Happy Anniversary, Mom!

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Mom and Dad would have been married 66 years today. She has so courageously survived widowhood for the past fifteen years, and I am immensely proud of her. She has never once complained about the years spent alone; instead, she says often how thankful she was to have had a fine Christian friend and partner for over half a century.

When C. S. Lewis lost his mate to cancer, he wrote these poignant lines: “One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor.”

I love you, Mom!

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THIS David Smith Is the True Hero!

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Here on Memorial Day, allow me to brag about David Smith . . . but definitely not me. President George W. Bush has taken to painting some American heroes, and this beautiful picture is of Corporal David Smith who conquered PTSD and is an authentic national hero. I once found out by accident that the 55,000 dead, there are SIXTEEN David Smiths carved on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. That’s 16 Mrs. Smiths who are widowed and still grieve nearly a half-century later. Sixteen homes where Mom and Dad won’t see their son David until Resurrection Morning. I have spent my entire life on the easy side of history, never having to hold a gun, tote a medic’s bag, or face an enemy across Normandy Beach or the Mekong Delta. So believe me when I say that I never once complain or utter a peep when I file my tax returns on April 15. These 17 David’s have earned my support and my undying respect.

Thanks to President Bush for a truly classy gift to our nation!

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BOOK REVIEW: HIDDEN FIGURES

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Hidden Figures is satisfying as a film, but provides even greater depth and reward as a reading experience. The hard-core math in the story is minimal but intriguing as these brilliant ladies literally spent weeks and reams of paper on a single equation. I’ve got a master’s degree and I teach Calculus I and II at a college, and there were multiple moments when I simply set the book down and went “Yikes!” Consider the Apollo 11 dilemma: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin zipping around on the moon doing NASA chores, while the lunar module continues to orbit. If the rendezvous doesn’t come off exactly as calculated, those two astronauts literally miss the bus!

But even more compelling than the mind-boggling calculating is this tale of triumph over entrenched racism and bigotry. Back in the era of this story, the state of Virginia was so dedicated to the ugly heritage of segregation they would literally give African-American students scholarships, making sure they were “out-of-state” grants. As in: “Just get the hell out of here.” “In Prince Edward County, segregationists would not be moved: they defunded the entire county school system rather than integrate. . . . Virginia, a state with one of the highest concentrations of scientific talent in the world, led the nation in denying education to its youth.”

I was especially stirred by the endless details of how African-American communities literally rose up in a spirit of excellence to make sure their own black young people had the chance to excel. They ran their own proms, had cotillion societies, scraped together field trips, and a million other projects, in order to defeat the pernicious lie of “separate but equal.”

The book is poetic in many places, and fascinating throughout. The story literally reaches for the stars, and giving it back five of Amazon’s doesn’t even come close.

 

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Grandpa Persecuted by Corrupt Cop Duo

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NOTE: Don’t be deceived by the benign demeanor in this photo. All grandchildren are affable when touring a jelly bean factory.

I’ve tumbled into a sort of weird legal limbo. I was visiting my twin grandkids for the weekend when their imaginations got rather carried away. I was “driving” in my typical safe, old-geezer manner (52 mph, Lawrence Welk on the stereo, sipping a Big Gulp prune juice, polyester pants pulled up beyond my belly button) when they roared up behind me, sirens blazing.

“Papa, you have to go to jail!”

“No! What’d I do, Mr. Policeman?”

Officer Miles was so indignant he began babbling. “You um . . . um . . . um . . . you ran into a cow!”

“No, I didn’t. No way!”

“Uh huh. You have to go to jail.” Deputy Audrey concurred and flashed handcuffs in my face. “You have to go to jail right this minute!”

“That’s no fair,” I moaned. “For how long?”

“Eighty hundred days,” Officer Miles ordered, disdaining the California Vehicle Code and plucking a vengeful number out of thin air.

“That’s 21.9 years!” I moaned. “Such a long time just for hitting a cow.”

My pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears and I was dragged off to the clink. Fortunately, security was rather lax and as soon as they looked the other way I was out on the highway again. Not twenty seconds later the same crime-fighting duo struck again.

“You have to go to jail!” One officer on each side, they clutched my arms and dragged me out of the car.

“No!!! What this time?”

Officer Miles searched his data bank for another trumped-up charge. “You . . . um . . . um . . . you ran over a sheep!”

“I never did.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, where is it? Where’s this alleged corpse of a sheep?”

“Right there.” He pointed vaguely at absolutely nothing.

“This is totalitarianism! Manufactured evidence,” I grumbled. “I’m driving really good and now look.”

“No, Papa. You keep hitting sheep.”

Off I went to the hoosegow, again for the dreaded eighty hundred days.

No sooner were the bars of justice lifted and I was apprehended yet again. I noticed that Officers Miles and Audrey were targeting only certain types of motorists; no one else was being challenged. It’s the latest disturbing sociological trend: “Driving While Being a Grandpa.”

“I was driving really slow,” I blubbered. “And I didn’t hit anything at all. Not one nick.”

“Yes, you did,” Miles corrected. “You um . . . um . . . you hit a chicken.”

“That’s all? Can’t I just pay five dollars for the chicken? Chicken crashes aren’t a jailable offense in California, are they? You kidding me?”

But they had no sense whatever of criminal proportionality. I was hauled yet again to the slammer; I howled for some sympathy or legal aid and must say that the twins’ grandma watched from the sidelines with benign amusement, not lifting a finger in my defense.

Over the next half hour, I was endlessly persecuted and charged with vehicular manslaughter of a pig, a dog, and a kitty. “The unfairness!” I howled to no avail. “No Miranda warnings! No judicial restraint!” And when Miles ran out of animal victims, he pulled me over yet again and handcuffed me, chortling in a tone almost gleeful: “Papa, you’re very, very, very bad.”

“No,” I whimpered. “Now what?”

“You . . . um . . . um . . . you ran over a house!”

It’s been lucky up till now that the jails in Fairfield offer a rather porous security. Because by my own count I’ve been convicted thirteen times, each time for sentences of “Eighty Hundred Days,” and Judge Audrey informs me the sentences must be served consecutively.

 

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MOVIE REVIEW: “Gifted”

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It’s been a wonderful year for math movies . . . and for Valley College students who get extra credit for attending them! The latest is Gifted, where a brilliant 7-year-old prodigy has an uncle who wants to protect her from the pressures of elite math. Most of the math in the story is well beyond us common folks; the film talks about the Seven Millennial Problems (each with a $1,000,000 award; get cracking, everybody!) and has a subplot where her mother made great strides toward solving the Navier-Stokes problem. (Don’t ask.)

The child is played by McKenna Grace, who is sweet and compelling in the role. Even for non-math people, it’s got a good plot and an interesting courtroom drama to it. There’s one scene with a bit of an overblown, Aaron Sorkin-y soliloquy, but for the most part this is a fine film. One harsh expletive in an otherwise acceptable screenplay. There’s a memorable line where the guardian uncle snaps at Mary’s demanding grandma: “So we push her and we push her to achieve this great math. And then what? She ends up with a life where the only people she can talk to are three or four old Russian guys.”

Of the trilogy of math films (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Hidden Figures, and now Gifted), Hidden Figures is the clear winner. Octavia Spencer is in two of them and steals the show each time. But all three are informative and smartly written tales.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Dangerous Passage”

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Finely nuanced novels written within a Christian framework are few and far between; this one by Lisa Harris is a choice find. Her crime story is well-told; she knows the field of police detective work cold. The story is compelling and moves along briskly. Amazingly, from her writing desk in Africa, she nicely captures the ambience of modern life in Atlanta.

I especially commend this gifted missionary author for the gracious inclusion of faith in her narrative. Not many do this successfully; far too often dialogue lapses into preachy, stuffy, and unrealistic hokum. Lisa thrives at the art of what C. S. Lewis lauded as Christian faith wisely held just beneath the surface of a good story. Her main characters look to their God for wisdom and strength, but don’t forfeit their street smarts in the process. Even an open-minded secular reader, I believe, will appreciate this finely crafted saga.

The scourge of human trafficking is one that tugs at my own heartstrings, so I much admire her insights into this subject. Many thanks to Ms. Harris and Revell for allowing God to use her to such lasting effect.

 

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Book Review: “Bridge to Haven”

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I’m on a roll with Francine Rivers’ books, and want to again affirm how much I appreciate her compelling expressions of muscular Christian faith. This book has a painful detour into the corruptions of Hollywood; it also contains a poetic depiction of marital love. Both are tastefully shared in a way that’s elegant and never prurient.

I remember when I first read C. S. Lewis’s powerful “space trilogy” of Christian sci-fi tales and being surprised to come across an occasional “hell” or “damn.” The nonbelievers in the book would swear; I recall a common laborer blurting out an irreverent “Christ!” when something irritated him. To me, these made the books more compelling; in addition, the believers’ own lives of purity and elevated moral sensibilities were seen as an attractive thing.

I salute Francine for her commitment to realism in her writing. I have to confess that I find this particular central character difficult to like. Abra is generally a selfish and often shallow character; however, this gifted author’s main theme is always redemption, and once again she has succeeded very nicely.

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