What’s It Like?

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My father sat on a riding lawnmower; an interesting thing considering we’d never had one. But, as he traveled across a vast field of bright green grass, he came upon some people standing beneath a large tree; an oak, he thought. Getting closer to them, he realized they were some relatives: his parents, his oldest sister, his older brother and another sister. They all had one thing in common – they were deceased. He could see his parents clearly, especially his father who died in 1969. He could make out the face of his older sister. His brother looked to be in the shadows, and the other sister was cloaked in a black veil. But he knew it was them.

“Do you want to come with us?” his mother asked him.

My father turned to the expanse of grass and nodded his head no. “I can’t,” he told her. “I have to finish mowing.”

Then, he woke up. It was late 2004, and he abruptly snapped out of a depressive funk. He’d lost his second-oldest sister and his older brother within a five-month period that year. Our family was still reeling from that. But, when he recounted the episode to me, he wondered aloud if his time was coming sooner than expected.

“No,” I told him. “They were testing you. They wanted to see if you were ready to give up. But you obviously have a lot of things left to do in this world.” He’d always liked gardening, I reminded him; a trait he’d gotten from his mother. The large field of grass was just a metaphor for life.

What’s it like, I wonder, to be dead? How do people navigate in the afterlife? I’ve always been fascinated with that; what happens to people when they die. Unlike some people, I don’t pretend to know what exactly will happen to me once I expire. But, unlike others, I don’t believe this is it; our life here on Earth is all we get. I’m not so arrogant as to express a firm knowledge of such things. I just have my own beliefs.

When my father’s oldest sister died in February of 1998, we had a simple ceremony in a chapel at the cemetery and then watched her be interred in a place near her father. That’s how she wanted it: just throw her body into a box, drop her into the ground and go on with our lives. Nothing fancy; no drawn-out church mass; no miles-long funeral procession; and no rosary. When I told a close friend about it, he expressed shock that we didn’t have a rosary; a pre-funeral Catholic affair akin to a Protestant wake.

“I hate to tell you this,” he said matter-of-factly, almost ominously, “but your aunt’s chances of getting into Heaven are slim.”

If we’d been sitting face-to-face, I would have smacked him. “Who the fuck do you think you are?!” I screamed into the phone. I unleashed a slew of other invectives, before slamming down the receiver.

This came from a guy who was raised devoutly Catholic, like me, but who – at some point in his early 20s – detoured into voodoo. He had renounced the latter and returned to his Christian roots. Yet, his self-righteous proclamation about my aunt’s spiritual survival was more than an insult; it was an abomination.

Several years ago, while attending a Catholic parochial school, an antiquitous nun (I knew of no other kind) abruptly informed me and some other students that animals have no soul. They just die, she said, and that was it. I was horrified. Did that mean I would never see my beloved dog, a German shepherd named Joshua? I cried deep inside. How could that be? Why would God be so cruel as to deny we animal lovers the company of our pets in the afterlife?

Fortunately, I’ve long since recovered from the perversions of Roman Catholicism and Christianity in general. It’s one reason why I divorced myself from that mess – a sin unto itself. Religion makes people say and do stupid shit.

Theology or not, I’ve never really been afraid of the unknown. I’m not a Goth-like critter who looks for ingenious new ways to kill himself – well, not anymore. My fascination with death started when I was young; perhaps, because I really did think of killing myself. The relentless bullying I experienced in school and the loneliness of being an only child made me contemplate suicide when I should have been thinking about sports or games.

Now, as an adult, I still think about death, but not so much dying. I consider it the afterlife, or more appropriately, the after-this-life. It’s another level the human soul attains; a world superior to this one. I’m not eager to get there! I’m just curious about it. I tell people I have so many books I hope I get to read them all before I die. But then, maybe my after-this-life activities will include reading. And playing with dogs!

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Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

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“Great Spirit and all unseen, this day we pray and ask You for guidance,

humbly we ask You to help us and fellow men to have recourse to peaceful

ways of life, because of uncontrolled deceitfulness by humankind. Help

us all to love, not hate one another.

 

We ask you to be seen in an image of Love and Peace. Let us be seen in

beauty, the colors of the rainbow. We respect our Mother, the planet,

with our loving care, for from Her breast we receive our nourishment.

 

Let us not listen to the voices of the two-hearted, the destroyers of mind,

the haters and self-made leaders, whose lusts for power and wealth will

lead us into confusion and darkness.

 

Seek visions always of world beauty, not violence nor battlefields.

 

It is our duty to pray always for harmony between man and earth, so that

the earth will bloom once more. Let us show our emblem of love and goodwill

for all life and land.

 

Pray for the House of Glass, for within it are minds clear and pure as ice

and mountain streams. Pray for the great leaders of nations in the House of

Mica who in their own quiet ways help the earth in balance.

 

We pray the Great Spirit that one day our Mother Earth will be purified

into a healthy peaceful one. Let us sing for strength of wisdom with all

nations for the good of all people. Our hope is not yet lost, purification

must be to restore the health of our Mother Earth for lasting peace and

happiness.”

Techqua Ikachi – Hopi Prayer for Peace

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Veterans Day 2014

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“Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.”

Mark Twain

 

Veterans Day

Image: The Burnt Papers.

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The Chief at 51

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Wow! I’m 51 today. That’s more than half a century. So, what? I feel pretty good. I’m certainly glad to make it to this age. The alternative isn’t pleasant. I think of the few people I know who died well before 51 and I certainly can’t be thankful enough that I’ve lived this long. Each day I wake up gives me another chance to make my life better.

I do have a few simple wishes:

  • That my parents’ health improves long enough for me to get their life stories on video. They’re not celebrities, but they’ve led some interesting lives and have some great tales to share.
  • That my dog lives a few more years. He’s 12 now, which apparently puts him in the same age bracket as my parents. He’s only the second dog I’ve ever own, but he’s made realize what’s important in life.
  • To get my novel published within the next few months. I’ve worked on this thing longer than most DVD players have been around, so it’s way past time to get it into print. Being a professional, published writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life anyway. I know it’s a tough business, but I can imagine no better profession for me.
  • To see my freelance writing career take off. Business or technical writing is the second greatest passion I have – somewhere after lifting weights and sleeping nude.
  • To find a box with $1 million in cash somewhere on the side of the road.

Okay, maybe getting my novel published now is a bit of a stretch. But who says we can’t dream extravagantly?

I don’t know why I’ve made it to this age, nor do I know why I’ve gone through all the crap I’ve experienced. I’ll find out one day. But it’s brought me here. And my life isn’t done yet. I don’t know how much longer I have, but I want to make up for all the lost years of being terrified of the future. Here’s to more time on Earth with the people I love and care for the most!

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Please, Jesus

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Cameron Parish, Louisiana – September 23, 2005

I need to pay more attention to my instincts. And to my father. Hurricane Rita was just offshore. Closer to Texas actually than Louisiana. But they kept saying it would move north before nightfall. My father said it would take the same path as Audrey back in 1957. I was surprised when he told me that. But, while his Alzheimer’s seemed to be getting worse, occasionally his memory would let him call out stuff from way back when. Regardless, we were right in the storm’s path. That always sounds so cliché and dramatic, but, in this case, it was more than true. And frightening.

This is just what I need right now, I kept telling myself – a hurricane named after me. Katrina had just hit a month earlier, and now, we have this bitch bringing in the second act. How many other storms were looming out there in the Gulf or the ocean? Just waiting to come in and finish us off. What did the state of Louisiana do to deserve this?

I’d managed to pack my father, Tara, James, both dogs, the computer, the safe and as many clothes and old family photos into my SUV. Thank God the dogs were small. But I still couldn’t believe James, all of 15, managed to wheel that damn safe out to the SUV and shove it into the back by himself. Well, his sister helped – more or less coordinated. “Just stay out of my way!” he kept telling her.

My husband, Eric, was halfway across the globe, stuck in Iraq. My oldest, Carla, was up at Illinois State. They’d each called the night before; frantically telling me to get the hell out of there.

I just told them I was monitoring the storm. The CPA in me was taking a meticulous view of things. I was calm – on the outside. But, inside, I was petrified.

“We’ll be okay,” my father mumbled.

Several years ago he’d said Black people don’t often die in hurricanes because we know what wind and rain do to our hair. People would laugh, and my mother would roll her eyes. But he was actually kind of serious about it. Dealing with his condition now was frustrating – and heartbreaking. It had been four years since mother passed and nearly eight months since I made my father move in with us, until the family could figure out what to do with him.

I looked out the patio door. The dogs stood behind me, trembling. The only good thing about Rita was that it could end this heat wave and bring lots of rain. The bad thing is that folks on this side of the state wouldn’t take it seriously – like folks in New Orleans didn’t take Katrina seriously. Everyone had put too much faith in the levees. And the state government.

“We need to go,” my father said. He donned his gray hat and grabbed an old family bible.

By then, it was getting darker, and the rain was coming in stronger.

I guess we were the last ones out of the neighborhood. But, once we made it to the highway, it looked like we were also the last ones out of the parish. Then, a few cars and trucks made their way past us.

“Mother, let me drive,” Tara said at least twice. She sat beside me.

“No,” I told her. “I’m okay. We’re not going to stop just to switch seats.”

I first headed north, eventually passing under I-10, which sat above us like a parking lot, and then west. There was nothing for us east of Cameron. That part of the state was still a wreck. If we made it to East Texas, I hoped we’d be okay. Please, Jesus, I kept saying to myself. Get us out of here safely.

“We will,” I heard my father mumble.

It was getting darker and wetter. Traffic had thinned considerably. I stayed to the right. The constant thump of the windshield wipers and the heavy beat of the rain were the only sounds. I always loved rain at night. Who doesn’t? Eric often made love to me when it rained – okay, focus on the road, focus on the road.

A thin ribbon of blue-gray hovered in front of us; the remnants of the sun. And the one thing that kept me steady. If we could just make it to that light…just make it to that light.

And, through the dimness, James suddenly jutted his hand over my right shoulder. “What’s that?”

I looked at the dashboard – the engine light had come on. I felt my stomach drop into my pelvis. I didn’t need a hurricane named after me and I damn sure don’t need this shit!

“Watch your language,” my father said.

“Oh, my God!” Tara said, leaning over, almost far enough to block my view.

“Everyone, calm down!” I hollered.

The dogs moaned.

“Are we running out of gas?” Tara asked.

“No, I have a full tank,” I said.

I gripped the steering wheel tighter; a way of saying I was starting to get scared. I wasn’t good with cars. No one in the family was, except for my father and Eric. That’s why they got along so good. James hung out with them, not so much because he liked cars, but mainly so he could get away from the womenfolk.

The engine light remained on – glaring bright orange against the onyx backdrop of the dash. It was staring right at me; like a demon taunting me to do something.

Tara kept leaning over to look at it.

“Tara, would you please stop,” I said.

“But, mother, I’m worried about that,” she said.

“I know. But we need to keep going.”

“Let’s stop at the first gas station we see.”

“Oh, Lord, no! No gas station is still open around here.”

It was just after 6:00 p.m.

Then, a deep rumble came up from beneath the seats, and the entire vehicle began to shudder. Tara gripped the dashboard and looked towards me. I kept my eyes straight ahead; hoping no one would notice if every organ in my body failed at once. My hands were getting moist still holding onto that steering wheel.

The SUV kept rumbling and shaking. And then, started slowing down – while my foot was on the accelerator.

“Mother, just pull over,” said James.

“No!” I told him. “We need to keep going.”

“It’s not going to go much further!” He never raised his voice at me.

The thing was slowing down more and more. Then a loud clanging sound felt like the bottom of it had fallen out and took my sanity with it. I managed to veer off to the right, the windshield wipers still thumping madly. I was surprised to see a few more vehicles come up from behind and then, pass us. I flicked on the emergency lights. Oh, God, this can’t be happening, I screamed to myself.

“We’ll be alright,” my father muttered.

We’d managed to travel less than sixty miles from home and we were just north of I-10; sitting on the side of a state highway. I don’t even remember which one. “Oh, Lord,” I said. “This is just great.”

“Just turn off the engine and let it rest,” James said matter-of-factly. I could see him stroking his chin, like my father did when he went deep into thought.

“No, don’t turn it off!” Tara screamed. Her voice startled everyone and made the dogs bark. “What if it doesn’t start back up?!”

“Tara, do not scream like that!” I hollered.

The sound of the windshield wipers and the rain couldn’t drown out our voices.

“Mother!” cried Tara.

“Tara, stop!” I said. “Please, stop! Yelling isn’t gonna help anything. We’ll figure this out.” I caressed her shoulder, as she looked ahead. Her lips were trembling.

Deep inside my soul, mine were, too.

“We’ll be alright,” my father said.

Oh, Lord, I said quietly, please send your son, Jesus, to help us. I glanced through the driver’s side window, as a few vehicles rolled by, seemingly oblivious to our presence. I kept asking the good Lord to help us; to send his child to get us out of this mess. I don’t know why I kept saying it like that: please send your son, Jesus, to help us. But I did.

It was completely dark now. The blue-gray ribbon had fallen into the horizon ahead of us. The highway lamps on either side of the road bobbed nonchalantly; the light fading.

Tara’s left hand found my right one. She maintained her gaze straight ahead; lips still trembling.

Oh, Lord, please send your son, Jesus, to help us, I screamed into my mind. Oh, please, Lord! Help me get my father and my children out of here. My head began to hurt from hollering inside so much. Please send your son, Jesus, to help us.

I don’t know how long we sat there, alone in the darkness and the ever-increasing rain. At least we were far from the coastline. But, we had nowhere to go.

Lord, please send your son, Jesus, to help us. I let out a sigh and dropped my head down.

Then, I looked out the driver’s side window for what I thought would be the last time, before a wall of water would come rushing up and swallow us whole. And, through the blankets of water pressing against the glass, I saw a pair of headlights in the distance. They were high beams. It was the first vehicle we’d seen in what seemed like hours.

“Well,” I said, “who could this be?”

“Jesus,” I heard my father mumble.

Tara looked up into the rear-view mirror and then, turned around. “Oh, my God! Maybe they’ll stop to help us!”

“I hope so,” I said. I was tempted to jump out and flag them down; my hair be damned.

“Okay, mother,” James said, “if it’s a state trooper, just keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

“Thank you, counselor,” I smirked.

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The headlights came closer.

I reached for the door handle. It was now or never. I had to jump out and try to make them stop.

The lights were upon us.

I unbuckled my seat belt.

Then, without warning, the headlights veered off to the right. Whoever it was, had pulled up behind us.

I jumped out, almost falling face down.

“Mother!” Tara screamed. But her voice was drowned out by the rain.

James jumped out of the other side. His sister screamed his name, but again, the rain snuffed her out.

Then, the vehicle – an SUV as large as mine – lurched out from behind us and back onto the road.

“Oh, Lord, no!” I yelled into the wet darkness.

The driver stop right beside me and lowered the passenger side window.

I gripped the doorframe. But, I was already out of breath.

The driver was a solitary young man, his bright green eyes grasping my attention. “Are you alright, ma’am?” he asked.

“No!” I yelled back. I hated to yell at strangers. “I don’t know what happened. This thing just gave out on me! I have my children and father – and my dogs – with me. We’re trying to get the hell out of here!”

“Okay, hold on!” he said. “Let me pull up in front of you.” He inched his vehicle forward, the emergency lights already glowing, and hopped out.

In a matter of minutes, we had everyone crammed into his truck. The back of it was filled with boxes. There wasn’t much room for our own belongings, but the young man even grabbed my box of family photos. I crawled into the back of my SUV and opened the safe, which held our birth certificates, social security cards, a .45 gun and bag of cash. I stuffed all of that into James’ gym bag, which he’d emptied immediately, as if he knew what I was thinking. The other things in the safe would have to stay. Most everything else in my SUV would also have to stay. I turned off the emergency lights, grabbed the keys and hopped into the young man’s vehicle.

Each of us was soaked. “Kind of a bad night,” he said with a chuckle and bright smile, as he moved back onto the road.

“I’ll say,” I told him. “Oh, Lord! I knew we should have left sooner.”

“Yea, me, too,” he said. “I was in Lake Charles on business.”

“Oh, okay. We live out further south.”

“I thought of heading up north. But, I thought, no – better head back to Texas.”

“Oh, okay. Is that where you’re from?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tara told him. “Thank you, thank you! We thought we’d be stuck there forever.”

“Oh, think nothing of it,” he said. “I’m glad I could get you out of here.”

“That makes seven of us,” James said.

We all laughed.

“I just had that thing serviced,” I said, wiping my face with a damp hand. “It’s only five years old.”

“Oh, I know how that goes,” the man said.

“Well, we – oh, I’m sorry! Where are my manners? My name is Rita. This is my father, William; my daughter, Tara; my son, James; and our dogs, Rocky and Bruno.”

“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” James said.

“Same here,” replied the young man. “My name is Heh-soos.”

“Say again?” I asked.

“Jesus,” my father muttered.

“Heh-soos,” the man repeated. “It’s Spanish for Jesus.”

“Oh, how nice.”

© 2014

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All Saints’ Day – Day of the Dead

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“Life is eternal, and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”

Rossiter Worthington Raymond

 

All Saints’ Day.

Day of the Dead.

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Monumental

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Tomorrow evening, October 27, the Dallas Cowboys will play the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Currently, the Cowboys are on a winning streak, and hopes for a successful season look brighter than a cure for Ebola. But, amidst the usual revelry of a brutal contact sport, the issue of naming has arisen once again – the Redskins’ name.

Yolanda Blue Horse, a Dallas resident and member of the Lakota Nation, has scheduled a formal protest outside the stadium for 3 p.m. on Monday.

“When we all stand together as one, we also honor those before us and those to come after us,” Blue Horse declared. “The continued use of this negative word is not only derogatory, but it is offensive and we demand that the owner, Dan Snyder, stop using this racist word to promote his football organization.”

For years Native Americans have been demanding that Washington change its team name; a racial slur as bad as nigger, spick, chink, or elected official. And, for years, Washington has balked at the suggestion. But, in recent years, I’ve noticed something different: people are starting to pay more attention to the issue. Moreover, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has taken greater interest in the subject. For the first time in memory, they’ve actually contemplated banning radio and TV stations from using the term ‘redskin’ while broadcasting.

“We will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we’ll be responding accordingly,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler admits he’s a critic of Washington’s name, calling it “offensive and derogatory” in a recent interview. He refers to the club as “the Washington football team” instead.

Banning the term ‘redskin’ would effectively prevent radio or TV outlets from utilizing it while on the air. If they do, in other words, they could lose their license. That would mean any TV network or radio station broadcasting a game featuring Washington couldn’t openly refer to them as the Washington Redskins. The announcers couldn’t utter it, and the name couldn’t be displayed even in written form. Therefore, it’s possible a network wouldn’t take the chance and decide not to televise the game. That could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue for the network and its sponsors. If Washington should make it to the annual Super Bowl, that could create a financial calamity. Earlier this year the U.S. Patent and Trade Office went so far as to cancel the team’s trademark; denouncing it as disparaging to Native Americans. That’s the closest anyone has come to banning ‘redskin’ from public usage at the national level.

This past spring 50 members of the U.S. Senate sent letters to National Football Commissioner Roger Goodell prodding him and the league to endorse a name change for Washington.

“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” said one letter, signed by 49 senators. “We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”

Not surprisingly, owner Dan Snyder has refused calls to change the team’s name, proclaiming it a noble moniker, not a slur. In a recent interview with ESPN, he once again insisted he won’t bow to public pressure. “It’s just historical truths,” he said, “and I’d like them to understand, as I think most do, that the name really means honor, respect.”

Snyder highlighted both William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, Washington’s first coach and for whom the team was named to honor his “Native American heritage,” and Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, the late former president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, who helped design and approve the team’s logo, as true-life examples of the positive history of the nickname.

I wrote up an essay on this issue a couple of years ago; wondering aloud if anyone would tolerate sports team names such as the Washington Niggers or the Houston Hebes. The word ‘redskin’ has a muddled history. Many claim it was a reference created by early European explorers and / or colonists who took note of the often-ruddy complexion some Indigenous Americans have. Others declare it was a reference to the reddish body paint some native peoples adorned themselves with, as they prepared for battle, or engaged in some kind of religious ceremonies. Whatever its origins, redskin is still a vulgar and racist term.

Quite frankly, though, some people of Indian extraction aren’t offended by it; seeing it strictly as a name only, with no racist overtones. In the ever-mutating world of American English, however, plenty of folks view attempts to ban ‘redskin’ and force Washington to change its name as another chapter in the ‘Book of Political Correctness.’

In an editorial last year, “Washington Post” columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented, “I don’t like being lectured by sportscasters about ethnic sensitivity. Or advised by the president of the United States about changing team names. Or blackmailed by tribal leaders playing the race card.”

The “Conservative Tribune,” deemed calls for Washington to change its name “absurd,” adding, “If anything, the team is showing respect to native Americans by actually naming themselves after them.” The same site also just published this brilliant photo of a “conservative’s reaction” to the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ mantra over the Michael Brown shooting.

Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, blamed President Obama for the USPTO’s decision. “The lesson here is that guilty feeling white liberals are a threat to freedom and, in Barack Obama’s America, the key to survive is to not appear on the radar of in Washington, D.C.,” Erickson wrote. He further implicated “a bunch of overeducated white guys who cry during ‘Love Actually’” and “a class of men who pee sitting down.”

Rush Limbaugh noted the Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Obama Administration, which, in turn, is the source of all this “tyranny.”

Right-wing blogger Matt Barber sees an unsettling trend looming on the horizon with the USPTO’s decision. “Whether or not you believe the Redskins should change its team name, you should be concerned by this troubling development,” he wrote. “It’s a harbinger of things to come. The American free market and private enterprise are no longer free nor private. Liberty is under threat as never before. Here’s to the good ol’ U.S.A.! We’ve officially become an Obamanation.”

Comments to a “Dallas Morning News” piece about the matter last week displayed an exorbitant amount of vitriol. One man complained that he felt like suing the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain for its obviously racist name. Yes, I’m sure millions of Caucasian-Americans get sick to their stomach when they see the Cracker Barrel sign; that’s why so many of them keep patronizing those stores!

Okay, I get it! A bunch of middle-aged White conservatives are pissed off that someone dares to challenge their view of American society. It’s the same reaction many had to school desegregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They’re the ones who believe the United Nations still has covert operatives hovering along the U.S.-Canadian border, just waiting for the right moment to launch an assault and force gay marriage and mandatory abortions on God-fearing Americans.

No, you idiots, this isn’t political correctness. Political correctness is saying that all Indian people are great and wonderful, even if they’re drunk-ass bastards who engage in criminal behavior. Political correctness is telling men they must always respect women, no matter what stupid or awful things she does or says to him. Political correctness is U.S. foreign policy towards Israel.

Since Snyder is Jewish, he could easily change it to Washington Kikers, but then, political correctness would really get turned upside down. But, I believe the Washington Monuments would be appropriate. Washington, D.C., is home to some of the nation’s premier monuments to its heritage. Besides, a monument – as in the Washington Monument – is a long, thick column of granite, sticking straight up to the sky. I think it’s appropriate, considering football is the last bastion of male athleticism in the U.S.; a tribute to excess testosterone and men’s aggression.

Despite the right-wing rancor, this issue isn’t going away. And it’s never been a matter of political correctness; it’s simply a matter of respect.

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