The South Park Theory on Metrics for Determining Top Dad Blogs

The videos in this post contain strong language not suitable for your children or your boss to hear.

Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Somebody's gone off and done it again. I can't believe it. Someone went off and posted a list of the Top Daddy Blogs. I know, I know. I'm fuming about it too. Don't these people understand what this does to us guys?

I remember a few years back when there were no lists for dads, just mommy ones and we were all like, "How come we're not on a list? How come nobody's paying attention to us, huh?" Now, now there's lists all over the place, just take your pick. There's your basic list of favorites, ones offering prestigious-looking awards, those that want you to solicit people for voting your site to fame, then there's your good ol' fashion scams, and of course there's those like this latest one relying on arbitrary metrics to rate us. Hell, there's even a site blatantly named PostRank that rates our blog's weekly performance! It's complete and utter BS!

This is exactly what I was stewing over right before catching the latest episode of South Park a few nights ago, and boy am I glad I did because there was so many lessons from it that were directly applicable to the topic at hand. In this first clip for example you'll notice that the boys of South Park Elementary face the same problem of being inaccurately represented by things like numbers and measurements

After seeing that, you're probably thinking the same thing I did--it is a conspiracy. Seriously, that's exactly what it is. Think about it guys. Before, no one even considered our blogs influential enough to warrant ranking, that was until someone caught on to how much men enjoy ranking things--sports teams, movies, cars, whatever. Now all these parenting sites, market research firms, and medical billing sites are trying to get us riled up into enough of a frenzied state so that we'll club our own children between the eyes in order to get added to one of their Best Dad Blogger list. Don't you see it? They're enticing us to whack our kids in the head so they can write more articles about lousy male parenting, market more pediatric medical products to doctors, and put more children in the hospital to create increased demand for medical billing services. They're all in cahoots together, I'm telling you!

I mean, what the hell!? Even when these people use measurable criteria for rating us they can't even get the friggin' numbers right! Yet, sitting there on the couch, I realized that Cartman was on to something, that there was a way to get back at these people by sorting this best dad blog problem on our own amongst ourselves.

So, uh, yeah, that's probably not exactly the best way to do it for a lot of reasons, one of the biggest being the logistics involved with obtaining those measurements. Perhaps it could be something to incorporate as part of the upcoming Dad 2.0 blogging conference. During check it, measurements could be taken in room behind the registration table and that way the results could be added to our conference name badges. Just a thought.

In the meantime, however, we would need something else, something scientific and logical like the equation, Randy (who's also one of the fathers on South Park) develops to help the kids in school learn the proper method for charting things. 

Aside from the equation idea, I think this clip also illustrates that, like the little girl, a lot of people don't understand why it's so important to for us guys to settle this issue once and for all. The answer in my mind is easy: The reason we have to is that if we don't, then the medical billing companies win! I don't know about you, but I for one, can't live with that. This is why, after sixteen hours of calculating and recalculating various numeric combinations, I finally devised what seemed to be an irrefutable mathematical computation for ranking our sites. I call it ...The Dad’s Unilaterally Measurable Blogging Index, or DUMB Index for short.

DUMB Index2

Here's how it works. First, take the total number of posts over the life of your blog divided by the total number of comments during the same period and subtract this by the square root of your RSS feed subscribers and the multiply the difference by the Rate of Comment Reciprocation (the number of comments you leave on other peoples' blog posts divided by the number of those posts which you actually read). Now divide by one-third of your Facebook Fans plus one-fourth of your Twitter followers. Still with me? 

Okay, from here you need to multiply this by your Pull Factor which is like Klout, but stronger since the word "pull" can also be a verb implying your site's ability to influence. Now, to get your Pull Factor, take your Facebook Likes and Re-Tweets, divide them by 12 months and then add this to the sum total of the Reddits, Diggs, and Stumbles your posts have received over the same period. Almost done.

Finally, once you've multiplied your Pull Factor, multiply the product by the number you get from taking the length of your penis's shaft (Scouts honor here, men) multiplied by the erect girth (pi, r squared) plus yaw, divided by 6 inches which you then multiply by your estimated ego squared, and viola! You now have your DUMB Index number which can be used for ranking your site against all the other dad blogs out there. (Note: I left page views out to nullify any skewing of the numbers by those who are paying for their traffic.)

With the DUMB Index, I figured this would be a full-proof method to prove that such greats as Doug French, Shawn Burns and the bunch at DadWagon along with "lifers" and newbies like The JackB and Just Add Father, not included on the most recent list, would rate every bit as high as perennial stalwarts like DC Urban Dad, Jim Lin and the crew at DadCentricSurely, all of these dads would have DUMB Index scores higher than 6 --well above the collective average. (The only one I can speak for with any certainty is mine at a whopping 3.4. Hey, I'm comfortable with that. Like they say, it's not the size of your blog, but how you use it that matters.)

Eventually, though, I realized my DUMB Index was flawed. What I failed to account for in my calculations was a little thing called "M.I." or "Motivational Intent." In my fervor to invent a full-proof ranking system, I forgot all about the various reasons behind why dads blog. Some do it to be part of a community, some do it for fun or to express themselves, and some do it to counter negative images of fatherhood in the media. Others do it as part of their business--nothing wrong with that. And, yes, there are a few who probably dad blogging for less than altruistic reasons, but in any case, the high variability in M.I. is too great, and thus makes the whole thing immaterial.

But maybe being ranked isn't the point? Don't get me wrong, I'd be a hypocritical, lying sack of crap if I claimed that being left off of a Top Dad Blog list doesn't sometimes bother me a tiny bit, but I think that's a natural reaction for anybody. (Well, as long as you're not one of those guys out there who thinks they deserve recognition simply because they have a blog. If that's you, go delete your account--like, right now.) A lot of dad bloggers have put a great deal of time and effort into their sites, as well as contributing to the community as a whole; so to have all that work validated via some list or ranking feels good and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Still, there are many guys out there who are doing just as much and somehow manage to never receive any kuddos for it, and yeah, that has to sting.

By the same token, though, other than it being something to Tweet about and then add to a blog's "I-Love-Me" section, receiving such accolades doesn't really amount to much beyond that. Some might argue that it gives you credibility as a blogger, but I'd counter by saying that real credibility comes from the quality of your blog's content, not shiny trinkets. There's a line between seeing these lists for what they are and getting one's  URL in a wad. The best bloggers know this, and whether they're "on the list" or not, doesn't matter because that's not what they're doing if for in the first place.

This brings to mind those gimmicky lists where "Top Dad Bloggers" campaign for votes to be touted as the best. Sure, this basically amounts to nothing more than link bait, but like the recent Circle of Moms circus (read their note about the use of bots--bots? Are guys that desperate?), they also include guys who are really, really good bloggers, deserving of recognition. Despite my personal aversion to such contests and their tendency to bring annoying blow-hards to the forefront of my Twitter stream, I still go vote for the good guys 1) because I want to help promote them whenever possible and 2) because these dads' egos aren't so wrapped up with their blogs that they shatter whenever their sites aren't recognized. 

I guess that's what all this list business comes down to--maintaining a little perspective. If rankings and lists for dad blogs suddenly are so prominent, then that must mean we're at least on somebody's radar which is a big step forward from the days when many of us first registered our URLs. True, the finite nature of mathematical probability dictates that not every dad blogger out there can be named to a list of the Top 25, 50, 100 bloggers, and yeah, the criteria for all of these lists, rankings, nominations, etc. are without a doubt inaccurate. However, there will never be a way to accurately determine who should and shouldn't be a top blogger because it's every bit as subjective as the criteria for ranking us according to our skills as fathers. Ironically, it's being fathers that got us all into this racket to begin with, and so, assuming our "M.I." is pure, doesn't that sort of make us all top dad bloggers in a way? Isn't that enough?

Update: In what can only be defined as a quintessential moment of irony Cision just today posted a new list of Top 25 Dad Bloggers, the criteria for which is eerily similar to the DUMB Index. Hmmm?


High Fructose Corn Syrup: SNL Commentary

Remember that whole flap about high fructose corn syrup? Anyone remember THIS COMMERCIAL from the Corn Refiners Association? Yeah, I know it's old news now, but I still couldn't help from posting Saturday Night Live's take on it. Aside from this being a hilarious parody, I think it alludes to a great many things about modern parenting and parent blogging in general.


Smallville Redux

After 216 episodes spanning ten years, last Friday marked the end of TV’s Smallville, the CW Channel’s series chronicling the life of Superman before he was known as Superman. Seeing as how Smallville played a direct part in transforming me from adult to fan boy, I would be remiss to let the show fade into the annuals of television history without providing some sort of commentary, especially since it also acted as a major inspiration for the creation of this blog.

Even though Smallville initially aired on October 16th, 2001, I didn’t see my first episode until late 2005 after moving to Chicago where I found myself suffering through a special kind of loneliness, the kind that comes from being without cable. To fill the void I turned to DVD’s, and it just so happened that Walmart was running a roll-back special on the show’s early seasons. The rest, as they say, is history.

What was it exactly about the show that had me plowing through a stack of disks in a mad dash to catch up the current season? To answer that I have to address the reason I moved to Chicago to begin with—my three sons. After the divorce I followed them from Houston, knowing that they would need their father more than ever, yet, at the same time I felt clueless in defining what that meant exactly.

However, somewhere during my Smallville marathon as I watched Jonathan Kent dole out guidance to his teenage, alien son, Clark, a question struck me: What kind of parent would someone have to be into to raise the most powerful being on earth? I mean, think about what Superman would be like if his parents gave into his every whim just to keep him from throwing another ear-splitting tantrum or kicking a tractor to Idaho. He’d be a spoiled, undisciplined brat with heat vision.

Mulling this over, I eventually reasoned that Ma and Pa Kent would have to employ some super powered parenting in order to imbue in Clark the strong moral guidance needed for being the world’s most powerful superhero. Despite the fictional details involved, my conclusion gave way to another thought: What’s stopping me from being that kind of father to my sons?

This then became the filter that I ran every episode through in my head, and there was a lot of material to work with too—Jonathon Kent’s lessons about actions and consequences; the contrasting messages about greed and self-preservation Lex Luthor receives from his father; the paternal validation Clark (Kal-El) needs from his Kryptonian father Jor-El. These were just a few, among many similar themes I jotted down in a notebook during commercial breaks.

Then, in Season 5, Jonathan Kent dies of a massive heart attack, an event Clark spends most of the reaming years trying to reconcile with the added weight from knowing his father’s death came about as a direct result of Clark’s poor decisions. Incidentally, it’s right around this same time that the program started to show signs its destructibility. Aside from a few sporadic exceptions, the writing deteriorated to the level of something you’d expect from cable access; Clark’s journey toward destiny was drawn out in tedious quests for ancient Krytonian relics, while aimless plotlines full of forgettable characters earned enough eye-rolls for me to sprain a retina.

Even more aggravating for me was seeing how some strange and unknown form of Krytonite, possibly pink, turned Clark into a whiny, little bitch. By the end of Season 7 even Lex Luthor seemed to be unable to tolerate the future Man of Steels’ super sniveling, and in the finale, Lex exited stage left courtesy of a structural collapse at the Fortress of Sulk-litude. 

Bereft of a central supervillian in the form of Lex, Smallville’s eighth season could be summed up in one word: contrived. What’s worse, as a hardcore fan, I was duped into a gimmicky scheme that centered around a twenty-one episode build up to a fight between Clark and Doomsday, the only being to ever kill Superman per the comic book cannon. The final battle, however, boiled down to about three seconds of footage with Clark (now referred to lamely as “The Blur”) zipping across the screen, a loud rumbling, and a flash of light—no punches, no pummeling, and no pictures of the actual Doomsday. Yeah, huge letdown to say the least.

As Season 9 loomed in the distance, I had all but given up any hope that Smallville could redeem itself. Still, I remained a faithful follower, if for nothing more than it being a novelty I was intent on seeing through to the end. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The writing, although not perfect, was at least good enough to evoke some of that campy charm from the “golden age” of Smallville, and I had difficulty containing my glee over the appearance of other superheroes like Hawkman. Stargirl, and Dr. Fate from the Justice Society of America. (Unless you’re a comic geek such feelings are hard to describe.)

Finally, after a decade in the making, my beautiful, imperfect, Smallville was ready to kick the Big Blue Boy Scout out of the nest to spread his wings and (hopefully) fly as the Man of Steel. It would’ve been easy at this point, to deconstruct storylines or to criticize character inconsistencies. Instead, I resolved to simply enjoy the final season with as much of the same fan-boy ardor that kept me company on those nights in Chicago as I switched out one Smallville DVD for the next. 

With the advent of Darkseid and the return of Lex Luthor, I thought Season 10 was among the series' best. The cameos by B-level heroes from the DC Universe gave it some added flair, and the larger storyline was not only cohesive, but also pertinent to the current times. More importantly, Clark’s character exhibited the clarity of purpose needed for bridging the gap between a farm boy and legend. This, however, brought with it a growing nervousness over the writers’ ability to pull off the Clark Kent/Superman transition in the end without it being cheesy. 

Few television shows can say they’ve lasted ten or more years; fewer still, have been able to produce endings capable of satisfying their loyal fans’ need for closure. With Smallville, such a feat contained an added degree of difficulty in that the show had to successfully leave viewers with an authentic Clark Kent ready to don the cape of the world’s greatest superhero. To fall on their faces after leaping this tall building in a single bound would basically defeat Smallville’s entire premise. No pressure.

So, did Friday’s two-hour finale manage to meet its fan’s soaring expectations? That depends. If your expectations included a newly minted, blue-clad Superman embroiled in a twenty-minute punch-fest with the immortally evil Darkseid after which our triumphant hero hovers outside Lex Luthor’s penthouse office where the two archenemies engage each other in an intense stair-down contest for the ages, well then, you probably felt a teeny bit let down.

Admittedly, I would’ve like to have seen actor Tom Welling’s version of Clark Kent actually wearing the suit as opposed to the innuendo of such via cross-cut scenes and red/blue streaks in the sky. And for Pete (Ross’s) sake, Lois could’ve at least christened him as Superman; thus, erasing that canker sore of a moniker, “The Blur.” [Eye roll]

All that notwithstanding, I was pleased. (Read: I bounced around on the couch for two hours with unbridled giddiness, while my skin was riddled with goose bumps.) A large part of this was because I didn’t expect epic levels of action, nor did I think that’s what cornerstone episode should be about. Why? Because Smallville was never meant to be about the exploits of Superman, but rather, the exploits that shaped Clark Kent into becoming Superman. In other words, the real focus was on character arc not cool fight scenes. On that level, the finale worked.

But the element I appreciated most was the retracing of the father-son themes that had grabbed my attention in the first place. In a series of apparitions (this is the comic book world—these things happen), Jonathan Kent returns to pass along his final words of wisdom allowing Clark to embrace his destiny and reconcile his past mistakes with his future responsibilities. Likewise, Lex Luthor’s father returns from an alternate dimension (this is the comic book word, etc., etc.) to literally resurrect the devious Luthor legacy via a crude heart transplant performed courtesy of Darkseid. And in a symbolic gesture, Jor-El affirms his son’s readiness for super-manhood by presenting Kal-El with the blue suit bearing the House of El’s big red “S” on the chest.

In the end, the final chapter of Smallville managed to achieve what both fans and critics of Superman have complained about most—relevancy. Whether it was intentional or not, by portraying a society gripped by fear and mistrust at the hands of Darkseid and his minions, the writers presented viewers with a parabolic world of the actual one we live into today. Wars, disasters, economic uncertainty—these are indeed dark times that have given way to divisions, bickering and strife. Hope for a better day seems at a minimum, and In fact, some even mock its very mention should anyone use it as rallying cry or campaign slogan. 

In Smallville’s final season, the world turns against Clark and his superhero friends, and in the bleakest moments, it was up to Clark to restore humanity’s faith in goodness by defeating the evil that clouded it. Before he could, however, Clark had to get past his own susceptibilities to self-doubt and fear, and in doing so his real feat was convincing others they could overcome theirs as well. 

I realize that an alien from a distant planet, flying around in his underwear and saving the world seems… stupid. But Superman isn’t about a bunch of sci-fi nonsense; he’s the living embodiment of hope carried out through heroic feats meant to inspire us mortals to live and act in a way that gives hope to those around us. Hope, whether people will admit to it or not, is the one they cling to when their world is at its darkest. And so, for as long as darkness exists, hope will always remain relevant, even in its symbolic forms.

Don’t agree? Then ask yourself why is Superman still around? Why is it that the crested, red “S” is the second most recognized symbol in the world next to the cross?* And why did millions of people keep coming back episode after episode for ten years, even when the show was a mess, to watch the story of a young Clark Kent? Because people want hope. Last Friday, Smallville reminded us of the hero that inspires just that. (Watch this video

*From statement made in the book, "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero." Honestly, I have no idea how this could be objectively quantified, but I'll run with it as my bias on the matter is evident.


MANtiquing: I Get It From My Mother

Last weekend I took my wife and stepdaughters antiquing at a festival not far from the city. Yes, I know. Guy + antiques = "mantiquing." Well, I'm not ashamed to admit to my love of rummaging through over-crowded shelves of knicknacks or browsing through row after row of dusty furniture. However, before you unleash a barrage of taunts asailing my masculinity, know first, where these tendencies come from--my mother. 

Growing up, I watched my mother salvage many a worn out, weathered, or discarded something or another only to restore it to life and find a new purpose for it around the house. I think part of her motivation for this, other than die-hard thriftiness, stemmed from an a special fondness for the past that went beyond novel fascination. This fondness was never clearer than when it came to the heirlooms that she associated with her grandmother--a set of dishes edged with tea roses, the walnut stained china cabinet that dominated our dining room, the chipped set of chalk figurines that one of us kids took upon ourself to liven up with colored markers.

Beer anyone?

I can remember many times my mother eying over some mysterious relic before prefacing her interests in it with, "When I was a little girl, Grandma Briggs used to..." When my mom was a little girl, a trip next door to her grandma's served as a haven of respite from the understandable chaos that comes from having to contend with six other siblings at home. Escaping the insanity for a game of cards or a quiet tea party alone with her grandma represented the rare moments when my mother was free to feel special and unique, not like just another mouth to feed. Thus, for my mother, such mementos represented some of the best memories of her childhood.

For my three sisters and I, witnessing the way our mother cherished these and other antique items, subconsciously imbued us with the same inclinations. All of us talk of the unexplained force that demands we pull over at the sight of driveway lined with junk-laden fold-up tables, or better still an unappreciated colonial-style chair sitting at curb's edge on trash day. I dare you to visit any of our homes and not find a room bereft of at least one object made in the USA three or more decades earlier. It can't be done.

My Great-Grandma Briggs had a bunch of toy trucks like this one that I got to play with as a boy.

The oldest of my sisters, in fact, has turned antiquing into both a profitable venture and a form of artistic expression. I've mentioned more than once how her keen eye and obvious talent in this department makes me sick (with envy). The situation is made all the more worse in that, by knowing she sells such good stuff, I am dependent upon her for all my antiquing needs ...okay, cravings. Clicking through her store pages, I am a crack addict, and she is my dealer.

My own interest in this racket was inspired by the many groupings of bottles Mom used as accent pieces on shelves and in naked corners. The bug finally bit me around the fifth or sixth grade after I unearthed a perfectly  intact milk bottle from an odd patch of dirt in the wooded area behind our house. It's because of this bottle that we learned this out-of-place mound and pile of large square sandstones was the location of a maple sugar shack built sometime in the early 1900's, and today, my own kids are still digging glass shards and rusty tools from under last falls layer of decaying leaves.

From one pint-sized milk bottle came a life-long interest in almost any trinket linking the past and present. During middle school and junior high my treasure hunts conducted in the neighbor burn piles were usually met with the none-too discreet grumblings of my father who was more than a little annoyed about his garage being cluttered up by another batch of glass, mud-filled, 7 Up and Coke bottles barely worth the refund printed on the label only a year earlier.

By senior high, though, I gained enough picking savvy to elicit a few excited wows from my mom as I held up a blue tinted medicine bottle--the same excited wows she had responded with on the day when I handed her that dirt-caked milk bottle. And so, while most kids my age were hanging at the mall, I spent my afternoons exploring abandoned farm houses and rooting through backwoods trash heaps. As an added touch, I sported an authentic replica of the fedora hat worn by Indiana Jones himself, which evoked a sense of adventure that made ignoring "no trespassing" signs and wiping away sheets of cobwebs all the more thrilling.

I have a thing for typewriters. My sister supplied me one that I type most of my writing on. 

My children howl with uncontrolable laughter every time I oblige their requests for me to retell the story of coming face to face with a raccoon while feeling my way through a two-foot high crawlspace below the floorboards of one hundred-plus year-old warehouse once used by the railroad. For those of you who think it crazy for me to engage in such a stunt, know that my hunch about hard-drinking men working the loading docks eons ago proved true as I made one of my biggest discoveries ever--a green, blown-glass beer bottle with the original cork common used during the 1880's.

"Wow! That's pretty neat, son," I think is what Mom said inspecting the air bubbles in the glass and that deep dimple in the bottom which proved its period of origin.

I never thought I'd ever say, "when I was a boy" but when I was a boy I had this very lunch box.

My idols from TV's American Pickers

Since then my tastes have expanded to include electric fans, Victrolas, cathedral radios, toys, typewriters, and just about anything from the Jazz Age. Today, however, save for the occasional antiquing festival, I don't have the time or resources to dedicate toward pursing things seriously. Instead I am relegated to indulging my interests in vestiges of bygone eras via reruns of The Antique Road Show on PBS and the antics of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz on The History Channel's American Pickers. (If I'm to be teased for anything it should be for outwardly confessing that I fantasize about stowing away in Mike and Frank's van as they "travel the back-roads of America telling the history of this country one pick at a time.")

One of the many objects that hold my affections

My mother on the other hand is still going strong and I get a kick out of her showing off the three-drawer dresser  she picked up at an estate sale or the claw feet lamp table that was waiting for her at the thrift store. It's also equally amusing listening to my father's same grumblings over having to haul these items homes so they can lay about his garage like loafing hobos left over from the Great Depression.

As a seamstress, my mother would appreciate these sewing machines

Even so, Dad recognizes as our entire family does, that these antiques are not the hallmark signs of some form of hoarding, but rather a form of connection not only with the past and all of its memories, but also with each other. Holidays and special occasions in our family seem to pass us by, but nothing gets us on the horn quicker than porcelain chamber pot or pair of vintage opera gloves. And when the women folk wanted to welcome my wife into our clan, the initiation consisted of a girls-only trip to the mother of all antique shops, Buttons and Bows. Although, I was bummed about being discriminated against, my wife passed the test with flying colors, and return visits to the store are now a matter of tradition.

My mother spent many years sewing dresses for customers with antique dolls like these.

And we think Bratz Dolls were bad. Check out this harlot doll.

Now that I've come out of the closet with the story of my love for mantiquing, you are free to raise your eyebrows however you may choose. If such an admission adds a dent to my manhood, I sir or madam, am not concerned in the least for it was my mother who passed this trait on to me. Furthermore, I say this, not as an accusation, but out of gratitude--gratitude for not only endowing me with a sense of appreciation for the past, but also for the many ways my mother has managed to keep our family connected despite time and distance.

Bottles: My first love

A cast iron toy horse and carriage 

Caste iron toy circus clown.

Lithographed tin toy train 

My wife found something at the festival that reminded her of her Grampsy--these printing blocks.

You can check out more of  my photos at Flickr


On Killing and the Death of Osama Bin Laden

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

*** We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog to bring you this post on the killing of Osama bin Laden ***

Warning: This post depicts graphic scene of war and should not be viewed around children.

If you haven't heard about the death of Osama bin Laden by now, then you must be living under a rock, that or you're holed up deep within a cave somewhere in the Afghan/Pakistani border region in which case you can come out now. I had just changed the channel to watch one of my favorite shows, The Unit, which ironically is based on the Army's Delta Force commandos, when the news anchors interrupted and President Barrack Obama announced that U.S. personnel had killed the most notorious terrorist in modern history.

Like most people probably did, my mind went back to when I first learned of the attacks on September 11th. I was at a company team-building day when one of the managers walked in late, babbling something about a plane hitting the Trade Towers. Our company president dismissed this as an unfortunate accident. I think we all did, believing it to be a small plane, not a jumbo jet. That notion was impossible. Minutes later, after someone informed us that the second airliner had hit the remaining tower, suddenly the mental barrier that separated the impossible from the possible, crumbled into confusion, mixed with a low level panic.

The World Trade Towers burning on Sept 11th
Given the second-hand nature in which I found out about the these attacks, there was a added sense of vindication in being able to see the President deliver news of the 911 mastermind's death live. As the crowds began to form in front of the White House, at Times Square, and other locations, I could feel a patriotic pride swelling within me, and it felt good.

This country has been hampered by division for literally years to the point we have accomplished little to nothing in charting a definitive course to recovery. So, to see so many people, that otherwise might be shouting at one another across protest lines, now gathered together in one place waving flags and chanting, "U-S-A. U-S-A." in unison, caused me to choke up with emotion. I am an unabashed patriot. 

However, I'll admit to having more than just a cynical bone in my body, and I knew, come morning, TV screens, websites, and social media channels would be filled with negative criticisms, criticisms such as Bryan Palmer's, "When Did We Start Chanting U-S-A"? on site alone is a trove of derogatory rhetoric that, like most news commentary outlets, over-analyzes a situation to death in the same way a heard of bulls tramples slow, uncoordinated runners in the streets of Pamplona. 
Celebration of Osama bin Laden's death outside the
White House Sunday night. Right or wrong?
Last night my wife turns to me in the van and asks, "Did you see the big debates going back and forth on Twitter of bin Laden?" She angled her Blackberry in my direction as she named off a slew of people we know and which camp they were in. Based on her recap, the argument seemed to center on the appropriateness of celebrating bin Laden's demise.

Sanctity of life. I get it. After my grandpa died, my dad had the unenviable task of shooting his decrepit, old dog. I remember watching that dog as it trotted, then walked, then sort of limped up the steep hill behind Grandpa's house as Dad followed at an even pace, a Winchester rifle swinging in his right hand. Five minutes after they were out sight, I heard a loud crack that echoed throughout the valley the way gunshots do in John Wayne westerns.

I am a patriot & would've joined the crowd Sunday night
For some reason I took this as an invitation to investigate, despite Dad's orders that came somewhere from behind the trees not to come any closer. In retrospect, I probably should've obeyed as it has since occurred to me that Dad, who was kneeling reverently next to the limp heap of black and white fur, was having a private moment with one of the last living ties he had to his own father. At the time, though, I didn't recognize this. Instead I was transfixed by the surreal sight of Grandpa's dog lying at my feet, its eye bulging from their sockets, its tongue draped unnaturally from the side of mouth the way cartoons depict dead animals. I used to feed that dog dry food and table scraps from a dented tin bowl every Saturday afternoon, and now it would never jump up on me in excitement as I waded into the dirt patch that dog had worn into the earth after years of pacing in a circle.

As I stood there, looking down, I was struck by the power of how precious life was even for an animal. So, if I can appreciate the sanctity of life for a mangy mutt, how much more esteem do you think I hold for a human being. Killing Osama bin Laden is different--maybe not in the eyes of moral purists, but, frankly, I don't expect this bunch to understand my position, especially if they've never worn a uniform in the service of this country. 

War is a horrible, horrible thing. There is no glory in the act itself, and the ironic tragedy is that wars force even the most civilized of nations into situations where they must step outside of the very moral parameters that define their society's heightened civility in order to protect this way of life. This requires difficult decisions, and I'll be the first to concede that the United States's leadership has not always made the best of choices in this regard (the fabricated justification for our invasion of Iraq comes to mind--just saying). In any case, though, these decisions shouldn't overshadow what a country and its citizens stand for.

My father displaying his plaque
as SOF Soldier of the Month
This applies at a personal level too. My father was a Green Beret and member of the elite MAC-V-SOG commandos in Vietnam. Once I grasped the significance of this at around age 11 or 12, I asked him if he had ever killed anyone during the conflict. Other than the occasional funny story, Dad never talked much about the real side of things, which may be why it shocked me when he responded with, yes, and then went on to tell me the story of shredding a North Vietnamese soldier standing mere yards away with a burst of machine gun fire. There were other instances too. 

Eyes wide open, I still recall being slightly terrified of my father after this because it was difficult for me to reconcile that the man I called dad could be capable of such violence. Eventually, though, I came to recognize that this was just a period in my father’s life when he had to do what needed to be done, but, like America and what it represents, this wasn't who my Dad was as a person.

Later, this was something I had to come to grips personally when I enlisted in the Army and then earned a commission as an Infantry officer. After years of being told, “Thou shalt not kill,” I was now training to, as one commander put it, “Kill mass quantities of bad guys at close range using large caliber weapons.” Furthermore, I knew I had better be able to carry this out, not just pay it lip service; otherwise, I would be jeopardizing the lives of others. (Did I get to put this into practice? No. I left active duty three months before September 2001, and to lead you to believe I had would dishonor the service and sacrifice of many, like my friend Major Cecil Strickland, who as a company commander, had to lead his soldiers in the face of unthinkable adversity chronicled in the book, They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq by Kelly Kennedy.) 

What angers me about those who use their sanctimonious keyboards to quote MLK out of context from behind the shield of a computer screens, is that they do so in ignorance of what war really is. War is about imposing the will of one collective ideology over the will of another through violent means, which in basic terms boils down to one-upmanship. Some of you may recall the famous scene in the movie, The Untouchables, when Sean Connery’s character gives that famous bit of advice to Kevin Costner about if the Mob put your guy in the hospital, you put their in the morgue—yeah, it’s like that but much, much worse. In other words, human life becomes a form of currency, and if I can take more of it or do it in ways more horrific than you can to the point you finally lose your resolve to continue, then I win. 

In our world, and more specifically this little parent blog niche (military families excluded) where the biggest concerns are high fructose corn syrup and Nestlé’s chocolate, a decade of war thousands of miles away seems to have become white noise that plays unnoticed in the background as we denounce in 140 characters or less the expressions of victory over a heartless terrorist’s death. However, if your world was another day of pulling the charred remains of your friends out from under the smoldering hull of a Humvee after it hit and IED detonated by some faceless enemy you will likely never find, then I’m betting you’d feel differently upon getting word that the person who started all of this bullshit, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed. 

Human history is marred by a torrent of evil people. I’ll never forget reading John Toland's The Last 100 Days: The Tumultuous and Controversial Story of the Final Days of World War II in Europe, in the 8th grade, and how passages such as those recounting the Russian advance towards Berlin and their fondness for gang raping Polish and German girls that they then dragged in chains behind their tanks until reaching a fresh batch in the next town, stripped away the glossy veneer of World War II as it had been presented to me in middle school textbooks. (To be fair, Bob Jones University’s Beka school curriculum left a lot to be desired when it came to presenting something known as “facts.”) 

A Nazi soldier shoot a Jewish woman & her child at
point-blank range
Adolph Hitler exterminated an estimated 11 to 17 million people, 6 million of whom were Jews, a quarter of which were children under the age of 15. Hitler eventually committed suicide before the Russian could get to him but that didn't stop them from dousing his body in gasoline and burning it. Want a more recent example? During the early 1990’s Bosnian Serbs under Slobodan Milošević killed nearly 100,000 people in a mass genocide while raping anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 women and girls (Catholics and Muslims apparently were their favorites.) Although captured in order to stand trial for these war crimes, Milošević died before the trial could conclude. None of these heinous individuals and their armies possessed any regard for the human life and neither did Osama bin Laden.

On that September morning alone, bin Laden's terrorist attacks were responsible for the death of over 2,800 innocent people, 8 of who were children between the ages 2 and 11. Staggering as these numbers may be they still fail to convey the gruesomeness and personal anguish. According to, of those casualties, only 289 intact bodies were recovered, 1,717 were never found, and the rest could only be accounted for via the 19,858 body parts that were collected from the ashes. By the time the dust settled, over 3,000 children were either orphaned or left with one parent. 

Alleged death photo of
bin Laden (Likely a hoax)
In light of this and the ensuing aftermath, do I feel it wrong of me to be outwardly glad this man is dead and to cheer along with other Americans? No. I’m glad the son of a bitch’s corpse is rotting in a watery grave. Why should I extend to sympathy to a murderous bastard intent whose goals in life included killing people like you and me without conscious. Do I care that other feel differently? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t rankle me, but then again, it is their privileged right to hold to their position. 

We live in a cruel world, and we do ourselves and our children a disservice if we pretend otherwise. This being the case, sometimes it is necessary to remove the perpetrators of this cruelty through extreme measures. We may not like it. We may not agree with it. But whether we’re willing to admit or not, our families are safer because others are putting their lives in harm’s way on our behalf to carry out missions that result in a notorious terrorist’s brain matter being splattered across a wall in Abbottabad. For that we should at least be thankful. 

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