to do with making toys?  I know as much about toys, probably more, than anybody you have interviewed.  Who knows more about toys than a kid?”

“I understand, but . . . .”

“Sorry, I wasted your time,” the boy interrupted.  He turned and reached for the carved dragon head door knob to let himself out.

“Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked.

The boy stopped and turned around.  “I love to hear people laugh,” he said.

The old toymaker’s heart warmed and the light of hope sparkled in his eyes.  He dropped to his knees and grabbed the boy.  There was nothing selfish in the boy’s answer.  His response was perfect; a credit to a true toymaker.  He squeezed Thomas with a hug that he normally reserved for his biggest most loveable stuffed animals.  He held his new apprentice close for a very long time!

 

Thomas proved to be a fast learner.  Within a few years, his creations rivaled the craftsmanship of his mentor.  The two of them created toys so eloquent and masterful that people regarded their work as treasured art.  Their toys became highly collectable and ownership became competitive.  Soon people started to debate which of the two toymakers was the greatest.  The codillywogs argued in favor of the steadfast old toymaker saying he mentored Thomas and therefore was the greatest.  The lidollywogs argued in favor of the contemporary genius and diversity displayed by Thomas in his creations.  As for the two toymakers, they simply did not care.  As long as people laughed and enjoyed their toys they were content.  They thought it shameful people could not leave well enough alone and be content as well.

However, the people were not content.  Arguments over craftsmanship soon turned to which toymaker’s work had the greatest impact on society and culture.  The two toymakers shrugged and asked why it mattered.  But, it mattered to a lot of people, and soon the codillywogs were up in arms that the old toymaker’s work was not given the credit they said it deserved.  The lidollywogs countered Thomas was more deserving of recognition since his work embraced the diversity of society compared to the simplistic traditional design of the old toymaker’s work.  Truthfully, the work of each toymaker was rich with merit, and their work mattered equally, but the people were convinced there could only be one that mattered.  Anything else was not good enough.  They lost touch with what truly mattered.

Angry voices of condemnation and protest on both sides of the issue filled the media and the streets.  The codillywogs yelled the old toymaker mattered, and the lidollywogs responded louder that Thomas mattered.  A few level headed people pointed out that both mattered, but they were quickly shouted down and ridiculed as unfeeling and insensitive.  All that mattered was what the codillywogs and the lidollywogs said mattered.  The toymaker mattered, Thomas mattered, but not both.  The people hardened their hearts as to what truly mattered.

One night, the codillywogs gathered on the south side of town for a peaceful demonstration in support of the old toymaker.  The lidollywogs responded by gathering on the north side of town for a peaceful demonstration of their own in support of Thomas.  As peaceful demonstrations often go the crowds grew restless, and the two factions converged in the middle of town where the toy shop stood.  Within minutes, angry words echoed in the street, and a rock crashed through the front window of the toy shop.  The codillywogs blamed the lidollywogs for disagreeing with them on what mattered, and the lidollywogs blamed the codillywogs for not knowing what mattered.  Both groups fought long into the night, each convinced they knew what mattered and the other did not.  The next morning, the toy shop lay in smoldering ruins, and the two toymakers were missing.

The authorities sifted through the ruins fearful of what they might find, but the old toymaker and Thomas were not in the ashes.  All they found were melted tools and two toys, one from the hands of each toymaker.  The two toys were fused together from the heat of the flames into a hideous charred, bubbly mess.  The grotesque figure was put on display in the town square as a reminder to all people of the night the toys died and the toymakers went missing.  The codillywogs and the lidollywogs hung their heads momentarily in shame, but neither had learned what mattered.

The nation, emotionally and spiritually shattered, mourned the tragic events.  The media flooded the airways with noncommittal investigative reports on who was right and who was wrong about what mattered.  The codillywogs and lidollywogs met under their spiritual umbrellas and through prayer justified their actions by what they coerced themselves to believe mattered.  Without the toymakers, there were no new toys, and as the old toys broke and disappeared, the laughter of the children stopped, but no one thought that mattered.  There were no new buttons and knobs to push and turn and entertain the teens, so they began to wander and search aimlessly and recklessly for what mattered.  With no toys to open windows to their pasts and offer them a sense of peace and belonging, the elderly retreated to their beds to die because that was all they had left that mattered.

 

Far away on a south sea island, three figures sat facing the sea with their toes buried in the sand.  “Do you think they will ever understand what matters?” Thomas asked.

“Not until they truly want to,” said the old toymaker. “What do you think?” he said turning to God.

A tear rolled down God’s cheek.  Without a word, he stood and motioned the two toymakers to follow him.  Together they walked along the edge of the surf packed sand, two sets of footprints trailing after them.  They walked to where the beach dropped into the sea, and there they turned left.  The old toymaker, Thomas, and God were never heard from again, and with them they took what really mattered – The Toys.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 11, 2016

Requiem for The Battle of Linton Hollow

I am in mourning and shock.  For twenty days, the hen house in my backyard lay under siege in what became known as The Battle of Linton Hollow.  Night after night, the chickens cowered in fear as hungry predators circled their coop searching for ways to get at them.  By day, my wife and I mended holes in the fencing and set traps, but in the end, there was nothing we could do to save them.  It’s hard to admit, but we were simply outwitted by a craftier, more relentless, superior intelligence.  The varmints that struck down our chickens one by one could have taught Colonel Sanders a thing or two about “finger licking good.”  Once they honed in on the hen house location, and tasted the first chicken, there was no keeping them out of the buffet line.  The final casualty count read seven chicken lunches, seven raccoons, and three opossums.  Although I would have liked to publicly hang each and every critter we trapped, not one of the varmints was harmed; all trapped animals were given a meal and relocated to the river.  The chickens were not so lucky.

The final casualty of the battle was Devil Chicken, so named by my wife because she was mean as hell (the chicken, not my wife).  In some recent Facebook posts, I have referred to this gritty old girl (again the chicken, not my wife) as The Half Chicken.  During the siege of Linton Hollow, she lost an eye, all her tail feathers, and half a leg, but she was nevertheless a gallant bird to the very end.  Although the raiding critters treated her or at least parts of her as a “take out” meal throughout the siege, her spirit never wavered.  Unfortunately, the final assault, a beautifully orchestrated attack by a raccoon and opossum, was too much for her to handle.  The Half Chicken fell in battle sometime during the early morning hours of June 30.  The unexpected alliance of the raccoon and opossum was brilliant, and as of sunset July 3, the pair continued to elude capture with the same brilliance.  However, efforts to trap them and bring them to justice will continue for several more days.

The critters may have won the battle, but the war is not over!  In the spring of 2017, my wife and I will train a passel of new recruits.  These recruits will be hand selected, and put through regimented training that would make a Spartan warrior proud.  Our next brood of hens will kick raccoon and opossum butt.  Well . . . .  not really.  Chickens are called chickens for a reason.  They have four functions in life, and fighting heroically is not one of them.  Chickens eat, drink, poop, and lay eggs; that’s it!  When it comes to defending themselves, other than a peck and limited flight, they are quite helpless.  Their major line of defense against predators is a well-designed and well-built chicken coop.

The siege of Linton Hollow taught my wife and me our chickens did not have a well-built and well-designed chicken coop.  We did not skimp or plan it that way.  In fact, we were excited when we first built the coop; we were proud of our handiwork and thought any chicken would be honored to have such a great place to live.  Little did we know varmints were lurking in the shadows licking their lips and laughing at us.  However, the twenty day siege taught us a few things about design, and as a result, come spring, our backyard chicken coop will undergo major renovations.  Galvanized hardware cloth will replace the old 19 gauge chicken wire top to bottom.  Rolls of 18 inch galvanized razor wire will cover the top of the coop, and overlapping electric fencing will wrap around the perimeter of the coop and repel onslaughts from the sides.  The new design also calls for a four foot wide moat surrounding the enclosure.  Of course, both raccoon and opossums are excellent swimmers, but a wet varmint climbing over electrified fencing is about as good as it gets when it comes to turning a hungry determined varmint away.

Now, the wife and I are not sadistic meanies!  We have no desire to hurt any animal, but we do intend to do a better job of protecting our chickens in the future.  However, to be fair, we are erecting warning signs around the chicken coop.  If the diabolical four legged critters can read, they can save themselves some pain.  If they can’t, I can only hope they are fast learners.  Either way, I plan once again to have fresh eggs for breakfast by late fall 2017.  By the way, did I mention the 140 decibel alarm horn attached to the chicken coop as a part of the new defense system?

JL

©Jack Linton, July 3, 2016