Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Holidays Around The World"

My youngest boy is going to public school rather than our church's Christian school. I've heard from several friends and relatives that they're concerned about rampant secularism in our educational system.

Naturally a lot of these concerns over secularism revolve around Christmas. Personally, I find it a little funny that in a country where the first colonists the kids learn about - the Puritans - were steadfastly against the practice of Christmas that there should be this much concern over how the holiday is taught, but that's an outsider's perspective.

For the most part, they haven't done a lot with Christmas. They made a gingerbread house (well, coated a juice container with chocolate and candies and made it into the shape of a house) and sang some carols in music class, but not much else. This week, we got the titular handout, "Holidays Around the World."

There are two periods of ceremony - Hanukkah and Kwanzaa - and five geographical areas - Mexico, Germany, US/Canada, Scandanavia and the Netherlands.

The ceremonies are pretty straightforward, describing the types of people most likely to celebrate them (Jewish people and African Americans respectively, of course), a brief description of a ritual like, "They celebrate the Festival of Lights by lighting one candle of the Menorah each night until all eight candles are burning together," and then talk about their food and gift-giving traditions.

This same is repeated for all five geographical areas. A description of the place, in this case, and then food, traditions and give-giving. The gift -giving in Mexico is by the Three Kings from the Bible account, while in Germany, Kriss Kringle gives gifts while Hans Trapp brings switches to the bad kids. The Netherlands Good Santa/Bad Santa team-up is Sinter Klaas and Swarte Piet. The US/Canada has Santa Claus, of course, Scandanavia has Little People who deliver presents - Sweden's is Juletomten, and Norway and Denmark have Julenisse.

And that's about it. There some detail given - apparently Dutch children has the tradition of leaving carrots for Sinter Klaas' horse, which is similar to the local tradition of leaving food for Santa's reindeer, which I thought was interesting.*

According to Bill O'Reilly, this is the part in the script where I tie my underwear in knots and have an attack of the vapours over the lack of reference to Jesus.

Nah. I'll skip that.

See, I don't really want my son's school to talk about Jesus. Their job is to teach him reading, writing, penmanship, arithmetic, music theory, singing, art, critical thinking, biology, chemistry, ecology, sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership and . . . well, a lot of stuff, okay. I'll teach him about Jesus. It's a dad's job after all (Ephesians 6:4), not the town's job.

Here's the US/Canada section in full:

"Christmas in Canada and the United States is a busy time of shopping, baking, decorating, and preparing for December 24. The week between Christmas Eve and New Year's is when most parties and celebrations take place. Families generally follow customs from their ancestors.

The gift bearer is Santa Claus. He lives at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus and the elves. They make presents and Santa delivers them in his sleight pulled by eight reindeer. Santa slides down the chimney and leaves the presents in stockings hung there.

Most homes set up a well-decorated evergreen tree. Brightly coloured lights are strung inside, outside, and on the tree. Sending Christmas cards is a popular tradition with many families, too, as is singing carols. Christian families celebrate the holidays with special church services on Christmas Eve and Day."

I'm really trying to figure out where, as a Christian, I'm supposed to find the bits that offend me here. Keep it up, Epsom Central School, and I hope your staff has a merry Christmas. (And if you want to wish me happy holidays, I promise I won't offense.

* For those curious, we never told our boys that Santa was real. We told them the story and let them decide if they thought it was true. Graeme only believed it for a year so, Brandon for less. They still love all the traditions associated with Good Saint Nick.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Actual People of Walmart and Merry Christmas

This Thursday, I went to Walmart. I don't like going there, but I did anyway, hoping to find a large bag of holiday M&Ms for a project in Brandon's class. *

They had a Salvation Army bucket at each door. There were two ladies at the bucket I was going to pass. One of them seemed tired and was sniffling a little, but she spared a smile for each person who passed by and nodded gratefully when someone dropped money in the bucket. The other one . . . I don't know exactly how to put this gently, but I think she was a cyborg.

See, I watch people a lot. I mean, I don't stare, but I take in details of people's faces because, as a writer, faces are an important hook for the reader. I look for interesting marks and hairstyles, but I also look at facial expressions and, in my head, try to sum them up in words as best I can. If I'm with Christy or someone else I trust, I might even share these words to see if I'm doing a decent job of it.

This woman looked like a cyborg. Her facial expression wasn't fixed, exactly, but it was artificial, like she was trapped in a Christmas card pose with people for whom she felt no genuine affection. She would turn that face toward each person who passed her, but her eyes were unfocused, unless you moved close and dropped something in the bucket, in which case she'd look at you, nod and say, "God bless."

I had twenty bucks in my wallet, earmarked for a pizza dinner on Friday, but I did a little quick math and figured that if I bought a slice of pizza inside, I could drop a dollar in the bucket on my way back out. Distracted by my thoughts, I didn't realize that the cyborg had turned its eyes on me.

"A donation, sir?" she asked.

"No, I . . ."

"That's fine, then," she said in a tone of voice I associate with prim schoolmarms who've just found a horse has dropped one in the parlour when there's a gentleman caller. ** "Merry Christmas," she said, evidently relishing the opportunity to hiss the Lord's name at me. I wasn't sure what my response was supposed to be, so I crossed myself and said, "Salaam alaikum," and went in. I didn't spare her a glance, but I heard the other lady snickering quietly to herself. ***

I navigated my way fruitlessly through the aisles of Walmart in search of my large bag of holiday M&Ms and, marginally disheartened, found myself at the takeout counter.

There was only one person behind the counter, a mountainous fellow evidently named "Lenny." **** His face looked well lived-in - pockmarked all over, craggy in spots, saggy in others with a crude, rough scar leading from his left ear to the side of his nose. He seemed tired, murmuring to the guy in front of him who was grossly abusing the store's policy on sampling, trying one of absolutely everything before walking away with the smallest possible container of the least expensive item. His eyes didn't rise all the way to my face as he said, "How can I help you?"

"Just a slice of pizza, m'man."

"Kay. Which one you want?" he muttered, gesturing at the lone pizza in the warmer - plain cheese.

"Chef's choice," I said with a shrug. His eyes were on mine in an instant, intense, practically glowing.

"Been a long time since I've heard that." The glow died quickly as he realized what he was doing. Everyone should glow all the time, is my thinking.

"You used to be a chef?"

And that's how Lenny and I passed the next fifteen minutes, with him telling me all about his days as a chef. He started as a line cook, worked his way until he was sous chef, and then the economy tanked and the restaurant went under. He picked up other food service jobs pretty quickly but he was, as he admitted, an alcoholic mess and eventually ended up with a three month tour of the local penitentiary system after getting drunk in a public park.

He's out, living with an ex-girlfriend ***** and trying to live straight. When he was done, he let out a great, long sigh, like he hadn't taken a breath the entire time, and smiled.

"Man, I never tell anyone that story."

"No worries, this happens to me - I think I was a bartender in a former life." I put out my hand for my pizza. "Can I pray for you?" Lenny's big hand fell on top of mine, pressing it to the counter.

"Please," he said, and bowed his head.

I'll be frank, I have no recollection of what I prayed for. The Spirit was doing an awful lot of groaning on my behalf. When we were done, I turned to leave, politely ignore the dampness in both our eyes.

"Hey buddy," he said.


"Merry Christmas."

I smiled.

"Merry Christmas, Lenny."

And God bless us, everyone.

I dropped a dollar in the bucket on my way out, along with the change in my pockets.

(The above is fiction - mostly. Well, it all actually happened, but not this neatly and not at the same time.)

* I ended leaving with a bag of glowsticks and two boxes of theatre candy. This is what happens when I go to Walmart.
** Hey, I said I try to sum up people's expressions - some are harder than others.
*** Was this the most mature way to handle the situation? No, probably not, but people who treat the chance to greet a fellow human as a chance to test them are bullies, and I don't like bullies.
**** His name wasn't Lenny. But it should have been.
***** "We aren't together or anything, she's just got three bedrooms and it's only her now," he said, as though I knew what this meant. I didn't, but I nodded anyway. I got the general idea.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why I don't make oaths and Black Friday

There was a trend on my Facebook feed of people swearing oaths to not shop on Black Friday. In some cases it was in solidarity of retail workers, in some cases it was a moral choice, in one case I think it was done to impress a girl.

Someone asked me why, if I'm a nice person, I didn't agree to not shop on Black Friday.

That's because I will be shopping today.

First, we're going to a little hardware store up the road that has a really good sale on artificial Christmas trees. We really need a new one. They were open the day after the Thanksgiving last year and the year before and generally always are. Failing to go get this tree will have no effect on their business.

Incidentally, I'm willing to bet that it will either be Alan or Owen who'll ring up my purchase. Alan is a younger guy, maybe in his late twenties, working his way through school at the Tech for computer design, but he really likes robotics and rocketry. His dream job is working for NASA. Owen is old and curmudgeondly, built like a scarecrow - like half of a Wilford Brimley. He's also amazingly helpful and kind to people who're trying to fix a leaky faucet.

We'll also be going to Myriad Games. They have three stores in New Hampshire, all with common ownership. They have every board game, card game, dice game and RPG you can imagine, and a few you can't. They're amazing, the kind of business I really want to see prosper. They sent out a newsletter to their loyal customers asking them to come in today.

What with it being Christmas season, I'm happy to oblige.* They're good people.

So, this is why I don't make oaths. They seem like a good idea at the time. They're comforting and give one a sense of moral rightness, but in the end, for us it would mean a year with a decrepit tree and paying more Christmas presents.

* Yes, that means that if I know you and you're reading this, I might be buying you a game for Christmas. But you know me - this shouldn't surprise you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Doctor

In a blue box, somewhere in the universe, there's a madman. He's the right sort of madman, though, the kind who's constantly thinking, plotting, planning, running from one disaster to the next and saving lives. Not everyone - well, hardly ever everyone - but a lot of people.
He doesn't have a gun, the closest he's come to armour is a wool coast and though he's more scientist than soldier, with his intellect and ingenuity, he has saved countless lives. Whole planets - better than three dozen in a single episode, in one case - saved.
It's not just that he's clever, though. Clever only gets him so far. He cares. He wants the universe to work and move, and he wants to see life throughout the whole thing.
See, to the madman in the blue box, life is the most precious thing is real. His archenemies, the Daleks are, quite literally, anti-life and against them every chance he can.
This is the Doctor.
When I was a kid, a very young kid, I didn't really understand what the show was about. I just knew that the Doctor defeated monsters and ran around a lot and, this being the fourth Doctor, that he had a fascinating scarf and floppy hat.

I have no recollection of the exact episode, but I recall the scene. In some grotty cave, a lumpy green man is lurching toward the Doctor. We've seen this thing kill before, although its victim shot at it several times, screaming in terror. The Doctor, though, has no idea what this thing is. He starts, just a little jump back, then smiles that great, toothy grin, reaches into his pocket and holds out a raggedy paper bag.
"Jelly baby?" he asks in a deep, resonating register. The monster stops.
I have no memory of how the scene ends, but that scene has stuck with me ever since.
Monsters are real. They are, any child knows that. But just because something appears monstrous isn't enough to make it a monster. It was this lesson that stuck with me. There were bullies, and they were monstrous, but they weren't monsters. There were people who talked badly about me behind my back, and they were monstrous, but they weren't monsters. They were just people, making bad choices.
Thank you for that lesson, Doctor.

On the 23rd is the 50th anniversary special and, I'll be frank, it's probably a terrible place to start watching if you never have before, but you never know. There will be explosions, and running and times that will make the little child in you feel like hiding behind the couch. And who knows, I might even learn something.

Friday, October 18, 2013

For Christy

That link right there? It's what we like to call, "ambience." Just open it and let it play in the background.

Anyway, it has come to my attention that it has been far, far too long since the last time I embarrassed you with a public display of affection.

You're amazing. You really, really are.

You fill the gaps in my swing so well and with so little complaint that sometimes it probably seems like I don't notice you doing it. I do, and, as I said, it's amazing.

What throws me, what I can never quite get over, is that you don't love me despite my (many, many) flaws, you love me because of them. You aren't in love with the Jim you wish you'd married, the Jim you want to turn me into or anyone other than the Jim you're married to, a quixotic, slightly crazed Manic Pixie No-So-Dream Man. You're not loud about it, not the way I am about these displays of affection, but that it's quiet makes it all the more powerful.

I'm not putting you on a pedestal here - you frustrate me sometimes, as I'm sure I sometimes frustrate you, but the thing is, even when we're in the middle of a disagreement, my first thought is, "How do I fix this, because I really don't want to fight with my best friend?" But just because we're getting along really well - kind of scarily well - right now is no reason to avoid an opportunity to get to know each other still better.

You and I are going on a date. The sitter will be there at 5:30. For dinner we're going to . . . well, here's where the Manic Pixie thing comes in. It's Choose Your Own Adventure. It's "dinner and . . ." where the "and" depends on the restaurant you choose.

We're going to either The Common Man in Concord, the 99 in Hooksett or Five Guys in Manchester. The "and" is affected by your choice because, well, we have a budget for this, and Common Man is pricier than the 99, which is pricier than Five Guys.

Just let me know by 5:30 where you want me to show up and I'll meet you there.

Love you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Male Gamers Only

As someone with an XY chromosome and a love of tabletop and video RPGs, ad banners can be embarrassing. A lot of these have cheesecake pinup girls on the ads and are advertised as being "dangerous" or for "male gamers only."

Someone took that idea and put it its head. And it's fantastic.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Please, don't follow this link without reading what I have to say first.

This article is long, and it's horrifying. But it should be read, so that we never, ever, ever allow ourselves to become like the townspeople who turned on the Colemans.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Terrible wisdom geek parents give their children

Yeah, I use the Bible to instruct my kids. It's a very useful book for such things (2 Tim 3:16) but, honestly, we're talking about a book that uses athletics, farming, military service, sheepherding and finding change in your couch cushions as teaching examples. I'm raising a couple of geeks; if the best way to make the story of the lost sheep clear is to explain that it's kind of like the relationship between Aang and Appa*, I'm going to explain it that way.

The problem is, there are some genuinely terribly geek phrases to use when raising kids. I want to talk about one of them: "No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."

I used to think this was great advice. I mean, some tasks are pass/fail, right? You either ate everything on your plate, or you didn't. Eat, or eat not. Yeah, turns out that the real answer is a lot more complicated than that.

See, I've learned that I love it when my kids fail.

No, wait, don't tune me out as another psychopathic parent. I don't like the fact that they fail, I like the opportunity that comes from failure.

See, it's something I'd kind of forgotten myself. I'm not saying that I never fail - I do, every day - but that I'd forgotten what it is to learn from new kinds of failure. Failing a test? That's going to happen. You'll learn about study habits, about the limits of your mind, about what it's like to have an expectation of success only to be completely wrong. Art project failure? The difference between what you see in your head and what you can make in the world can be staggering. Sometimes, the dross turns out to be a lot more interesting than the gold. Failed friendship? The people who're standing with you in the end, keep them close. Everything fades. Yes, everything.

I've learned these lessons. Not to perfection, not by a long shot, but these are things that kids, well, they just don't know about until the failure's already happened. It's like learning to walk. They learn to sit up after falling a hundred times. They learn to crawl after faceplanting a hundred times. They cruise, holding onto the end of the couch for support, then one day they get to the end of it, let go and . . . big grin - "Dad! I'm standing!" in a single expression.

And then they fall onto their diapered butt and start again, still not having mastered walking. And you applaud their failure, call your parents and your in-laws to brag loud and proud about what your child just failed to do.

I like this instead: "Do or do not, but at least try. Even if you fail, you'll learn something."

I'm not saying this is a perfect system and that it always applies. There are times - like mealtimes - where something you just have to demand success and nothing less, but you have to choose those battles wisely, geek parents, and even moreso, you have to choose the wisdom you'll use to win those battles.

After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

*, for my non-geek friends.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My liturgy

12 years ago. 12 years ago, a bunch of crazy guys thought it would be swell to fly a couple of planes into a couple of buildings to show people how big, bad and scary they were. I won't debate whether or not they succeeded because this is a day for mourning and remembrance.

I'm not a fan of liturgies. I appreciate their utility, but they just don't work for me. Rituals, on the other hand, I do like. They focus the mind and heart on the ritual's object, and today, ever year, I need that. This is my ritual.

First, I read The Onions, God Angrily Clarifies "Don't Kill" Rule.

Then, I watch Jon Stewart's monologue from when The Daily Show first broadcast after the attacks.

Then, I read Alan Moore's, This Is Information from the graphic novel collection it was originally printed in.

And, of course, I hug my wife and kids.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My life verse

This is a thing, apparently. No one in my peer group growing up had this as a thing, and if my parents or their friends did, they never talked about it, but a fair number of Christians apparently choose a "life verse" - one verse out of the thousands that they find most important, most informative to them, of what they ought to do or ought to think.

I'll be honest, I don't quite get it. I mean, I appreciate breaking things down into pieces - I like Lego as much as, if not more, than the next dad - but I don't quite understand picking just one verse. Over the years, I've had a few responses.

When I was a teenager, and a smart-mouthed one, at that, my response was usually, "Ezekiel 23:20." If you're not familiar with that verse, do NOT look it up. Seriously, don't. You might giggle, you might be horribly offended, regardless, just remember that it was the smart-mouthed teenage me that said that.

If I was being sincere, though, I would say, "And so, as we go into this world, let us hold on to what is good, honour all men, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering, share the gospel, love and serve our Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." When asked for a citation, I'd point them at my church's senior pastor, Ron Gannett. It's not a Bible verse, at least not really. It's a compilation of bits of various Bible verses put together in a particular order that I found - still find - useful.

Most particularly, I like that, "share the gospel" comes after strengthening the faint-hearted and supporting the weak. While I do share the gospel, in the sense of telling people about the lover and joy that comes with knowing the Father and the sacrifice of His Son, I know for myself that almost all of the things that have changed my life haven't coming from reading something or being told about something, but have come from seeing it acted out.

Talking is good. Words are good. Actions are better.

Anyway, it's a good little homily, but it's not a verse, and so apparently doesn't count. Next on my list: the book of James. The whole thing. Seriously, I once worked that up as a spoken word performance and used a portion of it as an audition piece and it is amazing. Like Shakespeare, I think James need to be spoken aloud to really get it. There's so much passion in the words that I think gets missed when you just read it.

Still, doesn't count, I know.

So, I picked one. Oddly, it's something that I thought was just a popular homily in Christianity: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God?

Well, it actually doesn't show up quite like that, as it turns out. Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

So, there it is.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Love is not a victory march

I've heard there was a secret chord

My uncle Wayne was a scientist. I mean, like the Platonic ideal of a Scientist, a man who seemed to love nothing more than asking questions about the world and being utterly delighted when the answers conflicted with what he'd expected (but seemed especially excited when he was closer than the last time).

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

Whenever we met, we seemed to spend at least a few minutes talking, just the two of us. What made these conversations remarkable was that, from the very first one I remember, he talked to me like I was just a person in the room with him. Not like I was a burden or responsibility, not like I was a child, even, but just as a person. I'm sure we talked about childish things, but he always seemed to enjoy it.

But you don't really care for music, do you?

One thing we never talked about, that I can remember, was music. If he's anything like my dad, he liked the classics - Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys. Unfortunately, I'll never get to talk to him about music.

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth

It was late in the day on the 4th when my dad called. Honestly, I'd anticipated the tone of voice he had. Pensive, nervous, sad. I'd imagined it would be a call about my grandfather, who's over 90 and has had some setbacks in his health. It wasn't. My Uncle Wayne died that day. We don't know too many details, and will never know all of them, but I don't really care about any of that. I took the next day off work and spent the next couple of days moving between trying to live and reeling from what had happened.

The minor fall, the major lift

On July 7th, I drove my son Graeme to the Ranch at Word of Life. It's his first week awake at camp. Over the course of the four-hour drive, we listened to audio books, sang to the radio and in all other ways greatly enjoyed each other's company. It was wonderful, really, and even the ride back, through the beautiful countryside, felt like a celebration. It was life. It was glorious.

Around the Vermont/New York border, Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" came on the radio. At the first few notes, I pulled over into a strip mall parking lot. I listened all the way through, crying so hard that tears ran down my arms*. When it was over, I gathered my wits about me, and prayed. Then, I headed home. Catharsis.

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

There's no good thing that I can see coming from death. Yeah, I know, "God works all things together for good," but my uncle Wayne is dead and he's not coming back. I can't think of anything that can counterbalance that. What does balance it? I still have his books, and he's instilled in me a lot of that curiosity he always showed. When I talk to my boys about science, I hear Wayne's words said in my voice, and it makes me happy. He taught me to smile, and to talk to children like they're humans. He taught me well, and, hopefully, if I'm doing this "living" thing right, I've brought him a little of the joy he gave me. I don't think I can ever fill the hole he left, but it's something.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Amen and amen.

* Yes, my arms. How does that even . . .?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Short story writers

A Facebook friend asked me about short story writers. This needs a blog post.

Lovecraft - Sure, he's not the best of the "eldritch" school, but his work is classic for a reason. It's creepy and unsettling, even today, although the near-blatant racism is rather jarring.

Samuel Clemens - It's sort of unfair that someone should be this darned good at a brand new art form. I mean, really, there have been great short stories since Clemens, but they're all held up to him.

Washington Irving - Well, Clemens, or Irving. He's the man.

Stephen King - Yes, yes, he could publish his grocery list and it would sell a million copies, but hear me out. The Long Walk. Survivor Type. The Night Shift. These are great stories, and that's not even talking about his best story ever - The Last Run on the Letter. If you get the chance to read it, read it. It's excellent.

Ray Bradbury - With a singular style caught somewhere between poetry and prose, Bradbury is singular and amazing.

Flannery O'Connor - If anyone ever inherited the mantle of Sam Clemens, it's O'Connor. From outright humour to biting social commentary and deep character studies, she does it all, and she does it all really, really well.

Philip K. Dick - Until he gets into his later , bizarre period, Dick is an amazing writer. I mean, he's so dark that he makes Kafka look like a circus clown, but it's worth it.

Arthur C. Clarke - Goodness, but this man can write.

There's more, of course, but these are the ones I can think of on a 90+ humid Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Of Consequence

Leonard Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, believes that, "Moreover there isn’t a lot you can say about anything consequential in 300 words."


"My name is Christy."
"Do you want to get some mozz sticks?"
"Sure, I'd love to go, if you're there."
"Of course. I thought you knew that."
"Jim, you have to understand this - I like you because you're you, not because I want there to be some perfect you."
"Yes. Of course, yes."
"I can't believe we're doing this."
"I do."
"I think we have enough."
"He's beautiful."
"They said it might be bad news."
"I think you should do it."

Consequential to me, at least.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Adventures of Mullet Boy and Bangs Girl

My work schedule is a little weird. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it's really not odd at all, but instead of working 9 to 5, as tradition holds, I work 8:45 to 5:15.* Consequently, though, when I'm leaving work, I'm uniquely equipped to, y'know, actually leave work. The more traditional shift is either 8 to 4:30 or 8:30 to 5, so I'm one of the last ones out the door and can exit with a minimal use of my PILWSDT** and get into my car and immediately drive away, uninterrupted by parking lot traffic.

As such, I get to the cutoff to the road home at almost exactly the same time each day. It varies by two or three minutes at most, really, and that's if traffic's especially gnarly. I am intimately familiar with the nature of life at the Bow bypass between 5:18 and 5:21, is what I'm saying. This is how I know Mullet Boy.

You might think it an insult to call him "Mullet Boy" but, 1) I'm Canadian and 2) this guy wears his mullet the way Superman wears his cape. Some people have awesome hair, others have awesome hair thrust upon them, and the case of Mullet Boy there can be no question that his hair is his responsibility, his burden. He bears the scars of so much business in the front and so very many parties in the rear that I'm amazed his face can still bear a smile. But it does.

When I first adopted this new schedule, last year, he was perhaps 14, with a slight hint of facial hair on his lip and that particular cocky swagger I remember attempting to perfect around the same age. He does it well, if a little perfunctorily. He always walked alone, but seemed to enjoy the company, a rare feat at that age. As time passed, though, he would occasionally have the company of a young woman that I like to call Bangs Girl. And, yes, it's because she has bangs.*** I liked her instantly. She started walking with him at the beginning of the school year, so I presume they attend together. We had a decently chilly September, and this girl was - get ready for it - wearing a jacket!

It saddens me that this is a remarkable observation. Even when I was a lad, though, many girls had already adopted this stance that jackets were, I don't know, not cool or something. I really didn't know enough girls to ask, and now it would be just really creepy. A thirtysomething guy with a pot belly and a scraggly beard sidling up to a teenage girl to ask why her arms are bare when it's forty degrees out? Yeah, even I'm creeped out by that and, in this situation, I'm the creep. Still, there's something to say for a young woman who actually dresses for the weather. That's not why I knew they'd be a couple, though.

I have this thing. I'm pretty sure someone has a fancy New Agey name for it, but in short I have a slightly unnerving ability to tell when two people are going toe end up in a relationship. It's not universal - I can't just look at two people and say, "They're going to end up dating" - and it doesn't predict length of the relationship****. So far, it's batting about 24 for 25. My guess is that it's something to do with reading body language and word choice. I say word choice because one of the marriage I predicted was between two people I'd never actually met in real life. Because I'm a geek, I call this my "spidey sense."

Anyhow, when I saw Mullet Boy and Bangs Girl walking together this last September, my spidey sense pinged. And I was right.

My first confirmation was in November. It was a very cold day, and windy. For those of you who haven't been through one of these days in New Hampshire, it's kind of hard to describe what it's like to try to go for a walk in this kind of weather. It's a little like walking in a NASA wind tunnel, but a wind tunnel that hates your guts and wants you to die. The wind is steadily pushing you back, but whenever you open your mouth the speak, it seems to know and kicks up just a notch, right at mouth level so that you choke. If you turn in a way that leaves you a little off-balance, it gives an extra push just below your centre of gravity. It's like zombie wind, a weather condition that hates the living.

When I passed them, Mullet Boy was jacketless and carrying two backpacks, and Bangs Girl was wearing two jackets, one ridiculously overlarge. Now four minutes from work with the heater on, the cold wind was still whistling through my bones, I felt Mullet Boy's pain. I got the impression, though, that he wasn't feeling any. The skin on his bare arms was red, and looked chapped. He mullet flew behind him like a windsock. And he just didn't care. Walking two steps behind Bangs Girls, his face was beaming.

Over the next few months, I saw them walking together more and more, sometimes close together, sometimes not. He never made a move on her while I was watching but, well, it's a busy roadway. I would've played it cool in that situation too. They were never on their phones, never listening to music, just walking and talking together.

Something happened in March. I'm not sure what it was, but Mullet Boy walked alone. It was a cold March, too, a hard time to be lonely. He didn't strut, he shuffled, and he never looked up from the road. The weeks went on, and still, he was alone. He seemed to walk with a bit more confidence as time went on, but there just wasn't a spring to his step anymore. I was getting worried about how life was going for this total stranger. This went on until last week.

Bangs Girl was back. They were walking hand-in-hand the first time I saw them, and then, on Friday, he was walking his arm around her shoulders. I was stopped at a light when he said something that made her laugh. He smiled and pulled her closer. She leaned her head on his shoulder for a second.

Why do I tell you this? Well, life is hard. Some days, it hardly seems worth it to get out of bed. The thing is, there's always a reason to.

Sometimes, life is amazing, even when it's hard. Thanks, Mullet Boy and Bangs Girl, for reminding me of that. I hope you have a fantastic romance this summer.

* I wonder why the "9 to 5" thing persists - I mean, virtually every office worker I know has two unpaid fifteen minute breaks. I suppose "9 to 5:30" just doesn't roll off the tongue.
** Personal "I'm Leaving Work So Don't Talk" field. C'mon, we all have one.
*** Okay, so it's not a very clever nickname, but the purpose of giving people nicknames is that you remember them, and while it was tight running between Bangs Girl and Definitely Not Chloe Deschanel, I eventually found myself defaulting to Bangs Girl because it's simply easier to remember.
**** Well, that's not quite true. It has two settings - "these people will date" and "these people will end up getting married."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our greatest weapon of war

Christians and pagans, friends and Romans, we have found it. After an exhaustive and thorough analysis and a staggering search over thousands of years, we have found the greatest weapon of war.

It's this.

Okay, you probably need some context here. Last week in London, there was a vicious and brutal attack in broad daylight against a member of the British military. The man was hacked to death in the middle of the street by, if sources are correct, a pair of Muslim men. There have been a variety of responses to the attack and a lot of them against Muslims.

Quite a few of these attacks seem to connected to an organization called the English Defense League, which is a loosely bound coalition of soccer hooligans, neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalists*. To my church friends, no, you're not hallucinating that last bit. There are Christian fundamentalists who think that the most Christian way to respond to violence is to offer it in response. And, no, I don't get it either.

They decided to stage a protest outside a mosque. And by, "protest," we really meaning that they were planning to show up, shout racial slurs and try to incite violence. They've done it before. And then, this happened.

Now, at this time we can't be sure that the custard cream alone was what did it. It might have been the tea as well - these people are British, after all - but the research is promising enough that I'm confident in saying that custard creams are our greatest weapon of war.

Or maybe it's this. Maybe turning the other cheek, and denying the power of violence** and actually talking to people is the best way to turn away war.

Hmm. It seemed simple at first. I guess it's not. Further research is clearly needed.

. . .

Anyone want some Oreos and tea? Fresh out of custard creams.

* There serious needs to be a "three guys walk into a bar" joke here.
** Not a universally Christian concept, and a concept that more than a few Christians seem to struggle with, particularly lately.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Today is Memorial Day. I'll be frank with you, it's not a holiday I grew up with, and not one I'm accustomed to. While Canada looks a lot like the U.S. on paper, we really are our own beast, and while I appreciate the idea behind this day, I'm still trying to grok it. Back home, we have Remembrance Day, but the way we celebrate and even its place in the calendar (it's on November 11th) make it a difference sort of day.

Right now, Christy and Graeme are off at a formal Memorial Day service in Epsom while Brandon and I stay back - sitting still for a full hour isn't one of Brandon's strengths, and I'm scarcely better, so it seemed a good plan. Still, the whole day has me thinking about freedom. What it means to the soldiers I know, what it means to the veterans I've talked. What they died for.

I think of my grandfather. He died years after the war, a grandfather many times over, having accomplished much. I think of how he would've reacted to the Internet and how it's made us all closer and put us all further apart. I'm pretty sure he would've been a big lolcat fan (he loved his cats) but I realized, accidentally, the video that would've hit him closest to home.

One guy, travelling around the world and dancing with total strangers. One the Gaza Strip and in the heart of Israel. On tall mountains and down by the ocean - in the ocean, in one case. This is what he paid for with his sweat and blood in World War II. Freedom. Sure, there are greater and broader applications of that freedom. We're more mobile than ever, and goods we once though exotic are now commonplace. The long arc of justice has bent ever more sharply toward freedom in so many places in the world.

We might see a world full of violence and war and predation of man on man, but slavery is on the wane, global poverty is on the wane and, locally, disease is becoming a memory. But we have a long way to go and this is no time to slow down.

There's a dark side to this freedom. Some corporations - not all, but some - take advantage of the rise in globalism to manipulate the markets and cruelly manipulate foreign labour. Small people groups end up getting absorbed into larger people groups, bringing to an end cultural traditions and even languages that have lasted out centuries of mere military conflict. Too many military conflicts are fought not to spread freedom, but out of fear or greed. Ethnic warfare, which only have a century was the least cause of war, is now rampant in many parts of the world.

Still, I am confident that if my grandfather were here to see what his efforts, and the efforts of so many others, had gained, he would be pleased. The long arc bends, so long as there are people with the courage to keep pushing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Eddard Stark is not a hero

** Caution: Game of Thrones spoilers ahead **

We've started watching the first season of Game of Thrones. I'll be honest, I never got through the first book - just too slow-moving for me - but the show's quite good. I don't much care for the main plot, really, which is pretty much bog-standard backstabbing medieval skullduggery*, but the side scenes are fantastic. The youngest daughter with her "dance" instructor. The Mountain and the Hound. That stuff, I love.

Anyhow, in several conversations I've had about the show, people have said that I need to prepare to be shocked by it because, "They kill off Eddard Stark, the guy you think should be the hero."

First of all, thanks to both of you for, like, totally spoiling the first season for me. That was swell. Second, Eddard Stark is not a hero

Mr. Stark (can I call him that?) finds out that his long-time friend and now-king is plotting to kill a young woman and her unborn child to prevent her and a horde of ignoble horseman from crossing a sea and attacking their realm.** His reaction? He walks away from the king, the throne, the responsibility of being the king's second in command.

He just walks away.

See, a hero would do something. I mean, to be truly heroic, to truly stand up for what he believes to be right, he would go save the girl and her unborn child. Sure, it might be dumb, but if he's willing to break friendship and break his oath to the king***, he should be willing to not only do what's right, but should also be willing to do what's right. There's no such thing as heroic words, really, only heroic actions.

Shortly after deciding to hightail it back to his home in Winterfell, his life and the life of his family is threatened so, really, even if he does do something about this potential assassination, its coloured by the certain fact that his action might be simply self-serving.

Some people might argue with this and say that he's acting on his code of honour. And it's true, he is. So what. It's a stupid code of honour, and one not worth following, if it places a higher premium on fealty over the life and well-being of others. A hero would get that. Heck, my kid would get that.

Eddard Stark is not a hero.

* Yes, there are "twists you'll never see coming." That actually really unimpressive because, honestly, anyone can write that kind of plot. Far more impressive would be twists you should have seen coming, but didn't.

** The reasons why the birth of a child would cause an invasion are complicated. Not especially interesting, but complicated.

*** Yes, I was paying attention to the first 10 minutes of the first episode - I see where this is going.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Things I'm grateful for today, in no particular order:

1) Grace.
2) Family.
3) A group of friends that know how to that laugh with me AND at me.
4) The Leafs defense.
5) The realization that Graeme's chuckle sounds exactly like Kermit the Frog.
6) Gardening.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Observations from tonight

1. There is very little about a not-so-great day that cannot be amended by coming home and grilling burgers (and marshmallows and chicken and . . .)
2. There is very little about a now much better day that cannot be amended by your kindergartener running an "experiment" where he determines which will melt faster in the spring sun - a rock or a piece of ice.
3. There is very little about a good day that cannot be improved by your kindergartener trying to say, "hypothesis."
4. There is very little about a great day that cannot be improved by a glass of good port.

And it's a wonderful day, isn't it? Life is kind of awesome, isn't it?

Monday, April 15, 2013

To the bombers

I want to be angry at you. It's a strange feeling, that, because there was a time when anger, particularly anger in the form of outrage, came easily to me. Instead, I find myself just wanting to be angry.

I came closest when Graeme and I prayed tonight. He prayed that everyone in Boston would be all right and that no one would die. I found myself mentally calculating whether I should tell him that someone was murdered right before bed or wait until the morning.

Still, no anger.

Sadness. Not anger.

Several good friends have posted a quote from Fred Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

And in the end, that's why I'm not angry. Because while there was horror and shock and pain today, and while there's plenty left for the days to come, particularly for the families of the dead and injured, there was also hope.

Runners finishing a marathon - a marathon - and donating blood. People running back into the explosion to help out. Stores, shops and apartment buildings opening up their wifi to help people get in touch with those outside the city.

We'll get through this. No, that's not quite right. We'll surpass this. We'll better this. You've already lost.   

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Things They Carried

Look at these pictures:

This isn't an attempt to make people feel bad that they have more than other people or a call for us to focus less on the material and more on the eternal - if anything, the plight of the refugee should call to mind how vastly important the material is, when that category includes food, clean water and shelter - but it is an attempt to ask what we would bring with us.

When Graeme was younger, he fell and broke his arm. I scooped him up off the ground, ran home with him, put him in the car, ran into the hospital carrying him and didn't put him down until we got to a hospital bed. I'd do it again, over a dozen miles, and I'd carry Brandon with him, if it meant they'd be safe. They can both walk, though. Ditto the wife.

I wouldn't save the cats. Sorry, Christy, dear, but they're both old and ornery and carrying either of them would be more of a pain than anything else.

My notebooks? I've a hundred of the things, and, really, they're most ephemeral scraps, little bits of thought leaking out onto paper, the pressure release valve for this grey hunk of meat between my ears. No, not them.

My Bible? Maybe. Thing is, I've never been one of the notes-in-the-margin Bible readers, so my Bibles are really just books, and none of them especially rare. I'd be saving them out of emotional investment in them, and none of them have that kind of resonance.

"Knee Deep In Thunder?" Quite probably. It took me forever to find a copy of that book, and it looks like it's once more out of print. It certainly has emotional heft.

I don't know what I'd bring, in the end. What about you? What would be the thing you'd carry?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Mr. Rogers Or How I Learned To Pray

I never much cared for Mr. Rogers. I mean, I didn't dislike him or anything*, I just didn't really care for him. His message, every day, was a pretty simple one, to my reading – You are loved. It was a good message, but it was one I heard every day from my parents and I didn't need it from someone on TV. That changed when I met a young boy I'll call Jeff.
See, I was a bit of a rarity. As a teenager, I liked and was liked by children and was willing to babysit, and had some experience and faculty with working with “special” kids. I mean, I've had very little formal training with it, but I kind of enjoy working with kids that are hyperactive or “troubled” and find it really quite rewarding.
Jeff was one such boy. It was summer, and his mother called in the mid-afternoon and asked if I could watch him for an hour or so while she ran a few errands. Jeff was a foster kid and had already developed a reputation as a bit of a bully and a jerk. He even scared some of the older kids but, as often happened, he and I got along quite well. I said, “Sure,” and drove over.
His foster mom met me at the door with the usual litany of instructions and directives and rules he had to follow** and hurried out the door, telling me she'd be back in, “An hour – less than an hour,” which I knew wasn't true. It would be at least two hours, but that was fine. I had plans to take Jeff to the park and play some Let's Pretend. The last time I'd watched him we'd started up a fine space pirate adventure I was keen to get back to. He was in the TV room right now, though, watching Mr. Rogers.
I stood at the doorway and watched him sitting in the middle of the living room floor for a minute before saying anything, trying to see the kid I knew and the kid everyone else seemed to know at the same time. He was still young, only ten or eleven, but already had a broad, muscular frame. His arms were ropy and strong under his long-sleeved shirt, and his neck was corded with muscle. He was leaning forward intently with his legs crossed and his hands in his lap, just like any other kid his age watching their favourite show.
Finally, I spoke up, asking him what he was watching.
“Mr. Rogers,” he said. “He loves me.”
I smiled. It wasn't my show, but I was glad he had it.

A few weeks later, I was at a local park when I heard shouting from the playground. I got up and moved toward it to find Jeff in the sandbox with another kid. Jeff was sitting on his chest and doing his best to fill the kid's mouth with sand. I pulled Jeff off the other boy. As soon as he felt my hands on his arms, he went slack and I carried him off without struggle. After everything else got sorted out – the other boy had apparently called Jeff a “fag,” and apologized, Jeff apologized for beating him up – it was just me and Jeff.
“Thanks for grabbing me, Jim,” he said, “I was gonna do something stupid.”
“You were doing something stupid, Jeff. Didn't your mom teach you better?”
He laughed. “No, my mom didn't teach me anything. She just liked to burn me.” I assumed he meant “burn” the way my friends and I used it – his mom, his first mom that he'd been taken from, used to insult him a lot. I turned on my lecture mode.
“That's too bad, Jeff. It's never fun to be made fun of . . .“ Jeff pulled up his shirt-sleeve and showed me the underside of his arm. It was a network of scar tissue, most of them small, round welts about the size and shape of a cigarette.
“No, Jim, she burned me.”

In 1997, Mr. Fred Rogers, everybody's neighbour, taught me how to pray. See, praying is something we direct to God, but it's not just saying words for the sake of being heard, it has to do with how we are and how we live.
I Thessalonians teaches us to pray continually, but it teaches us that just doing this isn't enough. Here's the whole thing:

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.

You could spend a year of Sundays talking about just this passage and hardly get the end of it, but “pray without ceasing” is in there next to all the rest of it. Praying is about how you live every single day.
In 1997, Mr. Rogers accepted a Lifetime Achievement Reward at the Emmys. He's how he accepted it.

You might not have noticed it, but that was a prayer, and, if you live your life as Mr. Rogers directed you to right there, it's never going to cease. I never got the chance to learn this from Mr. Rogers until Jeff had moved on out of my life. I hope he learned the same life and that he's healed from his scars.
I still pray for him. Continually.
Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers. And thank you.

* If someone actually dislikes Mr. Rogers, I have a hard time trusting them. It's like finding someone regards “joy” as a negative.
** I'm keeping Jeff's true identity anonymous as much because of how often I ignored his foster mom's rules as anything else.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Virtual Choir

So, I'm kind of in love with NPR's TED Radio Hour for giving me things like the below video. A conductor and composer made a video of him directing one of his pieces and put that up along with the music. He then requested that vocalists submit videos of them performing the piece. Someone then synced them all up and then . . . well, listen.

It can feel at times as though there's a shortage of beauty in the world, but the truth is that there is only ever a shortage in our ability to find it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A night with the burlap people

The campaign I'm currently running, using the Pathfinder rules, is set just after a major war between the otherworldly demonic armies and the races of man. A lot of refugees arrive at one of the few major metropolises left standing only to find that its inhabitants, the high elves, have vanished, leaving only the newcomers to reclaim the city and find a balance of power. The PCs are mercenaries that pick and choose their missions from the various factions. On a typical week, I present them with three missions. Any unused missions end up getting discarded, their monsters and dungeons recycled and reused in later missions.

Because of this structure, I can get pretty experimental with my narratives, so long as I keep them relatively brief – a single three hours session, typically. For this reason, it seemed ideally suited to test out a new kind of monster: the burlap people.

On's Tangency Open forum*, a poster named teucer discovered that across from his work were two really creepy burlap people.

Yeah. Creepy. The original plan had been to have the group investigate a carnival, but, seriously, how can a decent DM look at those things and NOT put them into a session?

So, while heading home from wiping a nest of goat demons, at around nightfall they come across a small village of yeoman farms about to celebrate their Firstwinter Feast. At the end of harvest, and preferably before the first fall of snow, they create burlap of effigies of the remembered dead, attaching a small token from that person's life to each of them. Each effigy is hung up with twine, and if you pull on the ends, they dance. At the height of the Feast, they're burned on a bonfire.

Gavin, the party's cleric**, concludes that this ritual actually makes a kind of sense – undead happen when a person's spirit comes back and is neglected, so having some mind paid to them would help them pass on peacefully. A bad idea though: a recent innovation from the village's head, Goodman Gregor – the creation of burlap effigies for all the unremembered dead. Unfocussed sympathetic magic could be disastrous. This seems like really bad news to Ojka, a hungry ghost monk who knows something about how to properly focus life energy.

While the party's settling into the traveller's hovel, under the good graces of Gregor, he's confronted by Audra, the village witch, a crazy woman dressed in rags and tatters. Before the group can talk to her, Gregor whisks her off to help with the preparations for the Feast.

The group has a plan – Tanaquil***, as a high-Charisma woman, is quite capable of distracting most of the village as she distracts the menfolk and keeps the women busy getting back their attentions while Gavin and Subra**** talk to the witch Audra. Last year, she says, Gregor went to the big city for a few weeks to arrange the sale of some livestock and when he came back he had this new idea, based on a book a priest had given him.

Subra sneaks into Gregor's house and steals out the book, which has the symbol of the Tolling Bell, the icon of a chaos cult, the bell that tolls down to the end of all life. Meanwhile, the rest of the group confronts Gregor who gives a confused confession – the man who'd given him the book was a chaos priest the group killed a few months ago, who'd implanted the idea in the man's head and sent him back to the village hexed.

As he finished his tearful confession, he was silenced by twine lashes reaching out from the darkness. Subra found herself facing off against a small platoon of the burlap people while Ozca jumped into the bushes to save the Goodman while Gavin, Tanaquil and the witch fought off the largest bunch of them. The villages fell like wheat before the scythe, only to rise again, their movements now under the control of the eerily graceful burlap people who created them.

Before he died, the Goodman was able to choke out that there was an altar in his basement. Subra, still close to the house, and Ozca, who found his fists practically useless against the burlap people, ran into the house while Gavin and Tanaquil continued to fight, trying to save as many villagers as possible (or, in the case of Gavin, get rid of as many burlap people as possible while avoiding any obvious villager deaths).

In the basement, Ozca took out the altar with a single flying kick. But that only finished the ritual. The spirits of the dead villagers along with the spirits freed from from the burlap people coalesced into a horrid human form, that of the dead chaos priest. The battle went well, but with so much magic being thrown around in the basement of a house not much better than a shanty, the building soon collapsed. The party escaped, but so did the priest, vanishing into the night.

The burlap people were quieted, and the surviving villagers solemnly, wordlessly, threw them on the bonfire, along with the bodies of their dead. Before the party went back to their home, hoping to catch a few hours sleep before leaving the next morning, Audra said to them, “If you see any, let us know – next year we'll need more cloth than ever before.”

* I'd link to it, but you can only access the forum if you have an account there.
** Human cleric of chaos and mercantile expert.
*** Yes, like the drug.
**** A sylph burglar, modelled after Parker from Leverage.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Having An Awesome Mother

About two weeks ago, this dialogue happened in the Roberts household. I can’t say this is 100% accurate, but there’s one line I’m sure of, and that I’ve highlighted:

Graeme: Hey, Dad, tomorrow I’ll need your copy of the Marvel book and five dollars.
Me: You got it bud. What do you need it for?
Graeme: [Classmate] said that there isn’t a superhero called Defensor and I know there is. He bet me five dollars I can’t prove it..*

The reason I remember this line so well is because almost immediately after I said it, I thought of my mom. See, from a pretty early age, when I asked for something, it was always her first instinct to tell me I could have it and then ask why I needed it. She trusted me, first and foremost, and that inclined me to try to be as trustworthy as possible, and meant that when I broke that trust I was almost as crushed by it as she was.

That’s my mom. She’s awesome like that.

Whenever she comes down to see us, the first thing she does is hugs. Me, my wife, my kids, the cats, whatever mammal she’s familiar with that happens to be nearby. Her first instinct when she sees people she loves is to touch them, or to show them affection in some way even if all that’s appropriate is a kind word. And she loves a lot of people.

That’s my mom. She’s awesome like that.

One last thing – some of my church friends may have their eyelids twitching at my use of the word “awesome” to describe someone other than God. Well, if it is true that to love another person is to see the face of God, then when I look at my mom, I’m not sure I could see anything other than God. When it comes to the people who’ve shown me how to live a good and godly life, she’s up near the top**.

That’s my mom. She’s awesome like that.

* No, he didn’t go to school with five dollars. While I appreciate his entrepreneurial spirit, I’m pretty sure betting goes against school policy. He did go to school with the book that has Defensor in it – he’s a South American hero dressed like a conquistador whose superpower is being unusually durable. No, really.
** The others are, in no particular order, Will Nicholson, my dad, Kermit the Frog and Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun . . .

Is talking to them.
Earlier Thursday, Youngblood said the teacher and campus supervisor "engaged in a conversation that talked him into putting that shotgun down. ... (The student) said, 'I wasn't aiming at you,' and said the name of the student he was aiming at."
 Shooting someone dead doesn't stop them, it ends them. There is a difference.