To Thine Own Self

Yesterday morning I was finally compelled to begin cleaning out dad’s office.

A year ago this would have been impossible, as that room reverberated with his passage through life. Every single item inside was something that he had touched and considered. I could feel his presence there. In that room he was still alive, so the door remained closed and the contents undisturbed.

I sometimes go to walk in the cemetery, and I always end those walks at his grave. I study the headstone and the flowers, and while I know his mortal remains lie below my feet I do not feel close to him in that place.

In Hamlet, Polonius’ final bit of advice to his son is “To thine own self be true”.

For me that advice has meant learning to see the world and the things and the people in it without self-deception and to keep the ones that will provide true happiness.

It had been more than six months since I had last ventured into dad’s office, and when I opened the door I could tell that things had changed. It was the same room, with the same smells and the same items, but I could finally separate the treasures from the trash.

The thing that had changed was me.

Designated Auditor: Ben Carson Discovers Secret $500 Billion! Not.

This past September a friend told me about a new ABC action series she’d started watching called “Designated Survivor” starring Jack Bauer. I mean, she didn’t say that it starred Jack Bauer, she said that it starred Kiefer Sutherland, but since I can never remember the character’s name from this new show it’s just easier for me to call him Jack Bauer.

In the first episode we find out that Jack has been serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and is an expert on a wide range of complex policy matters that most Americans can’t be bothered to understand because we’re way too busy blogging about television shows.

So anyway.

In the first episode some mysterious bad guys blow up our nation’s Capital, leaving our friend Jack the last man standing in the line of succession so he gets sworn in as the ding dang President of the United States! Pretty crazy, right?

The show had a decent premise and I half-heartedly kept up with it until the Christmas hiatus and by the time ABC finally put it back on the air I had completely lost interest UNTIL YESTERDAY MORNING when my friend Davy shared a link on Facebook declaring that Dr. Ben Carson (the new real-life Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) had just completed an audit of his cabinet department, and had uncovered a shocking $500 billion in errors!

That’s enough money to buy 35 new aircraft carriers or, on an annual basis, estimated to be more than enough to end world hunger.

If you’re anything like me you’d really like to know how Secretary Carson uncovered this deep dark financial secret so quickly after his appointment, but I was pretty sure that I shouldn’t click on the link that Davy had posted because I didn’t recognize the source.

Facebook has started warning us that we live in an age of ‘fake news’ and the number one way to spot fake news is to consider the source, and I sure as heck did not recognize the website called SacredConservativeTruthAgenda.org, nor did I recognize the one named RightWingJewsNews.net.

To be fair, a lot of my friends of all political stripes cite sources as dubious as Davy’s.

A quick scroll through my newsfeed reveals citations for “news sources” like EagleBloodJusticeShrike.net, LiberalPinkHoneyNews.org, RightWingJazzHands.biz, and FlagWavingTittyMommas.omg. In full disclosure I probably clicked on that last one a few dozen times just to make sure that it was fake news, but you get my point: a lot of these “sources” sound like they’re run by lone individuals sitting on a couch in their boxer shorts… yeah, I am.

So if not me, who can you trust these days?

Until these crazy ass fake websites start winning Pulitzers I’m going to stick with recognized newspapers like The Failing New York Times and The Floundering Washington Post.

For this story I checked with the presidentially sanctioned news source Fox News, and they haven’t posted anything about this story.

Even that short guy with the weird speech impediment over on Fox Business News hasn’t even been talking about this shocking story on his 9am morning show, and he knows everything. Just ask him! (Pompousness is the lowest form of wit, Stuart)

So listen, maybe we should just take a chance and trust ourselves.

With no reliable sources reporting on this missing $500 Billion I was faced with doing my own investigation, and you know what? You can too, because the audit has been posted to the public via the website of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is a direct link to that PDF on the HUD website.

In case it goes away for some reason, here’s a direct link to the same file from this website (Click Here).

The first thing you’ll learn by reading page one is that HUD Secretary Ben Carson had nothing to do with this audit because it’s an annually required action that would have transpired regardless of who held the office as the rules state “In accordance with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990” – not to mention that the audit was completed months before he assumed office.

Furthermore, if you continue reading the audit (as I have tried to do while sitting on the couch watching Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix) you’ll see that five hundred billion dollars were never actually “missing” so much as poorly accounted for, according to the audit.

I don’t know if you’re as lazy as I am about balancing your home checkbook, but I am occasionally forced into running an audit of my account and inevitably end up scratching my head for half an hour because the ledger is out of whack by some peculiar amount. After a lot of muttering I finally discover that I’ve made a simple error, like counting a check twice. There was never any money missing, it just wasn’t accounted for properly (until it was all balanced out).

Now multiply my tiny accounting errors by several orders of magnitude and that’s what I understand is going on with HUD’s report. Their budget isn’t big enough to squirrel away $500 Billion, it’s just that they (apparently) suck at balancing their own books. If you’ll go and read the audit report for yourself (which I’d encourage, instead of believing my lazy perusal) you’ll likely see that the summary explains that money wasn’t missing, it was just counted wrong, or not counted at all, or modeled improperly, or whatever it is that they do to keep up with it.

HUD’s accounting ledgers are probably a far worse nightmare that you or I could possibly imagine.

As you read you’ll see that the audit report states that there were “material weaknesses” in the accounting of monies in which costs were estimated incorrectly. The audit found that there were non-compliance issues resulting in missed opportunities to collect tens of millions of dollars in debt. There are problems and unquestionably have been for years, because government can be terrible at scaling and often finds scope creep irresistible.

The lies that these fake news sources spread are galling, because my friends often believe the headlines they read because they often don’t take the time to actually follow stories back to their sources. They’re busy and probably as lazy as I am.  It’s easier to just believe what somebody else tells us, especially if it fits the comfortable narratives that we already believe.

But we don’t have to let this happen.

While the partisan websites are out there spreading misinformation, as in this case, about Ben Carson spearheading a shocking audit, there’s no question (at least in my mind) that HUD could naturally stand to see some pretty substantial streamlining if the audit revealed such troubling accounting procedures.

But I’m no Jack Bauer, and Secretary-Doctor Ben Carson was never the Designated Auditor – that job belongs to the Honorable David A. Montoya, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And for the record: neither of them is T’pol, the hot Vulcan officer from Star Trek: Enterprise who has to have lotion rubbed all over her body all the time, mostly because I keep playing that part of the episode over and over again as I try to make you go go away to do your own research.

You guys are seriously cutting into my Star Trek watching time.

Read a book.

Stop sharing junk stories that you didn’t research.

Scram.

– –

Edit: it’s been several days since I posted this article and I just had to come back and write that I feel embarrassed at having shared the photo of actress Jolene Blalock with her top off and kind of embarrassed that the producers felt it necessary to have her get naked from time to time during the show. It’s still sexy as heck, but the show could have stood on its own without it. The only thing that kept this series from wider acceptance was that it wasn’t run on a major network.

Basil Eleby’s Fabulous Weaponized Love Seat (That Destroyed Atlanta)

Like most Atlantans I am fascinated by the story of Basil Eleby, a man whose life might have come and gone without leaving a mark in Atlanta’s history books if it were not for his (alleged) creation of a “couch bomb” following an (alleged) nip of crack cocaine. Most of us native Atlantans were not surprised that all it took to bring our hometown grinding to a halt was a piece of discarded furniture placed on top of a shopping cart and Continue reading

The Making of “You Wouldn’t Believe Our World”

Back in my college years the talk show Late Night with David Letterman was a delightfully subversive, highly imaginative way to end the day. The writers were whip smart and the bits they did would have become viral sensations if today’s socially networks had existed back then. The other night I was out having a few beers with a friend ten years my junior who had missed out on the imaginative era of David Letterman and I mentioned a mock commercial that I often think about, whose title eluded Continue reading

Getting Smart About Smoke Detectors

When is the last time you thought about your home’s smoke detectors? I typically change the batteries in our home’s smoke detectors around this time every year, usually on the same weekend when we “spring” our clocks forward an hour for Daylight Saving Time. Last March we lost my dad and all of my normal routines fell away for quite a long time, and so it came as no surprise a week ago when I discovered that my smoke detectors were a year past due for having their batteries replaced.

Like me, a lot of people lose track of their normal routines and some are unfortunate enough to experience a fire in their homes.  According to the National Fire Protection Agency: “In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half (46%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.”

Keeping the batteries in your smoke detectors up to date cannot be stressed enough, but there’s one additional detail about these devices that I only Continue reading

Skidmark

img_3918

I remember when the Marriott Marquis was still shiny and new, back in the 1980s. Somewhere in my stack of sketchbooks I have a little student study I made of the hotel while I was in the architecture program at Tech. In that write-up I compared the elevator cabs to blood cells pulsing through heart of the hotel, mostly because back then the elevators were painted bright red! Somewhere along the line an interiors person must have been paid good money to come in and inform hotel management that rocketship red was Continue reading

The Time We Saved Georgia’s Film Industry

2016-incentives-005

This is my 20th year as a member of an international film union best known as IATSE, which is an acronym for a 4-mile long run-on sentence describing what its members do and the incredibly specific places where they do them. It’s my theory that nobody actually knows all the words in the actual title of the organization and instead just make up something, hoping that nobody calls them out on Continue reading

Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios VIP Experience Disappoints

2016-kurios_001

A performance by the Cirque du Soleil is almost always a life-altering experience for someone in the audience, and it’s little wonder that fans tend to nominate their very first show as their favorite. My first cirque was Alegria, back in the mid-1990s when the Grand Chapiteau was set up across the street from the Cheetah 3 strip club, and to this day the soundtrack from Alegria is the first thing I think of when I hear the word ‘Cirque’.

For my second show (I think it might have been Dralion) I bought tickets for my parents, treating them to the Tapis Rouge experience – a magical tent overflowing with music, food, and drink. You couldn’t turn around without bumping into a server carrying a tray laden with some incredible work of edible art, and to this day my mom remains convinced that the Cirque du Soleil is the only place where you can order “that drink made with grapefruit and vodka” (she’s not much of a drinker).

The Tapis Rouge wasn’t just about the food though, it truly was an “experience” in its own right – an expression of everything that is unique about Cirque, from the fabric lining the tent to the stage lighting and the festive decor of the space, to the playlist of songs from current and previous traveling shows. There was a Cirque store where you could purchase clothing, knickknacks, umbrellas, celebrated Venetian masks, and of course Continue reading

AT&T U-verse Cancels Popular Showcase Channel

U-Verse Showcase Controversy

March has been really tough and tonight I thought that I would let my soul relax for a while by tuning into Channel 800 on our cable provider, AT&T U-Verse. Officially known as “U-Verse Showcase”, the channel featured gorgeous nature cinematography set to pleasant instrumentals – anything from herds of kangaroo sweeping majestically over whatever the heck it is the Aussies call “the plain”, to the painted American desert from dusk to dawn. Our family would sit watching it for an hour, mesmerized by the calming effect it gave us. Better yet, if you were paying for the HD package you could dial up Channel 1800 where you’d see the same videos, but in high definition (best seen on one of those enormous televisions, which we do not have). Now, if you haven’t noticed, I’m referring to these channels in the past tense because at the beginning of the March 2016, AT&T discontinued both  Continue reading

Should Hollis Gillespie Apologize for Comedygate?

2016-comedygate

Hollis, Hollis, Hollis. I’m just now hearing about Comedygate. My friend, you are constantly getting into trouble. How many misadventures does this make since I’ve known you? Seventeen? My favorite is still the time that you were chased by a love struck garbage truck driver while you were glued to a purse filled with bees, but I guess this one’s pretty good too.

The message I received about Comedygate was excited and garbled and confusing as hell, so I clicked over to Paste Magazine and tracked down your article “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Stand-up Comedian”.

Your article was nice and short. Pithy, like everything on the Internet these days. Remember when magazines expected writers to produce really long pieces so they could Continue reading