Saturday, November 28, 2009

Writer's Cramp


Been busy over this Thanksgiving break, but have managed to get some writing done. Unfortunately for this blog, the majority of that writing has been for my novel, which is just for fun. It's fan fiction which means it uses a setting which has already been established. Legally, this means I can write all I want as long as I never make a penny off of it, which is fine by me.

To that aim, I have also been reading a book which has given me great insights into the art of writing fiction. It's called Make A Scene, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, and I have been engrossed in the incredible insights it has into making fiction *good* fiction. For any aspiring writers out there, let me mention a few ideas I have gleaned:

1. Every scene must have a purpose. It must reveal information or tell us something about the characters that is pivotal to the plot. The main character might be fascinating to you, but the fact that his boyhood dog broke its leg or is repelled by acorns is irrelevant and will bore the reader.

2. Keep them wanting more. Don't reveal everything at once. Make it a MYSTERY. Why does the main character become stone cold silent when his past is mentioned? Why are he and the antagonist sworn enemies? This allows you to feed it to the reader in bits, like a trail of bread crumbs, with the pastry or danish along the way as a reward.

3. NEVER reveal plot secrets through narration. Always reveal the answers to the stories questions through action or dialog. Let me give a familiar example that will help explain.

Luke sat at the desk in his study. There had to be a connection. Why was Vader interested in *him* of all people. And why did *he* have the force being just a poor farm boy from Tatooine? "Of course!" he thought as he smacked his fist into his hand. Darth Vader was his father!

BOOORIIING !

Darth Vader loomed above Luke on the small platform, the wind swirling his black cape. Luke hung on beneath him, the depths spiraling down below. "LUKE. I AM YOUR FATHER. Join me, and together we'll rule the galaxy as father and son!" Vader leaned over, extending his open hand towards his son. Luke's face contorted, twisting in rage and anguish. "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" he screamed, the truth slicing him to the core of his soul. He looked up one last time, then in defiance, consciously let go of the handhold, falling to his certain doom.

Now THAT'S drama, baby! Basically, its just more effective to reveal plot information through action and dialog because it allows characters to respond, and the reader to respond along with them.

4. Vary the pace. Action. Suspense. Conflict. Followed by a slower pace. A time for rest. Then speeding things up again. Yes, its the same dramatic formula that is used in every professional wrestling bout, but it works. Here are two examples of how not to do it:

In the TV show 24, many times the action gets so very hectic that it takes 3 split screens to show all stuff going on, simultaneously. It's action overload. Then, it never stops. The characters continuously whisper to each other until it gets so annoying that I start rooting for the bad guys to win. WILL YOU JUST KILL THEM SO THEY WILL SHUT UP????? They are seriously insulting my intellect by expecting I suspend my disbelief.

In Asimov's Foundation series there is a serious lack of action. many of the events are just intellectual excursions. hundreds and hundreds of pages of narrative, discussing thoughts that are a work of genius, but lacking any action whatsoever. the pace stays the same. It just goes on... and on... and on... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.................

5. Start the story with something interesting, which will have the reader asking questions. In movies, this is called the "teaser." It's meant to grab their attention and keep it. It does not have to be a chase scene like in the Bond movies, but it should center on some kind of action and tell us something about the main character.

6. The middle of the story is meant for conflict. Throw that hero into the fire! (figuratively) Then once they are out of the fire, throw them into the bigger one you have planned! Let that villain triumph and sneer with contempt as he throws the switch (or does whatever he would do considering the characters, revealing the hero's secret, beats the boxer to a pulp, steals the boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.)

7. The end of the story should always be the highest point of tension in the novel. Use that foreshadowing you planned earlier. Put in a twist or two- then wrap it up, tidying up the last loose ends.

These are some of the many of the changes I have planned in my first rewrite which will make the novel a much more compelling and tightly woven story. Make a Scene is everything I have been looking for in a book about writing fiction, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who writes fiction for creative satisfaction.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Gift


Once upon a time there was a certain neighborhood. It was a tradition in this neighborhood for the citizens to exchange gifts during the year with one another. Being the good people that they were, they spent a lot of time preparing these gifts that they could exchange with one another.

Over the years, trends came and left. Sometimes it was in vogue to have really elaborate gifts, wrapped nicely. Other times it was fashionable to have the gifts personalized. It was a nice, quaint setting, similar to the old Andy Griffith show. However, things would not always stay that way.

One resident decided to have extra wide, sparkly ribbons one year. Oh, how nice his gifts looked. Then, all the other neighbors had to get extra wide sparkly ribbons for their gifts, too. You see, one did not want to be the only one to have non-wide and non-sparkly ribbons. Then, someone else came up with the idea of having complex and ornately detailed bows. Of course, it was not long before everyone else was doing the same thing. This trend continued, with flowing, scripted cards, shaped, specialized packaging, and ornate, detailed levels of wrapping paper, one inside the other. Eventually someone even electrified their gift with batteries. Small blinking lights and little music players soon adorned each gift.

The stress for preparing the gifts had begun to increase, exponentially. No one wanted to be seen as giving a less impressive gift than their neighbors. All trends were scrutinized and carefully evaluated so as to have the greatest impact of being a "good" gift.

The time for gift giving arrived, and the neighbors with love and affection traded their gifts with one another, glancing comparatively at the packages they had each prepared. When the gifts were opened, however, the boxes were found to be empty. With sadness they realized that all their effort had been spent trying to make their gift look good, and no time had been left over to actually prepare the gift that they were supposed to give. They had missed the purpose of the gift entirely.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The New Declaration of Independence


When it becomes established that it is necessary for a people to remove themselves from the yoke of government; that freedom is no longer cherished nor free; that the government which is supposed to represent them does so in name only; that the government is no longer for the people it claims to represent, only using them to sustain itself; then the time for an accounting has come to hand.

It is true that governments should not be changed for light and transient causes. Evils committed against citizens are bearable in as much as they may be suffered. When language is changed in order to make these violations of nature, even against God's children and our fellow man negligible, when the most vile of motivations- power, greed and pride are so evidenced by our representatives so as to be a testament of themselves, it is time for those in government to rectify such maladies. Failing this, it is the right, duty, and obligation of the people to throw off such government, and to provide a new way of life. To prove this, let the following facts be submitted before a candid world:

The death of 1 million of our fellow humans each year, who are determined to be "not human" not by any genetic test, but rather by a nebulous description of their current form, not accounting the living, breathing, and loving people they may yet become.

The incitement of war in a foreign land, unjustly and unprovoked, regardless of resolutions by international bodies.

The poor vision of our leaders in providing nuclear, chemical, and weapon technology to those governments who shortly thereafter declare themselves to be our enemies.

The right to own land, firearms, and our own lives has been usurped from us.

For imposing taxes without our consent.

The representatives we elect are rife with cronyism, deception and duplicity, being more faithful to their respective political parties than to the constituents they claim to represent.

For spending money that the government does not have, depleting the value of our currency, hurting our economy and putting future generations of Americans into debt, without their consent.

For appointing, without constitutional authority, "czars" who draw tax-funded paychecks, who have no constitutional check in their power, in order to further their political agenda.

For allowing a foreign people to invade our county, against our laws, for the purpose of furthering their own power base.

For allowing us to become indebted and dependent on foreign nations, so as to be incapable of defending ourselves effectively should hostilities break out.

The desertion of foreign allies, Israel and eastern Europe, in their time of need.

This document is a petition for correction, made in a spirit of humility. Let those who serve in government observe and take action upon it, lest our country fall in its top heavy and unbalanced state. Our country was established with the goal of avoiding the Tyrant. It is an admirable one, and worthy of pursuit. The above list of grievances, although incomplete, illustrates the necessity of self examination, and the dangers of corruption and nepotism.

With thanks to Thomas Jefferson,

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mr. Biggs


Many years ago in 1977 I had the privilege of attending World History class taught by a gentleman named Frank G. Biggs. Mr. Biggs, like many teachers at Ridgeview High School, had a fascinating variety of personality quirks which made him unforgettable.

I remember sitting in his room many days, where he would do nothing but scrawl notes on the chalkboard (yes, with real chalk) in this horrible chicken scratch handwriting for the entire class. Across the board he would go, not caring that he was standing in the way as he wrote. We would bend and peer and write, write, write. It was an inconvenience at the time, but also a good way to learn the large amount of material he had to cover.

He also had many quotes which he would use over and over. "Ms. LADY! (he would then correct the student for whatever fault he found such as gum chewing or spacing out) and then he would say, "Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!"

He had a temper, as well. After work for the class that day was finished, his expectation of us was that we would remain seated and silent until the end of class. In such an environment where you have teenage students however, the tendency was to socialize. So, a low level of hushed voices would begin about the classroom. This was, of course, stuff that just *had* to be said. Whisper, whisper, whisper. Then it would get a little bit more widespread and a little more pronounced. Murmur, murmur, murmur. More kids would join in and the noise level would increase. Mumble, mumble, mumble. Then to hear above the mumbling, talking would begin. Blab, blab, blab. At some point Mr. Biggs would come over to a desk and SLAM his hand down like an atomic bomb. BAM!!!!!!!! "I'm ALER-ER-ER-ER-ER-ERGIC TO TALKIN !!!!" He would staccato the R's and his whole body would shake with fury as his eyes bugged out of his head. We would kind of turn and look and fall into silence, our jaws dropped, worried he might have a stroke. Then the process would start over again.

The following story was related to me, but I was not present for it, so I can't vouch for it. Mr. Biggs would slam his hand down on his own desk if he was seated there. I was told that one enterprising soul got up the gumption to loosen the screws on the side of his desk one day. Sure enough, as predicted he slammed his hand down and the desk gave way on one side causing all the books, papers and stuff he had piled there to go shooting down onto the floor. I can only imagine his reaction. I don't know if the student got caught and was sent to "see THE MAN," but the story itself was notable.

He had a trump card though, if you had his class at the end of the day. If the class got loud before or after announcements, he would say, "Stop that TALKIN or you'll be RUNNIN FOR THE YELLOW."

"What? Huh?" people would ask. For those who were new or had not heard it, this was his way of saying that he would hold the class after, so we would have to run to make our bus to get home.

This is much like my own practice of using witty phrases to get what I want from my own classes. "Sit down or you'll be wearing a frown. Find a chair or you'll go nowhere. Stop talking and start walking. Stop flirtin and start workin." They are, I am proud to say, my own creation.


Last but not least, is my own escapade, if you would call it that, in Mr. Biggs class. I remember it was a hot summer day, I was bored, and Mr. Biggs was lecturing. I had a window seat, and I would gaze out onto the baseball field longing for class to be over. I noticed that the watch I wore on my right hand (with the face side on top of the wrist) would catch the sunlight as it came through the window and cause a reflection from the flat glass face onto the windowpane. Well, being particularly bored and stupid, I turned my watch towards the board and had a three inch dot of light dancing around behind him like one of those sing-a-long dots as he lectured. This got a chuckle from the class and Mr. Biggs paused, wondering what was going on. He would turn around to write notes and I would have the dot creeping up his backside like a little spy. Thankfully I stopped before I got caught, or I would have been going down to see "THE MAN."

It is with joy that I write this brief article of my time in Mr. Biggs class. He was in my own opinion, a first rate guy. And to my students, DON'T try the wristwatch-in-the-sunlight trick. I know it. I did it. And I will catch you. Then it will be your turn to see "THE MAN."

G. Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Response to Alan


A Response to Alan
(over the origin of life on Earth)

Hey Big Al !

You raised a very thoughtful and intriguing question, one that I am sure many ask themselves. Was life on Earth created in 6 literal days, or did life evolve gradually over a much longer timespan? Actually, the question itself really should be broken down into a series of other questions, because often philosophy and pre-existing assumed conditions are intermixed with the question of the origin of life. Please see my articles regarding the philosophical side of atheism and the origin of species (where I get to take on Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Christopher Hitchens and other famous atheists) here: http://houtchblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/hitchens-vs-houtchens.html; http://houtchblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/in-defense-of-faith-part-ii.html; http://houtchblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/in-defense-of-faith.html. Also please see my three part series, "Do You Have an Answer?"

There is enough reading there to keep you busy for a while, but let me cut to the point of evolution, specifically. When I teach my students evolution, I precede the unit by telling them it is not important to believe evolution, but rather to understand the material so that they may 1. do well on the state mandated standardized tests and 2. so they may make an informed judgement for themselves. Skeptecism has an important place in any purely scientific investigation. Indeed, I tell them not to believe *me,* but to be wary of philosophy creeping into any scientific arguments.

From a personal standpoint, I am on the fence evolution-wise. Could life have arisen by evolution exactly as scientists say? Sure! Can it be indisputably proven? Nope! Does this water down the gospel in my opinion? No, for this would only reveal my incomplete understanding of scripture, not scripture as a representation of Gods truth as being inspired by His Holy Spirit being wrong. The more we realize how very *little* we know, both from a physical and a spiritual perspective, the better off we are.

Some (many) scientists are not willing to accept spiritual truth. They are skeptical of anything metaphysical, and this is their decision. The spiritual realm lends itself very poorly to repeated proof limited to the 5 senses. Besides, if they did, they might actually have to say "we were wrong," and THIS is what they are actually avoiding. It's philosophical arrogance.

Now, is it possible that the Earth and all things in existence formed in 6 physical days? Sure! Why not? It's not like we had someone there with a video camera recording it for posterity to disprove it.

Either way, its ok by me, because creation itself cries out God's existance ( I think that's an argument St. Paul used,) and that shows how wonderful and awesome and magnificent our Lord is.

That help? I hope so, cause I am out of time.

Peace of Christ to you-
Glenn =)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Heroes for Season 5


Yes, folks, you guessed it! Thanks to my contacts in Hollywood (who LOVES ya, baby???) I have the inside dish on the new volume of Heroes scheduled to come out in September. I am here to deliver the scoop to you, gossip-column-wise.

It was a piece of cake, duck soup, getting this exclusive info. Here are the new, quirky super-powered humans for the latest installment of that series we all know and love, Heroes. Siler will have his work cut out for him this year (no pun intended-BRAINNNSSS!) with this new A-list cast of stars making the cut for the new season.

1. Perfect Hair Man- Yes, you guessed it- John Edwards, with sidekick John Davidson, for those who remember him; their super vulnerability is mirrors; nemesis played by Donald Trump

2. Clothes Washing Man- can separate clothes into whites, colors; nitpicks his foes with rapier wit; digital recreation of Tony Randall of Odd Couple fame

3. Parallel Parking Girl- can parallel park at age 17, resists temptation to apply cosmetics and talk on cell phone while driving, played by Hannah Montana; is derailed by tuning in to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper

4. The Carpet Bagger- has the super power of making carpets roll up, entrapping foes, played by Jack Black; control is sporadic, often making him the victim of his own power

5. Emo Guy- likes to talk about how he feels, all the time, even though its one emotion; classic role for Ben Stiller who will nail this performance

6. Clean Bathroom Guy- puts the seat down and leaves it looking clean; Paul Reubens- no comment

7. Hot Air- Neal Boortz, blasts libs with hot air; a cameo as himself

8. Potato Chip Dip- reprise of Steve Urkel, confounds foes with super nerdiness, scrambling their brains; recreated immaculately by Jaleel White

So I hope with this news you are looking forward to the next season as much as I am, baby! Yeah! If anyone wants to get in contact with me, I will be by the poolside sipping Shirley Temples with my associate producer, Jethro Bodine. Who LOVES ya, baby?

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing

There was a show in the 80's that took political correctness before it became the standard by which things are judged and pushed it to it's limits. Now *anything* politically incorrect is going to have my vote. This one, decades later, still tickles my funny bone. The motto, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing," was usually followed by massive carnage. The name of the show, and the main character, was Sledge Hammer.

Inspired by the popularity of Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry franchise, Sledge Hammer was the inspiration of a 16 year old screenwriter. His idea of a cop that went beyond all boundaries found its way to ABC and developed a cult following, despite going up against CBS's Dallas and NBC's Miami Vice.

Made in a style similar to Get Smart, this cop spoof show has remained a lasting legacy to comedy, poofy 80's hairstyles, and wanton destruction. Ya gotta love it.

Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Hahahahahaha!

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Click the movie for a sample-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Tribute to Mr. J. L. Spain


"Mmmmmmm !!!!!!!!!" he grumbled with his shiny head and jet black hair from behind the wooden podium. "To-DAY," he began, jutting out his jaw like Thurston Howell III, "we will be discussing plant re-pro-duction." His voice, although gravely, had a thick southern accent. He wore an old-fashioned dark suit and tie, and had a bulky 12 inch Motorola walkie talkie attached to his hip which connected him directly to the school office. If you caught him before or after school, he sometimes sported a fedora, made popular later by Indiana Jones.

He walked about the class, thumping the back of his head with a black rubber stopper attached to a 2 1/2 foot long wooden dowel. The teacher was Mr. Spain, one of the wonderfully eccentric, colorful, and patiently talented teachers who served at Ridgeview High School.

"MMMMmmmm !!!!" he grumbled again as a penny rolled forward towards the front of the classroom. "PENNY!" he grinned with satisfaction as he pinned it to the floor with the stopper end of his pointing stick, scooping it up. They were just pennies to us, a reason to distract the class, but to him, they held value. He had grown up in a time when a dozen pennies could buy a loaf of bread or a hamburger. He supposedly kept a count of the pennies he had acquired in class- over a thousand at one point. No one knew if he was just making up the number up or if he really did keep count.

Mr. Spain continued his lesson only to be interrupted by a young girl who was babbling with her friend. "BETH MINOR! That will be a .... Note-A-Shun...." he corrected, jutting out his chin pronouncing the word as he began to get out his book of class offenses.

"Oh, PLEASE, Mr. Spain! Don't give me a Notation. I did not know class had started. Really! I deserve a second chance."

"A second chance eh? Allright. I'll give you a second chance.... I-DEN-TIF-Y... Oogonium." (he would throw out some impossibly difficult vocab word that only the most astute would remember.)

"OOoooonnneee..." he drew the word out, as Beth, in this case, stuttered and stumbled making up some kind of purely nonsensical baloney. It was hilarious.

"Twooooo..."

"Oh, it's um, it's this thing, this plant thing, yeah, and it's got this planty kind of stuff...."

"THREE! THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT!" He would grumble to himself some more as he made the notation in his book. "Mmmmmmm...."

At one point a student began a comic strip there at the school called "The Adventures of Bubblehead," which was quite popular as I recall. It featured the Mr. Spain (Bubblehead) with the muscular body of Superman zooming into the sky to write notations, capture pennies, and destroy the Japs.

When we got bored, we would ask him to tell us stories about World War Two (also to use up class time.) I'm certain he knew our motivations, but many times he relented and regaled us with tales of his exploits. "Mr. Spain, tell us about the war!" someone would raise their hand, asking eagerly.

"I remember when I was in Burma..." his voice would grate through the silent class. "The time was twenty three hundred and forty five hours..." (military time, which made little sense to us high schoolers- HEY! The clock only goes up to TWELVE!!! But no one interrupted him, even hearing the story for the second or third time.)

"There were two girls there... MIMI and FIFI (he did not go into specifics, only telling us their names) We were in our tents that night, but the JAPS had us surrounded...." Then he would go into this speil about the fighting that occurred that night.

Such wonderful times. We did not really understand it, but we were in the presence of a war hero.

Before tests, he would have what was called the "Maaaad Minute," where anyone could ask him anything that might be covered on the test. Usually, it was filled with wise guys asking completely inane questions that had nothing to do with the class! Afterwards, he would line up our tests on his podium and grade them in just a few minutes with a thick red marker after we had taken them. This was in a time before scantrons were used.

At the end of the school year when asked to sign our yearbooks instead of writing a personalized message, he would get out a big stamp that had his signature engraved in rubber, which he would then stamp underneath his picture! How odd but truly endearing.

In retrospect, I am still very thankful to have been in his class. Yes, I have since then forgotten much of the high school biology he taught us, but he was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful person. Sadly, he has now passed on as many of our WWII vets have, but Mr. Spain, wherever you are, thank you. And here is a penny for you =).

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, April 24, 2009

For American Idol Fans Only


For American Idol Fans only:

Recently I have observed how many, many people follow dancing and singing reality shows on TV. This includes many of my friends and colleagues on Facebook. I made a comment stating how American Idol (which in a manner of speaking, is sacrilegious,) should be permanently pre-empted by the show the $1.98 Beauty Contest. This gave me the idea for this article, which illustrates what happens when we clutter our minds with tripe.

To make my point even more pointed, here for you now is a clip from that same show. Now, THIS is how television should be done! WARNING: I take no responsibility whatsoever for those who choose to watch this video. You will most probably go deaf, dumb and blind. This is fitting if you do watch American Idol, as you are most probably deaf, dumb and blind already. Should you not be doing something more scholarly and intellectual with your time, say, maybe, playing WWF Wrestling on your XBox 360?

Rip Taylor.... This makes me embarrassed I am from the 70's. Don't say I did not warn you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Carnac the Magnificent


Carnac: The answer is.... (holding a closed envelope to his head, and "reading" what is inside)...

Michael J. Fox as a vampire hunter.

Ed McMahon: Michael J. Fox as a vampire hunter....

Carnac: [annoyed look] Do you hear an echo?

Ed McMahon: Haw! Haw! Haw!

Carnac the Magnificent opens the envelope tearing it along one side, and blows into it, removing the piece of paper. The drums roll....

Carnac: The question is... What is Stake N Shake?

Audience: BOOOO !

Carnac: May a thousand fleas build a condominium in your armpits.

I know, I know... My apologies.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

PS For my students who have never seen Johnny Carson, here is a little treat:

A Touching Story of Nature


I take no credit whatsoever for the following story. It bears repeating because it is so full of win, it simply begs to be told, especially for those who have not heard it.

It is a warm and emotionally heart wrenching tale, of an elephant and a man, who find love for each other in a way that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, especially if you are liberal. Enjoy.

In 1986, Mkele Mbembe was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University. On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Mbembe approached it very carefully.

He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant’s foot and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Mbembe worked the wood out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments.

Mbembe stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away. Mbembe never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Mbembe was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Mbembe and his son Tapu were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Mbembe, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Mbembe couldn’t help wondering if this was the same elephant. Mbembe summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Mbembe’s legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn’t the same elephant.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wow, Prezbo Makes the Right Choice!



I am amazed. I will be writing more on this later today. For now, I am glad he made the right choice and our fellow citizen is safe. See below for an excerpt from my article yesterday:

Just imagine with me for a moment: What do you think would happen if 20-30 Daisy Cutter bombs were dropped on the port from which the pirates freely operate? Do you think this piracy would cease? The world would condemn such an action, citing the poor innocents in port, who freely associate with and assist said pirates, but does the world equally condemn the absconding of millions of tons of ships and their cargo, and the taking of innocent hostages? Nope.

I am not holding my breath for the US to do the right thing. Like Clinton in the Blackhawk Down saga, (see my article on this event) our politicians would rather bend the knee to expedience than take a bold stand for what is right.
Yesterday I basically blasted Obama for being the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Now, there are still many issues I disagree with his administration on, both in foreign and domestic policies. However, I was pleasantly surprised that he could make the right call in this situation. He even got a kudo from Boortz in this instance.

At this point I am more open to see what decisions he will make. I am not optimistic, but am cautiously less disparaged about whether our president can indeed make the right calls.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hoppin' Mad!

I'm MAD! And ya know what mad means?? Thanks for asking, I'll tell ya!

Just a few articles ago, it seems like just yesterday, I gave the Houtchens seal of approval, yes, my own approval to a show that I felt was heads up and above all the rest. It was an article called "On the Supernatural," I did back in November of 2008. Remember that one faithful readers? The one where I did extensive research and compared the various supernatural reality shows?

Yes, I gave the show Paranormal State, with its founder, Ryan Buell, a thumbs up because I felt it did a better job of investigation than the other ones. NO MORE, DEAR FRIENDS! Yes, I put my intellectual reputation on the line and got BURNED. Why?

I just watched an episode where Mr. Buell and company got to research an idiot/victim who used a Ouija board to summon up all kinds of crap that was now manifesting itself in the house. Now, one might think that enough damage has been done. But OH NO.

How do they attempt to solve the problem? By using the darned board itself, and attempting to contact spirits that way. DUMB. They also videotaped the phenomenon for the viewing audience because evidently they did not have enough ghostly footage to air in the half hour episode.

It serves me RIGHT to actually endorse a tv show and then get proven wrong by Hollywood producers who insist that titillation and ratings trump intelligence.

Folks, for the record: Do NOT mess with Ouija boards, or hang out with people who do. You are asking for TROUBLE which you do not understand. Fools walk in where angels fear to tread.

After thinking it through some more, I can't really stay mad at Ryan as he is a Christian brother. However, I am upset with what occurred on that particular taping. In retrospect, I guess I am mad because I observe these folks apparently breaking one of their own rules and worry that others might try it. Unwise!

cc: Paranormal Research Society

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, March 20, 2009

Semper Paratus


Above, on the day of my graduation from boot camp. I cut quite the image.

The words Semper Paratus mean "Always Ready" in Latin and much like the Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis, or Always Faithful, these are the words attached to a military force of the United States, the Coast Guard. I was a Coast Guardsman, something I am still proud of to this day.

I was a junior in college at Liberty University. Coming home over the summers to work at my father's business at Charter Catalogs was beginning to get a little old for me. When you work with members of the family, it can strain relationships. I was still a bit like Maynard G. Krebs of Dobie Gillis fame, and still had not an idea of what I wanted to do with my life, professionally after college. All the adult men- coaches and professors I knew- recommended military service. "It will make a man out of you," they said. Little did I know just how true that would be.

I was attracted to the Coast Guard because I did not really care to be blowing people up, crawling through the dirt and shoveling foxholes. The Coast Guard, on the other hand, had a more attractive mission, it seemed to me. To save lives (in search and rescue,) to be involved in drug enforcement (on our seashores,) and to monitor ports and ships for safety. That sounded like something I could go for.

I filled out all the applications and got my background check done with the police. As the Coast Guard is a small service, they really can't afford screw-ups, so they were and still are fairly picky about whom they accept. On my day of induction, I went to the recruiting station, raised my right hand, and said the pledge to defend the Constitution with my life. Then, off in a whirlwind of activity. We piled onto buses to the airport, and whisked off to the beautiful, sunny, tourist-centered town of Cape May, New Jersey. Not that I noticed any of it while I was there. A warm, congenial and friendly face greeted us on our arrival, clambering on the bus, sneering.

ALL RIGHT YOU MAGGOT HIPPIES!!! OFF THE BUS! GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!

We piled over each other to get out the doors and stood at what we considered to be attention while the instructors got into our faces and screamed. Fortunately, I was a little older than some of the kids that had just come straight from high school. A few of them were not used to being yelled at, and started to tear up.

The instructors quickly singled these poor souls out, smiling in glee. WHAT'S THE MATTER, MAGGOT? MISS YOUR MOMMY? WELL, GUESS WHAT? I AM YOUR MOMMY NOW, BOY! GO AHEAD AND CRY! CRY LIKE THE LITTLE BABY RECRUIT YOU ARE! HOW ABOUT AS YOU ARE CRYING YOU GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 50 PUSH UPS, MAGGOTS! ALL OF YOU!

So we are now grunting and trying to do push ups while still at attention on the ground. WHAT A PATHETIC GROUP OF FREAKIN' LOSERS! the drill instructors continued to shout, but with more choice words. WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS? CAMP SNOOPY?

One of the recruits on the ground near me decided to answer. "No, sir." It was a bad decision, as well as a poor choice of words.

DO YOU SEE ANY GOLD ON MY BLANKETY BLANK COVER? The guy then decided to compound the mistake by actually looking at the instructor addressing him. WHO TOLD YOU TO LOOK AT ME, YOU IDIOT?

Down we went for more push ups. I was beginning to understand that the smallest foul up by anyone in our unit would get the whole unit in trouble. We quickly wised up and shut up. Then we were piled into a line and marched off to receive our gear.

In lines, we were quickly evaluated for our uniforms, both dress and work. We were issued shoes, boots, belts and covers (hats;) given a raincoat and a sea bag (which is like a really large cylindrical backpack;) and marched over to the squad bay by which time it was about 3:30 am. We were not allowed to sleep until we had made our bunks, which were called racks, the military way. Finally, we collapsed on the government issue mattresses.

Only to be woken 15 minutes later by our loving and kind drill instructor. GET UP, RECRUITS! he screamed, throwing a trashcan down the center aisle. The white, glaring, buzzing lights went on and we scrambled in our skivvies to stand at attention in front of our racks. And, as you might have guessed, there was one guy who was not phased by the lights, the screaming or the clanging metal trashcans being hurled around. He had slept right through it and was still tucked into his blankets, snoring. The drill instructor closed in on him like any caring mother would.

GEEEEEETTT UUUUUUUUPPPPPPP !!!!!!!!!!!!!! he screamed right in this guys face, his veins popping out of his head and his face turning three shades of purple. The guy woke up, screaming from fright, and scampered to stand in line at attention with the rest of us. We tried to keep a straight face.

Off we went to do morning PT. Running, jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups, you name it. Then it was off to stand in line at the barber shop, and to get our new identity as well: "Recruit." The actual title is Seaman Recruit, E-1 in the scale of ranks. The lowest of the low. We were gutter-crawling, toothbrush-polishing, watch-standing, grunt-working slime. Some of the other graduated recruits who were still on base (E-2's, the Seaman Apprentices) and a few of the folks who had taken ROTC (E-3's, Seamen) had a smidgen more respect from the instructors than the rest of us did. They were held to a higher standard, however.

Then into another line we went to get our shots and dental check up. They love shots in the military, by the way. "Don't scratch this inoculation or you will go blind. That's an order," the doctor told us. And boy, did it scratch over the next few days. That's because the little bacteria in there were multiplying, but at the same time, our bodies were building up immunities to the little buggers.

Once the entrance week was done, we were handed over to our Company Commanders. They would polish us and make us into Coast Guardsmen, or attempt to make us wash out. Lives depended on us being able to do our jobs and follow orders to the letter. Over the weeks, we became more accustomed to our routine. We began to show a pride in our appearance and our training as a unit, Tango-118. We marched with military precision, ate with military precision, slept, showered, shaved, spoke and replied with military precision.

"RECRUIT HOUTCHENS!" I squared off the corner in the hallway pivoting 90 degrees on one foot and stood at attention just inside First Class Boatswain's Mate Metts' door. The Company Commander evaluated my belt buckle, my ironed uniform, my polished shoes, my stance at attention, and my military bearing. My eyes stared straight forward at attention, my ears waited for any orders. "What is the knot of the day, Recruit?"

"Sheep shank," I replied.

"The Petty Officer of the day?"

"Petty Officer First Class Stott."

"What is general order number eleven?"

"To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority."

"Mmm," he grunted. "Dismissed."

I smartly did an about face and exited the office, once again squaring off the corner with my foot.

I still remember many of the times I spent there like they were yesterday. The classes, the people, the places. Sundays were special as we were allowed to go to chapel. How deep, emotional and meaningful those services were. I was elected protestant representative to the chaplaincy from my company, and at times, spoke to my fellow recruits just before lights out concerning spiritual matters.

I left boot camp in Cape May that summer as a mature (well, more mature,) responsible, highly motivated, tightly organized and physically adept young man. If you are young and lack direction or focus, may I recommend a tour in the US Coast Guard. It will make a man out of you.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Theft by Taking

[Above- Free Cat Food! How enticing!] "...there is no such thing as a free lunch."

Theft by Taking

It's against the law. To steal someone's wealth, either by taking their property, breaking into their bank account, or acquiring money via paypal (which has happened to me, by the way.) It's also against the law to threaten harm to others via their livelihood. That is, unless you are the US government. Then it's ok. I am referring to the AIG scandal, the insurance company which recently was on the verge of bankruptcy until the feds intervened and gave them a whole bundle of taxpayer dollars. (See article- http://macedoniaonline.eu/content/view/6016/52/)

Now I don't consider myself to be making a whole lot of money. I make enough to get by and make my house and utility payments. I can remember times when my bank account was stretched extremely thin, even to the point of breaking. Now, the feds, lead by President Obama, are outraged, OUTRAGED I say, because of bonuses that have been given to executives at AIG. What they fail to tell you, is that these bonuses are guaranteed by the contracts these employees signed with the company, and that these bonuses were made public quite a while ago, before the government made the bailout funds available. Additionally, they don't tell you that should these bonuses not go through, AIG would quickly go down the drain due to lawsuits brought by said employees.

No one is outraged by bonuses paid to top athletes and draft picks. No one is outraged by 20 million going to top actors and actresses, nor the producers and owners of Hollywood studios. It seems that no one in the White House is outraged by our taxpayer dollars supporting union screw turners making $90/hour including benefits at private automobile corporations.

As for me, I think wealth is a bit over-rated. Some might cry, "Spoiled Grapes!" and I would not deny them this. I am more than a bit mildly bothered by the governments hypocrisy in the above example. They say we all need to tighten our belts, but this does not apply to those who support their party.

When we penalize a segment of the population for being productive, we take away incentive for the cause of production. That's economics 101, folks. (Thanks, Coach Bailey!) See Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

It seems to me what is needed is a constitutional amendment with the provisions for a flat tax rate across the board. 23% to 25% or whatever it happens to be. A consumption tax replacing an income tax. Yes, this would result in more people saving money instead of spending it. It does not seem like such a bad thing compared to the inequity that is currently in place. Then, *all* would contribute towards our national spending, equally and fairly, including illegals that do not pay taxes but send our wealth to another country. A constitutional amendment would be required to keep politicians from "piling on top" of the percentage rate of the consumption tax.

Here is a question for you to consider: What is *really* going on behind the scenes? I mean this in a spiritual sense. What is happening on a national scale? What is it that is occurring, invisible to the eyes and ears of our deaf, dumb and blind population?

It is something to think about.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

PS For more stuff on AIG (including retirement money for teachers) click on the following link: http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2009/03/the_aig_blackma.html There is a lot there to wade through, but one can find some passages that are startling. A lot of it is business-ese, but even someone like me can make sense out of parts of it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best of the Best


For those who are just visiting my blog for the first time, I wanted to recommend the "Best of the Best," as selected by me. 150+ articles is a lot to digest, so here, briefly, are my personal favorites, as selected by genre. Enjoy!

Spiritual
God in the Box, January 2007
Walls, May 2007
Superman, May 2008

Philosophy
The Jellyfish of Micronesia, March 2007
I Am Not a Number, June 2007

Education
As the Parade Passes By, May 2007
FCA Speech, November 2008

Humor
The Pudding Story, March 2007
Marriage Announcement + Vacation, February 2007
(Judge Judy as a future mother-in-law)

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, March 13, 2009

Harry Weisgerber


In above photo The Ridgeview High School Jazz Band, "Tribe" [click for larger picture]

There was a man I once knew named Harry Weisgerber. He was the band director at Ridgeview High School, a wonderful guy who sacrificed a lot of time and effort on the behalf of his students, myself among them. This is a story of his life and times there, from my own perspective.

Harry had a heart of gold- perhaps too much. For although he was kind and giving, some students took advantage of his good nature, and of this he was undeserving. There was a student who at one point had difficulties with excessive alcohol consumption. At a certain school event, he had to leave and started throwing his guts up in the bathroom, because he had consumed too much alcohol, and this was not the first time. Harry did not turn him in, but rather gave him a lecture about how he would not just be an alcoholic, but would soon be dead or expelled unless this activity ceased.

I recall another time when the band got a platinum trophy in some competition, and we had a party of sorts in the band room the next day. Well, wouldn't you know, someone was spiking some of the drinks. They had smuggled alcohol into the school in refilled clearasil bottles, used for acne. Harry found out about it and came in to blast us. "FOLKS! What in the HELL are you trying to DO? GET ME FIRED? IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT, THEN FINE! YOU CAN DAMN WELL KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT!" And with that he stormed into his office and slammed the door shut, locked, and the rest of us just sort of looked around at each other in the band room, stunned and a bit angry at those who took advantage of him. ( I was not among those who did.)

Then there was the time we took a field trip to Milledgeville, Georgia, but that's another story.

In my senior year I dropped out of band because I was involved in church, football, and other activities. I remember going into his office to tell him the news that I was dropping the class. He was dissappointed, explaining that he had counted on me being in the band, as he had a position for me in the bands formations for halftime shows. He wound up recruiting some freshmen to march, faking the instruments so that it would not look like he had holes in places. I felt bad about that, as I did not want to put him out, but had made up my mind about what activities I wanted to be in that year.

When I got ready to graduate, he discovered that I would be attending his alma mater, Maryville College, and he went out of his way to talk to me and wish me well, which is just like him. The story does not end there, however.

Years later, after college in 1988, I was back in Atlanta working as an Educational Therapist, before I became a public school teacher. Ridgeview had by then become a middle school, and Harry then worked as a 6th grade teacher, no longer burdened with the excessive demands of band director. I happened to have as a patient on the ward a student who had attended Ridgeview Middle School the previous year. I will call her Anna. When I asked Anna about this wonderful man I had had the opportunity to know, she replied that she simply hated him. I was dumbfounded. We had a signed consent to speak with her teachers at the school, so I gave Harry a call later that day.

We spoke cordially for a while and I enjoyed getting to speak with him again, and I felt the feeling was mutual. He related that she was essentially a massive troublemaker and a continuously disruptive force in the classroom. And yes, they had a big time personality conflict. Oh joy. I thanked Harry for his professional opinion and invited him to go to lunch sometime, on me. Regrettably, that was not to be.

When I informed Anna the next day that I had spoken with Mr. Weisgerber, she replied emphatically, "I hope he DIES." It was only a few days after that that I was informed by Anna that Mr. Weisgerber had indeed, died.

I was taken aback, in sorrow and disbelief. I called the school. It seems he had gotten sick and tried to work through the illness, then stayed at home for a few days. By the time he got to the hospital, he had a horrific case of pneumonia and died shortly after that.

It was such a shame. He was in his early 40's at best. I look back in fondness, treasuring the good times, and forgetting the bad ones. Harry, wherever you are, you have had a profound impact on me. When I get to heaven, I still want to take you out to lunch, and we can sit and talk. Yes, that would be good.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Facebook


Well, I finally relented and put myself up on facebook, which my sister has been recommending for a while. I am being cautious at first, because I have read that viruses can get into ones computer by pretending to be a friend asking you permission to run a program. When it activates, it gets all your info for the purposes of spamming and advertising, God save us. So, I have declined being involved in Mafia wars and these little gaming applications I have been invited to, for now, which I suspect are very similar to the program "Tiny Kingdoms," where you basically recruit others to your little ponzi empire.

The good thing about it is that I have been able to reconnect with many lost friends and classmates I have known over the years, special folks who have inspired me in one way or another. Over time, the memories fade and become lost, but memorable events remain with me along with the friends who were there, bringing a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

I have been asked to be the sponsor for the Beta Club, and last night we had a big to-do, an induction ceremony, with candles and a brief discussion about service, leadership and achievement. I even wore a tie. Mrs. Bryant was incredibly helpful to me in handing out certificates, awards, pins, window decals and other stuff. All I had to do was the easy job of reading off the names of the wonderful students as they came up to get their stuff. I can imagine juggling the microphone and somehow managing to tip the entire pile of stuff onto the floor below the stage.

It was an honor to recognize these students as in order to get invited to the Beta Club, they had to have all A's or all A's and one B in their academic classes. No small feat, there, so I was very pleased to give these teens some well-deserved attention for their achievement.

Am listening to "Walk with Me," by Caedmon's Call as I sip coffee and get ready for work this morning. Time to make the doughnuts!

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Monday, March 9, 2009

Daily Bread


I have been reading the devotions of the Reverend Billy Graham for my quiet time. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Now, you can, too! Just click the link below to Billy Graham's website, then click on "Read today's devotional >>." I read the scripture quotation out loud, repeating it several times, then follow along with the commentary. It's a wonderful way to start the day. I have the site bookmarked, so all I have to do is click on it each morning before I read the news.

Here is the site: www.billygraham.org

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; give us this day our daily bread.

I pray that this link and the thoughtful perspective of this humble servant of God might be a blessing to you.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

A Delicate Balance



As a conservative thinker, I find myself in a dilemma. The problem is this: on one hand, pragmatically speaking, I am against many of the policies of our current American President, Mr. Obama. These policies include: money to and dialog with Hamas, the folks who have been indiscriminately shelling innocent citizens for many years (who also seek the destruction of the state of Israel;) finances supporting overseas abortions and stem cell research; selling out eastern Europe in order to make a deal with the Russians regarding Iran; driving our economy down with every speech he makes (of course, the unions are exempt from this criticism as they drive, pardon the pun, our auto industry into the grave.) I find myself in near opposition to many social, economic, domestic and foreign relations issues that Mr. Obama espouses. We all have a stake in this, my students included, as $1400 of *your* money, the money you have yet to earn, has already been spent in earmarks, just this year. Grats!

However, here is where the I am reminded of Jesus and the Roman occupation of Israel. The Jews at that time sought to overthrow the Romans. You see, besides taxing the population dry, they also put up shields of one of the Roman gods, Caesar, on the walls of the Holy Temple. This was greatly offensive to the religious sensibilities of the people. The Roman tax collectors and soldiers were above the law when it came to the Jews- they were like a big, armored gang. The Jewish religious leaders were afraid of Rome. They had to do a delicate balancing act between supporting their people and placating Rome. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Jesus did not overthrow the Romans. His kingdom was a spiritual one. Here is the deal: Political power is temporal and of this world, although our common enemy seeks to subvert it to our detriment. God's kingdom is within the hearts of men. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. So, does this mean that political ideology is inconsequential? No. Rather, it illuminates it. The policies that run contrary to Christian thinking are symptoms of illness, not the illness itself. Change must come from the inside out, as only the Holy Spirit of God can change the hearts of men. To borrow a quote, the *real* change you can believe in is spiritual, not political.

I don't know it all. My view is limited by my earthly perspective. All I can say is, Lord, change my heart, and help me to see. Let me be Yours, totally and completely. In changing me, let Your will be done.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hoops for Heart


I was thinking today about our local Hoops for Heart thing happening at our school, Mill Creek Middle School. It's a good cause, with monies going to the American Heart Association. There are little prizes for students to win, water bottles and t shirts and such. As I reflected, I realized something.

There are other diseases of the heart. Unseen ones, and I am not talking about romantic crushes that have been unrealized. I am talking about the scars we accumulate from hurtful words, hurtful actions, either directed towards us, or from us towards others. Did you know we hurt ourselves when we spitefully cause pain in others? Yes! Because it hardens us, making us think that its okay to treat others that way.

So, here is my idea, well not really mine, but an idea that came to me that I think has merit, and is worth more than all the dollars that can be accumulated in all campaigns worldwide. How about, with each and every "hoop" that is scored, we say a silent little prayer for those with heart hurts that cannot be seen? God, please bless them. God, please be with them. Please draw us all to You. Forgive us all. Help us to forgive others. Heal those whose hearts are hurt. Enlighten our eyes so that we might see You, and Your love.

As we do this, we engage our Maker in our lives and in the lives of others. We intercede for them, and our own hearts are changed and softened as a result.

So here is to Hoops for Heart. With every basket, let our silent prayer be heard.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rat-Face and the Evil Elf


As the NFL season winds down to a close, I would be remiss to not wish a fond and hopefully final farewell to two coaches whom I truly despise. Rat-face and the Evil Elf. Who are they, you might ask? Coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos and Coach Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. Why do I hate them? I am glad you asked.

Shanahan was always a coach of questionable morality, and I was witness to this during Super Bowl 33 in 1998, when the Broncos matched up against the Atlanta Falcons. After he had the game firmly in hand with a sizable lead, Coach Shanahan continued calling in long passing plays to his quarterback, John Elway, as they poured salt into the wound. Oh, how they laughed, cheered and mocked on the sidelines. I still remember it to this day. Yes, they had the Falcons out-coached. But to make it into a mockery is beyond the pale, and transcends the boundaries of good sportsmanship. This year, the Broncos had a three game lead in the division with 3 games left. They lost all three and Shanahan was shown the door. Hey, pal, DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT!

Ya swine!

Gruden on the other hand, always matched up well with Atlanta, with his defensive schemes coordinated by his defensive head coach, Monte Kiffin. However, Gruden actively supported players such as Warren Sapp, who regularly took cheap shots at players after the play as well as away from the play. As an example, after a long pass completion, the defensive backs and the reciever were running down the sideline. Sapp took the opportunity to hit a tight end who was not even looking in his direction (they were both near the line of scrimmage, with the completion way down the sidelines.) He injured the guy, putting his playing days in the NFL to an end, permanently, due to the injury.

Additionally, the fact that Gruden always wore a TENNIS CAP to football games really irked me. HIs use of profanity on the sidelines knew no bounds. Hey, Gruden- SEE YA! Hope you enjoyed that Super Bowl victory on the team that Tony Dungy built. I look forward to reading of your future failures.

Ya LAME-O!

Now all that I desire for the trifecta to be complete is for the cheating, practice and sideline videotaping, rule-exploiting Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots to be brought low. Here is a quote from the *one* incident he was caught at:

Armed with counter-intelligence from Eric Mangini, the Jets apparently have succeeded in busting the Patriots' spy ring. A former assistant under Bill Belichick, Mangini arrived in New York last year with an insider's knowledge of the Patriots' sign-stealing surveillance tactics and he shared the dirty little secret with members of the Jets' organization, a person with knowledge of the matter informed the Daily News yesterday. It wasn't until the fifth Mangini-Belichick showdown - last Sunday - that the Jets were able to catch the Patriots. Tipped off by Jets security, an NFL security official confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee at the Meadowlands, and the evidence is believed to be damning.


-Rich Cimini, Daily News Sports Writer, December 10th, 2007

I will smile a great big smile when Belicheat is gone- good riddance!

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Open Letter To President Obama


Dear President Obama,

I am like many Americans, who wish you well in guiding our country. This is a formidable task- in foreign and domestic policy, in keeping us safe from terrorists, in managing our economy, and in being a leader that can guide us through times of turbulence and uncertainty, job loss and financial strains. I pray God would grant you wisdom and to keep you and your family safe.

Recently, you opened up an online suggestion box to citizens so that you could better identify issues that concern us. I find it somewhat reassuring that you would consider doing so, although I would caution against a presidency like the Clintons had, making judgments and decisions based on poll numbers. Sometimes one needs to do the right thing rather than the popular thing. That online suggestion box is now closed, so I find myself writing this letter to you instead.

In facing the troubles that our country has fiscally, I would urge you to reconsider the long term, looking forward to the future. It seems like spending money to solve problems is the way to help them in the near term. This includes military problems, foreign relations problems, and economic problems at home. I would contend though, that the best way to help ourselves is to first address our national debt. All other considerations would be incrementally helped along the way.

Instead of spending money, save it. Use it to lower our national debt. The dollar would once again be the world standard, and our business would benefit, as would, in turn, our citizens. Any family is used to making a budget meet demands- do the same for our country. And may I be so bold as to suggest not only paying off our national debt, but also saving enough to place our currency back on the gold standard. "Pay to the bearer on demand" our currency used to say. No longer would we be beholden to trade deficits with China, which is using our work as a means to massively increase their military.

Similarly, open up the shale reserves in the mid-west, as well as our offshore oil reserves, so that we are no longer under the thumb of OPEC. Our country should not have to consider the dictates of other nations in determining our future.

Finally, a word of personal thought. I dislike the use of my tax dollars to pay for the union wages of the automakers in Detroit. They are a private companies- I should not have to pay for their salaries through force of government. I dislike for my tax dollars to be used as a method of horrific "birth control." The determination of the humanity of our fellow citizens should begin and end with DNA testing, not with a nebulous definition of what a human is based on their appearance.

Last but not least, please consider the implications of "Atlas Shrugged." There is a breaking point- I pray we do not discover what that point is, lest the fabric of our nation be torn apart.

Thank you for meeting with people, for asking their opinions, and for seeking wisdom. I pray that your inquiries and your presidency will be successful.

Respectfully,

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Revenge On Madden


Yes, Madden 2009 was indeed maddening, until I decided to wise up and do things the NFL way (by cheating, er using my head.) There was a patch that came out and after finally getting connected to XBox live, I was able to download it and start my season over again, leading the Falcons to their first ever Super Bowl win.

But there were problems along the way. For example, early in the season I had managed to make a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Cardinals, shipping them first and third round draft choices for stellar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He then became my number one receiver, followed by Roddy White, and then Devin Hester, acquired from a trade with the Chicago Bears when I shipped them the slow motion Michael Jenkins. Not a bad starting corps, if I do say so myself. But there was a problem.

When training my defensive backs in drills before each weeks game, they had to keep the stellar Larry Fitzgerald from catching passes, making moves, and scoring, which is nearly impossible. It was an excersize in futility, until my brain finally popped into gear.

I searched the database for the fattest, slowest, lamest excuse for an NFL player in the entire league, and signed him off the free agent roster for dirt cheap. He was an offensive lineman, but was about to become my little trick weapon. I then edited his profile, and using my genius coaching options, made him into a wide receiver, with a whopping speed of 38, no hands, less agility than a fully loaded mack truck, and no brains whatsoever. I then placed him at number one on my depth chart- and guess what?

My defensive backs had no trouble at all completing the drills covering this quivering mound of flesh, and have been steadily advancing in their skills. Before game day I would readjust the depth chart, placing Larry back at number one for a competitive passing game.

After my first season, there was another problem to contend with. Egos. Yes, all those pesky NFL players wanting salaries that would break my back capwise. Brooking wanted to keep his 8-9 million dollar a year contract, so I shipped him to San Fransisco in return for stellar middle linebacker Patrick Willis, and bumped Curtis Lofton to outside linebacker, seeing his ability rise a few notches at his new position. What about all these guys on their last year of their contracts? There was no way I could keep them all- or was there?

What is the least paid, most under-appreciated position in football, aside from the kickers and punters? Fullback. So again, I went into my trusty editor.

"Hey, Roddy. Come on into my office for a moment. Yes, I know you are in the last year of your contract, and deserve a hefty pay raise. You *do* realize, though, that we are changing your position to fullback? Yes, you get to knock heads with the likes of John Henderson and Ray Lewis. I am sure they, er, you will enjoy it. What? You are no good at fullback? Oh well, tough- them's the breaks. Now, what does a fullback get in salary for one with your comparative skills? OK- we have just finished talking with your agent and have signed you to a 7 year contract for 8 million dollars. Try not to spend it all in one place. Oh, and by the way, we are moving you back to wide receiver. K-thnks-bye."

Wash, rinse repeat.

I should have been a GM.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

PS Hey Travis- have your teams defensive backs train against linemen and have your receivers practice at fullback. You can thank me later =).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Things I Find Amusing, Part II

Check this out- a racoon raiding a family's house through the doggie door. The music, the eyes glowing in the dark- it's all quite classic. Also, notice the behavior- when the racoon starts stuffing its face, it is not even looking at the food, rather, looking off camera to where the family dog is standing (sleeping) on sentry duty- just like guilty humans do! Stepping on the cat's tail as it enters the second time is just frosting on the cake. This one is worth watching over and over again.


G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Monday, January 12, 2009

Things I Find Amusing, Part I


Emperor Palpatine looking for work as a temp employee. It is absurd, it is delightfully disrespectful, and painfully politically incorrect. Just what the doctor ordered.

"Now witness the fire power of this fully armed and operational invisible doggy fence!"

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Blessing Does Not Leave


Many years ago, when I was just out of college in 1986 or so, I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida for approximately a year before returning to Georgia to become an educational therapist and then, a public school teacher. It was during this time that I was working out my disillusionment with the Reverend Jerry Falwell. I was learning the dangers of placing a person on a pedestal.

I went to Amy Grant and Steve Camp concerts. I listened to groups like 2nd Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, Michael W. Smith and Russ Taff. There was a second hand Christian music store called Weird Al's that I loved shopping in.

Along the way, I happened to pick up a tape of a Christian comedian named Mike Warnke. He was an effective speaker, and had an excellent sense of humor. So, I started buying his cassette tapes as well, whenever a new one would come out. I would listen and laugh, and play his tapes over and over again. I still have several of his cassette tapes to this day, the pack rat that I am.

Mike Warnke had a testimony of being a former satanic high priest, and his account of being rescued by God from this life was quite gripping. He was in high demand as a speaker around the country, visiting churches and auditoriums. Mike was saved in Navy boot camp, so we both had that mutual experience- I had just finished Coast Guard boot camp a year or two earlier.

Unknown by me, however, was the fact that while being a traveling evangelist, Mike himself was an incredibly flawed and very human individual. He was unable to stay faithful to his wife, and the wife he married thereafter, and the wife he married thereafter. His emotional appeals for donations at the end of his services contained stories which were not altogether true. He evidently had obtained some kind of independent ordination so that he might claim the title of "bishop." He had written a best selling book called "The Satan Seller" which contained a detailed account of his testimony, and was quoted by news agencies as an authority on the subject. Some parts of his testimony were evidently, embellished though, and I say this conservatively.

Years went by and I eventually started my career as a teacher. While searching through the internet one day, I happened upon an article that revealed the truth of Mike's hypocrisy. It was filled with footnotes, and the evidence was not pretty. A link to the article can be found [here.]

Was I disappointed and saddened by what I had learned? Sure! But there is more to this story than the fallibility of one man. That is, that all of us, in one way or another are Mike Warnke. We are no more better than he, for if our thought lives were to be exposed in the way that Mike's personal life was exposed in such a public way, there is not one of us who could claim to be "better." Indeed, we are *all* in the same boat, regarding sin. All of us. There is none righteous. No, not one. It was in self introspection that I thought of this man who had started his ministry wanting to serve God. I had considered going into the ministry myself as a senior in high school, in fact, debating between going to Florida Bible College and Maryville College. What had happened along the way? If I had gone into the ministry, could I say that I would have done any better?

So, what can we get from this story?

First, be wary of placing people on pedestals, for as surely as night follows day, people will eventually disappoint you. Whether that will be a pastor, your parents, a teacher, a friend, Billy Graham, George Bush, Barack Obama- we are all tragically flawed, in one way or another. There is only one who will never disappoint, only one who is perfect: Jesus of Nazareth.

Secondly, our sin points to the need for redemption. My sin. Your sin. That redemption is found in the blood that Jesus shed on the cross, God's perfect sacrifice on our behalf. All that is needed to credit this to our accounting is faith.

Third, about two to three years ago I was driving around town in my truck. Along with the other junk I usually carry along with myself is a bunch of old cassette tapes. One of the tapes happened to be one of Mike Warnke's old appearances. As I listened, knowing what I did of Mike's life, I began to cry. Not in sorrow, but in joy, laughing as I did. Why, you ask? Because the blessing of listening to his stories had not left. The blessing had come from God, not Mike. In fact, knowing what I did then made the blessing even more special, as it showed the incredible forgiveness, and love, of God.

Consequently, do not lose heart in seeking to do good, and to help and bless others. For one never knows from the seeds that are sown what may become of them, in spite of our incredible inadequacies. God can use us- all we have to do is yield and say, "Yes."

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Bubble Popped


I was a kid back in the early 70's. It was the age of Rock Em Sock Em Robots, GI Joe, Action Jackson, and Major Matt Mason. President Nixon was in office at the time, but he really did not seem to care about the boring tedium of my work at school. His enlarged head would pop onto the TV in the evenings and all the adults would pay attention when he promised a freeze on prices for inflation, whatever the heck that was. Who cares, that stuff is for adults.

Saturday mornings in those days were programmed for kids time on TV. This was way before cable or internet stations, and one was limited to the stations that were in receiving distance of a local antennae, usually perched on the top of the family's house. As with other kids across America, I would sit there in my PJ's eating sugary cereal watching such shows as Captain Scarlett (one of my favorites, featuring marionettes as the characters, cars and buildings that blew up, and of course, the alien Mysterons,) Scooby Doo, HR Pufinstuff, and a really cool animated version of Fantastic Voyage. The Filmation cartoons were particularly appealing to me as they required a little brainwork and the artistry did not seem as "kiddie-time" as some of the other lame offerings of the day.

Anyhow, into this Saturday morning lineup was inserted bunches and bunches of advertising commercials, aimed straight for kids. This one commercial was pretty cool, it was for these animated robots called the Ding-a-Lings! They would go on this plastic railroad track and had this music jingle that I would bop my head up and down to. The announcer would state loudly, "They're the DING-A-LINGS! They are here! They are there! They are EVERYWHERE!!!" And the music would come on, and I would eat my sugary cereal and think these things were pretty cool. So I asked mom and dad to get me one for Christmas.

Being an inquisitive, curious and intelligent lad, (and also a bit daring) I quickly found one of the storage places my parents were hiding the stash, above the closet in my father's den. And yes, among the boxes was, The Ding-a-Lings! Woot! I was going to get the Ding-a-Lings for Christmas!

Christmas rolled around and the day was filled with much glee, as it is for any kid on Christmas day. Wrapped packages filled with toys, and the occasional piece of clothing that was ceremoniously dumped behind my back. I recognised the package by its shape and tore into it with gutso. Yes! Joy of joys, day of days, it was here! After the unwrapping ceremony was completed, I opened my new box to try it out. Thankfully, my parents had the foresight to buy batteries.

I assembled the railroad track and put the robot into motion. Bzzzzzzzzz it went as it crept slowly along its plastic course. I watched it in anticipation.

Bzzzzzzzz.

Hey! Where is the music? Where is the fun?

Bzzzzzzzz.

Where is the head bopping? When is it going to be here, there, and everywhere?

Bzzzzzzzzz.

Ya know, this thing is kind of STUPID!

Bzzzzzzzzz.

Realization slowly dawned on me. I had been HAD! I had become the victim of a cleverly appealing advertising campaign. So had my parents for that matter, although my concept of money at the time was limited to what their resources could purchase for me, in front of my young eyes. My view of commercialism changed on that day, from being an annoying interruption of my shows to that of outright lies. A small part of my childhood died that day, but it was a good lesson learned. The bubble had popped.

I had gone from wanting to enjoy the toy to wanting to blow it up. Fortunately, I did not entertain the idea of buying 10 boxes of toy gun caps to acquire the gunpowder necessary to perform such a hand-wringing, chemically-inspired, parent-abhorring action.

So, what other lies were being told to me? What are to be considered trusted sources of information? My young mind tried to grapple with the implications of what I had learned. The world it seemed, was not all snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Oh well, Fantastic Voyage is coming on.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Note: The below movie is *not* the commercial I saw in the above narrative, but a different one for the same product.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Christmas 2008


What a wonderful Christmas we had this year! Mom, even with her limited resources, splurged well over and above and bought two, count them, two slabs of prime rib, and it was done to perfection. She also prepared the potatos and gravy, and I was in hog heaven. It was quite tender and juicy. In addition to this, mom made me four frozen servings of my favorite, Chicken L'orange and I need not tell you that *that* did not last long. I had Chicken L'orange for breakfast the next morning. Time could not have run more slowly as I waited for the thing to defrost in the microwave.

As it turns out, mom's car stopped working, and that's not something one should be worried about during the Christmas holiday. Thankfully, Amy came to the rescue the next day and pulled her battery and got a new one put in and presto-chango and it worked! ( I was busy eating Chicken L'orange at the time.)

Mom also got for me the original Batman TV series with Adam West, which became something of a cultural icon in the late 60's. When one of thinks of the word "camp," this series comes to mind. "Riddler... you.... dia-bol-ical... ne-far-ious... scheming... villain!" "Holy cackling conundrum, Batman!"

Amy got me some books which I gobbled down. The mortgage business, it seems, is going bananas. Everyone wants a loan with the rate so low, but ones credit has to be above stellar in order to qualify. It's basically a mess.

I am looking forward to Christmas with Dad and Carol as they were out of town over the holidays.

The image I found for the Bush "Mission Accomplished" Defense Base seems a bit funny in a twisted sort of way. It reminds me of Christmases as a child, when plastic toys were all one needed to spark the imagination and to have fun. I have a story about Christmas and advertising that I will have to share with you later.

What an awesome Christmas. Happy Birthday, Jesus. Thank you for sending your only son into the world, Lord, to show your love towards us.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

PS Here is a little vintage Batman for those too young to remember. Holy Wayback machine, Batman! "Their minimum objective... must... be... the... entire... world!"

I Have Been A Slacker



For not posting as I should have. Yes, I have lots of things on my mind, as always, but regrettably writing about them has taken a back burner. Hopefully I can get back in the groove here and get some writing done. Good thing I don't write for a living, hm?