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  • The Niche of Extremism

    ex•trem•ist (n): a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.

    This term has taken on new meaning in 2016. Just look around you. Visit your news feed on Facebook. Look at the vitriol on the campaign trail. For every good moment that we witness, for every proud graduate that we watch crossing the stage, for every small victory that someone has when he or she manages to get out of bed in the morning, we watch helplessly as extremists take over the conversation.

    Sunday morning’s tragedy in Orlando shows us yet again the best and worst in people. It brings the same outpouring of grief and compassion that we saw in the wake of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Paris, and too many others to count. It brings the same number of talking head “experts” onto cable television to fill the airwaves. It brings out the writers (me included) and so-called analysts who feel compelled to weigh in.

    With what? Opinions. Conjecture. Speculation about motives. The why, why why.

    Why?

    The extremists show no signs of letting go, willing to use isolation and intolerance as their comfort food. Extremists thrive on attention. That’s why it takes a mass shooting to temporarily lift us out of our self-imposed food comas and look at the world around us.

    The first word that came to mind when I saw the news this morning was “Horrible.” I saw the horrible tweet that came from Dan Patrick’s Twitter feed, followed by the wave of condemnation. I saw Donald Trump’s narcissistic “I was right” statement, still in shock that he has a one-in-two chance of being the leader of our country. I’ve seen God’s name used to justify beliefs from all sides — the pro-gun community, the anti-gun community, the LGBT community, the Fundamentalist community, the Muslim community.

    That’s part of the problem. We’ve become so strongly identified with our niches, our think-alike communities, that we can’t seem to take a step back in our day-to-day lives and look at the bigger picture.

    I don’t disagree with a person’s right to bear arms, but I don’t understand why anyone believes it should be easier to get a gun than a driver’s license.

    I don’t understand why someone who identifies as transgender, and is willing to be above board and brave in the face of bigotry and misunderstanding, can’t go to the damn bathroom of his/her choice.

    You can agree or disagree with me on those issues and countless others, but can't we do so in a civil manner? Or is that impossible in today's extremist world?

    Come on, folks. We’re better than this. We can’t let the extremists on either side win.

  • The Orlando Pilgrimage

    My wife and I are not big on amusement parks, but with four kids — a 21-year-old and three teenagers — we knew that we had to someday make the pilgrimage to Orlando. Last week, we did just that, visiting the Universal and Disney theme parks before going to St. Thomas for our first family vacation in five years.

    The Universal park was by far our favorite, especially given that we were able to go to the soft opening — aka preview — for the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley attraction that opened last Tuesday. For the most part, Jill and I stayed in the background while the kids went on their merry way.

    Of course, I had to take a few photos at both parks. Above is a sample. To see the rest, go to my Facebook album.

  • Vacation: The Final Frontier, Part II

    As much as I love to travel, I usually don’t consider family trips a vacation. This was a little of both.

    On the Fourth of July, we left an hour later than I hoped and found ourselves clumped with the rest of the usual I-95 South traffic. I could have walked faster at times, but it finally dissolved after Fredericksburg. From there it was smooth sailing, despite law enforcement and radar guns seemingly behind every tree, we picked up Nicholas at Elon after only 5½ hours on the road.

    Despite my initial concerns, the old reliable Odyssey did just fine, even though the kids could watch DVDs only if I played the sound through the loud speakers. That meant I heard the audio to six-plus movies on the way down and five on the way back. (Side note: How “Silver Linings Playbook” did not win best adapted screenplay is beyond me.)

    We stopped for dinner outside Charlotte, N.C., and encountered our first major delay when Kate had to send back her steak twice because it wasn’t cooked enough. (I swear I heard the thing moo the second time.) Fortunately, the prepubescent Cracker Barrel trainee with a retro mullet was extremely polite and pleasant, even though I spent the entire dinner praying, “Please, dear God, don't let mullets come back.”

    Our plans were to drive until late evening, and then find a hotel somewhere between South Carolina and Florida. I didn’t make a reservation because I didn’t know how far we’d go initially, not realizing that  — on the Fourth of July, duh — we would not be able to find anything from Columbia to Jacksonville.

    After 28 phone calls and seven stops among the cluster of hotels along I-95, I decided to go all the way to Orlando, even if that meant getting there at 4 a.m. Of course, by this time, Jill was already sound asleep, so that meant we’d show up and surprise her.

    And that’s what we did. Bleary eyed and butt lagged, we made it. 

    After a day recovering from the drive, we spent one day at Universal and the second at Disney before flying to St. Thomas, which has to be one of the best acquisitions the U.S. government has ever made. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there; the kids shopped, went snorkeling with Jill, and did some night kayaking. Nicholas infamously won a bottle of rum when he placed first in the karaoke contest. Jill read a book in one day. I walked around and took pictures.

    It was great — and memorable.

    Vacations are an opportunity for families to come up with lines that you always associate with that particular moment in time. Because of our social media savvy set, many of the kids’ came with hashtags:

    • #salty (Nicholas’ description of Emma)

    • #youknowyoureatouristwhen (self-explanatory)

    • And the most memorable: #weareTHATfamily.

    The last one is our familial moniker for embarrassment. Nicholas came up with it after we delayed the start of the snorkeling expedition by 15 minutes and received cold dead-eye stares from others on the boat. Sadly, it was not the last time we used it during the trip.

    Nicholas and Emma, the list makers among the foursome, wrote down some of their favorite lines. Here they are, slightly edited by dad, of course.

    Proof that #weareTHATfamily:

    • We think seeing iguanas is the coolest thing.

    • When you ask how late the pool is open and are surprised when they say 24 hours.

    • We got to Universal an hour before it opened just so we could stand in line with other winners of the #weareTHATfamily awards.

    • The kids pushed Kate around in a wheelchair at the theme park after she hurt her ankle, then realized they could use it to their advantage to move up in line for the rides.

    • One of us celebrated “a little too much” after winning karaoke night.

    • That same one ran through the airport to retrieve a bag that was left on the plane, only after shaking down his younger brother to make sure it was not a repeat of the “Moo-Moo” incident.

    • Two family members get a little too close to sea life at the same time while chasing a football. One wrestled with rocks and the other high-fived a sea urchin.

    • We clogged the kids’ toilet and narrowly avoided a complete flood of our hotel room.

    • We have parents who wine (Emma’s spelling) that they missed bottomless mimosas at breakfast, only to get them from the subsequently well-tipped waitress. Mom later amends “wine” to “cleverly bitching.”

    • Dad initially can’t remember where he put the van keys when returning to Florida; mom develops a list of contingency plans within seconds. (Keys fortunately were found.)

    My random Disney World observations:

    • I saw the word “Bar” in the Magic Kingdom and was excited, but then I realized the word “Toppings” was in front of it.

    • Some folks call it the “Happiest Place on Earth”; a more accurate tagline would be “Humidest Place on Earth.” Of course, “Humidest” is not a word.

    • A job no actor wants: Working in costume as Goofy or Pluto in 104-degree heat.

    • At one point I hugged Jill. If we had been anywhere but Disney, she could have participated in a wet T-shirt contest.

    Other memorable lines and observations:

    • Emma, always the precise one, amending WTF to WTAF. In this case, “A” stands for “Actual.”

    • Me at 4 a.m. as we pulled into the parking lot of Jill’s hotel after 17 hours on the road: “To heck with the Bloody and the Mary, I’ll just take the vodka.”

    • Nicholas: “K1s — isn't that something about dogs? No, wait, that's K-9s.”

    • Jill on Emma’s Harry Potter obsession while at Universal: “She's not walking around in her robe. I think there's merit in that.”

    • Jill watching parents deal with small kids at Disney World: “I would rather ignore my children when they were teenagers than have to deal with them like that when they were 5 or 6.”

    • Kate after Ben says he wishes he could drink in St. Thomas: “Ben you don’t look old enough. Grow some boobs and you’ll be fine.”

    • Jill after I tell her I can’t find the van keys: “Of all the times, this has to happen now?”

    Fortunately, KAOS was still vacationing in St. Thomas. I’m sure he’ll be home soon.