Whatever curious and interesting subject strikes my fancy, be it silly or serious, gets posted for your reading pleasure.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Martyrdom by Passion (and a Brain-Ball): an Irish Legend

One day I was glancing through a booklet entitled "The History of St. Patrick's Parish and Church" of San Francisco printed in 1976 for the 125th Anniversary of the same.  Stained glass windows are one of my favorite decorative arts, and as the booklet features passages describing adornments of the sacred edifice, which was greatly influenced by Irish Catholic heritage, I was curious to see what I would find.

In addition to the attention given to the stained glass windows depicting Irish saints, such as St. Patrick founding his main diocese in Armagh pictured here, (Photo credit: Justin Zolli ) I discovered there are a series of Tiffany glass windows in the upper clerestory of the church that feature history and legends of the ancient pagan past of Erin, a gesture to the culture and traditions of Ireland before Christianity become the religion of the isle.

I was surprised at first, but then, this artistic nod to the ancient past in the Catholic Church is not unsual either depending on the pagans honoured by this gesture of recognition.

 It is no secret that the Vatican has masterpieces depicting the pagan past of Italy and Greece in its hallowed halls, and a handful of heathens have been given the distinction of being represented in the Sistine Chapel ~ the Nine Sybils ~ prophets and prophetesses that did not belong to the Jewish faith yet also predicted the coming of Christ.

I mention this rare honouring of the pagans because there is one stained glass window of St. Patrick's that could be described as a 'Sybil' where Irish history is concerned: the 'martyrdom' of King Conchobar (Conor) mac Nessa of Ulster.  

His story is often declared nothing more than a mythical legend, but ancient cultures like the Celts had a rich tradition of oral history that obviously morphed into legend, for as they say, myths usually have a basis in fact. Where fact ends and mythical stories and elaborate additions begin, we do not always know.  That is the delightful mystery with which the ancient tales continue to fascinate us.

Let us travel back to the ancient past of the warrior Celts: honour was won by daring feats of valour and great deeds in battle. The heads of defeated enemies were hung up as trophies displaying the number of men slain by a warrior indicating prowess in battle. Decapitating people and tossing their heads about was a manly thing to do it seems.

According to one legend, the warriors of Connacht and Ulster were staying in the home of Mac Dá Thó in Leinster as a guest. During a feast the soldiers held a contest with each other to determine who had the right to carve the hero's portion of the roast and thus commenced boasting of their mighty deeds. Cet mac Mágach of Connacht silenced them by reminding them how he had bested them all in his great exploits in battle and was about to carve the hero's portion when another warrior entered the scene, Conall Cernach of Ulster who was late to the party. Cet had to admit defeat when presented with Conall's list of deeds, but tried not to lose face entirely by claiming if his brother Anlúan was there, he would have to give him the honoured portion, for Anlúan was the best warrior among all present. What did Conall Cernach do? Reach into a sack and throw its contents at Cet ~ the head of Anlúan. End of contest. Conall got the lion's share of whatever they roasted that night.

However, the most fearsome and magically potent weapon a warrior could have was a 'brain-ball' to sling at his foes. A brain-ball was made using, (you guessed it), the brains of an enemy slain in battle and mixed with lime, which was then left to harden into a projectile. No doubt they were the most sought after weapon depending on whose grey matter went into the mix: the warrior Cet of Connacht re-enters our story as he dared to sneak into Ulster and steal a prized brain-ball from the King's treasury in Emain Macha. The ball was made from the brains of King Mesgedra of Leinster, and Cet kept it with him wherever he went.   A rare weapon like that couldn't be thrown at just any old common warrior you know!

King Conor Mac Nessa of Ulster mentioned earlier received that dubious honor, getting struck with his own weapon, for it was he who killed King Mesgedra of Leinster and had the brain-ball made as Mesgedra's head was too big to carry back as a trophy. One day the Connacht warriors raided King Conor's land and stole his cattle. A battle was eminent when Conor overtook the warrior-thieves in Westmeath. Conor was eager to prove himself in battle, but Cet who was lurking in ambush shot him with the dreaded brain-ball with his sling, which lodged right in King Conor's forehead.

However, he did not die. Fintan the physcian realised the best thing to do was not to touch it, for to remove it would bring on the King's death. In the end, the brain-ball was sewn into place with gold threads matching the colour of the king's hair to ensure it wouldn't move. The King was advised never to exert himself in any violent activity that could dislodge it, including horse riding, for if it moved it meant certain death.

According to the legend, the King lived for another seven years following this advice and had to forego the warring exploits he was accustomed to.  It is at this point we find a curious twist to his legend.

One mid-day the sky darkened, and troubled by the sight King Conor wished to know what this omen meant. 

He summoned his chief Druid to explain what was happening, and entering into a trance in a sacred grove the priest described a scene that horrified even the hard core, gore-accustomed Celtic king: the Druid saw a hill in a distant land upon which three crosses stood, on the three crosses there were human forms nailed, yet one of them was like unto the Immortals. In some accounts we hear the King was also allowed to see the vision.

The King recognised the scene was an execution and asked the Druid "if the one likened to the Immortals was a criminal?”

“Nay,” answered the Druid, “but the Son of the Living God,” and still in a trance he proceeded to relate the full details of Christ's execution.

The thought of mortals daring to kill this Immortal was too much for King Conor, and in a fury over so foul a deed he drew his sword with the cry: “Thus would I deal with His enemies!” and rising to battle-fury pitch, proceeded to hack the oak trees in the sacred grove despite the danger to his own life.

The passionate outburst dislodged the brain-ball, in some accounts we read that the ball literally burst into pieces with his exertions, and King Connor died wishing he could have defended the Christ while symbolically eradicating the hold of druid paganism over Ireland just before the Apostles began to spread the Faith.

To further seal his honour as the destined pagan, it is said he was born on the same day as Christ, (although not the same year).

Is this an early Medieval romanticised addition to the legend, or a tale of a true occurence that was rendered into myth at a later age? I will leave for the reader to decide.

As a result King Conor became honoured as the Druid pagan who ended up becoming a martyr for Christ by blood and courageous desire, and in a way, a Sybil of the new Faith brought centuries later by numerous missionaries and saints, including St. Patrick,  who would transform the Emerald Isle into the Island of Saints and Scholars.

(Image: King Conor's Vision, St. Patrick's Church San Francisco. Photo by Justin Zolli.)

Here are other St. Patrick's Day / Irish themed entries you may find interesting:

Monday, 20 February 2017

A Mad Mad Mad Mad Race to the White House

Considering how heated it still is out there after the "Great Presidential Race" of 2016, I thought we could try to have a laugh about reforming the election process (and therefore fulfil the 'babbly and blarney' part of my blog) by sharing another bleeding chunk from the novel Brushstrokes of a Gadfly.  

The scene: the conclusion of New Year's Day dinner. Action: the young ones start to clear the table....


Everyone had finished their dinner by the time she had satisfied the impulse to ruminate on her notions. Noticing the empty plates, Katherine announced it was time the whippersnappers pitched in to clear the table and prepare the coffee and dessert, a suggestion the elders graciously welcomed.

“Come on everyone, you too Gerry, and Steves, don’t think you can skip away this time.”

“I hear and obey.”

“You know Kathy, you’ve gone rather quiet all of a sudden.  Something on your mind?” Charlie wondered as they brought out the dishes.

“You could say that, I just got busy thinking about our conversation before we changed the subject, that’s all.”

“Well, now that it’s safe to come back to that, at least I hope so,” Gerry added, laying his stack of plates by the sink, “I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘to vote or not to vote’.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for this? She can get a bit ‘irregular’ you know,” Steves wryly returned, lining his handful of glasses on the counter.

“You may regret it,” Charlie added, “her ideas can be quite revolutionary. We’re all used to it, well, almost.”

“Stop teasing you two,” Suzy jumped in, “not all of Kathy’s ideas are wacky.”

“Gee thanks. Was that supposed to be a compliment?”

“You know what I mean, I agree with many of your observations ...perhaps not with all your solutions,” she admitted.

“I know, they’re impractical at times, mostly idealistic or experimental,” Katherine conceded.
“Still, let’s hear your cogitations,” Gerry prompted.

“Oh, all right.” Katherine explained her reason for abstaining from the elections, they seemed to understand her point of view, until she suggested the nation could try an all-out boycott. Steves burst out laughing.

“What? Might as well do away with democracy altogether!”

Charlie and Gerry tried not to laugh, they didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but barely managed to conceal their humour at the improbability of her proposal, covering their mouths with their hands.

“I did warn you,” Charlie said, clearing his throat.

“Oh look,” she interjected, stopping in the midst of scraping off a plate, “I’m not saying we actually go out and start a ‘Non-Vote Movement’ or anything like that, but since we have the right to vote, we also have the right to abstain. I was just wondering what might happen if every citizen chose to exercise that right all at the same time. That would be the greatest non-violent protest ever, it would certainly catch the attention of our lawmakers, even Ghandi would have been impressed.”

“I know a better solution: boycott the Internal Revenue Service,” Steves interjected, “money talks, so they say.”

“Ew, Uncle Sam wouldn’t like that one bit,” Gerry said, shaking his head.

“No, but they can’t throw the whole nation into jail, or fine everyone if we all refuse to pay anyway,” Steves argued. “Then, we the people can declare the first ever fair and equal tax, something like ten percent across the board that everyone, no matter who they are, has to pay.”

“Oh, I think I’d like that,” Katherine replied.

“Everyone’s tax bracket would be automatically adjusted,” Gerry mused, “and ten percent is not a lot, but you would have to do away with deductions altogether to keep the country going.”

“You know, a flat rate does seem more fair,” Suzy nodded.

“It’s an interesting idea Steves, but it wouldn’t work because first of all, everyone would be too scared to try it,” Charlie noted, “the very letters IRS frighten most people have to death, no one would boycott their taxes to force the politicians to adopt your flat rate, and second, it would take too long to pass a bill for a flat rate, we’d have years of procrastination, so it’s a non viable solution.”

“Well, if everyone did participate in a tax boycott, with no money, you’d definitely have all the politicians on their knees,” Steves continued.

“And the country too,” Suzy noted.

“Yeah Steves, it’s one thing to boycott a vote, and while I love tax breaks, what if the whole country collapsed economically?” Katherine observed. “If people think they can just stop paying that one time, they’ll always try it even after they reach an agreement with the government. The country wouldn’t have a guaranteed source of revenue, and everything would just fall apart.”

“Hey, I know that. I’m not championing a Fire Sale. This was all supposed to be hypothetical,” Steves reminded them.

“It is interesting to think about, I mean, to imagine what would happen if you could get the whole nation to do something like that en masse, making a sweeping change without a shot being fired,” Gerry mused.
“Just, get rid of the whole government?” Steves asked rhetorically, placing the plates into the dishwasher.

“Right-o, just clear out the house,” Gerry replied. “The Portuguese did it, they just ousted their former communist government armed with carnations.”

“That’s a bit simplistic,” Steves replied, “but the people had the army on their side you know.”

“Why, even if we do ‘clean out’ the house, we might not have a successful outcome like that.  Suppose we did it peacefully using Kathy’s ‘boycott’ with no army involved, we could still end up with total anarchy couldn’t we?” Charlie pointed out.

“Exactly! Not ‘anarchy’ in the sense of having no government at all for the sake of chaos, but a ‘clearing of the decks’, ” Katherine pondered, “a clean slate to start anew and get rid of anything that isn’t working.”

“Still, we might end up with a civil war as the new government jostled for power,” Gerry noted.
“Just listen to us,” Steves said, “real kitchen sink philosophers.”

“Okay, what if we think out Kathy’s idea. Just for fun, say no one votes and the Capitol in Washington comes to a complete standstill. How do we choose new representatives, or a president for that matter?” Suzy piped up, she was curious to know what they would come up with.

“I don’t know, have a lottery?” Katherine laughed. “I have these great ideas, but then I don’t know what would happen, or how to carry them through.”

“A belling the cat situation,” Gerry agreed.

“Hmm, how would such a lottery be set up? Would every citizen get to buy a ticket?” Suzy wondered.

“Maybe. No, we’d still have problems, lotteries can always be fixed,” Katherine noted.

“And what would the price of each ticket be?” Gerry added. “You can’t charge a couple of bucks for something as important as the White House, or a seat in Congress or the Senate for that matter.”

“Hmm, it would be very expensive, and that would exclude your average citizen, so it would only be a government for and by the well-to-do who could afford to buy a ticket in the first place.” Charlie noted.

“Well, there’s nothing new there, isn’t the government geared to helping the rich anyway?” Katherine shrugged.

“Oh man, listen to us, you can’t just raffle off the government,” Steves interjected.

“Why not? Government leaders get bought and sold every day,”Katherine observed.

“Ouch!” Gerry laughed.

“Told you,” Steves replied.

“We’d have to come up with some way to make it equal, put everyone’s social security number into the lottery system perhaps,” Katherine suggested.

“Oh great, you could get anyone in the House, from druggies to mob leaders, that wouldn’t work,” Steves snickered.

“Well, you could screen numbers that have a criminal record,” Katherine rebuffed, “just take them out of the lottery system.”

“You would still have a number of problems,” Charlie noted, “you could end up selecting numbers of homeless people with no way to contact them, or people who have died and were never registered. Then you’d have to give those who can be reached the option to take the seat offered to them,  they could refuse, and you have to keep picking numbers. It would take months before this was all sorted out.”

“Yeah, real messy,” Steves agreed, “not to mention all the people who haven’t a clue how to manage  their own lives let alone a whole country. Do you want them running everything?”

“I think they are already,” Katherine wryly commented.

“Hey everyone, what other suggestions could we come up with to put in a whole new government after our Boycott Revolution?” Suzy enquired.

“Okay, we currently have a lottery suggestion, why not a marathon?” Steves quipped, “first one up the capitol steps and into the House or Senate gets a seat.”

“And the last one in is a rotten egg?” Charlie noted humorously.

“It would certainly give the term presidential race a whole new meaning,” Katherine noted, turning on the coffee machine.

“Crikey! Could you imagine watching something like that on the news? Everyone would be running all over Washington like lunatics, beating each other over the head trying to get up the stairs first,” Steves replied. “Forget all diplomatic immunity on that day.”

“It would definitely be a lot more entertaining than all those boring debates filled with hot air,” Katherine replied.

“And since voting would literally be done away with if you had a marathon every four years, no more annoying campaigners knocking on your doors,” Gerry laughed.

“Plus, it would be one way of getting people into shape, think of all the gyms that would open up getting the hopefuls ready for the big chase,” Charlie added.

“Hey, Walsingham Industries could end up having a boost in vitamin sales,” Steves joked, “not to mention our geriatric line.”

“Gosh, a marathon like that wouldn’t be funny in real life,” Suzy said, shaking her head, “good grief, that would be like the Oklahoma land rush in the 1800s, settlers literally killed each other and dropped dead as they raced their way to the best plots.”

“Oh I’ve got it! Everyone who wanted a seat would have to write an essay on why they think they are entitled to have it,” Katherine laughed.

“ ‘Why I Should Rule America’, five thousand words only please,” Gerry added.

“No plagiarism either, original works must be turned in, no borrowing from the speeches of past politicians,” Charlie continued.

“And who would get to judge or grade these essays? Tell me that one,” Steves piped. “If there’s no voting, how do you select the judges to evaluate the essays?”

“We’re belling the cat again,” Gerry nodded.

“Quick, we’re dallying, they’ll wonder what’s happened to us,” Katherine interjected, “and we can’t have Gramps checking in on us while we get dessert ready.”

“Right, is they key in the same place?” Charlie asked, “I’ll go get the cake for you.”

“Yeah, in the ivy plant,” Suzy affirmed.

“Oh, I might as well go too, we need the ice cream,” Katherine added.

“No, I’ll go,” Steves offered, “you serve the coffee, you’re pretty good at that.”

“Key?” Gerry wondered aloud.

“That’s right, you don’t know,” Katherine realized, “everything fattening is locked in the pantry, it’s for Gramp’s own good, doctor’s orders. He’s been hunting around for the thing for months, but still hasn’t figured out where it is.”

“My lips are sealed,” Gerry replied, running his finger across his mouth zipper fashion.

“Wow, this looks too good to eat,” Charlie said as he placed the cake on the island counter. “It’s huge, even with nine people, the slices are going to be enormous.”

“Thank Aunt Martha, she baked it,” Katherine replied. “Chocolate Strawberry ‘Paradise Cake’, it’s one of her specialties. Okay, who wants to cut it? How about you Suzy?”

“Oh, how do we cut a round cake? Eight pieces is easy, one line down the middle and divide each half by four, but I can’t figure out how to do it fast and equal at the same time for nine,” she noted.

“Think 'Mercedes', piece of cake,” Steves hinted. Suzy puzzled about it for a few seconds, then the light dawned.

“Oh for Heaven’s sake, how simple,” she said, placing the knife in the middle of the cake and drawing a three-pointed star before dividing each third into three smaller slices. “Well, it’s a good thing all the problems of our country aren’t up to me to solve if I couldn’t figure that out.”

“Our ideas weren’t any better, it’s a good thing none of us are running for office,” Katherine joked.
“And they say the future of the country is up to us younger generation,” Steves observed wryly, “the older generation better run and hide if that was the best we could come up with.”


“What was going on out there?” Gramps enquired.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Katherine replied.

“Just solving the problems of the nation, Monty Python style,” Charlie explained.

“Well, did you get anywhere?” Gramps chuckled.

“For the nation’s welfare, thankfully, no.”


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Writer's 'Anti-Gel' and some Supernatural Assistance

A writer often is often asked: “What do you do when you are struck with Writer's Block?”

You know, that dreaded experience of trying to get the next project off the ground, but find yourself staring at the screen or notepad for hours because the words, story ideas or subject matter are nowhere in sight. Finding any inspiring idea just seems like trying to hunt and trap an extinct mythical creature that can no longer be caught and tamed. Frustrating!

That's your hard core definition of Writer's Block, however, believe it or not, that's somewhat rare. A 'block' also has its common variety of niggling frustrations.

How about the kind where you have your story or academic subject matter ready to put to page, depending on where your creativity is leading you, everything is all laid out in your notes or plot sketches, you have all the information you could ever want, but you still can't seem to start the thing? The first paragraph, not to mention the first page or three, is crucial because you know that's your opportunity to catch your reader's attention. You hope you nail it … but.....you could botch the whole thing and turn your reader off forever.

This expectation of making a good first impression can weigh a writer down, literately block them from starting because nothing sounds and feels right when you type or write it out, and then the anxiety sets in that convinces you're a hopeless mess-up, which makes it worse. Nothing seems to 'gel' together, so I will metaphorically call his icky place the dark paralysing world of “Writer's Anti-Gel”.

When starting the first chapter, of “Faust: My Soul Be Damned for the World, Vol.1”, guess who literally sat for two days a good half of the third staring at a blank screen coaxing the creative muse to appear with loads of coffee and chocolate until FINALLY the first introductory paragraphs 'gelled' into place. (And no, I wasn't goofing on the Internet, I wasn't connected at the time.)

Writers will tell you just hammer something out and then edit the crud out of it later: you won't get anywhere unless you force yourself to write and get a first draft together, because if you wait for inspiration, it'll take half a lifetime before you get a book together.

Yes, there is truth to that, I do hammer things out be it good or bad once I get into the actual draft and there's something to build on and then edit, but the first paragraphs, (and okay, I'll admit, a good portion of my texts), I like to make sure it sounds perfect in my head and I'll keep editing it as I write instead of just writing away without polishing as I go, so of course, I get stuck in the parallel non-creative gloopy gloopity glop slow-paced dimension that is “Writer's Anti-Gel” until it finally gels in the right direction.

The thing is, the last paragraphs and closing segments are just as tricky in their own way as the first. “Faust” is a historical academic epic so to speak, so naturally the end of the chapter has its own unique requirements. I needed a satisfying conclusion that gels in a way so it's not rambling but not abrupt either, something that makes a lasting impression regarding the vast amount of information just presented and that rounds the whole thing off just nicely in a page, preferably less, maybe with a memorable kick.

Well, when I was nearing the end of that first chapter I got stuck in the non-gelling “anti-gel” universe again. When you're writing about how a real historical individual may have sold his soul to the devil for knowledge, power and worldly glory, and you want to round off this gruesome history 'quite nicely' with a 'memorable kick', that's a tall order!

Of course, I knew I was going to be staring at the screen for days on end with this doozie, but rather than succumbing to staring and wasting time moaning in the Realm of Anti-Gel, or hammering out just anything until it was squished and prodded into place and still feeling like a product that was way below par even for a draft, I did what any desperate writer does ….

I prayed. 

Yes, seriously.

No, I'm not kidding.

I thought of my Guardian Angel, who often gets ignored even though I know he's there.

We never think of our invisible guardians enough or ask their assistance, even with our daily tasks. They don't just guard us from temptation and danger, they like us to involve them in our lives. They take a keen interest in everything we do and they like helping us in our work, (as long as it's not sinful of course!)

  So, I reached out to my neglected princely friend and told him what was needed to finish my first chapter and asked if he could enlighten me with an idea, maybe let me know how to polish it off ....

Then...'It' happened.

No sooner was the request made when the words started to interiorly flow so quickly like a bubbling
cascade it was like I was taking speed dictation. I was literally yelling in my head 'Not so fast! Not so fast!', my fingers tapping away trying to capture that miraculous flow as the text rolled out right to the very end...then, stopped.

This was so different from the 'running flash' of inspiration to where you don't want to stop writing because you're on a roll. I've had that too quite a few times, but when those 'running flashes' happen, it still feel like it's you and your ideas. This wasn't exactly like that. It was really was as if “someone else” was interiorly dropping the words and I was doing my best to keep up with their pace. Prayer answered!

So a word to the struggling writer: try giving prayer a chance, and while you're at it, don't forget you have an angel at your side.

Here it is, the final paragraph to the first chapter of “Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World Volume I”, which I cannot take credit for. I give it fully to my Guardian Angel:

“Faustus, who embraced evil and shunned righteousness, became the foremost symbol of the misuse of free will, that sublime gift from God with its inherent opportunity to choose virtue and reject iniquity. “What shall a man gain if he has the whole world and lose his soul,” (Matt. 16: v. 26) - but for a notorious name, the ethereal shadow of a career, and a brief life of fleeting pleasure with no true peace? This was the blackest and most captivating tragedy of all, few could have remained indifferent to the growing intrigue of this individual who apparently shook hands with the devil and freely chose to descend to the molten, sulphuric chasm of Hell for all eternity for so little in exchange. It is a drama that continues to fascinate today as powerfully as when Faustus first disseminated his infamous card in the Heidelberg locale to the scandal of his generation. In fine, a life of good or evil, the hope of Heaven or the despair of Hell, Faustus stands as a reminder that the choice between these two absolutes also falls to us.”

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas Love, a 'Mistake'

The following post is what I assume is a “true” Christmas story that I couldn't help but share in a 'politically correct' world. 


Christmas Love, a 'Mistake' ~ (Author Unknown)

“Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on non-essential obligations: extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.

My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's 'Winter Pageant'. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production.

Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats.

As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.

Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as "Christmas," I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love", I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.

Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row- center stage - held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song.

As the class would sing "C is for Christmas," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love." 

The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W".

The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W".

Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together.

A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. 

 In that instant, we understood - the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities.

For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: 


And, I believe, He still is.”


I wish I knew who wrote this. If it is indeed a true story, whether or not it was an honest blunder or an ingenious 'mistake' devised by a Christmas Defender hidden among the teaching staff, it would be one of those rare times this writer would find a typo most welcome.

Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas Season! Here are some other Christmas stories and musings you might like:

Friday, 23 September 2016

White Trash that Trashed the White House

By now, many have heard the news that the Clintons filched a tidy amount of valuables from the White House to the tune of $50,000 when they vacated the premises in 2001  according to Snopes, (while rumour has it at circa $200,000, much of which they claimed were gifts but returned for 'appearances sake'!)  but it appears they weren't the only ones who left the White House in a mess.

During the transition of 2001, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and General Services Administration (GSA) discovered a host of other shocking activities by Clinton staff that would make you cringe.  However, before I get into a typing tirade about how the White House offices were treated worse than rented rooms in a tenement building, Hillary Clinton and her staff committed the most unbelievable blunder as First Lady before she left the building in 2001. Wait for it...

A “2stu3phone”, a secure telephone, was left open in the First Lady's office ~ with the key still in it!

I'm not making this up. In addition to all the other acts of theft, vandalism and petty juvenile pranks committed by the Clinton staff before they left, this strange lapse in security was reported in an official government report sent from the United States General Accounting Office to Bob Barr of the House of Representatives, document number “GAO-32-360”, page 57 n. 41. (Available for download here; www.gao.gov/new.items/d02360.pdf),

Now, to be fair, a small footnote in the report does state that the former manager of the office reported the phone hadn't been in use in for four years, (evidence that it was in use during Bill Clinton's first term before then), but it is apparent throughout the whole report the Clinton staffers tried to downplay the level of damage caused in the White House, even attempting to make excuses for the graffiti and pranks they left behind, so how can we trust this strange case of a supposedly out-of-service secured phone in the First Lady's office with no follow up other than a footnote, especially as the key was left in it? Why are we not hearing more about this supposedly “unused” secure phone? Was it really active or not? Could that phone have still have been a security risk of being tampered with even in its allegedly “out of service” condition? Who knows?

What dufus of a First Lady, or her staff for that matter, would leave any type of secure phone unlocked with the key still in it, in-service or out of service? 

Hillary of course! 

She is woefully wanting where it comes to the knowledge of communications security. We have seen in the last few months that either she simply doesn't care with devil-may-care flippancy, or she is so ignorant of protocol that she borders on being declared brain-dead. “Umm, I didn't know what the 'C' on my Secretary of State e-mails meant, or had no idea that it was such a big boo-boo to have a private server at my house...” D'uh! Then, we see 30,000 e-mails were purposefully deleted using a high-tech scrubber, (then, she tried to blame her e-mail server mistake on Colin Powell when she got caught, like any mature adult would do.) 

It makes you wonder how loose she or her staff were on security with that phone while it was still active when she was First Lady, assuming it really was out of service by the time the next administration found the key still in it.

Maybe in the end it's just nothing, a key in a dead secure-line phone, but this isn't the only oddity, there are also a few other strange security “anomalies” in the report on page 79:

“The (Office of Administration) associate director for facilities management said that he found a secure employee identification and two-way radios that were left in an office and not turned into (the White House Communications Agency). (…) A (General Services Administration) employee said that she observed a few classified documents left unsecured in closets and the telephone service director said that he found classified documents in an unlocked safe.”

The odd bit is, where did the radios come from? Apparently, they weren't official government equipment: the director of operations support at the White House Communications Agency, which handles such equipment, said that the agency had no record of having provided two-way radios to the office where they were observed. The official said that this type of equipment is typically collected from offices by the WHCA at the end of an administration, but because the agency had no record of having provided equipment to that office, it was apparently just left there.

Very strange. Apparently, back then quite a few in the White House don't have a clue what's going on in the White House.

Of course, the most worrying piece of information mentioned in this account is that classified and sensitive documents were allegedly left around in unsecure locations. True, the report states the director of records management said that he went into every office on two floors of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building during the night of January 19, 2001 checking for documents and did not find any classified documents, but that appears rather convenient, doesn't it? Sounds similar to the office director saying that leaving the key in a secured phone is okay because it was 'out of service'.

Are they this slipshod, or doing a bad job of covering how unprofessional and inept the Clintons and their staff were?

If there are reports of a secure employee ID laying around, suspicious two way radios not checked back in, (in fact, no one knows where they came from), and classified documents left unsecured, but there's hardly much a follow up, only a footnote saying 'well, shucks, I didn't see anything', can we trust these people at all? Am I the only one seeing red flags here regarding security issues?

Now, who wants to put Hillary back in the White House as president along with her motley crew after hearing this?

Hillary we can't even trust you around a secure phone line or to install a properly secured government issue server, and you certainly didn't do a good job when you got the bright idea to present a dummy button to Russia as a present of goodwill when Secretary of State, yet you have the gall to spout that Trump should not have his finger on the nuclear button? (Yeah, I've ranted about that too, "Hillary, About Those Nuclear Codes".)

UPDATE!!! (Sept. 26, 2016) ~ Apparently my questions above about security in the White House during the Clinton Administration have been vindicated. Hillary and her staff simply cannot be trusted with sensitive information The FBI has released a report stating that one of Hillary's aides left behind a classified briefing in a Russian hotel while Hillary was Secretary of State! (Click here fore more info.) The error was due to lack of training, according to the FBI report.  REALLY? The Secretary of State's aides are NOT TRAINED on how to handle CLASSIFIED INFORMATION?  This is telling indeed. Considering the troubled times we are in with war on ISIS in the Middle East an similar upheavals, do we want to put someone back in who has NO CLUE about security issues, or have untrained staff leaving sensitive documents around willy-nilly?

Here's the kicker: this is how the Clinton staff treated the White House before they vacated in 2001. I'm appalled to see the first House of the nation, a historic building paid for and maintained by the taxpayers, treated with such little respect, yet Hillary calls the Trump supporters 'deplorable'.

Just read the list below, (which is a short version I've pretty much copied from the report with a few personal observations). Let's keep the White Trash Staffers out of the White House!


Six Executive Office of the President (EOP) staff told us they observed that a total of 5 to 11 office signs, which are affixed with medallions (presidential seals about 2 inches in diameter) were missing. One of those six EOP staff also said he observed that six medallions were missing from office signs. These observations included an office sign that an EOP employee said that she saw a volunteer remove on January 19 2001 outside an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). The EOP employee said that the person who removed the sign said that he planned to take a photograph with it, and that she reported the incident to an OA employee. Further, the EOP employee said that the person attempted to put the sign back on the wall, but it was loose. Two other EOP staff said they noticed that the sign outside that office was missing during the transition. Four EOP staff said they saw that a total of 10 to 11 doorknobs, which may have been historic originals, were missing in different locations. A EOP staff told us about additional missing items that were not contained in the June 2001 list. Two EOP staff told us that a total of 9 to 11 television remote control devices were missing from two offices. In addition, two EOP officials said that about 20 cellular telephones could not be located in the office where they belonged. (WOW! Missing cell phones, what manner of sensitive information may have been on them?)


According to a GSA (General Service Administration) planner/estimator, it would cost $400 to replace an historic doorknob set (doorknobs on both sides of a door) with a solid brass replica, or $300 for a single historic doorknob replica; $125 for a new office sign with a medallion; and $75 to replace a medallion. Using those per-unit costs, if all of the items observed missing were replaced, it would have cost $2,100 to $2,200 for 9 to 10 doorknobs; $625 to $1,375 to replace 5 to 11 missing office signs with medallions; and $675 to $750 to replace 9 to 10 missing medallions. However, because specific locations were not provided regarding some of the observations of missing items, we were unable to determine whether all of the missing items had been replaced. In addition, the estimated cost of replacing missing doorknobs assumes that all of the doorknobs that were observed missing will be replaced with historic replicas, which was unknown. It was also unknown how many of the doorknobs that were discovered missing were historic originals. We also did not obtain any information on the value of the original historic doorknobs.

(So basically, they did't have a clue about what's going on: in the end, the White House may have lost quite a few presidential medallions and original historic doorknobs that may have been replaced with replicas to keep the costs down, but d'uh, nobody knows.)

The EOP provided purchase records indicating that it spent $2,040 for 26 cellular telephones on January 26, 2001; $729 for two (missing) cameras (including a digital camera costing $685) on March 16, 2001, and April 4, 2001; and $221 for 15 television remote controls on March 6 and15; June 5; and July 10, 2001. 

The Office of Administration (OA) associate director for facilities management estimated it will cost about $350 to make a replica of the presidential seal that was reported stolen which, as of March 2002, had not been replaced. Although we did not obtain a dollar value regarding the possible historic value of the seal that was stolen, according to the OA associate director for facilities management, the $350 purchase price would not purchase an exact replica of the brass seal that was stolen; the seal was purchased in the mid-1970s, and is no longer available; and the $350 would purchase a plastic-type casting.

(On top of spending thousands to replace lost cell phones, $2,040, an irreplaceable Presidential seal is gone, and a cheapo-repro plastic thing has to do: and plastic is going for $350? We the taxpayers got ripped off.)

DAMAGED COMPUTER KEYBORDS: 62 keyboards had to be replaced because the “W” key was destroyed in a variety of ways (no doubt to vex incoming President George W. Bush's staff). Other estimates on the report list over 100 keyboards had to be replaced due to damage or were inoperable. Estimates to replace total damaged keyboards range between, $4,800 and $11,250. (Clinton staff of course try to downplay the number of damaged keyboards.)

SHABBY TREATMENT and LACK OF REPAIR on FURNITURE: The June 2001 list indicated that the damage included “[f]urniture that was damaged severely enough to require complete refurbishment or destruction--6 offices. ” It also indicated that a glass desk top was smashed and on the floor, and that desks and other furniture were overturned in six offices. (...) Ten EOP staff observed a total of 16 to 21 pieces of broken furniture, including 5 to 7 chairs with broken legs or backs; 5 to 7 broken glass desk tops, including one on the floor; 1 to 2 chairs with missing or broken arms; a desk with the drawer fronts removed; a sofa with broken legs; a credenza with broken door glass; a broken mirror; and a cabinet with its doors hanging with only one hinge.  Six EOP staff also said that the locks on four desks or cabinet drawers were damaged or the keys were missing or broken off in the locks.

Other damage reported: fabric torn on three chairs although material looked to be new meaning the damage appeared deliberate, five desks with deliberate knife cuts in them as well as graffiti inside. One desk had cigar burns. Six EOP staff also said that the locks on four desks or cabinet drawers were damaged or the keys were missing or broken off in the locks. Five EOP staff told us that they saw a total of 11 to 13 pieces of furniture that were on their sides or overturned in specific rooms or offices. Further, five EOP staff also said they saw pieces of furniture that appeared to have been moved to areas where they did not belong, such as desks moved up against doors. (No doubt to make it miserable for the next administration to try and occupy their new offices.)

(Image: House of Cards Scene, Francis Underwood 
doodles on a wall in the White House with Meechum)

TELEPHONES: (Damaged or tampered with to cause deliberate vexation to the new administration?) The June 2001 list indicated that:

• The phones [sic] lines had been cut in the (Eisenhower Executive Office Building) --pulled from the wall.

• 50-75 phone instruments had been tampered with requiring more work than the standard reset. Of those, most had the identifying templates removed.

Voice mail announcements had been changed to answer the line with obscene messages. After finding 10 – 15, workers stopped resetting them individually and reset the entire system.

Telephone labels / templates were also removed from a number of phones, and several that weren't removed rang through to the wrong number.

According to the White House, based on what it said was extremely conservative estimates and straightforward documentation, the government (TAXPAYERS!) incurred costs of at least $6,020 to replace missing telephone labels and reroute forwarded telephones.


The June 2001 list indicated that [o]ffices were left in a state of general trashing, including contents of drawers dumped on the floor, desk top glass smashed and on the floor, and refrigerators unplugged with spoiled food. In addition, the list indicated that only 20 percent of the offices could be made available to incoming staff late in the afternoon of January 20, 2001. (Basically, the place was too bad to let the new administration set up until the offices were cleaned out and made fit for purpose again!) Included among these observations were EOP staff who described the office space as being “extremely filthy” or “trashed out,” and that a certain room contained “a malodorous stench” or looked like there had been a party. One office had three to four holes punched in the walls. Trash and personal items were left discarded in some offices, (and lo and behold!) some of the missing “W” computer keys were found glued to a wall. (Come on, really? That is so mature of you.) Other complaints included a broken safe lock that didn't work for some time, offices in dire need of a fix up and paint job, and one office had a dampness problem every time it rained.

GRAFFITI and PRANKS: found on the walls in six offices, in addition to other pranks / signs and derogatory comments / messages against George W. Bush purposely left around.

(You can tell this was particularly vicious of the vacating staff as Clinton had served his full two terms and couldn't run again, eight years is a good run, and they knew the jobs wouldn't last forever.  It was a temporary arrangement.  So why be so viciously destructive unless you simply COULD be that petty?)

What is this? Frat house buffoonery?

 You're in the White House! 


I don't care what you think about the incoming President, I'm certainly no big fan of George W. Bush,  but you just don't do that to the White House.

Can we honestly afford to allow trashy occupants move back again into the White House and ill use one of our national treasures?

The report goes on and on, but I think I'll just leave it there.