#1-Prince William County

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Nestled in the cradle of Northern Virginia between the Potomac River and the rolling-hilled farms and wineries to the West, lies Prince William County.  The county was home to some of the most important areas during the American Civil War to both the Confederacy and the Union.  Located some thirty miles from the Union Capital of Washington DC and 100 miles from the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Prince William County was a strategic point each side of the war hoped to control.  The battles at Manassas and Bull Run are studied by nearly every young child who attends public school, no matter where they live in this country.

My name is Jamie Beletz and I live in Prince William County, but this feature story is not about me – it’s about Prince William County.  In the 150 years since the American Civil War ended, it has been known by many other names.  The War of Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the Freedom War, War Between the States, the War of Secession are just a few names that have been bestowed on this war.   If you are from around these parts, you will choose the name that best reflects the side your family was on – Confederate, Union or Slave – and if you aren’t from around here like me, you are best to just call it civil.  But let me tell you right here and now that this war still rages on 150 years later in Prince William County and it is anything but civil.

More than half of the 500,000 people that live in Prince William County are members of a minority.  Prince William County is an enclave of diversity: African-American, Latino-American, Asian American and others.  Sikh, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Evangelical, Catholic, Unitarian, Bahai.  Prince William County has a significant LGBTQ community.  Any way you slice it, Prince William County is a “minorities in the majority” county and it is a bell weather of civil discord and civil unrest.

Let’s not forget for one minute that the people who made up the Confederacy were not and are not Americans.  They ceased to be Americans when they opted for the enslavement of human beings.  They ceased to be Americans when they opted for violent bigotry and grotesque racism.  They ceased to be Americans when they declared war on America.

Today, the battle between the red, white and blue Americans and the ill-bred, the white and the blue who make up the Confederacy rages on in Prince William County.  However, the political landscape looks much different than it has for decades.  Ironically, while Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the electoral college, Clinton soundly trounced Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in Prince William County.  First came the self-destruction of Alt Right Confederate leader Corey Stewart along with his “Unite the Right” supporters after 16 years of Stewart tyranny.

Suddenly, the hot sparks of victory still fresh in the hearts and minds of the Americans on Election Day 2019, the Confederacy of Prince William County came a tumblin’ down like a hot knife through butter as America came away with a 5-3 majority led by four African American leaders.  Justice prevails.  But does it?

I’m Jamie Beletz, it’s not about me and next time its’ about….

 

#2 – The Prince William County Board of County Supervisors

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It’s about Make America Hate Again

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The presidency of Donald Trump has created a hybrid fascism in America.  America’s smiley-face-fascism, as comedian George Carlin once put it, one mixed with politeness and protaganism, has evolved into a two-headed hydra.  The second face is cloaked in populism and is filled with antagonism and aggression toward people of color, jews, muslims, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and people who disagree with Trump’s policies. 
This two-headed hydra now occupies the White House, the Halls of Congress, the Supreme Court and fills other places of formal and informal power.  Remarkably, it looks, sounds and twitters just like Donald Trump. One face voices concern for the hate and violence while doing nothing to quell it.  The other inspires hate and violence in our streets, at our schools and college campuses, in our houses of worship and in the very fabric of our culture.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, acts of violence toward Jewish communities in America spiked 57 percent. “Anti-Semitism has become normalized and harassment is a daily occurrence,” says a report by the group. 
“The harassment, deeply rooted in age-old conspiracies such as the New World Order,” the group says, “which alleges that an evil cabal of Jewish people have taken autocratic control of the globe, and Holocaust imagery – faces placed inside Nazi concentration camp ovens or stretched on lampshades – shows no signs of abating.”  This is Donald Trump’s America.  These are Donald Trump’s people. 
In Donald Trump’s America, Republican candidates for Congress are like Trump-endorsed Steve West of Missouri, who says that Adolf Hitler was right about what was taking place in Germany before World War II and that Jews were “a remnant of the tribe of Judah that rejected Christ.”  He goes on further to say that what Hitler did during WWII was justified. There are many more Trump endorsed candidates like West running for elected office and Trump is crisscrossing America at public expense to make certain they win.
In Donald Trump’s America, he defends racist and anti-semitic demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying that demonstrators on both sides were to blame for fatalities and that the movement to take down Confederate monuments around the country was an effort to “change history” and “change culture.”  Trump views preserving hate filled vestiges of a sad period in our nations history and protecting freedom of speech for hatemongers only for demonstrators who believe like himself as “Making America Great Again.” 
In Donald Trump’s America, a caravan of 8000 children, women and men head north to America from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to escape persecution much like the Jews on ships like Exodus and MS St. Louis.  Again, history repeats itself with thousands of people being denied safe harbor in America due to Trump’s immigration policies based on domestic political realities, rather than humanitarian grounds.  And just like then, Trump accuses spy infiltration by Al-Qaida just as some accused Nazi spy infiltration amongst the Jews as a reason to deny entry.
In Donald Trump’s America, much like Hitler did, when Jews were killed for being Jews, he blamed the victims just like Hitler did.  He said after the recent attack on a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, “They had a maniac walk in and they didn’t have any protection and that is so sad to see,” Trump said at Joint Base Andrews before he departed for a campaign swing in the Midwest. “If you take a look at it, if they had protection inside the results would have been far better,” Trump goes on to say. 
Blaming the victims of hate and violence.  Giving those who spew hate and commit violence permission to do great evil. This is our President.  These are our leaders in Congress.  This is Donald Trump’s vision of America.  We cannot sit idly by any more and watch this two-headed hydra continue to Make America Great Again by Making America Hate Again.
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It’s about Steve Bannon and Friends

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I walked through my neighborhood last Sunday and noticed that some of my neighbors had disappeared. Maybe The Rapture predicted to happen last Saturday did happen! But if all the people “who believe were raised up, and all who doubt were left behind,” than why are my friends, children and grandchildren still here? I understand why I’m still here.

Where do you get your news about what is going on in the world?  In case you missed it, we have moved into a new era of news media. For many of us, our sources for news has moved from a few media outlets where journalists reported the news to talking heads, producers, public relation firms and consultants who become the news.  And for others, who are younger, we get it from social media outlets like Snapchat, Facebook, and a whole host of others too numerous to list here.

Yes, that is correct. In all three era’s, the news has been and continues to be prepared before presented to the public whenever possible. However, the difference between the three eras is the manipulation of the news and the motivations behind manipulating it. No longer is influence peddling a commodity for just the rich and famous.  Anybody can do it.

And, of course, there is the fake news and the alternative facts.  There is more fake news and alternative facts than ever these days.  More people are falling prey to character assassinations by other individuals or news organizations protected by freedom of the press and speech than ever before.  Not that some of these people don’t deserve it.  Before, there was a level of responsibility, accountability and even best practices that went along with most of the reporting.  Now, with the playing field much more level and with greater access for the populous comes no censorship, no editors, no fact checking at all.  So which is better?

Frankly, if we could eliminate all of the bullshit that comes with it, I prefer what is happening now over the past.  Even with the Steve Bannon’s of the world out there delivering the fake news and alternative facts, it is far better that we, as a free society, are able to know what is going on in the world in real time without censorship.

“Fuck Censorship!”

Remember when that phrase was shocking to hear or see in print?

 So maybe The Rapture didn’t happen last Saturday after all.  And maybe I shouldn’t believe everything I read or hear on social media.  And maybe I will have to pay back all of the money I charged on my credit cards last week just before “it” didn’t happen.  But then, it’s not about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s about paying $38 for a $1

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The more I learn about the fraud, waste and abuse coming out of the student loan industry, the angrier I become.

A recent headline from Bloomberg reads “Americans are Paying $38 to Collect $1 of Student Debt”.  The controversy surrounds about $1 trillion in student loans in default.  Student loans are the second largest category of consumer debt (behind home mortgages) and unlike credit card and medical debt, they can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

It is a cash cow for the student loan industry including student loan predators, colleges and universities who get kickbacks on promoting them and student loan collection companies aka predators.  To the students who use them to pay for tuition at colleges, universities, tech schools and the like, they are the gifts that keep on giving – a ticking time bomb posing as a life preserver.

Imagine paying $38 for that crunchy, stale, high in fructose corn syrup small bag of cereal at the Love’s Travel Stop on US Highway 40.  Never, right?  Well that is what we do every day as Americans to collect $1 from an unfortunate, unknowing kid who wanted to get a college education but couldn’t afford it.  His teachers told him it was okay.  His parents didn’t seem to think it was a bad thing.  Why not?  Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those kids.  But I am one of those Americans who is paying $38 to collect each $1 and this isn’t how I want to spend my money.

When my electric bill comes for $200 this month, I’m not going to reach in to my bank account and right a check for $7600 to the utility company.  But then, it’s not about me.

 

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It’s about Eric Beletz

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I first met Eric when he was 4 years of age.  I fell in love with him at first sight.  It sounds odd I know.  Falling in love with your kid at first sight?  The funny thing is that I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t fall in love with Eric at first sight.  What makes him even more amazing is that these same people never stop loving him.  I know I never have.
When Eric was in the first grade, his teacher called me in for an impromptu parent/teacher conference.  We had not one, but two teachers and the school vice principal in the room when we walked in for the conference.  Everyone seemed pretty serious so I worried that Eric had done something terrible. 
“Eric has been taking stickers out of my drawer without permission and putting them in his book,” his teacher told us. 
Apparently, the teacher was giving students stickers when the students did something well as a reward.  At the end of each week, the students with the most stickers would redeem their stickers for some type of a reward like a stuffed animal or a game.  It seems that Eric figured out another way to obtain stickers.  For nine weeks straight, Eric was coming in first or second with the most stickers.
“Well, this is stealing and we can’t have this!  I’ll see to this that Eric understands this and that he returns the ill gotten prizes” I told them all.
“Oh no!  Please don’t!  We love Eric!  Eric is wonderful!  He can keep them!” they all said.  I didn’t understand them.  I scratched my head.  “We just wanted to let you know.”
And there it is.  People love Eric.  I love Eric.  Eric has never done anything wrong.  Never.
We moved to Lawrence, Kansas when Eric was 7 years old.  He came home the very first day with a picture of a bird he had drawn and in the background was an American flag. 
“What is that?” I asked.  He put his hands on his hips, shook his head and looked at me looking pretty disgusted at me on his face.
“Gosh Dad, don’t you know?  It’s a Jayhawk and they live in KUSA like we do!”  Ever since that day, the hands on the hips, shaking of the head and the disgusted look on his face has always worked for him when it came to something he wants from me.  Five Roy Williams Basketball Camps, a Danny Manning Basketball Camp and who knows what else.  I’ve never really kept track. 
He has always loved the University of Kansas and the Jayhawks.  It turns out that they have an awesome basketball team.  He loves the Jayhawks so much that he fell in love with one and they gave me a granddaughter and she is a Jayhawk too.  What is so funny is that I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t fall in love with her at first sight either.  I know I did. 
But it’s not about me.

 

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It’s about #ResistHate

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Cheering for the New England Patriots again?  Are you a big fan of the Boston Celtics?  Don’t you just love the Red Sox?  Well, I’m not, I’m not, and I don’t.  But maybe it’s because I am not from the area or maybe it’s because I’m ” a Bum!”

“Get outta heyah you bum!!!” they’d say in a local tavern or from the bleachers.

One thing they’d almost never do at a sporting event is to say they wished me hurt or dead because of who I was cheering for at a game. Not so true in politics these days.  And in some cases, in our modern day culture, hate speech has begun to spring up in our homes, our schools, at local sporting events and at sporting events on the screen.  Now people voice their rage with hate speak about my political beliefs or who or what I supported on the ballot in all of these places.   OMG, it has even made its way into our churches, our synagogues and in our mosques.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Cubs Fan.  We have been very patient.  We waited how many years before we won the World Series?  For me, it was my entire life.  But we didn’t go hating anybody because we couldn’t get our ring.  Okay, some of us hated Steve Bartmann.  But we got over it in one winter and we were back at it when Spring Training came around.  Steve who?

If we were struggling in the standings we changed Skippers.  From Joey Amalfitano to Dusty Baker to Ryne Sandberg to Lou Pinella, when we weren’t winning, we would change managers.  When we struggle in this country, we change our leadership too.  Instead of playing nine innings, Congress and the President campaign every two, four or six years and if we aren’t happy with the job they are doing, we replace them.  There is a democratic process and we all play by the same rules.

I’ve asked my friends what they thought and some of them told me it’s because people consider political issues to be extremely personal.  Some of my friends told me that my comparing sports to politics is extremely shallow.  It is a metaphor with no home in America.  “Politics is serious business and sports is not!!” they say in almost a feverish pitch.

I think some of my friends need to push the “reset” button.  You know, it’s not the enthusiasm or intensity in their belief system that I take exception too.  It’s the character assassination they carry with them when they choose to wade in to the political waters that worries me every time somebody disagrees with them.  I believe this is what makes politics personal.

But then, it’s not about me, is it?

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s about feeding our nation’s poor…

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I read a poster the other day that said that “there is more food in a rich man’s shampoo than there is on a poor child’s plate.” Wow. These are some profound words that really hit home. I don’t have any hair so shampoo isn’t something I can relate to, I thought. Well, and than there is the “rich man’s” part of that equation. I have no money.

I get the idea though. In fact, in America, 40% of all the food we produce goes in the trash. It doesn’t even go in the gas pump. It gets thrown away. Now that is shocking! When I was in the Navy, I heard a speech by President Jimmy Carter. In the speech, he made the statement that “Waste and Inefficiency never fed a hungry child.”

I think what he meant was that the money our government wastes each year could be used to feed the children and families who go hungry every year. Of course, those were the good old days when most Republicans and Democrats could get along, like Senators Dole and McGovern, and sponsor bills that benefitted the farmer and the poor and create the food stamp program.

Now it is so much more divisive and only a handful of folks in each party get along and get things accomplished that benefit the have’s and the have not’s alike. I think we have all experienced hunger. But not to the extreme of not knowing where your next meal was going to come from.

I’ve experienced some of it when I was homeless in my teens. It was nothing like most children and families do who live in poverty these days in America and around the globe. And I’m only focusing on hunger here. Combine the feeling of panic over where your next meal for you or your child with the needs of housing, health and safety.

Yet 40% of all the food produced in America goes to waste.   I know I’ve already written this down, but it is worth repeating over and over again. I have to say that it adversely affected me when I first heard the words of President Carter. I thought that in the wealthiest country in the world, that we waste so much food. I travelled the world and I saw children eating food scraps out of a truck with waste in the Southeast Asia. I went to places both here and abroad and saw people starving.

I immediately started eating everything in my plate. When I had children, I ate everything that was left over in theirs. I ate more calories than I could burn and eventually I grew quite obese.

But then, It’s not about me…

 

 

 

 

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It’s about the ten things I love about my wife

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Have you ever played a game with your partner called “The ten things I love about you? It is a great game intended to bring some intimacy to the relationship by build a truly great connection between each partner by letting them know how much you love them and why. Sometimes just saying you love your partner isn’t enough.

The rules of engagement are that each partner writes down 10 things they love about the other partner and than each partner goes back and forth with the other and shares each item with the other until they are done.

So here was the list I came up with for my wife that day:

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT YOU…

1. I love the way your eyes light up and smile when they look at me.

2. I love it when you tell me that you love the way I love you.

3. I love how much better, fuller, richer (not money), my life is when we are together.

4. I love your devilish good looks, personality, wit and charm and how you put a spell on me and leave me powerless against it.

5. I love it that I can share my dreams, desires, hopes and fears with you without fear of being judged.

6. I love it that we can make great baby’s together.

7. I love your spark of genius and the brilliant solutions you come up with when we problem solve.

8. I love it that you love to watch football with me.

9. I love it that you dress weird. Nuff said.

10. I love your laughter and the way you express your joy with the world.

Guess what happened? Everything was great until we got to number 9.

“What do you mean you love that I dress weird. What is wrong with the way I dress!”

“I guess maybe weird was the wrong word to use.”

“No, you used it. What do you mean by weird. You don’t like the way I dress?”

“I love the way you dressed. I just find it different than most people dress, sometimes, occasionally.”

Deeper and deeper the hole that I was digging for myself got. It appeared to be about the right length and the right width and the right depth for my casket. But no, I couldn’t just shut up. I prayed she was distracted by a text or a call on her phone but it never came.

“But you loved the other nine things I came up with, why does this one matter so much?” I asked.

Ouch! There went the other nine good things, right out the frickin window. Just sucked out of the universe as if they didn’t happen! Guys, if I could only take back number 9 on my list. And if only I could take the last line too about “her loving the other nine things I came up with and why does this one matter so much?” line. Ouch again. Discounting your partners feelings once you have screwed up is really bad form, even if its not what you meant to do.

For future reference, the correct things to say are:

“Sweetheart, it was a stupid thing to say, I didn’t mean it like it sounded, I made a mistake and I’m sorry if I hurt you.” And once you have said this like you really mean it, just shut up.

Why is this so hard for me to do?

The easy answer? It’s not about me.

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It’s about doing the hard right…

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What does it mean to “do the hard right, rather than the easy wrong?” Some of the best people to ask this question lie in Arlington. Certainly, those who have given their lives for our country and whom we celebrate every Memorial Day.

Doing the hard right, rather than the easy wrong is a way the concept of integrity is described in military leadership training. The ability to choose the hard right over the easy wrong is the essence of true leadership. My wife often says that I am the only person she knows who wants to be in charge when everything is going to hell in a hand basket. I think that is her way that saying my gut tells me something is wrong I feel compelled to investigate and fix it.

I went to Afghanistan to serve my country in a position with the Department of Defense working for the U.S. Army. My position was as an Acquisition and Business Specialist, the equivalent of a program manager over several contracts worth $4.3 billion dollars. The position required me to gather information from people in positions of authority over me and people around me from the military, civilian employees, federal contractors and Afghan citizenry, some of whom had an inability to communicate in each other’s language.

What I discovered was that the greatest difficulties was not interpreting between one language or another in the pursuit of the truth but between one frozen mindset and the other in order to identify needs and requirements and satisfy the mission. Soon after beginning my work that gut feeling that something was wrong kicked in. I suspected that predecessors had chosen the easy wrong, safer in a hostile environment. After much interviewing of individuals from each of the sectors, I determined that a new course of action was necessary.

First, I reviewed the three contracts I was managing. I set up an excel spreadsheet where I identified the contract requirements at each of the 87 service sites in Afghanistan. I listed everything from the latitude and longitude of each site to the individual contracting officer representative (COR). I contacted each of the 37 COR’s and learned more about each site. I read two years of reports from the COR’s which contained information including environment impacts, inventory data points and infractions committed by the contractor responsible.

Second, I ventured into the field, donning my helmet and Kevlar vest. I knew that I had to put “eyes on” in order to verify what my gut had told me and my spreadsheet had verified. This was the first time in two years that any body had bothered to verify the data or even to fully collect and analyze it. It was a dangerous “hard” thing to do and the review was met with resistance from many levels. It was the only right way to obtain the necessary information for a mission critical evaluation.

Because of my choice to do the hard right rather than the easy wrong, the government was saved millions of dollars. For my efforts, I received three medals including one from the Secretary of Defense and one from the Secretary of the Army. However, my greatest satisfaction was not the recognition but the knowledge that I had taken the correct course of action.

Of course, it’s not about me….

 

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It’s about our Uncle Buck…

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“Everyone has an Uncle Chuck,” explained Marci.  “He is kind of like an Uncle Buck.”
If you are older, it might be like an Uncle Charley O’Casey as in William Demarest of “My Three Sons.”  Uncle Charley was a retired sailor who lived in the Douglas household with Robbie, Chip and Mike Douglas and their dad Steven. If you are younger, it might be like Jonah in the movie “The Sitter.”  Sarah would be more like 9 year old Blithe, destined to be a Drew Barrymore or Lindsay Lohan or maybe even a Martha Stewart.  I’ll explain the latter one later. 
My friend Marci has an Uncle Chuck.  He is retired from Boeing.  As she explained to me, “You know, the relative that isn’t really related but you think of like your favorite and most dear relative.  That is our Uncle Chuck.  He has always been a part of our family.  He’s been on all of our vacations, all of our holidays, our family events.”
My daughter Jeni has an Aunt Cathy.  But after nearly thirty years, Aunt Cathy still looks like she is way younger than me.  Okay, everyone looks like they are way younger than me.  I mean after thirty years, she is hot.  In fact, she is even hotter as a Grandma than she was in her teens.  But let me stay on topic.  She didn’t go on any of our vacations, our holidays or any of our family events.  They are very close though.  I think that is great for Jeni, but that doesn’t meet the criteria. 
The person must be there with the entire family, not just a kid. Our 11 year old daughter Sarah seems to have dozen of aunts and uncles.  Every time we go somewhere together, we run into one of them.  I don’t think of most of them as one of our favorite and most dear relatives.  Heck, I don’t even know them!
“Sarah, how have you been!”  She runs up to them and gives them a big hug.  They will stand there and she will run down the list of questions she has quickly come up with at that very moment.  “How are your kids?  How is the dog?  Did you end up remodeling your kitchen?  Did you try that new recipe that we discussed when I last saw you?  The one you were wondering whether or not you should add ginger to it.  Remember?” 
By this time in the conversation, my head is still spinning trying to figure out where she could have possibly met this person. I sat down with Sarah and made a long list of folks who Sarah considers uncles.  I figured I would stay away from aunts because that can only get me in more trouble than I already am. 
Did I really say she was hot?  Oy vey!
Let me tell you, the list of uncles is quite a long, long list.  Even though it is someone who is not a blood relative, it is an extremely long list.  After much contemplation, we came up with two – that is correct – two uncles. Of course, Tim and Vitaly most definitely fit Marci’s description.  However, Vitaly is a little suspect because he is Russian.  And he is very handsome.  So he could be a blood relative. Every Thanksgiving and Holiday Season, Tim and Vitaly are there.  Every birthday, Tim and Vitaly are there.  They even come to Sarah’s dance and voice recitals.  In fact, we have relatives who are jealous of Tim and Vitaly because they are “there” so much.  If anything bad should ever happen to either of them, we all would be devastated and when good things happen, we bask in the rays of joy with them.  We love them dearly.  They are family.  I think they meet Marci’s criteria. Whew! 
Finally, I now know who our Uncle Chuck is.  If every family has an Uncle Chuck, than I need to know who that person is, right?  I don’t want to be the only family who doesn’t have one.  We have Mothers Day and Fathers Day.  We have Grandparents Day.  We even have holidays for people we have never met and are dead.  We need an Uncle Chuck Day.  I know I do.  It should be a day that parents can drop off the kids at Uncle Chucks and go and do something all day and night.  Maybe it should be an Uncle Chuck Week?
But it’s not about me.
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