You’re Not Clever, Just Ignorant

I am tired of seeing posts/memes/cartoons portraying gun owners as ignorant racist rednecks who support the killing of children. This installment is aimed directly at those who post such garbage. I am sick of the condescension of people who call for “responsible gun ownership” but don’t even own guns. You think if gun ownership isn’t done by your idea of what the rules ought to be, it’s irresponsible. You could at least be honest about what you want, but few of you have the guts. I’ve pretty much adopted a policy of just scrolling by after taking into account the source, and I’ll probably continue to do the same. But I’m going to lay some facts on you anti-gun folks so you won’t have any excuse the next time you decide to post some leftist crap about us.

I was thinking about this recently during a pistol match. The folks in my squad included me (an archaeologist with 3 degrees), a civil engineer, a data architect, a chemical worker, a federal law enforcement officer, and other professionals. In the larger qroup of shooters at these matches you will find blue collar workers, construction contractors, environmental scientists, engineers, lawyers, and a wide variety of other professionals. In my shooting career, I have competed with men and women of various ancestry and background. I’ve never seen anyone treated any different based on the color of their skin or any other factor, for that matter. Some of us are members of the NRA and others are not. We’re all equal at the line.

When we get together, sure, we talk a lot about guns and shooting. Sometimes we talk about politics. But we also talk about our families, our jobs, how life is going, and lots of other topics. I have never once heard anyone talk about how anxious they are to shoot anyone else. In fact, we often discuss the weight of the responsibility of protecting our loved ones. We know our choices may not be the same as yours, which is fine. But we are sick of you telling us how evil we are for making the considered decision to take our safety and that of our family and friends as a personal responsibility.  If you are willing to stand by and watch something horrible happen to an innocent person, possibly someone you love, while you wait for the police or wish you could do something, that’s on you. I’m not wired in such a way. The next-to-last thing I ever want to do is point a firearm at another human being, much less shoot anyone. But the absolute last thing I want to do is have to live with someone in my life suffering serious injury or death because I didn’t have a firearm.

I know there are exceptions. I’m sure there are a few shooters who match all your stereotypes exactly. There are people out there who don’t behave in a responsible manner in any aspect of their lives, much less with a firearm. There are idiots, criminals, racists, and generally horrible people who own firearms. But they are clearly, statistically, demonstrably the exception. And I know you have every right to post whatever you want on your page. But here’s what you need to know: when you post these clever lines about how evil and stupid gun owners are, you are wrong and showing your ignorance. It is frustrating because I know many of you are highly intelligent. Why do you continue to be willfully ignorant when it comes to gun-related issues? Why do you continue to parrot the bald-faced lies fed to you by the media?  I don’t get it.

Please continue to post your ignorant, narrow-minded, mainstream media-provided nonsense if you like. Or, if you would really like to know about gun owners, why not talk to one? I’m always willing to discuss why I have made the choices I have and why I believe the way I do about the issue. But if all you’ve got is tired old fertilizer you learned on the news or Huffington Post, don’t bother. I don’t have time to talk to bleating sheep.

Feel free to comment if you like, but I’m not looking to start a debate. This is my opinion, which is based on research and experience, not my feelings or anything I’ve been told to think. I don’t care if you don’t like it. You are not going to change it.

The Hole in My Yard

I mowed my lawn for the first time this season a couple of weeks ago. As I got to the back yard, I once again had to mow around my daughter’s old swing set. I’ve had to deal with this thing since The Kid was 6 or so. It was hard to maneuver around and required the push mower and weed-eater to keep grass from overtaking it. The Kid is now 15 and hasn’t so much as sat on a swing in a couple of years. The wood was starting to rot in places, the chains were rusty, and the slide was cracked. I determined it was time for it to go. I talked with her about it, and she agreed she was done with it. She’s more concerned with her car and her phone these days, so it made sense to get the swing out of the way.

Last weekend I set about taking it apart. It was a good set, made of wood held together by heavy bolts and screws. But it had been sitting out there for nearly 10 years and time had taken its toll. I had all the necessary tools and expected little trouble taking the rickety thing apart. What I didn’t expect was the flood of memories and the emotional thunderstorm I would experience while dismantling a piece of my daughter’s childhood. I was completely caught off guard and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it. I’m not an overly emotional or sentimental person by nature. At least I wasn’t until The Kid came along. I kept thinking, “It’s just a rotting old swing set! Get a hold of yourself, man!”.

Yes, it was a rotting old swing set. But it was more than that, too. It was built by the three men who will love her more than any other man ever will; my Dad, my father-in-law, and me. It took us part of two days to get it together, but we had a ball doing it. I remembered all the fun she had on it, carefree as only a young kid can be. I remembered all the time she spent on it with her friends, all of whom are growing up just like her. We had to rebuild part of it a few years ago, and I remembered her going with me to get the lumber and picking out some “interesting” paint colors to give it some protection. I remembered the fun of her helping me paint it and how proud she had been of the job she had done. Turns out that pile of weathered wood and cracked plastic was a lot more than a rotten old swing set. I got it apart, loaded up the parts and hauled it away. I can’t tell you how hard it was to do so.

Yeah, I guess I’m getting sappy in middle age. Honestly, I think it has more to do with The Kid’s age than mine. Those of you with teenagers will probably understand all this. The rest may not. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her and the young woman she is becoming. It thrills me to think of what her future holds. But it is hard to let your little girl grow up. I can’t solve all her problems with a hug and some time on the swing anymore. That is hard.

I mowed the lawn again this weekend and it was much easier. I sailed right across the spot where the swing set used to be. Having that space opened up the yard quite a bit. It probably looks better now, but all I see is big hole.

Little Help for a Big Problem

I like to spend part of my lunch hour every day walking. It gets me out of the office, allows my head to clear, and gets me a little exercise. My walk takes me through the Old City in downtown Knoxville, which is a place of interesting architecture and even more interesting people. The area is frequented by suit-clad professionals, families, and more hipsters than you can shake an ironic t-shirt at! Sadly, it is also an area where many of Knoxville’s homeless can be found. I’ve had many encounters with them over the years. Most are friendly enough, ask for some money, and go about their business when you turn them down. I never give them money, but will offer to buy food for them occasionally. Most turn me down, but every so often, someone will take me up on the offer. I figure these folks truly are in trouble and I don’t mind buying them lunch.

A few days ago, an older gentleman stopped me on my walk and asked if I could help him out. He said he was a veteran and was broke. I have an especially soft spot for veterans in this condition, so I told him I would buy him something to eat if he was hungry. I didn’t really expect him to accept, but he did, so we headed off to a nearby Subway. It was a few blocks to the restaurant and he walked with a cane, so the trip took a few minutes. We had time to chat while we walked. I don’t instantly believe people when they claim to be a veteran. I usually ask what branch they were in, when they served, and where they served. A faker will have a hard time answering those questions. This gentleman convinced me pretty quickly as he rattled off his unit number without hesitation. He was a Marine, who did his basic training at Parris Island in the 1980s. I thought he was older than that, but he’s had a tough life. I’m pretty sure he was the genuine article.

He had moments of clarity and moments of confusion. I could tell he had some mental troubles, but he was mostly coherent. He said he came from Long Island, New York, but couldn’t really articulate how he came to be in Knoxville. He talked of an ex-wife who he caught cheating on him with his best friend, and how he could have killed the man but didn’t. He spoke about it like it had just happened, but then told me he had been in Knoxville for 6 weeks. In his mind, I think it did just happen. He had been a medic in the Marines, then came home to work construction. I asked if he was staying at the nearby mission, and he said he had been told to leave for some reason. He said he was on the streets and someone had stolen his jacket yesterday. He said he had no blanket or extra clothes. As I stood there and listened to his story and his lapses into confusion, I thought about how big this man’s problems were. Yeah, I fed him a meal. One meal. Where will his next one come from? When will he have another one? Where is he spending this cold, rainy night? How long can he survive on the street with winter coming? Questions to which I’ll never know the answers, but questions which trouble me.

Here’s a bigger question: how on earth is it possible for a person to serve this country and end up alone on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee? How can this nation turn its back on these men? There is just no excuse for it. There are an estimated 40,000 homeless veterans in the US at any given time. Unacceptable. Our government has failed those who have risked everything to protect us! Many veterans are dependent on the Veterans Administration (VA) for medical and mental health services they desperately need. In many cases, they spend years waiting on treatment which they need immediately. This is just wrong and it needs to stop.

I’m not an expert on this issue, but I have a couple of ideas on how to make it better. Every person who is honorably discharged from the military should receive a card entitling them to free medical and mental health care at the doctor of their choice for life. Period. There needs to be a nationwide network of short-term housing options funded by the military for them and longer term where necessary. How can we afford this? How can we not? How can we justify sending billions of dollars to countries who openly hate us when American veterans are dying while waiting for care? How can we provide endless benefits to people who snuck into this country while those who have served it are homeless and starving? The money is there. It just needs to be put where it will do the most good, where it will allow us, as a nation, to do the right thing.

Until there is a leader in a place of sufficient power to make some hard decisions and get things done, I doubt much will happen. As is often the case, it’s up to us to do what we can to help these folks out. If you know a veteran who is at risk, be there for them. Talk to them. Find out what they need and help them figure out how to get it. Remember it is reported 22 veterans commit suicide every day. If you can afford to donate to a veteran’s organization, please consider it. If nothing else, buy a meal for homeless vet. It’s a small gesture in the face of a big problem, but the person you feed will appreciate it.

Out of Balance

A man carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. Job stress, financial stress, family concerns, trying to stay healthy, and his own sense of personal responsibility all contribute to a heavy load. In order to successfully manage the load and be the father, husband, son, employee, and man he needs to be requires balance. If you’ve ever lifted weights, you know what I mean. The heavier the weight you’re trying to lift, the more important is your balance.

Balance is achieved through a solid base. Think of a house. The more piers the house rests upon, the more stable the house. So it is for a man. But his piers are not made of stone or brick. No, a man’s balance, his ability to bear his load, is provided by his parents, his wife, his children, his teachers, his friends, his colleagues, and his own sense of self worth. Some piers are bigger than others, providing more balance and stability, while others are smaller but still important. Some of us are blessed with more piers than others from the start. I certainly fall into that category. When a pier is lost from the foundation, stability is lost; the loss of balance makes the load harder to carry. The other piers absorb more of the load, and with time, balance is restored. The more piers, the quicker this takes place.

A few weeks ago, I lost one of my central piers when my dad passed away. He had always been there, and now he’s not. I admit I have come close to collapse a couple of times. There have been some very hard days since he’s been gone. Sometimes the grief still comes out of nowhere like a rogue wave out of the darkness, but thankfully it’s happening less and less as time goes by. I’m lucky I have great family and friends who are helping me regain my balance. I’m lucky I’ve always had such stability in my life. I feel bad for those who have never known how it feels to have such a solid foundation. I know I’ll eventually be okay. My family and I are leaning on each other, so we’ll all regain our balance. There are still lots of piers in my foundation, including the tools given to me by my dad. I still miss him. Every single day. I always will.


I Hate Bullies

I hate bullies.  I always have. The pain inflicted by them was brought into sharp focus recently by the tearful video of young middle school student who had experienced a particularly bad bought of bullying at lunch and left school for the day.  His mother recorded his reaction and posted the video which has gone viral.  The reaction has been widespread and dramatic.  The young victim has been given support from everyone from movie actors to athletes, in spite of some negative comments about his family.  My first response was one of anger and sadness.  I think many of us have at least some idea of how this kid felt. It is a terrible, powerless feeling, one I unfortunately remember.

I was a tall, skinny kid.  When I say skinny, I mean I was 5′ 11″ tall and weighed 115 lbs when I started high school. Like I said, skinny. The problem was I had a 200 pound mouth. Not a good combination. I didn’t go out of my way to find conflict, but I didn’t really have enough sense to avoid it, either.  The end result was numerous negative interactions with larger boys.  Yes, I was bullied. One incident stands out in my memory. We were in the old gym at Line Street School for PE, I presume. I was sitting near the top of the old wooden bleachers for some reason, when a squad of them surrounded me.  Next thing I know, two of them had one of my legs each in hand and I was descending the bleachers involuntarily on my butt.  I’m sure it was hilarious, but I don’t recall thinking it funny. I remember most being so angry because there was just nothing I could do. To this day, nothing infuriates me like being powerless.

It was especially bad during the middle school years, but eased up during junior high and high school as everyone sorted themselves out into social cliques. I was lucky as I became a total band geek and surrounded myself with good friends inside and outside the band. Did what I went through suck?  Sure it did. Should it have happened?  Probably not, but it did.  No, I don’t think anyone should have been suspended or charged or anything else. It was just part of growing up and I have no doubt my thicker than normal hide is largely a result of those days. I don’t hold it against any of those guys. In fact, I can only remember one of them.  OK, I’d gladly punch that guy in the face, but I understand he’s still a flaming butthole and deserves it!

Back then, being bullied was sort of a right of passage, something you almost had to go through.  It toughened us up and prepared us for the bigger bullies who roam the real world.  We were taught to either turn the other cheek or fight back, depending on the situation.  If you did fight back and an actual scuffle ensued, both parties would visit the principal’s office, a note might be sent home, the combatants would be forced to shake hands, and that was it. No one was expelled.  No psychological counseling was necessary.  Law enforcement was not involved.  I’m not saying this was necessarily the proper solution, but that’s the way it was.

Given this experience, I think you can understand why it has been hard for me to understand the current reaction to bullying.  It has blown my mind to see parents filing lawsuits and charges being filed, never mind kids killing themselves or their classmates over it.  But things are different now.  Today, we have the miracle/curse of social media.  Where I could survive a day of middle school and make it home to safety, kids now simply cannot escape it even if they aren’t personally engaged on social media. For some, it just never stops. They’re under constant attack on Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, and whatever other platforms the kids are using these days.  I can’t imagine what that must be like. The other advantage I had was having a stable home, with two parents who loved me. I didn’t have to worry about whose week it was or if one or both would be there when I got home.  I feel for kids today.  I think it’s much more difficult now in a lot of ways than it was then.

So, yeah, I hate bullies.  I can’t stand to see the strong pick on the weak because I’ve been there.  Parents, we have to be aware of these kinds of activities and make sure our kids know they’re safe at home.  We have to give them the tools they need to deal with bullies and the other predators prowling their world. I don’t think its practical to talk about putting an end to bullying. Kids are always going to pick on other kids. Some of the strong will always target some of the weak. I think we can mitigate it by ensuring our children are raised to be empathetic toward others and with an understanding that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. They need to understand there are consequences to their actions, but they shouldn’t fear those consequences if they stand up for themselves or another classmate. I’ve told my daughter repeatedly to avoid conflicts if she can, but if someone puts their hands on her, she is to use whatever means necessary to back the offender up, including knees, elbows, fists, feet, backpack, whatever. She understands she will be “in trouble” at school, but not at home as long as she didn’t start it. I want her to refuse to be a victim.  I hope that attitude will stay with her once she’s past the school-age bullies and dealing with the scarier ones waiting “out there”.

Unanswered Questions

The stone is like the thousands of others around it. It is plain, white marble with a rounded top, the standard issue for the Veterans Administration in national cemeteries. It is flanked by the markers of soldiers that served in World War II and Vietnam in the old part of the Florence National Cemetery. While the others include the name, rank, branch of service, birth, and death dates, this one has only one word: “Unknown”. I can’t think of anything more sad to see on a headstone. No one knows who lies there. I find that very troubling. I’ve been to this cemetery dozens of times, and I’ve visited several other national cemeteries. They are melancholy places, but that one word bothers me. Unknown.


In 2006, I directed the archaeological excavations for the expansion of the Florence National Cemetery. The expansion area was north of the Florence Stockade, a Confederate prisoner of war camp in use from late 1864 until early 1865. Florence is the lesser known twin of Andersonville, the most notorious prison facility of the Civil War. As Sherman’s army swept through Georgia in 1864, Confederate leaders knew the prisoners held at Andersonville had to be moved to a more secure area. Florence was chosen as one place to send prisoners based on the junction of three railroads. The first group of prisoners arrived in September of 1864 before the stockade was even finished.

Once the stockade was completed, the prisoners entered a wasteland surrounded by vertical logs. No provisions for shelter had been made, which left the prisoners to create whatever shelter they could by digging into the ground and using scatter pine boughs and branches, along with blankets or shelter halves if they were lucky enough to still have such things. Pye Branch bisected the stockade, providing drinking water on one end and latrines on the other. Rations were extremely thin, consisting usually of uncooked corn meal and beans. Meat was almost never available and fresh vegetables were basically absent. All of this, combined with a lack of medical support, resulted in the deaths of about 2,300 prisoners by March of 1865 when the stockade was abandoned.

The stockade was guarded by a small group of regular Confederate soldiers supported by South Carolina reservists. The area where we worked in 2006 was the western end of the camp of part of the guard force, probably the 5th Georgia. For an archaeologist, this project was incredible, as we located numerous features and recovered thousands of artifacts. Between the material culture and the in-depth historical research, we made a significant contribution to the historical knowledge of the stockade and those who guarded it.

One of the features which drew our interest had been partially exposed during previous archaeological testing at the site. A backhoe trench revealed the lower portion of a single human burial. As we prepared to conduct the larger excavations, this caused some concern.  The historical record indicates that initially, the dead from the stockade were buried in a pit somewhere outside the walls. This pit was said to contain over 400 individuals when burials began in the trenches which spawned the national cemetery. We were concerned the single burial was a sign of a much larger problem.

Our excavations revealed this individual had been buried alone in the bottom of a hut. The Confederate guard had access to timber and other building materials, so some lived in small, semi-subterranean huts. Somehow, this individual had been buried in the floor of one of these huts. The excavation of the remains was conducted by a specialist from the University of Tennessee, who carefully documented the position of each skeletal element and any associated artifacts. Sadly, activities on the property prior to the archaeology destroyed the entire skull. We were able to find two fragments of the cranium many meters away in the backdirt pile.  Several buttons were recovered in association with the remains, which indicated that the person was wearing a jacket, possibly military issue. A few pieces of buckshot and a single larger caliber shot were found around the remains. There was no sign of trauma to the bones, so it appears that the shot was there either incidentally or as a complete buck and ball round.

Analysis of the remains provided a lot of information in spite of the loss of the skull. The individual was most likely a young male, aged between 20 and 35 years. He was likely white, although skeletal metrics fell within those of African ancestry as well. He was tall for the time at almost 5′ 11″, with no obvious skeletal abnormalities or disease. Isotopic analysis revealed that his diet consisted of corn products, corn-fed meats, sorghum, and possibly marine foods. This placed his place of residency as the Gulf or Atlantic coasts, which could include South Carolina.

All of this data was great, but what did it really tell us? A young, white male found in the camp strongly suggests that he was a soldier. But this is about all we know. Who was he? Why was he there? How did he come to be buried in that hut and forgotten? Was he sick near the end of the stockade’s occupancy and died, then buried quickly as the guards pulled out of camp? Was he a Confederate soldier trying to get home after the war who took shelter in that hut and never made it out? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions and likely never will. I’ve spent many hours thinking through all of this and I’m no closer to an explanation now than I was in 2006.

After our work was complete, the individual was reburied in the Florence National Cemetery with full military honors. He was interred in a coffin produced for the crew of the CSS Hunley under the careful watch of honor guards representing both Union and Confederate troops. A headstone and a plot were provided for him by the Veterans Administration. It is marked simply “Unknown”. I feel good that I and my colleagues did everything we could to identify him. But it bothers me that we can’t give him a name. He left his family at some point, probably to serve his country. They likely never knew what happened to him. His ancestors have no idea where he is or how he came to be there. That’s terrible and so very sad. Every time I’m in Florence, I stop and pay my respects. I may be the only person who does. It reminds me of the sacrifice made by everyone interred in that sacred space. And it reminds me of all the unanswered questions.

If you have any interest in reading about the work we conducted at Florence, the full technical report is available here. Since 2006, I’ve directed the first professional archaeological research inside the Florence Stockade and the complete mapping of the remains of the Florence Stockade, which are quite impressive! The Friends of the Florence Stockade have worked tirelessly to maintain and interpret the remaining earthworks. If you find yourself headed to Myrtle Beach or down I-95, take a few minutes and stop in Florence to see the stockade.  It’s worth it!


An Open Letter to Police Officers


I’m writing this post for you today because I am tired of hearing about your brothers and sisters in blue being killed simply for doing your job. I’m tired of the disrespect and suspicion shown you by the press and some members of the public. I want you to know they don’t speak for the majority of us, and certainly not for me.

I read with horror the story about New York City Police Officer Miosoti Familia’s death on Wednesday. She was stationed in a mobile command center on a dangerous street in the Bronx when a recent parolee walked up to her window and shot her in the head. Thankfully for the tax payers of New York, he was shot and killed later as other officers tried to apprehend him.  Officer Familia was 48 years old and had been on the force for 12 years. She left behind a 20 year old daughter, 12 year old twins, and an elderly mother for whom she cared. She was not involved in a felony arrest or even a traffic stop.  She was simply monitoring a street, trying to keep local citizens safe. She had no connection to the parolee. Her only transgression was wearing the uniform and being on duty at that particular time and place.

Crimes like Officer Familia’s assassination have become far too common.  Already in 2017, 28 officers have died due to violence in the line of duty.  That figure represents 41.8 percent of the 67 officers which have died this year. But more seriously, it represents a trend toward the targeting of officers for no other reason than they represent the police. Last year saw several attacks on officers, most notably the sniper attack in Dallas which killed five officers and wounded seven more, as well as a similar incident in Baton Rouge which left three officers dead. Both shooters claimed to be angry about the treatment of black people by white police officers. That’s an odd motive since slain Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson happened to be black. I think the more important color in both cases was blue. Police blue.

Officers, I was raised to respect you and to seek you out in times of need. I was raised to be respectful of you regardless of the nature of our interaction.  I’ve had positive and negative interactions over the years, but I’ve always tried my best to show you respect. Today, it has become acceptable to hate, and even attack, police officers as a form of protest over perceived abuses. This was inevitable, given a national administration prone to instantly and publicly blame you after any instance where an officer killed a suspect. It didn’t matter the facts were yet to be known about the case. It didn’t matter that the involved officer’s life, as far he knew it, was about to be over. It didn’t matter that he might have been saving the lives of others as well as his own. All that mattered was making political hay out if it by fanning the flames of divisiveness and racial hatred. Of course, the true believers in the press were perfectly happy to assist by showing partial cell phone videos, interviews with crying relatives, and cherubic photographs of the smiling victim. Never mind that smiling kid had just tried to take the officer’s gun. All of this then became the constant news cycle loop for days, followed by detailed coverage of the protests and statements by Eric Holder condemning the police. Miosoti Familia got press coverage for one day. All of these ingredients have created a fetid stew of hatred which is now being acted out in violence toward all of you.

I’m sure your work is very satisfying. Helping people, protecting them everyday must be fulfilling and why most of you do it. I can think of no higher calling. But it comes at a high cost. Every day when you put on your badge, you know today could be your last day, your end of watch. That’s true for all of us, but your odds are higher when you run toward the gunfire instead of away from it. The courage it takes to do your job leaves me in awe. Every day, you see people on their very worst day. You are expected to maintain a level of professionalism in the face of everything from disrespect to homicidal rage few can muster and you are not allowed to make a mistake. Not one. Every action will be critiqued, second-guessed, and likely tried in the court of public opinion if not a court of law. Even when it is proven you acted properly, your career could still be over. And, you do all of this for meager pay and very little appreciation from those you protect.

I want you to know there are many, many of us who have the utmost respect for you and appreciate the sacrifices  you and your families make to keep our streets safe. I want you to know what is shown on cable news is not representative of how most of us feel. Most of us are more likely to buy you a cup of coffee or pay for your lunch than to swing a fist at you. I know you make mistakes. I know you accept the fact that if you make a mistake which costs someone their life, you are held accountable. But you deserve justice, just like anyone else. It is a sad state of affairs that finds us at time where the badge makes you a target. Please keep your head on a swivel, be safe, and know you are appreciated and respected.  If necessary, I and many others have your back. Thank you!

Paul G. Avery

The Frustrated Americans

Memorial Day

I try to attend Knoxville’s Veteran’s Day parade every year.  A couple of years ago, it was a beautiful, unseasonably warm November day for the parade.  I took up my usual spot near the intersection of Gay Street and Summit Hill.  As the parade went on, I noticed a lady standing close by on the sidewalk. She had on a vest with several patches and pins for various veteran’s organizations.  She also had a large pin with a photograph of a soldier who I assumed was her son.  Then I noticed a smaller pin in the shape of a gold star.  I realized at that point I was probably standing next to a Gold Star Mother, a mother who lost a child in combat.  I wasn’t sure, but I glanced at her a couple of times as groups of veteran’s passed by and marching bands played.  Her face told the story.  I could see the pride on her face and the sadness in her eyes.  I felt like I was in the presence of someone very powerful.  I felt like I needed to acknowledge her in someway, but what do you say to a person who has made that kind of sacrifice? I thought hard about what I should do as the parade carried on.  As it ended, I turned to her, shook her hand, and simply said, “Thank You”.  That’s all I could come up with.  As utterly insufficient as those two words are to express what was going on in my gut, they seemed to be proper, as she simply nodded and smiled as tears filled her eyes.  I got a little something in my eyes as I walked back to the office. It was dusty, you know.

I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and that it is filled with family, friends, and fun.  But take a minute to consider the cost of the freedom you have to do those things.  Think about the courage it takes to be willing to give your life for your country.  Remember the estimated 1.1 million Americans who have done just that, and remember their families. Visit one of the 135 national cemeteries or any of the dozens of state veteran’s cemeteries.  Walk along the rows of stones and read the inscriptions.  I have been in several and always learn something from my visit. They are emotionally powerful places that provide a great deal of perspective.

My brief encounter with a Gold Star mom on a sidewalk in Knoxville will stay with me for a very long time. I consider myself very fortunate to have met her, even for a moment.  She, and all Gold Star families, will be on my mind tomorrow.


Look at this photo.  Look at it and remember when your child was 8 years old.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Like my own daughter, this little girl was loved by her parents, liked by her classmates and teachers, and had a nearly limitless future.  This little girl’s name is Saffie Roussos.  On Monday night (May 22, 2017), Saffie attended the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.  I don’t know Saffie, but if she’s anything like my daughter, she was still excited by all the things she’d seen and heard as the concert ended around 11:30 pm.  She was probably already thinking about what she was going to tell her friends about the show the next day as she exited the arena into the foyer that leads to the parking garage and Victoria Station.  That’s where Saffie died.

Saffie Roussos was one of 22 people killed by a terrorist suicide bomber Monday night.  She was the youngest.  She was 8 years old.  Eight. Years. Old.  EIGHT YEARS OLD!  Her short life was ended by a coward wearing a suicide vest who undoubtedly believed he was doing god’s will.  The murderer was a 22 year-old man of Lybian descent with possible ties to terrorist organizations in that country.  He was known to British security agencies and had been reported to have been radicalized, likely by some hate-spewing nut-job imam on the internet (merely an assumption on my part).  I will not give him the honor of using his name and you sure as hell will not see a photo of him on my page!  He entered the foyer as it filled with men, women, and children leaving the concert after a night of fun.  He wore a vest packed with explosives, along with nuts, bolts, and nails so he could be sure to injure as many people as he could.  He approached the doors at the busiest exit from the arena and detonated his vest, killing 22 people and injuring 116 others.

The other 21 fatalities included three 14 year-old girls, two 15 year-old girls, a 17 year-old girl with her 19 year-old boyfriend, an 18 year-old girl and two 19 year-old girls.  The rest were adult men and women ranging in age from 28 to 51 who were there primarily with their adolescent children or simply to pick them up after the concert.  Marcin and Angelika Klis were there to pick up their children, who are now orphans.  Philip Tron died while picking up his partner’s daughter, Courtney Boyle, who was also killed in the blast.  It seems apparent that this attack was targeted at young girls.  I don’t know anything about Ariana Grande’s music, but I would assume that her target audience consists primarily of adolescent girls.  I’m sure the planners behind this knew that very well.

With that in mind, let’s apply a logical analysis of this situation.  A 22 year-old man has somehow been convinced it will help his so-called religion defeat the infidels of the decadent West by killing himself and as many little girls as possible.  I want someone to tell me what threat any of the victims posed to his religious beliefs or his “people”?  A large portion of the audience probably wasn’t even old enough to vote, let alone cause any harm to him or Islam whatsoever.  All any of these people were doing Monday night was trying to have a good time and give their kids a fun experience.  And yet, somehow, they all deserved to die in the twisted eyes of the mullahs and imams who continue to brainwash these weak, stupid individuals who continue to commit these heinous acts.  How is it possible to make someone believe that their religion not only condones the killing of innocent civilians, but demands it and rewards it?  How do you hear reports of nurses washing bits of blood and flesh off of children and cheer?

As sad as this is, I didn’t react strongly to the news of this attack initially.  Yes, you feel bad for the people involved, but it has almost become common.  But then I saw this picture and the pictures of the other victims.  My blood turned to ice, then started to boil.  I keep seeing my little girl’s face when I look at Saffie’s.  She loves going to concerts and is quickly approaching an age where she’ll want to go to more.  I can not imagine what Saffie’s parents are going through.  They will never get over this.  I would never get over it.  I feel for the first responders and doctors who treated so many injured people, so many who were so young.  I feel for the Muslims who go about their lives every day like everyone else, but have to deal with the acts of fanatics like this.  I keep coming back to one question: why?  Why did Saffie and the others have to die that night?  I don’t have an answer.  I’m afraid there isn’t one.

Hug your kids extra tight.  Not one of the parents thought that Monday would be their child’s last day on earth.  But do not live in fear.  The only way this enemy wins if we change the way that we behave and limit our own freedoms.  Be vigilant, be careful, but do not be afraid.

Attitude of Gratitude

Like many of you, Saturday is a usually a day for getting the stuff done that fell by the wayside during the week.  At our house, that usually means grocery shopping, yard mowing, house cleaning, and other chores.  Our daughter has responsibilities too, including keeping her room and bathroom clean.  This is how she works off the expense of her cell phone.  Last weekend, her mom wanted her to clean out the drawers in her dresser.  They were over-stuffed to the point of being unable to close.  She’s a 13 year old girl, so this happens occasionally.  I reminded her at some point during the day that she needed to get it done and I got THE LOOK. If you have a teenage daughter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  THE LOOK comes when you say something that is either so annoying or stupid the child doesn’t know how you remember to breathe.  This was followed by “I was going to do that next weekend”.  I told her today would be much better for her continued enjoyment of life.  She made it plain that she wasn’t crazy about that plan, but set about her task.

As I was thinking about this minor dust-up, it occurred to me the basic problem was the child has too many clothes and she doesn’t understand how fortunate she is to be in that situation.  I’m not the smartest dad, but it seemed to me that this was what you call a teaching moment.  Let me just say that she is a great kid.  We have no serious behavioral issues with her, just occasional bouts of teen ‘tude.  Anyway, we talked about it later that day and I explained to her there are a lot of kids who would be thrilled to have half of her wardrobe, and she should keep that in mind while taking care of her stuff.  She had pretty well gotten over herself by then, and she nodded in agreement.  By then, she and her mom had straightened things up, producing several bags of clothes to be donated to our local thrift store.  I gave her a hug and all was well.

I think there is a larger lesson here, a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.  I think we forget to be grateful.  No, this isn’t some Pollyanna-unicorns and rainbows-type statement.  I know things are tough and the world is insane.  Believe me, I understand the struggle.  It gets harder every month to make ends meet.  The cost of food, fuel, insurance, and most everything else goes up while our salaries don’t follow suit.  Something is ALWAYS sucking up our time and money, forcing us to make hard decisions.  We are bombarded constantly by the 24/7 news cycle with reasons why we should hate the government, hate our neighbor, fear the boogieman, and just generally be unhappy.  This constant negative reinforcement is very effective and can work on you in ways you don’t even realize.  If you don’t try to counter it, it will just wear you down.

So how do we counter all of the doom and gloom?  It isn’t easy and the solution is different for everyone as we all have our own sources of trouble.  One thing we can all do is try to look at the positive aspect of our troubles.  Sometimes it is very difficult, almost impossible, to find the positive.  Personally, I’m a realist who leans toward the cynical, so I have to force myself to look for the so-called bright side.  But having a positive outlook can make a lot of our day to day aggravations look a lot smaller, and make the larger issues more manageable.  The example I used with my daughter was mowing the lawn.  I don’t like mowing the lawn, but I have to do it just about every week through the spring, summer, and fall.  No, I don’t like to do it, but I’m grateful I have great tools which make the job easier, and more than that, I’m grateful I have a lawn of my own to mow!

There are many more examples I could use.  For example, I am an archaeologist. We are underpaid relative to other sciences.  I’m partially responsible for recording and protecting our common past, which I think is a vital task.  Engineers with my education and experience make twice what I do.  Since the crash in 2008, our wages have been stagnant as companies just try to survive.  I am good at what I do and I work hard at it, so this is frustrating.  But, I’m grateful.  I have a job  I enjoy and which challenges me every day.  I have managed to stay employed when many of my peers have lost their jobs and had to seek employment outside of archaeology.  I’m still able to go into the field and do a good day’s work looking for lost treasure (actually other people’s trash, but treasure sounds better).  I realize how lucky I am to be doing what I do, so I’m grateful.

This blog was founded as a means of expressing the contributor’s frustration with politics and the lack of reason and logic that plague us in so many political discussions today.  We are truly Frustrated Americans.  For me at least, this frustration is tempered by the knowledge that we live in the United States of America.  I am grateful to be a citizen of a nation where I am allowed to vent my frustration openly and without fear of reprisal.  I can sit here and write whatever I want, be it serious or silly, and you can read it or not, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.  I am grateful to the thousands of Americans who have fought and died to preserve that freedom.  I am grateful for the opportunities which are available to all of us if we’ll just work for them.  We have major problems, make no mistake.  There are serious issues at play which can alter the course of our nation.  I’m grateful, however, for the fact that we all have a least some say in the outcome.

Friends, I hope you’ll join me in trying to adopt an attitude of gratitude.  There are days when it’s hard, when I get tired of the struggle.  It always seems I’m reminded of reasons to be grateful about the time things are darkest.  An amazing wife and daughter remind me daily.  I think we’ll all be better for it if we try to take a little time and consider the things for which we’re grateful.

I hope you enjoyed this article!  Please leave me a comment to let me know what you think and share the link with your friends.  Also, I’d like to attribute the title of this article to Knoxville radio personality, Hallerin Hilton Hill.  Mr. Hill hosts one of the best talk shows you’ll hear, the very best in this market.  He admonishes his audience every day to adopt an attitude of gratitude.  I hope you’ll tune in to his show.