Sunday, November 30, 2008

College Football: Almost in the Rearview

Except for a handful of games next weekend – and the absurdly long list of bowls that will begin kicking off later on – the 2008 college football season is pretty much over. So here are some of my thoughts, and I’ll begin by acknowledging that two opinions I offered in my last college football piece turned out to be wrong.

As soon as I called them nation’s most underrated team and implied that they should make a surge into the polls, the Huskies got clobbered by North Carolina and lost four of their next six. If they beat Pitt next week, they will finish 8-4 and still deserve to be called underrated, but they are not the most underrated team and they are nowhere near as good as I thought back in September.

Texas Tech
After I called them the nation’s most overrated team, and said they are the kind that will “usually wilt as soon as they face a powerful opponent and find themselves in a dog fight,” they went on to win back-to-back games against teams ranked in the top ten – and in the first of those wins, they scored a touchdown with one second left to knock off the number one team in the land. They didn’t look good against Oklahoma, but they are quite a bit better than I thought in September.

Now, as for how the season has played out…

Who’s Best?
We’ll know for sure when it’s all over, but based on what I’ve seen, Alabama and Florida are clearly the two best teams. Of course, they will play each other in next week’s SEC Championship Game and the winner will go on to the BCS Championship Game. Though there are some other impressive squads who are good enough to pull off an upset, I predict that whoever wins between Alabama and Florida will prevail easily in the BCS Championship Game.

Conference Bragging Rights
The SEC and Big 12 (in that order) are obviously the strongest conferences, and the rest of the conferences are petty far behind. And what keeps the SEC in front of the Big 12 this year? Defense: They play it well in the SEC but not in the Big 12, which is a big part of the reason I don’t think the SEC champion will lose to the Big 12 champion if that is who they play for the title.

Speaking of Big 12 Defenses
I have no idea why they are so unimpressive. The Big 12’s schools have a reputation for red-blooded American tenacity, and in past years were known for playing strong defense. Through the years they have given us defensive legends that include the Selmon brothers, Peters brothers, Mike Singletary, Zach Thomas, Dexter Manley, Brian Bosworth, Grant Wistrom, and on and on and on. Yet now we routinely see Big 12 games end with scores like 45-35 and 58-36. I just don’t get it.

But how ’bout those Big 12 QB’s
On the flip side, the Big 12 has such an impressive stable of quarterbacks that it almost defies comprehension. I’ve watched them play, they are as good as advertised, and their productivity can not be explained by doubters saying they go up against defenses that aren’t as good as the ones fielded in the days of yore of the old Big Eight and Southwestern Conferences. The age when option and triple-option offenses ruled the lower Midwest ended some time ago, but now it is buried a mile deep and unlikely to ever return.

Nittany Lions
It was good to see Penn State return to national prominence. Honestly, how can you not like Joe Paterno and the program he has been running for so long up in Happy Valley? It may have been a down year for the Big Ten, but I believe that if Penn State had made it to the BCS Championship Game by avoiding that lone, one-point loss to Iowa, they would have stood a better chance of knocking off the SEC champion than Oklahoma would have.

Why do I think that?
It’s not that I think Penn State is better than Alabama or Florida, and it’s not even that I think they are necessarily better than Oklahoma. It’s that I remember the last two times Penn State won the national title: After the 1982 season everyone thought they had no chance against Herschel Walker’s Georgia Bulldogs, and after the 1986 season everyone thought they would get annihilated by Jimmy Johnson’s swaggering and supersonically fast Miami Hurricanes. Karma-wise, 2008 seemed like the perfect set-up for Paterno’s program to score a hat-trick, by upending a presumed juggernaut right after everyone got done patting them on the head and treating them like some kind of Cinderella who should just be happy to be there.

And finally…
After saying that Alabama and Florida are the best teams in the country, and that I expect one of them to be the national champion, what am I going to do with myself? Of all the bazillions of teams playing college football, those are the two I despise the most. They have the most arrogant fans in the universe. I know most people think it’s a given that Auburn people dislike Alabama more than they dislike Florida – hell, it’s assumed that the word “dislike” is a far too benevolent description of what Auburn people feel about Alabama – but the fact of the matter is I live in Florida and have to deal with chortling, rooster-strutting Gator fans every day of my life, whereas I have to deal with Crimson Tide fans maybe a half-dozen times a year, and even then, only on a one-on-one basis instead of one-on-hundreds. I just don’t know what to do. All I do know is that I will be a major, major Oklahoma fan for the next six weeks, so long as they win the Big 12 as expected.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Okay, Here It Is

17 days ago I said I would post my observations about the election “next week,” so obviously I fell short. It’s not that I don’t have observations and opinions – it’s just that I’ve already written so much about Barack Obama that I feel like I should wait until he is actually doing things from the Oval Office before I pick up that sword again.

But of course, observations about the election and criticism of the president-elect are not the same thing, so now I’m keeping my word and offering some thoughts.

I’ll begin by harkening back to Part Three of my Obama’s Lies series, in which I wrote about a deceitful ad that accused John McCain of being an anti-Hispanic bigot. Obama ran the ad only in Spanish, and only in four states – each of which has a large population of Spanish-speakers and each of which voted for Bush in 2004. In my post, I said, “If this ad causes just one of those states to go for Obama this time, it will very likely decide the election for all of us.” As it turns out, all of those states voted for Obama. This is one of many instances of Democrats seeking to divide the country along ethnic lines in order to increase their power.

Next, I’ll mention a moment during Obama’s acceptance speech that seemed to validate the most unflattering thing conservatives have always felt about liberals: That they don’t think American ideals are worth defending. The moment occurred when Obama, to his credit, tried to give a respectful nod to people who favor a strong national defense by saying, “To those who would tear this world down, we will defeat you.” But the crowd’s reaction was complete silence – you could hear crickets chirping because not a single note of applause rose from the otherwise boisterous mass. And people wonder why conservatives suspect that liberals aren’t committed to the U.S.A.?

However, the most disturbing thing about Obama’s ascendancy is the way it always brings Simon & Garfunkel to my mind. Specifically, I keep hearing that great lyric where Paul sings, “All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” For whatever reason, people look at Obama and view him however they want to – and because in almost every instance they view him through a prism fueled entirely by emotions, no appeal to facts or intellect is able to penetrate it.

By intuition, conservatives have long known that a huge percentage of Obama’s supporters have no idea why they support him. And that intuition has been backed by lots of anecdotal evidence, such as the responses I get every time I ask one of his younger-than-me fans to name just one thing about his policies or philosophies that they think is good. They never answer the actual question, yet they are always quick to enthusiastically say “Just you wait!” or “You’re going to be happy even if you won’t admit it!”

But now we have more than just intuition and personal anecdotes to confirm that Obama’s voters are, in general, an alarmingly ignorant bunch: We have a Zogby poll of people who voted for Obama, taken after the election. It shows that 56% of them do not know about his connection to William Ayers, 57% of them do not know the Democrats control Congress, 71% of them do not know that Joe Biden had to drop his presidential campaign because he was found to be a plagiarist, and 82% of them do not know that Obama won his first political campaign by having his opponents kicked off the ballot. And the poll was multiple choice!

This “ignorance problem” is compounded by the horrific erosion of our educational system over the past few decades, which has resulted in vast numbers of people having no grasp of America’s history or its place in the world. These people exist without any understanding of the principles that led to America’s founding, or how those principles make America more just than other nations, or how those principles make America more successful than other nations. They exist without any understanding of the reasons so many people have given their lives to hand America’s blessings down to their children and grandchildren. Such ignorance is fertile soil in which demagogues can plant the seeds of ever-expanding federal power – seeds which, by sprouting into vines that grow slowly but oh so steadily, can snuff out the electorate’s freedom without the electorate even being aware of it.

So we conservatives clearly have our work cut out for us. However, you will not find me sliding into the abyss of despair toward which so many other conservatives seem willing to march.

This is not the first time we have been faced with daunting challenges. Look at our history, and you will see the entire half-century leading up to Ronald Reagan’s landslides consisted of one massive obstacle after another: FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s defeat of Goldwater, The Great Society’s seemingly unstoppable tsunami, the leftward lurch of the GOP under Nixon and Ford.

Since authentic conservatism overcame that onslaught, there is no doubt that authentic conservatism can overcome today’s challenges – which we should look at as a golden opportunity to resurrect conservatism from an age in which Republicans abandoned it by expanding government and spending like drunken sailors and adopting the Democrats’ template rather than asserting their own.

Yes, making the resurrection happen will require us to work diligently, if we are to communicate our message to those who have little knowledge of history and little experience analyzing facts. But even in the recent election results, there is evidence that we hold a strong hand and that Americans in general favor conservatism over liberalism. It’s worth noting that most of the Democrats who were elected to Congress for the first time in 2006 succeeded by portraying themselves as more conservative than the Republicans they were up against, and it’s worth noting that many of them (North Carolina’s Heath Shuler comes to mind) won re-election this month because they governed more conservatively than their Republican predecessors. It’s definitely worth noting that when conservative initiatives (as opposed to Republican humans who have lost our trust) were on ballots this month, they almost always won, even in California. It is the GOP’s abandonment of its conservative roots that has led to its present weakness.

The truth is on our side, and genuine love of country is on our side. And those things, if combined with dedication and diligence and good cheer, will prevail.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This is Warming?

It is widely accepted (though not with much publicity) that there has been a cooling trend from the 1990’s to this decade.

In many areas, the last two springs have been noteworthy for their tardiness.

Throughout North America, last winter's record snowfalls made it an instant legend among skiers and snowboarders, who spoke of its “epic snowpack” and were able to take to Colorado slopes as late as June.

A few weeks ago, ski season opened on October 28th…in North Carolina, some 10 hours south of the Mason-Dixon Line at Cataloochee Ski Area. This is the third consecutive year Cataloochee has broken the state’s record for earliest start to a ski season.

As of the end of October, Arctic ice covered an area 30 percent larger than it covered at the same time a year ago.

In my part of Florida, halfway down the peninsula and 20 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, scraping ice off the windshield is something that gets done about once per winter…but yesterday I found myself doing it for the second time in the past month, and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

And finally, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies was just caught lying about last month’s temperatures. Goddard had released a statement claiming it was the warmest October on record, despite the fact that many observers noticed it was colder than usual. Now, we learn that Goddard took data from September and claimed it was from October.

Is it coincidental that Goddard is headed by James Hansen, a close ally of Al Gore? And is it coincidental that some years back Hansen spent a great deal of time publicly asserting that the twentieth century’s warmest decade was the 1990’s, only to eventually concede, with little publicity, that the warmest decade was actually the 1930’s?

These are just a few of the many, many reasons I do not believe the global warming hype, and why I am adamantly against submitting to the drastic measures that the alarmists demand we adopt to “address climate change” – measures that would clearly do harm to our already turbulent economy.

There are logical arguments to be made on both sides of the global warming issue. I don’t ask that everyone agree with me when I say that global warming does not exist, nor would I ask everyone to agree with me if I merely said that man-made global warming does not exist. What I do ask, however, is that global warming’s believers stop acting as though its skeptics are a bunch of closed-minded n’er-do-wells whose opinions have no basis in evidence.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Simple Joys

Back in September, Florida’s weather changed right when the calendar said fall would arrive. Our days became warm and dry instead of hot and humid, and our nights became cool instead of “blah.”

And the weather has remained consistent ever since, which means it is finally that time of year when Floridians can go outside without feeling like they're constantly on the verge of heat stroke. So I took a little time off work last week, and we headed back into this state’s great outdoors by going camping at Hillsborough River State Park.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and set up camp. That night, when Sarah was in bed in the tent and Erika and I were sitting around the campfire, we heard what sounded like large animals moving through the woods. Displaying the instincts of a true adventurer (or fool) I picked up my LED flashlight and headed into the darkness, where I found 3 wiry strands of a barbed wire fence some 30 yards away. I heard more movement, shifted my light in its direction, and found myself staring at a wild boar no more 10 feet away – but, thankfully, on the other side of those wiry strands. He took off running in the other direction, apparently startled by my bright light hitting his eyes, and I swear I could hear a second boar running away as well.

Early the next morning Sarah and I walked through the campground while Erika slept. Sarah said she wanted to “pick a bouquet for Mommy,” and she did just that.

Later in the morning, all three of us walked down to the river where I snapped this cute picture of my girls.

Then I paddled ’em down the river in a canoe, and at one point Sarah gave us a giggle by singing “Row Row Row Your Boat.”

Along the way, we saw wildlife on its banks that was worth mentioning.

Many of our friends arrived that afternoon, pitched their tents near ours, and for the rest of the weekend we were five families relaxing in the woods. Sarah had lots of friends to play with and they lived it up.

While the kids were playing on Saturday, the adults spent a good chunk of the day simply basking in the warmth. As you can see, the wives have perfected this essential task.

The other chunk of Saturday’s daylight was spent walking to the river, crossing it on a suspension bridge, and hiking a 1.1-mile trail through the woods on the other side. That tired the kids out…until they noticed the main playground while we were making our way back. They got their second wind, and we stopped so they could work it off. Sarah engaged in one of her favorite playground antics by pretending to be a sloth with her older friend Allana.

That night we sat around the campfire some more, consumed some beverages, and for the second night in a row watched raccoons rummage around on their search for unguarded food.

For a moment I was reminded of Thursday night, because we again heard something big in the brush. We saw a tangle of vines move violently at the edge of the site where we were sitting, and several of us shined our flashlights at it. Suddenly, out popped somebody in a Sasquatch costume. He roared and ran away while we laughed ourselves silly. We are assuming he was a teenager from the church group whose members occupied most of the other sites.

It was great to be able to get back to the outdoors without having to flee the state. We’ll be doing more of it in the coming months.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

With Gratitude on Veterans Day

When he was 82 years old, General Douglas MacArthur was presented with the Sylvanus Thayer Award at West Point. Upon accepting it, he addressed the cadets without a prepared text and without notes. Speaking reverently about the American soldier, he said:

"My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now – as one of the world’s noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty he gave – all that mortality can give…when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism; he belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom; he belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements…From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage…The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice."

Those words are just as true now, with our men and women returning from the war zones of the Middle East, as they were when MacArthur spoke them 46 years ago. But there has been a troubling shift in the way the American soldier is viewed by his countrymen.

When MacArthur spoke, the heroism exhibited at Guadalcanal and Pork Chop Hill was fresh in the minds of America, and students throughout the land were taught about their forefathers’ valor at Bunker Hill and Antietam. The vast majority of Americans looked upon soldiers with immense respect, as courageous defenders of liberty who, in MacArthur’s words, held the nation’s destiny in their hands.

Less than a decade later, many of the soldiers returning from Vietnam were spat upon and falsely depicted as “baby killers.”

Within a generation, military service went from being a duty that was performed by most American men to being one that was performed by a small minority. In turn, the country has become one where a shrinking percentage of the population puts their lives on the line to defend the rights of an increasingly unappreciative majority. Many of us take our freedom for granted, blind to the fact that were it not for those soldiers who are willing to risk their lives in the line of duty, we would not be free to speak our minds without fear of prosecution, or to pursue our life's goals as we see fit, or to make a choice about whether or how to worship God.

Today is Veterans Day. Modern media and schools have greatly de-emphasized this once prominent holiday, but the rest of us don’t have to follow their lead. To those of you who have answered the nation's call and served in our armed forces, I say: Thank You.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Post-Election Pause

Barack Obama's election on Tuesday night was no surprise, and I have many thoughts about many aspects of the election, about why it happened, about what it means and does not mean, etc. But if anybody was expecting me to respond to the election by launching into a tirade on this blog, they were wrong.

My opinion about whether Obama is qualified to lead the United States of America, and my reasons for having that opinion, have already been made quite clear and there is no need to rehash. Now that he is going to be our president, he will have a chance to prove me wrong and I hope he does. If and when he errs, I will write about it, and if and when he does well, I will write about that too.

I will wait until next week to post about the observations I made Tuesday. Despite my grave concerns about Obama and how he has risen to power, there is no denying that millions of people are genuinely inspired by him and feel that his election is a seminal, positive moment in history. I think they are wrong, but they have earned the right to bask in the moment and I will not rain on them today.

We as conservatives should take our cue from Ronald Reagan, who never failed to stand firm on principles but was always a happy warrior. It's a tough lead to follow, but I do believe that it's the only way for any movement to achieve lasting success -- and it should be noted that the Republicans who followed Reagan frequently failed to follow that lead. (Okay, I'm starting to write about one of the reasons Tuesday night happened, and I said I was going to wait, so now I'll stop.)

Most of my posts over the last couple months have been about politics. Many of my future posts will continue to be, and they will represent a full-throated advancement of the conservative ideals on which this nation was founded -- the very same ideals that make it the greatest nation in all of human history. But now that the election is finally over, I can also get back to posting about other topics that are dear to me, including that trip to the mountains I mentioned back in mid-October.

I'll be camping with family and friends the next four days. As always, God bless until I return.