Mysterious Melania

03Melania Trump 27356337I have long been interested in our nation’s first ladies, beginning when I checked out a book on Abigail “remember the ladies” Adams from the library of the late, great Haymount Elementary School where Haymount 700 now stands.

No matter what stage of our history or what political position she represents, each of our first ladies came to her unpaid position, whether she wanted it or not, only because her husband managed to get himself elected president. Each found herself in an unscripted position that is not exactly a job, but one that comes with high expectations from her fellow Americans.

Some first ladies are better at “the job” than others. Dolley Madison possessed social skills so strong that her husband, President James, basked in her reflected glory. A North Carolina native, Dolley Madison did not invent ice cream as legend has asserted, but she did serve oyster ice cream at the then-new White House.

Edith Wilson became our de facto president after her husband suffered a debilitating stroke, allowing few others in to see him and “interpreting” and “relaying” his wishes herself.

Jacqueline Kennedy became the most famous woman in the world and remains a glamorous fashion and social icon more than two decades after her death.

Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan helped us understand addiction and cancer. Hillary Clinton introduced us to the notion of policy wonks, and Michelle Obama taught us healthier and local eating habits.

It is also fair to say that no first lady, at least in my lifetime, has been more mysterious than Melania Trump.

One of only two first ladies born outside the United States – Louisa Adams, Mrs. John Quincy, was born in London – Melania Trump began modeling in her native Slovenia at age 16 and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, a year after she married “the Donald,” the nickname given our current president by a previous wife.

Melania reportedly speaks six languages, English among them. Last year, she inexplicably wore a $51,500 jacket on a visit to Italy, a price tag just slightly under the median U.S. household income in 2017. She had a mysterious operation earlier this year and spent several days in a Washington, D.C., hospital. She mysteriously wore a jacket with “I really don’t care do U” emblazoned on its back to visit immigrant children in cages along our Texas border. Her ongoing silence as the world chews over her husband’s conversations about paying off women is extremely curious. Even her signature program as first lady, BE BEST, is mysterious, as no one quite knows what it means.

North Carolina humorist Celia Rivenbark wrote about our mysterious first lady in a recent column that began with this. “Sometimes I wish I could sit down with Melania Trump over a box of KFC’s new picklefried chicken tenders … and have a real just-us-girls conversation.”

So do I, Celia, so do I.

Rivenbark went on in this vein. “Being beautiful and aloof will only get you so far. After a while, people want to shake that empty Valentino suit and see what’s up. For example, why did she look so happy – a first – smiling radiantly while chatting with Obama at Barbara Bush’s funeral? In contrast, when she stands beside her husband, she looks like someone who really has to pee but  has just been told the next restroom is 90 minutes up the interstate.”

I am willing to cut Melania a bit more slack.

It cannot be easy just being Mrs. Donald Trump. Layer on the pressures of the presidency, the lack of privacy for an obviously private person and the ill-defined but nevertheless real responsibilities of the first lady, and life has got to be tough for Melania.

On the morning I am writing this column, the news is full of President Trump in full wackadoodle rage mode after discovering his wife’s Air Force One television tuned to CNN in defiance of his presidential edict that all sets be tuned to his preferred network, Fox. In an unusual show of independence, the first lady’s official spokesperson announced our first lady will watch “any channel she wants.”

Maybe Melania is not as mysterious as we think.

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Open letter to the Hope Mills mayor and commissioners: Lone Survivor Foundation

I have been the executive director for Rape Crisis of Cumberland County for over 10 years. I have advocated for thousands of victims, soldiers, men, children, women, Hope Mills residents ... thousands.

Last night, I attended your meeting in support of Lone Survivor Foundation, and honestly, I was embarrassed about what I heard from some of you. It was at times very hard to follow what you were saying – a lake, kayaking for veterans being dropped off at a fire station, a recreation spot, a VFW, the list seemed to volley from one thing to another without making much sense.

This is what I do know, last year we (Rape Crisis of Cumberland County) served 611 victims of sexual violence, 243 of those were active duty soldiers. That number does not include veterans, National Guard or reservists. Their stories happened down range, in the barracks, in your town, in your county.

Our resources are extremely limited, and when LSF came to our attention, it was like a dream come true! An organization was actually going to help me help OUR soldiers in a healing way, for free?!

I was ecstatic, but very cautious. I would not support, advocate (for) or refer my victims to just anyone. So I got involved, met with Morgan Sierra (and) Terry Jung, attended many of their informational meetings and researched LSF. Yet I was still not 100 percent convinced that I could look my victims in the eye and tell them that LSF was OK, and it was OK for them to trust them, share their story and bravely attend a retreat. But, one of my board members for RCCC had told me that she had gone, and it was a lifechanging experience.

My best friend, a vet, a city cop, a hardass guy, told me he was going (to an LSF retreat). I knew I would base my final decision on what he said. On the way to the airport after leaving the retreat, I got this text from him. “Reference vetting Lone Survivor Foundation, 100% yes ...”

Trust me when I say this, there is no one else out there that is offering this level of care to take care of OUR soldiers who have been raped. No one. To turn LSF away from our community when we so desperately need them is just ... wrong and completely unfathomable based on the reasons you gave last night.

I commend LSF for trying to make this work, I would not blame them if they went to another community, a community who supported them and welcomed them.

If that happens, I will invite you to meet with my victims, and you can explain to them that although help for them could have been in our backyard, you said no. You said no at a chance for OUR soldiers to heal and get well again.

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What would be in a Putin-Trump contract?

06 Trump PutinWhen Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki this week, it might have been useful if they had had a written contract to reference their previous understandings. No such written contract exists, but if it did, it might read like this imaginary July 2016 letter from Putin to Trump:

In consideration of mutual objectives and the actions set forth below, we agree to work with you during the pending election and afterwards to make the world better by fostering improved relationships between our countries, each of us undertaking the following:

1. We will influence the election in your favor by actively and creatively using our social media capabilities to diminish support for your opponent and create a drumbeat of negative disinformation about her.

2. Using our intelligence-gathering resources and contacts, we will secure inside information about your campaign opponent and will release it at the best times to secure the maximum negative results by embarrassing the candidate, her staff, and her party, thereby destroying confidence and diminishing support for her.

3. We will provide your campaign with other negative information about your opponent for you to use as you see fit.

4. We will continue to keep secret any damaging information about you that we have collected over the years. We plan to provide this assistance without requiring specific items or actions from you in consideration for our belief that your victory and your administration would be better for both countries. However, we confirm to you our hope that upon the success of your campaign you will endeavor to give attention to the following:

1. You would use your best efforts to remove sanctions and restrictions that have been unfairly applied against us in retaliation for our actions that were necessary to protect our people and our economy and to respond to aggressive threats from your country and its allies. We understand that the efforts with respect to restrictions will have to be done delicately and over time. But in light of the harm they unnecessarily cause our people and our economy, we hope you will be diligent.

2. We hope you will understand and respect actions we have taken or may take to protect the rights, safety and aspirations of people in adjoining countries that were formerly under our control and who are bound to us by common language and heritage. Specifically, you will understand the necessity for our retention of sovereignty over such historic territories that have recently come under our control. In addition, we hope you will prepare your country to understand the justification for our actions.

3. In exchange for our agreement to permit the reunification of Germany in 1990, your country and its allies promised that NATO would refrain from expanding into Eastern Europe. That promise was broken. As a result, NATO’s military infrastructure has encircled our country. Almost every one of NATO’s actions in regions close to our country is aimed at thwarting our interests. Your historic skepticism about NATO puts you in a position to explain to the American people the importance of dealing with this unnecessary threat to our country. We expect you will help bring about changes that reorient NATO to eliminate its threat to us.

4. You will respect and cooperate with our anti-terrorist efforts in Syria and other Middle East countries.

5. Understanding that it is in the interest of both our countries to deal with the European countries on a nation-to-nation basis, we expect you will support our efforts to lead Western European countries away from the dominating and counterproductive trade and economic blocs. These blocs work against both our countries’ aspirations to make favorable trade and other arrangements with individual nations. We hope you will help us break up these detrimental attachments.

Agreed: July 2016

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There’s bears

15 motorcycle BearI just got back from a four-day trip. I wrote this while sitting at Panera Bread eating a bear claw, which has nothing to do with the title of this article, but they are really yummy, and the title of this article is about bears. A few weeks back, my friends Bob, Bill (Harley fellows) and myself met up in Blowing Rock for a week of travel.

In Blowing Rock, we stayed at the quaint Mountainaire Inn. As the evening rain pounded away, wine was the drink of choice to kill time before dinner.

The next morning, Bob was up early and had wiped the rain off the bikes. He is such a gentleman. We headed north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the U.S. and is 469 miles long. It was established in 1936, is one of the most scenic roads in America and is only four hours from Fayetteville.

Heading north, we decided to visit the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. We arrived that afternoon. Here, General Lee surrendered to General Grant, an event that is forever engraved in America’s history.

As we walked the grounds, dark clouds started to roll in, and we decided to head north. We headed to the Natural Bridge Inn at Natural Bridge, Virginia. The inn is across the street from the Natural Bridge rock formation, which is a 215-foot natural arch. The inn is a nice, cozy hotel with a nice bar and restaurant.

That afternoon, I got word that I was a brandnew grandfather. Mom and baby Jacob were fine. They were at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, D.C. After breakfast the next morning, I decided to take off to the district to see the baby. For breakfast we went to the Pink Cadillac Diner, which is not far from Natural Bridge on I-81. This place has great food and a super cool vibe for a diner.

We agreed to meet up later that day in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Bill and Bob headed back to the hotel, and I headed to Washington.

As I looked down, my tire pressure warning light was flashing. Sure enough, I had picked up a nail in my tire. I was able to plug it (you’ve got to love tubeless tires), and I was back on the road. The baby was so cute (I think I have to say that).

After a few hours of visiting, I headed out and got stuck in Washington traffic. After a minute in traffic, I said, “Wait a tick, I’m on a BMW, we don’t get stuck in traffic.” I set my bike to its off-road mode and set the GPS for curvy and unimproved roads. In less than half a mile, I was off the interstate and headed through some beautiful little town of western Maryland on my way back to Harpers Ferry.

The next morning, we spent several hours visiting historical Harpers Ferry. There is so much history there, from the western expansion to the armory attack in 1859. Prior to the Civil War, John Brown lead an attack on the armory to give guns to the slaves so they could fight for their own independence. A few days later, he was caught by General Lee and hung for his crime. By today’s definitions, he would be considered either a domestic terrorist or a civil rights leader.

Around noon, we headed to Front Royal, Virginia, to ride the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and ends at Waynesboro, Virginia, where the Blue Ridge Parkway starts.

Shenandoah National Park is home to a high concentration of black bears. There, we saw five bears on this single ride. I have ridden the Skyline over 50 times and have never seen a bear. Like deer, one jumped out in front of Bill, then a few miles later, one in front of Bob. I was volunteered to be the official photographer for this trip. While stopping to take pictures, as I was getting my camera out, I was mindful that I did not want to get laughed at on the 6 o’clock news nor for my last picture to be a close-up of a bear’s mouth.

The last stop for this trip was in Waynesboro, Virginia. We stumbled on a great restaurant called Green Leaf Grill, which was a super find.

This next morning, our trip would come to an end. I said goodbye to Bob before turning in. He was heading to Nashville and was planning to leave before I planned on getting up.

That morning, Bill and I headed back. In total, we rode 1,275 miles in five days. This was my third trip with Bill and Bob, and all have been memorable. I have been blessed to have such great friends as riding companions.

If there is a topic that you would like to discuss, you can contact me at RIDE SAFE!

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Real conversation: A relic

05 KarlReal conversation once graced the societal landscape of America. It has become a relic held onto by a few people who know the great value of real conversation. For me, it is the experience where people exchange ideas, provide information or seek to convince others of an issue position on which they disagree. It can even occur when talking about topics of no importance. What makes real conversation is that it is conducted with civility, thought and respect on the part of all participants.

We have come to a time in America when real conversation hardly ever shows its head. Look around. Turn on a television or radio and see the reports of protests and confrontations resulting from conditions that should be addressed through real conversation.

Before working on this column, I was watching Peter Strzok testifying in a joint hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Strzok is the FBI agent who exchanged texts  with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney, that spoke harshly of then-presidential-candidate Trump and his supporters. Because both of them were involved with the Hillary Clinton and Russia collusion investigations, there is some concern that their actions in those investigations might have resulted from bias against Trump, the candidate.

In my estimation, the hearing was a horror show that did absolutely nothing by way of getting to the truth. There was pure partisanship, anger, grandstanding by committee members, arguments and so on. All of the elements were present that make real conversation impossible.

The “attack mode” of verbal exchange is pervasive. This is especially true in this age where many Americans apparently believe any grievance justifies a protest, even when doing so invades and disrespects the space of others. Consider what is happening to the president and to individuals who work in his administration. The following summaries of incidents are recorded in an article by William Cummings titled “The list of Trump White House officials who have been hassled over administration policy.”

The article states:

• “From spokeswoman Sarah Sanders’ expulsion from the Red Hen restaurant to a Senate intern shouting the “f-word” at the president, a number of Trump administration officials have been disrespected or hassled by political opponents in recent days.

• Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., urged activists to continue hounding Trump Cabinet members wherever and whenever they find them.

• Demonstrators converged on the home of White House adviser Stephen Miller in downtown Washington Monday to denounce Miller’s role as one of the architects of the administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy.

• The Department of Homeland Security secretary was confronted with chants of ‘Shame!’ as she tried to dine at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Washington amid the uproar over the administration’s policy of separating migrant families accused of illegally crossing the southern border.

• Pence, who has never really been considered an ally of the LBGTQ community, was greeted by a display of rainbow flags by many of his new neighbors when he first moved to Washington as the vice president elect.

• The president’s adviser and eldest daughter was called a ‘feckless (expletive)’ by comedian Samantha Bee during a monologue on Bee’s TBS show ‘Full Frontal’ about the separation of migrant families.”

The quotes above refer to actions against Republicans. In an ongoing attempt to be balanced in my thinking and writing, I googled “conservative verbal attacks on liberals.” What came up were more articles talking about liberal attacks on conservatives. The resulting picture is one where it appears that most verbal attacks, and similar actions, are directed toward conservatives. However, the lack of real conversation is fed by all sides and by people of various affiliations and ideologies.

Maybe part of our reason for discarding real conversation is due to our having lost sight of how it looks and of the tremendous positive impact that is possible from it.

A sermon I heard in February 2018 has stuck with me because what was presented reminded me of the powerful possibilities in real conversation. The preacher was Rev. Stephanie Bohannon. Until June 2018, she was the associate pastor at First Baptist Church (Anderson Street) in Fayetteville. The sermon title was “Grace is Found at the Well.” The Scripture basis is John 4:4-26, 39. This is the account of Jesus, in Samaria, talking with a woman at Jacob’s well.

Much of what Bohannon shared from this account can help us reclaim real conversation. Jesus is resting beside this well in Samaria. Being Jewish, it was unexpected that he would be in Samaria, because Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Productive conversation sometimes requires that we go to places and engage in circumstances that might be uncomfortable.

A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Jesus asks her to draw a drink for him. She expresses surprise that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for water. This is where Jesus says, in verse 10, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water” (HCSB).

In response, the woman wants to know how he would draw water, given that Jesus does not have a bucket. Her question not only reflects thought, but shows her willingness to respectfully probe this comment by Jesus. Notice the respectful tone of this exchange. This condition of thoughtfulness, reasonable questioning and respectful tone are almost always absent from conversations addressing difficult issues of our time. These elements are essential to real conversation.

Then Jesus tells the woman to call her husband. She responds that she has no husband. Jesus says (verse 17), “You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband. For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.’” Some contend that Jesus was condemning the woman’s relationship. However, another likely explanation is that he was establishing his position in the thinking of this woman. Apparently, when Jesus, without knowing her, spoke accurately to the woman’s marital situation, she was able to recognize something special in him. She sees him as a prophet and goes on to question Jesus regarding places of worship. Real conversation requires conducting oneself in a fashion that invites respect and the expectation of productive discourse.

Verses 28-30 give the result of this real conversation: “Then the woman left her water jar, went into town and told the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?’ They left the town and made their way to him.” This was the very positive result of real conversation.

Bohannon closed by saying that, despite her story, Jesus offered that woman grace, love and acceptance. Even when we disagree, if we can, in our conversations, employ the elements exhibited by Jesus and this woman, while adding grace, love and acceptance, amazing results are possible.


PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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