Friday, August 30, 2013

Never Forget...

As my regular readers already know, the Captain is not a red-white-and-blue wearing, flag-waving American patriot. I was born and raised in America - I'll even show you my birth certificate if you ask nicely - but I have never felt the need to fly a flag to prove it.

The only flag I fly is the Jolly Roger!

Here on the beginning of this Labor Day Weekend, I know there will be a lot of flag-waving. Monday morning there will be parades downtown - filled with military color guards, veterans units, and flag-waving Union members, followed by barbecues and political speeches - each one trying to sound more patriotic than the next. 

You probably won't find me there.

But there was a story in the news this week that makes me pause and say how grateful I am to live in this great country.

The news comes out of North Korea. There have been unconfirmed reports that  leader of that country, Kim Jong Un, has executed his ex-girlfriend and 11 others with her. Their crime: they allegedly made a sex tape.

They say that breaking up is hard to do, but seriously...!

Hyon Song Woi, a singer with the apparently famous (at least in North Korea) Unhasu Orchestra, was arrested on August 17th along with other members of the orchestra for filming and selling a pornographic video of themselves. 

According to the report, three days later, the group was lined up and executed by a firing squad - no, a machine gun!

As if that is not enough to make your stomach churn, the families of the alleged criminals were forced to watch the executions...

... and then THEY were sent off to prison camps!


Have I mentioned how much I love America?!?

In memory of Hyon Song Woi...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pirate Looks at 50... part two

No, that's Ernest Hemingway, but
the Captain's beard is coming along!
A man walked into my office...

No, there is no punch line. This really happened.

Yesterday afternoon there was a reception going on in the church's fellowship hall, the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary. I had attended the party, then excused myself and went to straighten up my office after a long Sunday morning. That's when I heard the sounds of footsteps in the hallway.

A large, sweaty young man came in and sat down.

Rather casually.

In fact, he acted like he had been there before!

Maybe I should offer him a beer?

He apologized for the way he looked; he had just come from work.

Then he looked at me quizzically and asked, "Are you new here?"

What an odd question from a complete stranger!

I acknowledged I have been the pastor here only two years, and then shot back, "Are YOU new here?"

He answered, "No. But it's been a couple of years."

Then he began to argue with me. "Are you the associate pastor?"

No, the associate pastor is 80 and he has only been on staff a month now.

"But the other guy had dark hair," he insisted.

Must be referring to my predecessor. "Then that was more than two years ago," I assured him.

"Has it been that long?" he asked himself.

Long story short, he needed some cash and gas for his minivan. Since I was leaving and the gas station is on my way home, I told him to follow me and I would fill him up.

Still curious, this morning I checked my file. He had last been here in January 2012.

The "dark-haired guy" he remembered was me!


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Just opened a bottle of Francis Coppola Zinfandel 2006. 

I bought it at the local wine merchant, my #2 supplier of fine wines. I was surprised to find a 2006. Other wine merchants are already selling the 2011 vintage. 

I've been displeased with most of the 2011 (various grapes / wineries) I have tasted, and was cautiously excited to find a 2006 still on the shelves. I tried it, loved it, and returned to buy the last two bottles.

As I pulled the cork, I began to reminisce about 2006 - thinking about what was going on in the world as these particular grapes were growing.

Not surprising, I don't remember 2006.

I think that was the year we moved.

I've apparently blocked it from my memory.

But it also reminded me of Virginia Madsen's monologue in the 2004 classic "Sideways":

"I started to appreciate the life of wine, that it's a living thing, that it connects you more to life. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing. I like the think about how the sun was shining that summer and what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how if I open a bottle the wine will taste different than if I had uncorked it on any other day, or at any other moment. A bottle of wine is like life itself - it grows up, evolves and gains complexity. Then it tastes so fucking good."

By the way, our local winery, Purple Toad, won several awards in the recent Kentucky wine competition.

I've tasted many of Purple Toad's flavors (the only word that really applies).

One of the best wineries in Kentucky?

Consider the source.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

on Boycotts and Other Silliness

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the city bus for a white man, an act of non-violent resistance to a bad law. Almost as one, the African-American community rallied in opposition to the long-established practice of segregation on city buses. They staged a boycott which lasted for more than a year, ending only when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with them against Montgomery’s city council.

Throughout most of my life, organizations and agencies have tried to effect change through the use of boycotts – some of which have been effective, some of which have been abject failures.

Many of the failures, by the way, have been launched by the American Family Association (AFA), a right-wing religious organization that claims widespread influence while only reporting 180,000 members / paid subscribers.

Once when I was a college student serving a small church in Tennessee, our regular pianist could not make it to play for worship, so a replacement came from the “big church” nearby. Given the opportunity, this grandmotherly woman with the old pointy-framed glasses trimmed with rhinestone introduced herself as a monitor for the AFA. As she explained, she watched network television shows and reported to the AFA how many profanities and “inappropriate” situations occurred during those shows. The AFA would then announce a boycott of the television show and its sponsors based on such input.

I bit my lip to keep from laughing!

A spin-off website of the AFA, wishfully named “One Million Moms”, regularly calls for boycotts and regularly takes credit for changes that follow, whether the change was related to the called-for boycott or not. For instance, 1MM boycotted J.C. Penney because it used Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay celebrity, in an ad campaign.  

At about the same time, JCP hired a new CEO who, without consulting anyone, made major changes to the company that did not go over well with the public. JCP lost sales, the CEO lost his job, and 1MM claimed the victory.

Another case involved the television show, “Save Me”, about a less-than-pure woman (played by the lovely Anne Heche) who chokes on a sandwich and is resuscitated; she believes she died, but now God must need her to do something special for Him. Hilarity ensues as she tries to figure out what God wants of her. Only 1MM wasn’t laughing. They called for a boycott of the show’s sponsors. I’m not saying it was a bad show (in fact, I thought the concept was intriguing), but the ratings were abysmal in the target demographic – unrelated to any boycott – and the show was pulled after only seven episodes.

Such boycotts seldom worked though, because the shows’ sponsors are usually subsidiaries of multinational companies like Procter & Gamble, which produce all kinds of coveted consumer goods. Because of P & G’s diversified portfolio, they would hardly feel the impact of such a small-time boycott.

Besides, Procter & Gamble itself has for decades been on the boycott list because of the false rumors being circulated that they are a satanic organization.

But the call for boycotts persists even today. For example, the August 1st issue of Rolling Stone magazine featured the angelic face of Dzhokbar Tsarnaev, the alleged “Boston Bomber”. Although the magazine called him “a monster” on that same cover, and the story inside was not at all sympathetic toward him, someone called for a boycott. Walgreen’s and CVS both refused to sell this issue on their newsstands, making their self-righteous announcement in a most public way.

I’m not a regular reader of Rolling Stone, nor did I read this issue, but thanks to the announced boycott, I know more about this issue of the magazine than those I actually read in my college days.

Not surprising, Ad Week reported that the controversy only brought more attention to the magazine, and Rolling Stone sold twice as many issues as normal, a fact not entirely lost on the Rolling Stone editors, who are undoubtedly already shopping around for their next to-be-boycotted cover story!

In another case, Dan Savage, a LGBT activist, has called for a boycott of Stolichnaya, a popular Russian Vodka, because of Russia’s harsh laws against the LGBT community. With the Olympics being hosted in Russia in 2014, the boycott is designed to make Russia change its oppressive anti-gay laws – or at least to not enforce them during the Olympics - so that such people would be free to participate and attend.

Some bars in New York City have already embraced the boycott, and recently staged an event where they poured their existing stock of Russian Vodka into the sewer in front of their bars.

Lucky rats!

This kind of “activism” I truly DO NOT GET! You’ve already paid for the Vodka! Russia has already received its cut of the profits! Now, not only will you not get the profits from the liquor you have poured into the sewers, you’ll have to buy more to replace it!

How does that make sense???

While I am sympathetic to Dan Savage’s cause, I think he is wrong in this latest boycott effort. Here’s why:

1. Quick: can you name a brand of vodka not made in Russia?

I didn't think so.

2. Russia is a sovereign nation and is neither subject to nor bound by American notions of right and wrong. In the same way we did not force American women to wear burkhas to appease Muslim nations when the games were held in the U.S., I don’t believe Russia must change its laws simply because we want them to.

So, in the end, it comes down to this: if you don’t want to abide by Russia’s laws, don’t go to Russia!

Note: I am not here calling for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics!

3. Does Dan Savage really think Americans drink so much Stoli that the Russian government is quaking at the prospect of a boycott? 

As though the Russian economy is based on America’s consumption of one brand of Vodka alone!

My personal preference runs toward Southern Comfort, on the rocks. But my favorite Vodka drink, in case you’re mixing, is the Slow Comfortable Screw:
1 oz. Sloe Gin
1 oz. Southern Comfort
1 oz. Vodka
Orange Juice
Combine the alcohol in an ice-filled highball glass. Top up with orange juice. Stir and drink.

That drink led to many good times during seminary!

The sad reality is, an American boycott of Stoli would primarily impact the country of Latvia – where the Stoli we drink is bottled. Latvia is a small Baltic republic (not a part of Russia) with an unemployment rate of 22.5% (the highest in the European Union) and a 10% rate of inflation.

An American boycott of Stoli would also unfairly impact Soyuzplodimport (SPI), the international distributor of Stoli, based in Luxemborg, and William Grant and Sons, a Scottish company that owns the American distribution rights to Stoli through the end of this year.

4. And frankly, I don’t see enough outrage behind this issue that would cause the average American drinker to voluntarily give up his Stoli. The bus boycott in 1955 was effective because the segregation law affected the whole African-American community in Montgomery. The LGBT community in America has neither the number nor the world-wide support to make this thing work.

And you’re asking American drinkers to give up their favorite Vodka… for how long?

I’m not saying boycotts don’t work. But I am saying that in recent years we have been doing them all wrong. Look again at the Montgomery bus boycott. It was successful because…

a.  It was a local issue. It’s easier to boycott the local bus company than an international conglomerate. You might stop buying Folgers Coffee, but P & G still has Charmin and Crest and Pampers… just to name a few!

b. The Montgomery bus boycott was targeted. Those affected by the boycott were the very people responsible for creating and enforcing the segregation laws. Innocent low-paid workers in some foreign country were not affected.

c. The people staging the Montgomery bus boycott were committed. The African American community – the people affected by the segregation laws AND the largest group of bus riders – stopped using the bus system. This was an inconvenience, to be sure, but they had a vision of a better day and they were committed.

d. The larger community supported the protesters. Carpools were organized; taxi drivers offered reduced rates to the former bus riders; local churches even provided free shoes to people who had to walk to work.

e. Those involved in the bus boycott were willing to risk everything. Many of the leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were arrested and jailed for their “subversive” activities. Unfortunately for the segregationists, this only called national attention to a local problem and put further pressure on the Montgomery City Council to change.

f. The Montgomery boycott used a multi-pronged approach. As the average citizen boycotted the bus system, others worked through legal means to stop the discriminatory laws. The boycott ended only when the Supreme Court ruled against the City of Montgomery.

So what are we to do then? You might ask. Just close our eyes and let injustices prevail?


But first, we’ve got to set aside the age-old idea that America is “Boss of the World”. If we’ve learned anything during these past 12 years of meddling in the affairs of Middle Eastern nations, it’s that we have no business forcing our way of life on anyone else.

Second, don’t blindly follow any crowd! The Captain has been a non-conformist all his life. Become informed about the issues (from credible sources!) and make your own decisions. This will rarely make you popular, but it will help you sleep at night.

Finally, participate in democracy in America. It’s not perfect, but it becomes less perfect when intelligent people (like your humble Captain’s readers) don’t participate.

And one more thing: always drink responsibly!