Why I Voted for Donald Trump

The night of the election, I posted this picture and broke my policy of being non-political on Facebook (I am quite political on Twitter, however, @rw_bennett). I congratulated President-elect Trump and announced I was celebrating with a victory cigar. The day after the election, I received this question from a high-school classmate:victory-cigar
Hi Bob~ I am curious about something. I saw your post of you having a victory cigar. I need some encouragement and information, if you would be willing to share with me. I will respect your opinion and value your insights. Would you share with me a couple of the main reasons you voted for Trump? I want to be more informed about people’s motives behind their vote. I want to be convinced that this truly was a good choice for our country. If you should choose not to share with me I will respect that as well, b/c I would never want to interfere with our friendship and history. I am looking for clarity. Thanks, Bob!

Carolyn, the friend who asked me this question was the prettiest girl in my class, and – as you can tell by the respectful tone of her question – was one of the sweetest as well. I never dated her in high school; she always seemed a bit, well, unobtainable. Here is my response:

Carolyn, I was late to the party for President-elect Donald Trump. Unlike my brother, who enthusiastically embraced Trump from the announcement of his candidacy, I much preferred almost all of the other Republican candidates. Trump seemed vulgar and coarse, symptomatic of the unfortunate coarsening of America. Some of the women who came forward and claimed that Trump had acted in a sexually abusive way seemed credible. Others did not. I was troubled by these claims and disappointed in the Access Hollywood tape. The fact he lacked political experience was not much of a problem for me; his business experience I believe is more valuable than President Obama’s scant political experience when Obama took office. He appears to have been a good father as his children seem like quality people. His employees feel that Trump treats them with respect; otherwise, we would have heard all kinds of negative stories in the press.

If Hillary Clinton had left the State Department four months before she did (before the attacks on the Benghazi consulate which killed four Americans), she would be President-elect Clinton today. She did not, and the events revealed many of the flaws in Secretary Clinton’s character. Concerned about the political appearance of beefing up the security of the consulate – it went against the Administration narrative that Libya was an example of a US foreign policy success – she refused to grant repeated requests from Ambassador Stevens for more security. We still do not know what she was doing during the attacks, other than not sending military aid. After the attack, she blamed it all on “an internet video,” an excuse she knew was not true. She repeated that lie to the American public and even to the families of the Americans killed that night.

As Congress looked into the events at Benghazi, they discovered an amazing fact: Secretary Clinton went to the trouble and expense of setting up a private email server in the basement of her Chappaqua home for both her professional and personal email. The FBI believes there is a 98% probability this server was hacked by five or more foreign entities. Any other person would have been prosecuted for what James Comey, the Director of the FBI called, “reckless handling of classified material.” Hillary lied about the emails, saying that there was no classified material when the FBI found otherwise. Her team deleted some 33,000 emails that were under congressional subpoena, and then used a program, “Bleachbit,” to ensure they were permanently destroyed.
hillary-bleachbit

Why would Secretary Clinton set up a private server? It goes to her paranoia and penchant for secrecy. She did not want her emails to be subject of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests or anyone else looking at her business. When the Clintons left the White House in January, 2001, they were – in Hillary’s words – nearly “dead broke.” Huge legal fees incurred defending Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment proceedings depleted the Clinton’s financial resources. Yet today, their net worth is estimated at over $200M. How did they get so rich as public servants?

Enter the Clinton Foundation, supposedly a charitable organization. Donors seeking access to the Clinton State Department and/or favors from a sure President Hillary Clinton contributed millions of dollars to the Foundation. The Clintons used the Foundation as a personal piggy bank, using it to pay for Chelsea’s multi-million dollar wedding and to employ Hillary’s insiders until they would work on her presidential campaign. Secretary Clinton is still under criminal FBI investigation regarding the activities of the Clinton Foundation.

On the other hand, I find her to be a hard-working, well-spoken and intelligent person. It’s too bad her flaws disqualify her from becoming president because I do believe a woman president would be a good thing for America. However, I – along with millions of other Americans – simply consider Hillary too untrustworthy to hand over the office of the presidency.

Besides their personal characteristics, I believe Trump’s policies are much better for America. Hillary wanted to double down on the unworkable Obamacare health care system, while Trump will replace it with a much better market based system where people actually will be able to “keep your doctor, if you like your doctor.” The Republican plan will protect people with pre-existing conditions and won’t include all the mandates that Obamacare contains. After all, Carolyn, neither one of us is likely to incur maternity expenses at our age, yet Obamacare mandates that coverage!

I prefer Trump’s positions on immigration (but not mass deportations, which Trump has backed away from), tax policy, education, abortion and military preparedness. I prefer Clinton’s policy on trade.

I acknowledge that the election of Trump is a risk. He’s volatile and inconsistent (he’s been registered as a Democrat, and Independent, and a Republican, all in the last ten years), yet I believe he is worth the risk to move the country in a better direction. The upshot is that I voted for Trump because he has the potential to lead the country and to make American’s lives better. Carolyn, Trump carried Iowa by almost ten percent. Iowans, by and large, have a pretty good collective judgment.

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Northern Tier Bicycle Ride Part 2

Continuing our report on the coast-to-coast bicycle tour from Anacortes, WA to Bar Harbor, ME… For the first installment click here: http://rwbennettcreative.com/2016/08/northern-tier-bicycle-ride-part-1/

North Dakota

North Dakota contained a number of surprises for us. I have actually spent a fair amount of time in North Dakota with my brother Bill Bennett and his sons, mostly in the Devil’s Lake area in the northeastern part of the state where the fishing is spectacular and the land is fecund.

When most people think of the Badlands, they think of South Dakota. We were surprised that western North Dakota has spectacular badlands, too, including within the borders of Teddy Roosevelt National Park, which we skirted.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Rick in the ND Badlands

Rick in the ND Badlands

The other surprise was how verdant and picturesque the countryside was. Instead of drab, pool-table flat and harsh landscapes, we found the land teeming with life – plant, animal and bird.

It was in North Dakota where we could most clearly discern the effect of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, the huge glacier which covered virtually all of Canada and much of the northern United States in the last ice age. In almost the entirety of our tour, the Laurentide sculpted the land. Yes, there were the northern Rockies, the Cascades, and the mountains of New England. But all these mountain ranges would be much taller if not for the Laurentide, which retreated only in the last ten to fifteen thousand years. In North Dakota, we could see how the glacier flattened the land and dug shallow lakes (relatively speaking). The retreating glaciers left rocks and boulders, called drift. Through the years, the North Dakotan farmers gathered the drift and made great piles of rocks, dotting almost every field like a huge pimple on an otherwise beautiful face. As an aside, I grew up in Delaware County in northeast Iowa, which was on the cusp of the Laurentide. The sections of the county which had been leveled by the glacier is some of the richest farmland in the world. Those sections untouched by the glacier – called the Driftless Area – is forested, hilly and mostly untillable. I think the only Driftless Area we biked through was in small parts of eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin where we were close to the Wisconsin Dells, a great example the Driftless Area.

The scouring of North Dakota from the Laurentide glacier is evident.

The scouring of North Dakota from the Laurentide glacier is evident.

I met my friend from Wartburg College, Mike Sojka, in Fargo for coffee near the end of our ND experience. I admire Mike; he became a committed believer as an adult and has impacted many people for good throughout his career in coaching and ministry. Heading east from Fargo we crossed the Red River, one of only two US rivers flowing south to north into Canada. Once over the Red River, we were in Minnesota.

Fair weather, light tailwinds, and flat terrain enabled us a fast passage through North Dakota. We found the state and its inhabitants to be delightful.

Before we head into Minnesota, I want to comment on a couple of topics that were of interest to us, and may be to you as well.

Self-Supported Riders

Whenever people gush over what a big deal we accomplished by cycling 4,000 miles, I think about the self-supported riders we encountered and am humbled. We had Toga, a thirty-one foot RV loaded to the gills with extra gear, a full kitchen and pantry, assorted beverages – adult and otherwise – on ice, and all our bedding and personal gear. If someone became sick or exhausted, he could hop into Toga and ride with Sue, always an attractive option.

Not so for the self-supported riders. All their gear for bike repair and maintenance, first aid, camping and cooking, sleeping, communications, and laundry had to be carried on their bikes. Not only were most self-supported riders carrying some sixty pounds of gear, but their bicycles were these big, heavy stout beasts weighing up to seventy pounds! Contrast to some of us, riding fancy road bikes weighing less than twenty pounds.

Self-supported riders Christy Rogers Hagle and Steve Largent

Self-supported riders Christy Rogers Hagle and Steve Largent

We had opportunities to break bread with the riders pictured here, Christy Rogers Hagle from Lewiston, Idaho and her friend Steve Largent (no, not the old receiver from the Seahawks) from Boise. Christy and Steve maintained a platonic relationship through their ride, as far as I know, and we tracked their progress via Facebook. Another of our favorites was Mike Howard from San Diego, a heckuva cyclist. Even with all the weight and volume they were carrying, the gear ratios on their bikes enabled them to climb the steepest hills. Mike could actually outride any of us.

Of the riders we encountered, the self-supported ones were far more prevalent. My hat’s off to them – I couldn’t do what they did. After all, how could I carry my cache of whiskey and cigars?

Food

The great thing about a trip like this is that you can eat as much as you want with zero guilt. On the tour, we settled into this routine: usually up by at least 7:00AM. I would make coffee and we would make our own breakfasts of yogurt, fruit, cold cereal, toast and maybe leftovers from previous meals. By the time we broke camp and began our ride it was about nine. We would normally plan on stopping for lunch in a town about fifty miles out. Lunch tended to be our biggest meal of the day. We found some wonderful places to eat, always searching for cafes, restaurants or taverns with local color and avoiding national chains whenever possible (although we did hit a number of Dairy Queens in our quest to consume as many milkshakes as possible). Many of the meals were amazing.

Walleye Sandwich at a Minnesota restaurant

Walleye Sandwich at a Minnesota restaurant

At the end of most rides, Jim would make a recovery drink (a fruit smoothie with protein powder and other magic ingredients). We cooked most evening meals, usually something on the grill or a pasta dish.

4th of July BBQ

4th of July BBQ

We cooked more on our rest days, usually a big breakfast with eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc. and a more elaborate evening meal. Sue and I mainly handled the shopping, planning and preparation.

By the time we reached the upper midwest states of Wisconsin and Michigan it seemed every town contained one or more butcher shops stocked full of sausages and jerky. However, we had developed a yearning for lamb, which none of the shops carried. We would finally locate a Costco near Rochester, NY where we satisfied our need for a lamb fix.

Our first lamb was in the final week of the trip!

Our first lamb was in the final week of the trip!

Rack of Lamb, purchased at Costo by Sue and prepared by yours truly.

Rack of Lamb, purchased at Costo by Sue and prepared by yours truly.

At the beginning of the ride, we nourished our famished bodies with two or even three times the calories as normal. By the end of the tour, our bodies were accustomed to the workload and we consumed only, perhaps, 25% more calories than normal. I dropped about 12 pounds overall.

Minnesota

Since we were so close to Canada during much of the ride, I was mildly surprised that our route through Minnesota took us almost as far south as the Twin Cities. The reason for this is our course through the Great Lakes would take us south of Lake Superior.

Huge statue of Paul Bunyan. That's me with my bum on the axe blade (about as comfortable as a bike seat.)

Huge statue of Paul Bunyan. That’s me with my bum on the axe blade (about as comfortable as a bike seat.)

One of the best parts about the state was the long stretches of bike paths that made our ride safer and more relaxing. Minnesota is the land of forests and lakes, logging and corn, walleye and rivers. We enjoyed the weather, the people, the relatively flat terrain, and the knowledge we were approaching the halfway point of our ride.

In our next installment, we will comment on Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario as well as these topics:

Politics and culture of the people en route
Wildlife (and Roadkill)
Cemeteries
Churches and houses of worship
Humanitarian House

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Northern Tier Bicycle Ride Part 1

Last November, Barb and I received a dinner invitation from our friends, Jim and Margaret Casart. Jim let it be known that he had something to discuss with me, but was a little vague in the same way as when people invite you to an Amway meeting. When we arrived at the Casart’s lovely high-rise home overlooking Cheeseman Park, I knew we were not going to be pitched on a multi-level marketing scheme. Jim’s neighbors, Rob and Kathy were there, and soon we were joined by old friends Bruce and Sally Karlberg.

Northern Tier Map

Northern Tier Map

Apparently, Bruce and Jim had hatched the idea of bicycling across America some years ago, and decided to make their dream happen in 2016. Then they invited me to join them. Whether it was because of Margaret’s excellent brisket, or an appeal to my sense of adventure, I immediately was drawn to the idea. Barb, however, thought we were all nuts. Jim had charted a route, based on the American Adventure Cycling’s route known as the “Northern Tier,” which meant that we would be cycling across the northernmost states with a couple of forays into Canada. Their plan was to buy an RV to act as our support vehicle, with Kathy having volunteered to drive the RV. It was an aggressive route Jim had scheduled, crossing 4,030 miles in only 53 riding days. Including weekly rest days, it would take just under two months to complete the ride. I later would find that most other riders scheduled 2 ½ or three months or even longer to do this ride.

I don’t pretend I’m much of a cyclist. I own a heavy, $250 Craigslist low-end Specialized road bike that I usually ride once per week when the weather is nice. I rode the first Ride the Rockies tour thirty years ago in 1986 on a mountain bike, and I’ve ridden not at all in many years in the interim. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to my family and friends (and even me) when I told Jim and Bruce I would commit to the ride. We selected mid-May as our departure date.

Unfortunately, both Rob and Kathy both contracted cancer and, of course, had to back out of the ride. So, we had sick friends and a need for a driver and maybe another cyclist. Enter the Kizers, Rick and Sue. Rick and Sue, as well as Margaret and Jim Casart all went to a high school for ex-pats in Seoul, South Korea, of all places. Rick and Sue were high school sweethearts, went their own ways and raised their own families. They got back together and married in 2015. The bike trip was to be an extended honeymoon and we found a strong cyclist in Rick and an enthusiastic RV driver in Sue. Rick and Sue make their home in Nashville.

As the ride approached, we all tried to increase our fitness level. Jim and Bruce found and bought a used RV, which we nicknamed “Toga”, and after consulting weather patterns, we moved our departure date to early June.

Toga and the Team

Toga and the Team

The States

Jim, Bruce and I drove out of Denver early on June 1st and picked up Rick and Sue Kizer on the way at one of her relatives’ house in Fort Collins. We pointed the RV northwest and made it to Boise. Another long day of driving put us into Anacortes Thursday night.

Washington
We were as excited as kids at Christmas when we dipped our real wheels into the waters of the Pacific (to be more accurate, Puget Sound) on the morning of June 3rd in Anacortes, a quaint fishing village cum tourist destination. Our initial miles were along the coastline on a nice bike path. Here, our obstacle was dodging the broken, sharp shells of mollusks. Gulls and other sea birds scoop up oysters, clams and other shellfish at low tide and drop them from great heights over rocks (and our bike path), which cracks the shells enabling the birds to enjoy a tasty meal.

I consider Washington to be the most diverse state we biked with respect to its climate, topography and agriculture. The first day we biked through lush, coastal plains which supported an amazing number of flowers, fruits (this section of Washington boasts itself as the Strawberry Capital of the US), vegetables, trees and birds. A single birder has identified almost 200 bird species within a single day in this area. In our first 25 miles we passed about fifteen roadside farmers’ markets and stands. Our eyes were treated to shocks of vibrant colors and the air was heavy with nature’s perfume.

Day 1, Fern Sculpture in Washington

Day 1, Fern Sculpture in Washington

Day 2

Day 2

Bruce and Bob on Days 2, almost clean-shaven.

Bruce and Bob on Days 2, almost clean-shaven.

The second day took us away from the truck farms and into more forested terrain and we began gaining altitude as well. We were also beginning to show a lack of preparedness for the rigors of bicycle touring. Jim had not ridden his new recumbent bicycle much and fell a few times in the early going. A badly sprained thumb sidelined him for a couple days. Bruce had recently been prescribed a heart medication which had the effect of limiting his heartrate to a paltry 85 beats per minute which would not supply the oxygen needed to climb the Cascades (at least very fast). Rick was under doctor’s orders to not ride and took Day 2 and parts of Day 3 off. My problem was saddle-sores. By the 3rd day a record-setting heat wave settled over the Northwest and we experienced four straight days of 100 degree plus temperatures, with a high on the 4th day of 113. Such heat causes a lot of sweat, sweat causes friction, and friction (and lack of experience in taking care of my bum) caused saddle sores, which knocked me out of the saddle for Days 5 and 6, and caused me grievous pain for the next three weeks or so.

Saddle-sore selfie, about the size of a quarter

Saddle-sore selfie, about the size of a quarter

It was strange to climb the snow-covered mountain passes – Rainy and Washington – in temperatures approaching 100 degrees. But at least the elevation was easy, no higher than my home in Denver and well below the mountain passes in Colorado. Still, Day 3 was a tough day, perhaps the hardest of the tour until the mountains of New England. Early on Day 3 we climbed through an area where the Pacific Rainforest was so thick, rugged, impassible, and uninhabitable that travelers claim to have glimpsed the creature Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot. I doubt that Bigfoot exists, but the terrain in this area is so inhospitable to man that a large creature could spend a lifetime unobserved by human eyes.

Snow-covered passes; 100 degree temperatures.

Snow-covered passes; 100 degree temperatures.

Once we traversed the Cascades, the climate changed dramatically. The damp Pacific winds shed moisture in the form of rain or snow in the mountains and west of the Cascades the land was very dry. However, several rivers from the Cascades flowed east to great river valleys which fed farmland, vineyards and orchards via irrigation. Some of the most productive agricultural land we passed through abutted against low, barren buttes and mountains. There were acres of cherry orchards, all covered with shrouds of heavy nets like see-through circus tents in order to protect the fruit from birds. Much later, we would see cherry orchards in the East, but these were not safeguarded by netting.

Washington orchard

Washington orchard

It took us six days to get through Wonderful Washington, but by then Jim was back on his bicycle – riding strong – Rick had received clearance to ride from his doctor and Sue, and I had learned how to bandage my sores to the point I could ride. Only Bruce was handicapped, and this by his medication.

Idaho

We spent exactly one day crossing Idaho, as we journeyed over its narrow panhandle. We spent our one night there in beautiful Sand Point, a city blessed with lakes, mountains and pleasant climate. We found, however, that especially in the sparsely populated west, that road and rail transportation largely follow the same path. Our night in Sand Point was interrupted every fifteen minutes or so by trains switching tracks, so we were weary from lack of sleep for our journey into Montana.

Montana

Cooler weather as we cross into Montana.

Cooler weather as we cross into Montana.

By the time we reached Montana, the heat wave was over and we were treated to crisp nights and warm days in the beautiful mountain and lake country of northwest Montana. Including two nights across the northern border of Montana in Alberta, Canada, we would spend thirteen days in the state, the largest state on our route.

Bruce and Rick overlooking the Kootenai River.

Bruce and Rick overlooking the Kootenai River.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the entire tour occurred as we headed to Glacier National Park, entirely because of bad weather. Our first disappointment was the Going to the Sun Road bisecting the park was on the verge of opening, but we were told we probably would not be able to get through. Our only real choice was to skirt the park and head to West Glacier on a heavily trafficked road not nearly as scenic on the south end of the park. A pelting rain, high winds and forty degree temperatures assaulted us. We welcomed the climbs just to warm up, although even the uphills did little to thaw our toes and fingers. It took hot chocolate and the warmth of Toga to feel like humans again.

Beautiful NW Montana

Beautiful NW Montana

One night at St. Mary’s, in Glacier NP, we were mostly already asleep when at about 10:30 we were startled by a sharp knock on Toga’s door. Bruce answered the door only to find a burly female park ranger demanding to know if our bicycle packs contained any snacks or even sunscreen/lip balm which attract bears. Shivering, we got up, and brought our bike packs inside Toga, all the while being reprimanded by the park ranger. Boy, that made for sound sleeping after she left.

At least the rain had mostly ceased as we made our way toward Alberta, Canada and beautiful Waterton lakes, home of the famous Prince of Wales Hotel. We had scheduled a rest day in Waterton. Our second disappointment was that cold, windy and rainy weather was a wet blanket on our time in that fabulous place.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Alberta, Canada

Prince of Wales Hotel, Alberta, Canada

Rest Day in Waterton, Alberta. Windy, cold & rainy.

Rest Day in Waterton, Alberta. Windy, cold & rainy.

We traversed the Continental Divide in Alberta, and then made our way through an almost deserted border crossing back into Montana. The Rockies grew small in our rear view mirrors and we pedaled through sparsely populated wide open spaces.

One of our favorite days occurred in Montana: Father’s Day. We had about a hundred mile ride from Havre to Malta scheduled that day, so we got an early start. However, we had a 25 mph tailwind so we flew to Malta and arrived early afternoon. We found the local golf course which had a nice clubhouse, and settled in with bar food and adult beverages and watched the final round of the US Open Golf Championship, won by Dustin Johnson. That night we found a tiny sports bar which showed Game 6 of the NBA championship playoffs. I was the only Golden State fan in our group, but how could anyone but the most hardcore fans not want to see a Game 7?

Eastern Montana flattened out to a dry plain, broken up by buttes and badlands. Sometimes we rode for hours before seeing a house or even a car. We were grateful to have Sue and Toga for support. It was a long ways between places where water was available.

I think this is enough for this post. In the next post or two, in addition to the description of the geography and agriculture of North Dakota and other points east, I will comment on some other topics:

Politics and culture of the people en route
Wildlife (and Roadkill)
Food and beverages and RV Parks
Cemeteries
Churches and houses of worship
Humanitarian House

Posted in Bicycling | 2 Comments

“Tinkertoy” House Has Potential to Ease Suffering

Do you remember Tinkertoys? Maybe you have to be my age or even older to have played with them. Originally created in 1914, Tinkertoys were a toy construction set for children. The set was comprised of wooden connectors and dowels of standard dimensions (current sets use plastic – yes, they are still available). Kids could create structures and other objects limited only by their imaginations and the number of pieces in the set.

TinkerToy

Anyway, I had a recent opportunity to tour a “Humanitarian House”, the name of an emergency shelter/house whose creator is noted Denver architect Stuart Ohlson. It reminded me ever-so-much of the rather crude Tinkertoy structures I created as a kid. However, the Humanitarian House is anything but crude. It is an elegantly designed “house” which can sleep up to eleven persons in relative safety and comfort.

The genius of the unit is the standard connectors and dowels used in the construction of the house, just like the Tinkertoy set. Only in this case, the connectors have been specially designed by Ohlson (and manufactured by a German toy-making company). The dowels are all of the same length and are made of sturdy, inexpensive PVC pipe. The unit has a dry, cleanable plastic floor set on short stilts above the ground. A tough membrane made of DuPont Tyvek covers the unit, yet allows illumination from natural light. The house contains a kitchen, toilet and shower and comes in a kit weighing only 600 pounds and is expected to cost only about $2,000 with an expected useful life of six years or more. A two-person team can construct the house in a couple of days.

A crude "Tinkertoy" structure.

A crude “Tinkertoy” structure.

Emergency shelter frame made of PVC pipe and connectors.

Emergency shelter frame made of PVC pipe and connectors.

There is such a need for this kind of shelter! The refugee mess in the Middle East and Europe is causing the worst crisis since World War II. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, fires, floods and tsunamis create millions of homeless people every year. Yet the United Nations relief agencies still rely on tents for emergency shelters, and these tents degrade rapidly (six months) and don’t protect the occupants from mud, sewage and other ground contaminants.

Elegant emergency shelter made by Humanitarian House International. Sleeps up to 11, contains a kitchen, toilet and shower.

Elegant emergency shelter made by Humanitarian House International. Sleeps up to 11, contains a kitchen, toilet and shower.

Ohlson and a few other visionaries have teamed up to create a 501(C)(3) organization to develop the manufacture and deployment of these life-saving shelters. A family can live in these homes with dignity and pride. Humanitarian House International as an organization and its board of directors have a compassionate heart for the poor and displaced. But they need our help. They need additional funds to complete their mission. I’m convinced that there are few better places to put my charitable contribution dollars than to Humanitarian House International. I hope you will also respond to the call to care for “the least of these my brothers” and make a generous, tax-deductible contribution today. Please visit www.humanitatianhouseinternational.com for more information and to make your donation. Thank you!

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How to Achieve Racial Harmony

Leaders of Living Hope Baptist, Faith Presbyterian, and Iranian Church

Leaders of Living Hope Baptist, Faith Presbyterian, and Iranian Church

Just over six years ago, Americans elected our first African American president, Barack Obama. My hope was that this would be a watershed event, an opportunity for racial healing and greater harmony between Americans of different economic classes, races, genders, sexual preferences, and ages. Unfortunately, these hopes have not been realized. Indeed, there is a pervasive feeling among people that instead of uniting Americans, our current administration has divided Americans along these lines. The man who campaigned on hope and change has governed as Al Sharpton.

Let me cite two examples, lifted from recent news accounts. The first is the President’s decision to suspend portions of immigration law which require deportation of certain immigrants who entered this country illegally, effectively providing amnesty for some five million people. Immigrants who played by the rules and processes are naturally outraged. So are many Americans who believe that our porous southern border should be strengthened before a naturalization process be initiated, especially a process solely put into place by the President. Many people are furious that the President would unilaterally change the law and perceive his actions as unlawful and unconstitutional. The President’s actions have had the effect of dividing Americans, especially between Latinos and whites.

The other event is the unrest along racial lines stemming from the tragic incident in Ferguson, MO. There, an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer in a confrontation. A grand jury reviewed the circumstances of the shooting and found no probable cause existed to bring any criminal charges against the police officer, Darren Wilson. The grand jury’s verdict caused outrage among many – especially in the black community – and riots have destroyed much of the community of Ferguson and protests have occurred elsewhere. Many people consider the Obama Administration’s actions to have exacerbated the tensions between blacks and whites and have fanned the flames of resentment and perceived injustice.

Now, in the light of this environment of division, let me tell you about an extraordinary worship service held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving at my church, Faith Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado. First, a little background: Some thirty-five years ago Faith Church was a mega-church, a packed and happening place, located on a cusp of rapid growth in the Denver metro area. Today, however – due primarily to growth patterns, demographic and cultural changes – Faith Church has a much smaller congregation. As a result, the church campus is too large for the church body. The church leadership wisely chose to share this overcapacity with other Christian churches, some who pay rent, and some who cannot. Today, there are six congregations who worship at our facility: There is Living Hope Baptist – a vibrant black church, Naya Life, a congregation comprised of recent immigrants (mostly new converts)from Bhutan and Nepal, the only Iranian church in Colorado, and two Hispanic churches, one largely of former Mexicans and another whose congregants are mostly from South America. Faith Church is an older, predominantly white congregation, the kind of church derided by many non-Christians as intolerant and bigoted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The leaders of the six churches decided to hold a single service on that Sunday before Thanksgiving. It was amazing! When I looked into the eyes of my black, Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic brothers and sisters, I saw only love. There was no resentment or envy; there was pure joy in the Lord. The service was a glimpse of heaven, where every tribe and every nation will be represented at the feast. My friends, it will be glorious and we can capture glory in the world today, when we step out in faith and love one another, irrespective of our faith and clan.

Praise Singing (courtesy of Paul Erdman).

Praise Singing (courtesy of Paul Erdman).


Racial harmony will be fully realized only in the next life. However, we can pray for an awakening in this country and throughout the world. God can heal the divisions between us, and believers are truly brothers and sisters in the Lord. I have more in common with my poor Bhutanese or Iranian brother in Christ than I do with my rich next-door neighbor who does not place his trust in Jesus. I saw a concrete example of the family of God last week; believe me, you will be amazed, too.

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Canadian Fly-in Fishing Trip

Last week, I had the good fortune of travelling to Northwest Ontario as part of a party of eight men for a fly-in fishing trip. The fishing (walleye and northern pike) was excellent, the weather was mostly good, and the camaraderie was bloody enjoyable. We fished on Lake Wabakimi, a lake in the Wabakimi Provincial Park. We used Northern Wilderness Outfitters of Ft Frances, Ont. as our outfitter. I recommend them highly.

Here’s the crew:
100_0629
From left to right: Bob Dolan of Glendale, AZ, his father (and my brother-in-law) Pat, and his brother John, both of Manchester, IA, then Dave Sproull from Winthrop, IA. That’s me in the hat and purple Crocs. Next is Ed Drummond from Denver, Denis Beaudin from Edwards, CO and my brother Bill Bennett from Parker, CO.

Pat Dolan is married to my sister, Becky. He is one of my favorite people in the world and I have tremendous respect for him. He and my brother are the main organizational forces, acquiring dates, lining up equipment, food, bait, and hotel reservations. He is a damn fine fisherman, too. He is pictured after having caught a 41 inch northern, his personal best.

100_0617

Bob Dolan and John Dolan give me hope that the younger generation is not a lost one. Both of my nephews took brides in 2013 and their beautiful wives are lucky gals. They are extremely hard working and uproariously funny. I love them like sons.

Bob and John
Dave Sproull is a longtime friend from Eastern Iowa and the first person we thought of when there were some spots for non-family members this year. My wife (who had the opportunity to go on a trip with him and his wife, Julie) says of Dave, “He catches all the fish, cleans all the fish, and does all the work.” Pretty handy guy to have along, wouldn’t you say?
Dave and Pat
Ed Drummond is one of my oldest and closest friends. This was his third trip to Wabakimi, each about ten years apart (What are you doing in 2024, Ed?). Ed prefers catching northern pike to walleye and has earned the nickname “Snakehound.” Unfortunately, Ed lost a trophy northern when it snapped his line on the third attempt to net it. That happens with monster fish on light tackle. Better luck next time!
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This was Denis Beaudin’s first trip fishing for walleye and northerns, although he is a tremendous outdoorsman and backpacker and trout fisherman. He made his first trip an unforgettable one. One afternoon, Denis and I were out with fly rods fishing for northern pike. I caught several smaller ones, but was feeling a little badly for Denis as he hadn’t caught any. Denis dropped a fly in the mouth of an inlet in about two feet of water and, bam!, a fish hit. Not just any fish, mind you, but a trophy walleye 27 inches long! On a fly rod!! In shallow water!!! Just to prove his remarkable feat was no fluke, later in the trip he caught a monster 41 inch northern. Then, he flew the float plane almost all the way back from Wabakimi to the outfitter’s base on Rainy Lake. Denis will lead a week long backpack trip into Glacier National Park this August. Ed and I (and maybe John and Bob Dolan) are also on that trip.
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No one is more passionate about the fishing experience than my brother Bill. I think he has a direct link to my late father, Buck Bennett, who began taking us to Canada when Bill and I were young boys. Bill is the quartermaster and meal planner. Believe me, we eat like kings! Bill has a great sense of humor and is awesome to be around. I am a lucky man to have a brother like Bill and friends and family like these.
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Too bad I have such trouble relaxing on this trip!

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Fifty Years Ago Today

Today, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Much reflection is taking place throughout our country to commemorate the life of a man whose life was cut short by an assassin’s bullets.

JFK

JFK

Some say that events take place in ‘threes.’ Did you know that two other famous men also died on Nov. 22, 1963? Yes, English authors Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis also died on that date. Of the three men, JFK is the most well-known by far. But I believe C.S. Lewis has impacted more people for good than the others.

Let me make a quick note about Aldous Huxley.

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

He is most famous for the 1931 novel Brave New World, a provocative, futuristic tome that thankfully has not come true. Huxley dabbled in spiritualism and mind altering drugs, but at his death considered himself an agnostic.

Kennedy is, of course, far more famous than C.S. Lewis or Huxley. However, I think Lewis was a more transformative figure than JFK. Kennedy’s 35 month presidency was marred by controversy, from the Bay of Pigs fiasco to the Cuban Missile Crisis to the escalation of the Vietnam War. He is rightfully commended for his commitment to civil rights, expansion of the space program, and economic programs such as tax rate cuts. Kennedy cultivated a glamorous image, and he, along with his enchanting wife Jacqueline engendered a presidency sometimes called ‘Camelot.’ But Kennedy’s personal life was a mess, and he engaged in multiple extramarital affairs.

Lewis, on the other hand, was a scholar of exceeding reputation. Born in Ireland, he became an atheist at age fifteen. A life-long learner, he earned a professorship at Britain’s Oxford University at the age of 24. At the age of 32, and influenced by friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien, he converted to Christianity. What a Christian he became! As an intellectual, his writings influenced many others to accept the rational arguments regarding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. He gave permission for highbrow seekers to accept the truth of the Gospel.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

But he was not just a great apologist; he wrote the Narnia series, the Space Trilogy and the Screwtape Letters which have continued to bring the power of Christ to people of all ages

Posted in Christian, Literature, Politics | 2 Comments

The Wartburg College Choir, Music, Manchester, Mary and other Hodgepodge

Music is the common element of the human condition. Every tribe and culture on earth makes some form of music. Why? I’m convinced it’s because music touches mankind at every level. I’m a proponent that the Bible teaches that man is created in three distinct parts: body, soul & spirit.

When the music starts, the body responds by toes a’tapping, feet a’dancing, hands a’clapping, faces smiling. The soul (all the intangible things that make you, …well, you – your personality, thoughts, decisions) reacts with joy, or sorrow, and/or wonder. And the spirit… Well, let’s just say that music unleashes the spirit to soar. Music is the heart of worship, and is a conduit whereby our spirits actually join with the spirit of God and the spirits of His heavenly host. At least that’s my theory.

Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to listen to the fabulous Wartburg College Choir at Bethany Lutheran Church near my home in Denver, Colorado. I tell you spirits were soaring – both those of the gifted performers and those in attendance. The musicianship and virtuosity of the choir, the percussion and stringed accompanists and the director were more than remarkable. It was an incredibly impressive performance of challenging music, mostly a cappella, and very moving. I love to sing, and am a reasonably accomplished singer who has been in a variety of choirs – some select – but I think the ability and discipline required to be a member of the Wartburg Choir far exceeds my own. I’m in awe. I’m also encouraged. I’m encouraged that a new generation of young people is keeping alive the traditions of classical choral music.

I had the occasion to enjoy the concert and to catch up with Mary Kay Dailey, another Wartburg grad. Mary is such an impressive and accomplished person. She was a member of the Wartburg Choir when Dr. James Fritschel was director and sang with Dr. Paul Torkelson when Paul was an undergraduate at Wartburg. She has had a long and distinguished career in Denver as a secondary education leader.

Here’s another impressive thing: four of the vocalists are from my tiny hometown of Manchester, Iowa! I met and chatted with Hannah Crumpton, Ben Engelken, and Myles Finn after the concert. (I didn’t get to meet Teri Mueller, but here’s a shout out to her, too.) Myles, in particular, had a special role in the concert. I must say I’m proud that my little town can develop such talented – and nice – kids. Boo-yah!

I always feature music in my books. The theme song in Love.com comes from Nature Boy popularized by Nat King Cole. The key lyrics: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love… and be loved in return.”

My latest book, Suicide Squeeze, features a protagonist who, as the nephew of the great American songwriter Johnny Mercer, can play all of Johnny Mercer’s 1,500 songs and little else. Major plot points turn as a result of this quirky talent.

Whew, enough for today.

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The Boston Marathon Attack

If you have read my new book, Suicide Squeeze, you could not help but be taken aback by the eerie similarity between the events in the novel and the attacks that took place at yesterday’s Boston Marathon.

Readers all over the country contacted me to commiserate. Many wanted to assure me that even if the attacks were some bizarre copy-cat event, I was not to blame. One such reader is a Joe Brown of Issaquah, WA.

Joe wrote:

Dear Mr. Bennett,

I recently read your book, Suicide Squeeze, and really enjoyed it. Of course, when the events took place in Boston yesterday I thought of your book, and even though the attack differed I could see the parallel and hoped it wasn’t a diversion like the one you concocted in your book. I heard the police cancelled all other sporting events yesterday, which was good. Anyway, I found a blog you posted on in which you referred to eerie similarities, and where you wondered whether you had inspired anything. I’m no expert, but I think you are not at all to blame. You might recall a Nelson DeMille book, I think Lion’s Game, which as I recall had a plot point similar to what happened on 9/11, as well as a Tom Clancy book involving a jet crashing into the US Capitol. I don’t think either of those guys were to blame or inspired anyone either.

My two bits.

Joe Brown
Issaquah, WA

Here is my response:

Hi Joe (let’s get on a first name basis), Thanks for your kind message, and thank you for reading Suicide Squeeze. May I put you on my mailing list to let you know when the next Mercury Mercer adventure is available? I was sickened by yesterday’s attack. In the fictional account (Suicide Squeeze), the terrorists were motivated by greed. I can understand that. The acts yesterday were apparently motivated by sheer hatred, which I do not understand. Even the school shootings in Connecticut and Colorado and elsewhere, the killer(s) were apparently motivated by achieving a form of nihilistic notoriety. Sick, but understandable. These cowards, on the other hand, have taken great care to avoid being caught. Evil is alive in this world, Joe.

I have read and enjoyed both books you referenced. You’re right, Clancy and DeMille bear NO responsibility for the actions of others. I have come to the same conclusion regarding yesterday’s attack. For one thing, I think it’s highly unlikely these hateful individuals read lighthearted fiction by a still-obscure indie author.

Thanks again for your two bits.

Best,

RW

PS Are you a writer, too, Joe? You know a lot about books and you apparently hang out a bit at Writers’ Cafe.

Joe replied:

RW,

Thanks for your response. I’ve been through some terror-related heartbreak over the past seven months–my cousin Chris Stevens was the U.S. Ambassador to Libya–so I can kind of relate to what all these people and families go through in situations like yesterday’s. I can’t understand what motivates people, I really can’t.

I am a lawyer, and thus am a professional writer, but I’ve not written any books. I’d like to. I found that blog from a Google search I ran to see if anyone else had made that connection (albeit tenuous!) between your book and yesterday. I saw what you had written, and felt compelled to try to help set you at ease.

Take care,

Joe
My turn. I wrote:

You’re a good man, Joe-

Sorry about your cousin. As an interested outsider, it seems to me the State Department and the Administration really screwed the pooch on that one, but no one has been held accountable. From what I read, Ambassador Stevens was a good man, too.

Joe replied with this fascinating story:

Chris was a heck of a good guy. His mother is my first cousin, although he and I were about the same age. I don’t really have any insights on what happened, except to speculate that the only reason we stayed in Benghazi after the Brits and the Red Cross decided it was too dangerous and pulled out was because our pulling out would have been inconsistent with the “narrative”, which would have been inconvenient in an election year. I also suspect there were some ongoing covert operations there which made having a consulate handy. On the other hand, Chris for 20 years had knowingly been putting himself in pretty dangerous situations with his various postings throughout the Middle East, and he knew the risks full well (and we’ve seen he was pointing out those risks to higher-ups), but chose to be there anyway. And, I blame the jihadists for his and those other three guys’ deaths.

Update: At the time Joe and I had that exchange, the suspects had not been identified. Now, the FBI and police have formed a dragnet seeking to capture the second suspect. From what I understand, the perpetrators of this atrocity have become radicalized – another clash between Islam and the Western world. Just like the violence which killed Joe’s cousin, Ambassador Stevens.

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eHarmony vs. Love.com

The business model for Love.com borrowed heavily from eHarmony

Men and women have a deep-seated need to find one another (duh). Whether that imperative is merely biological or is primarily Biblical (“it is not good for Man to live alone”), our souls yearn to find that special someone.
I’m a big fan of dating sites. eHarmony, Match.com and other sites provide a useful and important function in today’s society. (Note: I have not been a heavy user personally of these sites. My wife frowns on me dating outside the marriage. What a spoilsport!) While a majority of singles do marry by age 40 (80% of men and 86% of women) there are now more singles than marrieds in the prime marrying years (25-34). What gives?
Obviously, singles are postponing marriage. So, instead of marrying a high school sweetheart or the college beau, singles are establishing careers or other endeavors. But how to meet that special someone later in life, especially if a job requires geographic relocation? Bars are iffy, at best. Employers discourage workplace romances. Jobseekers have national sites to match qualifications and openings, like Monster.com. Why not sites for people seeking relationships? Indeed, these sites are flourishing, with members creating and marketing personal profiles to advertise availability. We’ve all heard stories about unfortunate dates and experiences, but those occur whether it’s an online date or ‘in the wild’.
I got the idea for Love.com, the fictional dating site and namesake for my well-received novel, Love.com from a Wall Street Journal story on eHarmony. As a business paper, the Journal delved into the economic aspects of eHarmony: its founding, revenues, management, competition and pricing strategy. I came to respect Dr. Neil Clark Warren, its co-founder and spokesman, who became the inspiration for John Underwood, the character who developed the Love.com matching protocols – similar to eHarmony’s brilliant 29 dimensions of human personality. Of course, in the novel eHarmony morphs in the thinly veiled eUnity and Match.com becomes MatchAmerica.com. Like I said, I’m a fan so I treat these companies with great respect.
But it was the Journal’s discussion of eHarmony’s pricing strategy that got my creative juices flowing. Instead of charging subscribers a monthly fee in hopes of meeting someone, my character, the beautiful and talented Marsha Underwood, proposed signing up subscribers for free, and charging only after a successful match is made. After all, she reasons, people love a guarantee. But such a pricing strategy provides too much of a temptation for Love.com’s greedy management not to tinker with Mother Nature, with fascinating consequences.
I actually believe the business model for a dating service as described in Love.com would succeed. But as interesting and plausible as all this becomes, it is the cast of colorful characters and their circumstances that make Love.com such a fun read. A murder mystery/romantic suspense built around a dating service that becomes a worldwide phenomenon: gotta love it! Love.com

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