Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ripple Effect

There are so many things to blog about with Obama & Co., but so little time to cover all of them. Where is a blogger supposed to go from one post to the next?

Well, for this post I'll just swipe an idea from my intelligent non-blogging friend Erin Bouck. Today she mentioned how surprised she is that nobody is talking about the effect Obamacare will have on investment once it achieves its obvious, ultimate goal of forcing insurance companies out of business.

For those who don't know, insurers do not simply take dollars in from their customers' premium payments and dole out a portion of those dollars in claims. What they do is invest a significant portion of those dollars in all kinds of vehicles (bonds, stocks, mutual funds, real estate, etc.) because the return they get boosts their earnings and reserves, which solidifies them financially and enables them to pay claims when claims come due. Thus, insurance companies are "institutional investors" and certainly constitute one of America's largest classes of institutional investors, if not the largest.

If insurance companies vanish, all that money they invest will vanish as well, and that will hurt millions upon millions of people.

The stock prices of companies and mutual funds that have been receiving insurer investment dollars would drop, which would harm shareholders -- including God knows how many people whose 401(k)'s invest in the same funds that insurers invest in. Most of those people, who may well be a majority of Americans, don't even know they have been benefiting from insurer investment pumping up the value of their own investments.

For those companies that have been receiving revenue from insurer investment, the loss of that revenue would drive down their bottom lines and put some of their employees' jobs in jeopardy.

Whole sectors of the economy could see their fortunes sag after losing a source of investment that has been so large and dependable over the years.

And all this is to say nothing of the hardship that would be visited on the employees of the actual insurance companies that are put out of business (who will all lose their jobs) or of the hardship that would be visited on the shareholders of those insurance companies (who will see their net worth shrink when companies in which they invested go under).

What we have here is a recipe for wide-ranging economic harm that nobody is talking about. And the fact that nobody is talking about it makes it much more likely to happen.

But I am against ending the year on a negative note, so I will say this: Even though the odds are long, Obamacare can still be stopped by citizen activism, and even if it does gets passed we can still throw the Marxist basta -- I'm sorry, Democrats and RINO's -- out of office come November, then focus our energies on getting the next Congress to repeal it.

In the coming year I will be writing more about our government's malfeasance and whatever else stirs my passions. But first I will be taking a short break, because on New Year's Day we'll be at the Outback Bowl watching my Auburn Tigers battle the Northwestern Wildcats, and then we'll be vacationing in the Blue Ridge Mountains until January 9th. If you care to know about our adventures up there, I plan to update my travel blog as our trip unfolds. Until next time, auf Wiedersehen!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Here are some thoughts about the year’s coldest season on this, its first day:

I love how it begins with evergreen boughs on mantles, lighted trees in village squares, carols on the radio, and people knowing that life’s greatest joys come from giving rather than receiving.

I love its chilly mornings when fog clings to the surfaces of ponds.

I love sitting outside on those mornings drinking hot black coffee.

I love watching Sarah try to catch snowflakes on her tongue during our winter vacation.

I love driving across California’s High Sierra between snow drifts so deep they soar above cars and turn roadways into tunnels of white.

I love walking through Appalachian forests that are barren of leaves but laden with snow, and therefore have the appearance of black-and-white photos come to life.

And finally, I love that I can spend a whole day outside in Florida without feeling the need to shower every hour.

So for those who curse the cold: Remember that every season brings beauty, so long as we stop to notice it.

This post was originally published in 2008.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Carol Born

When it comes to carols, I have always found “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” to be especially poignant (if you're not familiar with it, you can listen to it here.)

It did not begin as a song, but as a poem written on Christmas morning 1863 by America’s greatest poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. At that moment in time America was torn apart and battling itself in the Civil War – a war that still stands as the one in which more Americans died than in any other.

When dawn broke that morning, Longfellow was despondent. During the war his son Charles had been horrifically wounded when a bullet passed through part of his spine, leading to a long and excruciating recovery. And as if that wasn’t dark enough, his wife Frances had died as a result of burns sustained when her clothes were set on fire by dripping sealing wax, which she was melting with the intention of using it to preserve some of their daughter’s trimmed curls.

But despite that sorrowful backdrop, as Longfellow sat in his Massachusetts home on Christmas and heard the ringing of local church bells, his faith in divine promise started to stir and he was moved to put pen to paper. The resulting poem was transformed into a hymn nine years later, when John Baptiste Calkin composed the music to which it was set.

The poem’s words absolutely speak for themselves. Since some of them are excluded from the carol we normally hear this time of year, here they are in their entirety:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

This post was originally published in December 2008.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Real Saint Nick

History provides many examples of actual people who have, over time, become so melded into the popular imagination that we tend to forget they were real. Saint Nicholas is one of them.

Born sometime around 280 A.D. in the town of Patara, in what was then part of Greece but is now part of Turkey, Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was young. Having been raised as a devoted Christian, he spent his life using his inheritance to help those in need, and in addition to his charity he became known for harboring great concern for children and sailors.

Down through history, one particular story about his generosity has persisted. In those days, women whose families could not pay a dowry were more likely to die as spinsters than to get married. It is said that when Nicholas learned of a poor man who was worried about his daughters’ fate because he lacked money for their dowries, Nicholas surreptitiously tossed gold into the man’s home through an open window, and the gold landed in stockings that were drying by the fire. Much later, this 1,700-year-old story inspired the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney to receive gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve.

Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during the anti-Christian persecutions carried out by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Based on the stories of his life, Catholic tradition considers him a patron saint of children, orphans, sailors, travelers, the wrongly imprisoned, and many other categories of people. Churches were constructed in his honor as early as the sixth century A.D. Today, his remains are buried in Bari, Italy.

For generations now, kids and adults alike have used the names Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Nick interchangeably, without giving it a second thought. But there was an actual Saint Nicholas, a decent man who is obscured by commercial renderings of Christmas. We should not allow that fact to be forgotten, regardless of whether or not we are Catholic (and for the record, I am not).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 68 years ago. The day after the bombing, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on December 8, 1941, to request a formal declaration of war. His speech was simulcast to the country at large via the radio. In it, he said:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack…

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island…

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves…

Always will be remembered the character of this onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.

Pearl Harbor was attacked because it was where the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet was headquartered. The bombing, which killed more than 2,400 people, began shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Five of our eight battleships were sunk, the other three were badly damaged, and multiple other naval vessels were destroyed.

The majority of the American war planes based in Hawaii were destroyed as they sat on the ground.

In addition, most of the American air forces based in the Philippines were destroyed during the nighttime attack on that nation, which FDR also mentioned in his speech.

By crippling our Pacific defenses, the December 7th attack left us extremely vulnerable in the face of an aggressive enemy to our West – an enemy that had signaled its intent to rule the entire Pacific basin by subjugating other nations to its will.

This came at a time when we had not responded to the fact that Nazi Germany to our East had already declared war against us, had already brought most of Europe under its thumb, and had signaled its own intention to rule the world by way of an Aryan resurrection of the old Roman Empire.

Such circumstances would have spelled doom for the vast majority of countries throughout the course of history. With their foundations based on the accidents of ethnicity and geography, most countries would have simply surrendered; or, in a distinction without a difference, entered into “peace” negotiations under which they would have to accept the aggressor’s terms and after which the lives of their citizens would most certainly change for the worst.

But the United States is a nation based on ideals. Our foundation springs from the knowledge that there are things greater than us, things which are greater than the transient circumstances which exist on any given day. We have always found strength in the conviction that our nation exists to support and advance those greater things, to the benefit of people all over the world, and this sets the United States apart from all other nations in all other times.

Taking heed from FDR’s appeal to “righteous might,” reflecting what Abraham Lincoln earlier referred to as the “faith that right makes might,” the American people of 1941 summoned the invincible courage to rebuild and fight at the same time they were under fearsome siege. They did this despite the fact they were still suffering through an unprecedented economic depression that had started more than a decade before.

Let us pray that those qualities – that will to power and that unwavering belief in the sanctity of human freedom – have not been lost as new generations of Americans take the baton from the great ones which came before. For as has been said, those who forget the past will be forced to repeat it.

It would be shameful if history were to record that we failed to transfer freedom’s blessings to our descendants.

Note: This post was first published last year. The only change made is to the number of years that have passed since the attack.

Monday, November 30, 2009

An Old (But Important) Saw

Several times last year -- specifically, here, here, here, and here -- I wrote about some of the reasons I am skeptical when it comes to global warming. Since then, three whole seasons have come and gone and deposited us back into that time of year when the earth always cools…and that passage of time has served up even more reasons why we should doubt the prophets of warming.

In the Northeast, Manhattan’s June temperatures averaged 3.7 degrees below normal while Boston’s averaged 4.7 below. That made it Boston’s coolest June in 106 years and second coolest in 137.

In the Southwest, it was the first time in 96 years that Phoenix went 15 straight days in June without reaching 100 degrees. And L.A.’s temperatures that month averaged 5 degrees below normal while Yucca Valley’s averaged 8½ below.

In Yonkers, NY, it snowed in the second week of July.

For the U.S. as a whole, this October was the third coldest since they began keeping records.

North of our border, the November snowfall record for Whistler, B.C. had already been broken a week before Thanksgiving, with more than 14 feet accumulated.

And south of the Equator, New Zealand and Australia both experienced prolonged record cold during their autumn and winter.

But the most jaw-dropping reason for doubt comes from recently discovered emails between scientists who are considered to be among the world’s top authorities on global warming. In those emails, which were uncovered by hackers, the scientists communicate about concealing evidence that contradicts global warming. They discuss the need to “hide the decline” in temperatures that their data reveals.

And they discuss ways to avoid complying with requests for their data that might be made under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, or under similar foreign laws. They even toy with the idea of contending that their work is not subject to such laws because it relates to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change; in other words, the scientists have considered making an official claim that no nation’s laws apply to their work because it serves an international rather than national purpose.

Phil Jones, head of the Climactic Research Unit (CRU) at England’s University of East Anglia, wrote to an American colleague: “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” In another email, he wrote to three American colleagues: “I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!” One of those colleagues (Michael Mann of Penn State) sent an email to the CRU’s Tim Osborn stating that he was sending results which should not be shared with others because they supported global warming’s skeptics.

With the global warming summit right around the corner, you might think that all of this would cause the world’s leaders to move slowly before they propose that sweeping changes be made to address a “problem” that is not even known to exist. But you would be wrong. By and large, world leaders (including our own) have barely acknowledged either the contradictory data or the email scandal, other than to downplay them with arrogant indifference.

With all the indications of cover-up and fraud and of manipulation and hiding of evidence, you also might think that the MSM would cover this story if for no other reason than its sensational allure. But you would be wrong again. They have barely mentioned it, because doing so would work against their political goals.

What we have here is a threefer: a scientific scandal, political scandal, and journalistic scandal all rolled into one.

Update, 12/3/09: I published this post three days ago. As of yesterday, which was 12 days after the the email story first broke, it still had not been mentioned a single time on any of the broadcast news programs of ABC, NBC, or CBS (according to the Business & Media Institute). That is a big deal because more people get their news from those programs than from the cable ones.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Medical Care: Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of posts about American medical care and the government’s attempts to meddle in it. Posts about other topics may appear between them. The first three posts can be read here, here, and here.

Enacting tort reform.

Removing the maze of government mandates that require medical insurers to cover all sorts of non-critical and elective procedures, even if their customers want an option to purchase catastrophic-only coverage.

Allowing medical insurance to be purchased across state lines (or in other words, opening the insurance market rather than closing it).

These are steps government can take that would, without doubt, drive down the prices American consumers must now pay to secure medical care. They would accomplish that goal without any negative side effects to care, and without government intruding into the personal affairs of the entire population under the ruse of helping the small percentage that is truly unable to obtain care.

And notably, these steps could be taken quickly because Republicans would support them. In fact, Republicans have been championing them for some time but are always rebuffed by the liberal elites who rule the roost.

If Obama & Co. were really interested in improving medical care or access to it, they could have already started that snowball rolling down the hill by proposing these steps and passing them with bipartisan support. They could already be claiming credit for taking action to "help working families," and Obama could be saying that the bipartisan support proves he is what he claimed to be during the campaign: a uniter not a divider, a pragmatic centrist interested only in results, all that jazz. Any grander steps could be pursued after the fact, and Obama could claim that he shares General Patton's belief that "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

But these commonsense, winning measures (plus several others which fit that description) are being ignored at best, and brushed aside at worst.

It is telling that Obama & Co. continue to ignore the obvious steps while deploying blitzkrieg tactics to push for ones that are, to say the least, dubious. What it tells us is that Obama & Co.'s goal is not to improve your health or your life, but to control them. History shows that if we allow them to succeed, we do so at our own peril -- and more importantly, at our descendants' peril.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Repeat Offender

Barack Obama's peculiar tendency to bow -- first to the Saudi king and now to the Japanese Emperor -- has been commented on from many angles this week. But the one I haven't heard is the one I find most glaring; namely, that his bows are always to hereditary monarchs.

Obama does not bow to elected leaders or "conventional dictators," but when facing monarchs he goes ass in the air and eyes to cock level. That he did it again, after hearing all the criticism from his first bow, shows he takes it very seriously. This is not a matter of him making a rookie mistake or being unaware of protocol...and with that in mind, it is hard to believe that he is merely trying to be polite, as some of his apologists would have us believe.

This not a trivial matter when you consider that America's founding was based on opposing the very notion of monarchy...and when you consider that no other president in our history has ever bowed to royalty, precisely because doing so is a sign of subservience that contradicts our founding principle that "all men are created equal."

If you think I'm a right winger making a mountain out of a molehill because Obama's a Democrat, maybe you will understand this is not a trivial matter when you consider what the very liberal New York Times had to say when Bill Clinton was president. After Clinton almost bowed to the Japanese Emperor, their editorial page opined: "He inclined his head and shoulders forward, he pressed his hands together. It lasted no longer than a snapshot, but the image on the South Lawn was indelible: an obsequient President, and the Emperor of Japan. Canadians still bow to England's Queen. So do Australians. Americans shake hands. If not to stand eye-to-eye with royalty, what else were 1776 and all that about?"

How does it appear elsewhere when our president bows? Well, in Japan, the very manner in which Obama did it is considered indicative of weakness, and it has been reported that the Japanese public responded negatively because they fear what might happen if America's leadership is weak at this critical moment in history. Since Japan is our friend, I shudder to think how Obama's bowing is portrayed by our enemies.

And finally, one more thing. As my brother pointed out, Obama has met Queen Elizabeth, and as far as I know he did not bow to her. Although I strongly believe that Americans should not bow to any monarch, regardless of nationality, I find it especially odious that Obama, who spent years in a church whose preacher bellowed "God damn America" after 9/11, makes a point of bowing only to those who are from non-Western societies.

Much thanks to Mona Charen for digging up that New York Times quote.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

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 47 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.

Note: This post was first published one year ago. The only change made to it is to reflect that another year has passed since MacArthur's speech.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More et ceteras

As you may know, over the weekend a large majority of Democrats -- abetted by a lone Republican who will hopefully get hoisted from office by his constituents -- rammed through a disastrous "health care bill." Now it is on its way to the Senate, where Lindsey Graham (R-SC) declared it "dead on arrival." Don't believe him for one minute. Graham's history gives us every reason to doubt what he says, and many reasons to suspect he will turn his coat and vote in favor of the bill.

As you should know, Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who murdered 14 people at Fort Hood (I include the baby who was in the womb of one of the soldiers) once gave a lecture in which he said that non-Muslims should have their throats cut, and he once told people at a military hospital that non-Muslims should be set on fire. One of his neighbors says that on the day of the shooting he gave her a Koran and said "I'm going to do good work for God." Yet, our president says "we can not fully know" what drove Hasan to commit the massacre. Can you imagine so feckless a comment from FDR during World War II? Do we need any further proof that Barack Hussein Obama is unfit to lead this country against a devoted enemy? No wonder Britain's Daily Telegraph has taken to calling him "President Pantywaist."

And I feel compelled to mention that today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was a freshman at Auburn University when it happened. I remember turning on the TV in my dorm room, seeing a bunch of people standing atop the wall, and feeling that history was turning strongly in favor of freedom and strongly against the forces of totalitarianism. Back in those heady days, when Reagan's time in office was so recent that it felt like he was still president, there was absolutely no confusion about who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. For me, it is a source of endless consternation that this country has so quickly become so fuzzy-minded.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

et ceteras

Did you know that Nancy Pelosi’s proposed health care bill does not place any limits on attorney’s fees or punitive damages -- but does restrict how much of your own money you can place in a tax-free flexible spending account, to pay for your co-pays, your deductible, your medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, etc.?

Though you won’t see it mentioned in the MSM, our government is once again using our tax dollars to fund ACORN. The much ballyhooed withholding of federal funds from ACORN was for only one month, and that month has now passed.

I have heard several liberals say that the reason conservatives are opposed to Dede Scozzafava (the RINO who unsuccessfully ran for New York’s 23rd Congressional District) is that she is pro-choice on abortion. None of them even acknowledged that Scozzafava is also in favor of higher taxes, in favor of eliminating secret ballots for workers, in favor of the failed and pork-laden stimulus bill, and in favor of coercing taxpayers to bail out failed businesses. Could it be that they, not conservatives, are the ones who are obsessed about abortion?

But speaking of abortion, have you heard about Abby Johnson, the Planned Parenthood director from Texas who left that organization? In September, after working for them for eight years, she had her first opportunity to watch an abortion on ultrasound as it took place, and she found it so revolting that she quit her job and is still looking for work. For more information about her, go here.

Switching to football, in Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes was caught on film attempting to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey. Just to be clear, that was an intentional action that could have resulted in Ealey suffering severe vision loss, perhaps blindness. Florida coach Urban Meyer responded anemically by suspending Spikes for the first half of one game (against 2-7 Vanderbilt!) while Tim Tebow, Florida’s Bible-quoting quarterback over whom the media swoon as if he were the benevolent personification of Christ himself, responded by saying that Georgia played dirty too. If you want to see principles in action, Gainesville is not the place to look.

Switching back to politics, have you noticed that just about every time Barack Obama speaks, he makes a point of blaming whatever it is he’s talking about on George W. Bush? Well, way back in February Thomas Sowell wrote the following: “How can a president of the United States be reelected in a landslide after four years when unemployment never fell below 15 percent for even one month during his first term? Franklin D. Roosevelt did it by blaming it all on the previous administration. Barack Obama may be able to achieve the same result the same way.” It is becoming obvious that when it comes to Obama’s M.O. for 2012, Sowell was prescient.

And finally, over the past month and a half I have not written nearly as much as before. That’s not because I “lost the fire,” but because I have been so busy with life that there has been very little time left for writing. Anyway, I expect to be doing more of it. And about that intermittent series on medical care that I started in August? I plan to post the next installment before Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Dichotomy

Five years ago today, our beautiful daughter was born. One year ago today, my grandfather passed away. And so October 19th comes with mixed emotions.

Fortunately, I find the happiness outweighing the sadness, and I know my grandfather would want it that way. He was a pastor. I saw him memorialize his own loved ones, and he always said their lives should be remembered in celebration. His own should be no different.

Sarah, I love you and am enjoying watching you grow.

Granddaddy, I love you and am missing you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Away From It All

Now that I have had a couple weeks to recharge, it’s about time I got back to blogging. And what could be better to blog about than the hiking trip I mentioned in my last post?

Much like last fall’s trip, this one started with a lot of people planning to go, only to see their numbers dwindle until it was just me and my friend Mike. For the last few weeks it looked like there would be three of us, but a flare up at the office forced Allan to bow out at the last minute.

Also like last fall, we left around 4:00 a.m. and refreshed ourselves on the way up by stopping in Sylva, North Carolina, for sandwiches and beers. After eating outside at Mill & Main Restaurant, in 68-degree temperatures under a cloudless sky, we walked to the following establishments and purchased some vices for the week:

Unlike last fall, we decided to go through with the backpacking part of the trip, and the next morning we chose our route. Then we spent the afternoon storing up energy by lounging on the deck in our hammocks and reading books. And, of course, drinking beer.

The next day (October 1st) we drove to Twentymile Ranger Station in the western reaches of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once there we gulped down Gatorade, shouldered our packs, and walked into the wilderness. The going was fairly easy for the first 1½ miles or so as we followed the upstream course of two streams. At the ½-mile point we reached a fork and went left on the Wolf Ridge Trail. We proceeded to cross Moore Springs Branch five times, on each occasion benefiting from log bridges. Here I am on the first one:

But when the trail started climbing, it really climbed. I have ascended a number of mountains in my day, and have never had anywhere near as hard a time as I did on the 3.6-mile haul between Backcountry Campsite 95 and Parson Bald. I became drenched with sweat and my left calf and right hamstring cramped up a few times. At one point we startled a pair of young black bears who dashed into the underbrush like bats out of hell. I was very grateful when the trail finally leveled off somewhat at the bald.

Historically, in the Southern Appalachians a “bald” is a mountain whose summit is treeless for unknown reasons. Over the past several decades berry bushes and young trees have grown on Parson Bald, robbing it of its views and causing its name to mislead.

However, 1.1 miles past it, along the same ridge, is Gregory Bald -- and it is an entirely different story, with 10 open acres dipping down each side of the ridge’s spine and offering up expansive views in every direction except for due-west. That was our destination, so on we pushed. Because the trail marks the state line between the balds, I was able to walk with my right foot in North Carolina and my left foot in Tennessee.

Four-tenths of a mile from Gregory Bald, we came to Sheep Pen Gap where Backcountry Campsite 13 sits on the Tennessee side of the path and the Gregory Bald Trail intersects from the north. We stopped, pitched our tents, hung our packs on bear cables, and continued onward, blessedly free of the weight we had been lugging for almost seven miles.

Four or five minutes into our weight-free push to the summit, a loud, scraping sound rained down from above. Glancing up and to the right, we saw bear number three -- another young ’un -- race head-first down a tree trunk, sending a spray of splinters into the air as he went. He fled and vanished as soon as he hit the ground.

Not long afterward, as the trail led through an especially dense tangle of brush that obscured all ground-level visibility, we were startled by a sound so loud that I won’t even try to describe it. But, we’re sure that it too was a bear.

Finally, we reached Gregory Bald and heart-stopping views of the mountains unfurled around us. I broke out my camera and started shooting. Below me in the first of these pictures is Cades Cove, a picturesque valley I wrote about in May. The second picture is an east-looking view of the Smokies. We were standing on a 4,949-foot summit that would be the highest point in 11 of the 17 states through which the Appalachians run.

We backtracked to Sheep Pen Gap and ate dinner, and before long the sun disappeared behind the trees. Thinking there was a chance it might still be visible from the higher, treeless vantage point of the bald, I decided to head back up on the off chance of viewing the sunset. Mike opted to stay behind and read in his tent.

I found the idea of encountering a bear all by myself in fading light to be unappealing, so, thinking that noise might scare them off, I sang the whole way up. I was certain my off-key renditions of the Auburn fight song and Rawhide theme song would do the trick, but I was wrong. Right at the spot where the trees started thinning out in prelude to the bald, I saw a full-sized adult bruin standing smack in the middle of the trail. He had to have already heard me, and he still didn’t flinch now that we were within eyesight of one another. After literally telling him that he could have the woods to himself for the night, I retreated to the campsite where a beautiful moonrise soon appeared:

As I lay in my tent, a windstorm swept in and proceeded to blow across the mountain all night, sounding like an airplane circling the ridge. It never rained, but we were enveloped in a cloud come morning, and the temperature was in the thirties as we broke camp and headed across the bald. On the other side we hooked up with the Long Hungry Ridge Trail, which served as our route to the bottom. It was every bit as steep as the Wolf Ridge Trail had been going up, and on top of that, its stream crossings came without benefit of bridges:

Although, one of the crossings did come with an accidental bridge, courtesy of a fortuitously fallen tree. Mike used it to demonstrate why he called himself “The Great Wallenda” when he was a kid:

8.7 miles later, we were back at the car guzzling Gatorade. The next night we were back in Florida, thrilled to see our families again but already thinking of our next wilderness adventure.

Everybody asks if we got pictures of the bears. No, we didn’t. They moved too fast for us to get our cameras out -- with the exception of the one I saw near the summit at twilight, and in that instance, snapping a photograph was the last thing on my mind. However, I will leave you with one last picture of the view from Gregory Bald, and I recommend you make the journey there if you have the time and energy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Outta Here

My backpack is loaded and my hiking boots are waterproofed. And much like the Allman Brothers once sang, I'm goin' to Carolina, won't be long 'til I am there.

I am leaving tonight and am going to disappear into the mountains for a spell. If you know me (or if you have read this blog for this post, or this one or this one) you know this is not the first time I have done such a thing.

Sometime next week -- probably closer to the end than the beginning -- I will blog again. Until then, enjoy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my daughter skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind her as she trick-or-treats on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games where the fans are loud and the bands are blaring…and most of all, where Auburn is winning and the fight song you keep hearing begins with the line: “War Eagle, fly down the field, ever to conquer, never to yield!”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Legendary Near Misses, Fair and Unfair

It’s time to take a break from political invective and write about something that is all fun and passion: college football.

Okay, I guess college football is political in some respects. And it is no stranger to invective. But whatever.

The first couple weeks of this season have been very intriguing. Here is a look back at the five best teams in history that did not take the national championship.

1. 2004 Auburn Tigers

They are the only team ever to finish 13-0. Including the Sugar Bowl, they won six games against ranked teams and two of those were against BCS qualifiers. They defeated prestigious foes in blowouts (34-10 over Tennessee) as well as last-minute nail-biters (10-9 over LSU). Two of their running backs got drafted in the top five picks of the NFL draft, and their quarterback finished with a 62.9 completion percentage. The Tigers’ curse was that the pollsters had them ranked near the bottom of the Top Twenty at the beginning of the season, and because the two teams ranked atop the preseason standings never lost, they were left out of the title game.

2. 1986 Miami Hurricanes

Part of me thinks this was the greatest team of all time, and another part of me thinks it is only the second best team on this list, and that is what makes college football so much fun. What made the ’86 Canes great was their mix of fearsome talent and unapologetic swagger, led by such future NFL stars as Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown, and Bennie Blades. Their 28-16 pasting of Oklahoma -- in a virtually unheard of regular season meeting of #1 vs. #2 -- brought about the end of the wishbone era. Unfortunately for the Canes, however, Heisman Trophy-winning QB Vinny Testaverde suffered brain cramps during the national title showdown in the Fiesta Bowl, and threw five interceptions…resulting in a loss to Penn State.

3. 1995 Ohio State Buckeyes

The ’95 Bucks returned Ohio State to a position of national prominence by barreling like a tsunami through a regular season filled with big games. They started with four straight victories against good non-conference competition, including a 19-point crushing of Notre Dame. Then they edged Penn State, and then they rolled through the rest of their schedule…until they met their Waterloo, which was playing arch rival Michigan on the road to close the season. They lost 31-23, and disheartened, went on to lose to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl more than a month later. Three of their players were drafted in the first fifteen picks of the NFL draft.

4. 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions

Coach Joe Paterno was 67 years old and considered conventional and out of-date. But he opened up a pass-laden playbook that had QB Kerry Collins throwing the ball over the field. They finished the regular season undefeated, then cruised past Oregon in the Rose Bowl. But Nebraska also finished undefeated, after having started the season ranked higher…and because of that, Nebraska got the national crown while Penn State was relegated to “honorable loser” status, despite never losing.

5. 1993 Auburn Tigers

How can a team go undefeated in America’s toughest conference and not get a chance to play for the national championship? Well, that’s happened to Auburn twice. Before the 2004 team mentioned above, Auburn fielded another magical squad in 1993. Under first year coach Terry Bowden, they rolled through the season knocking off the likes of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and they even won during a snowfall in Arkansas. The 38-35 victory over Florida ranks as one of the most exciting contests in the history of Jordan-Hare Stadium. But limited exposure -- previous NCAA sanctions resulted in this team being banned from TV and from bowl games -- caused them to finish #2 behind a one-loss Florida State squad.

Of course, this list is just my opinion. Surely there are other teams -- the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers and 1991 Florida State Seminoles, to name just two -- that also deserve consideration for it. Bring ’em on.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Medical Care: Part III

This is the third in a series of posts about American medical care and the government’s attempts to meddle in it. Posts about other topics may appear between them. The first two posts can be read here and here.

Wednesday September 9th came. And The Exalted One spoke. And as he spoke, he praised himself, and he lauded the medical care reforms he insists must be passed now -- now! -- even though they are not to take effect for four years. And everything he said was such rubbish that I feel like trotting out that old line about not wanting to dignify something by responding to it.

But when the things he says are so outlandish, not responding to them is difficult.

Barack Obama said the reforms will not add “a dime” to the federal deficit, even though every independent analysis you can find shows that claim to be false. (In my September 12th piece I mistakenly wrote that he said he won’t raise the deficit a “penny,” but at his inflationary pace, what’s the difference?)

He said the reforms will reduce costs -- even as they forbid actuarial pricing, and expand the items covered by insurance, and add millions more people to the rolls. I would be embarrassed to tell such an obvious whopper to a roomful of kindergartners, yet our president does not flinch while telling it to a nation full of adults.

The MSM roundly criticized Joe Wilson for yelling “you lie!” when Obama said that health care legislation would not cover illegal aliens. But Wilson was right. Language that might bar illegals from coverage does exist, but that language is not clear and it applies to only one part of the plan. The rest of the plan is silent on the issue, and when Republicans introduced language that would unambiguously bar illegals from coverage, Democrats voted it down.

Then there is Obama’s most fork-tongued fabrication of all: His lawyerly remark that the reform “will not require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.” Of course none of the proposed legislation says “you must cancel your current plan.” But like I mentioned in Part II, it does contain financial incentives for employers to cancel their group medical plans and dump their employees into the so-called public option. It should send shivers down every spine in America that Obama can be so brazenly dishonest about a topic that is so important and so personal to all of us.

Barack Obama insults the intelligence of the American people every time he opens his mouth. He does it so shamelessly that the only reasonable conclusion for the people to draw is that he looks down on them with sneering contempt. He should be ignored, for nothing he says ever proves true and his actions never match his words.

There are many things that can be done to positively affect the affordability and accessibility of medical care in America, but, by and large, those things involve limiting government and removing the handprints it has already left on our medical marketplace. In other words, those things represent the philosophical opposite of what Obama is trying to do. I intend to spend the next post in this series focusing on some of those things, since I have spent the first three making the point that neither Obama nor Obamacare are worthy of our trust.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More et ceteras

I ended my last "et ceteras" post a bit prematurely, so here comes another to wrap it up. But first, since the anniversary of 9/11 passed without any specific comment on my blog, please allow me to refer you to my post from last year if you are interested.

You may not have heard that a New York Times reporter, who was covering the war in Afghanistan, was taken hostage by the Taliban a week ago and rescued by British commandos during an early morning raid on Wednesday. In the process, one of the commandos was killed. They deserve our deep gratitude and respect; however, the MSM has given the story very little attention, and the only response by some liberals has been to sit in their plush chairs and criticize the raid for being "bloody." But what else is new?

Some members of the sports media (which is every bit as dim-witted and politically correct as the news media) have piled onto Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor since he voiced support for Michael Vick's opportunity to have a second chance. They have criticized him for using the word "everyone" when he said this: "Not everybody is the perfect person in the world. Everyone does, kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, I just feel that people need to give him a chance."...The media folk need to shut up. Pryor is 20 years old, was talking off the top of his head, is not used to having a nation of reporters twist his words, and he obviously did not mean that "everyone" is a murderer and thief. His basic point -- that Vick has been criticized more harshly than people who have done far worse, and that because he has served his time he should now have an opportunity to lead a productive life -- shows that he has a better grasp of the American ideal of justice than most reporters do.

And about my last "et ceteras" post, it mentioned that arrest warrants had been issued for 11 members of ACORN, for perpetrating voter fraud. Well, in each of the two days after I published that post, videos were released that showed ACORN members in two separate offices as they dealt with a man and woman. The man told them he was a pimp and intended to bring 14-year-old girls into the country to prostitute for him, and the woman told them that she was a prostitute. After hearing this, ACORN members counseled them on how to falsify tax returns and loan applications in order to receive benefits illegally; instructed the "pimp" to claim the underage prostitutes as dependents; offered a 67% discount to prepare the fraudulent returns for them; and advised them on how to keep a low profile because neighbors might "see stuff" and "call Fox."

By the way, the Democrats have given ACORN a role in tabulating next year's census -- the results of which will have an enormous influence on political power because they will be used to draw congressional districts and apportion electoral votes.

So until next time...remain vigilant and wary.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

et ceteras

No, I have not abandoned the series about medical care that I started last month. But Obama is speaking about that topic tonight, and before writing my next installment I will wait until I have had time to analyze whatever he says. And there are plenty of other things happening that also deserve comment.

On August 4th I wrote a piece that mentioned the plight of Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a female journalist from Sudan who was arrested for wearing pants and sentenced to 40 lashes with a whip. Two days ago a judge upheld her convinction, but replaced the 40-lash sentence with a $200 fine. True to her convictions, al-Hussein 1) refused to pay the fine, on the grounds that she had done nothing wrong, and 2) opted for the resulting jail sentence as a way to draw attention to the fact that Islamic law is used to oppress women. She is a true champion of human rights in an era filled with charlatans. It is appalling that our media has all but ignored her story.

Arrest warrants were issued today for 11 members of ACORN, for perpetrating voter fraud in Florida. ACORN was paying them to register voters, and they obtained voter registraion cards under fictitious names and under the names of people who were already registered. Over the past two years ACORN members have also been charged with voter fraud in Washington and Pennsylvania. Needless to say, ACORN is a left wing organization.

And I'm signing off early, because I just heard The Exalted One utter absolute bullshit while giving his speech, and now I am angry. He said Obamacare won't add a single penny to the deficit, when everybody who knows anything is aware that it is estimated to add billions of dollars over just the next decade. And then he said that "tax cuts for the wealthy" during the Bush years were "unfunded," when it is widely known that government revenue and the wealthy's share of taxes increased during the Bush years.

We are dealing with the most dishonest president in all of our history, one who makes Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton look like patron saints of verity.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Life, Again

Last October our second child died in Erika’s womb. My grandfather died two days later, on Sarah’s fourth birthday. At his funeral we talked about how his arrival in Heaven made him the first family member lucky enough to meet our child.

Barely ten months have passed since that tumultuous weekend, and now we are experiencing a kind of déjà vu. The child we lost last year was conceived after three years of trying everything under the sun and eventually resorting to in vitro fertilization. After the miscarriage, we returned to trying the old fashioned way, but that failed again and again, so we started up another round of in vitro in late July. My sperm successfully fertilized Erika’s eggs, and on August 10th our embryos (three of them) were transferred into her uterus. Home testing showed she was pregnant on the 16th, and office testing confirmed it on the 21st. We were elated. But then a follow-up test on the 25th brought the crushing news that this child has also passed.

Part of me wants to write about the feeling of helplessness that comes from all this.

Another part of me wants to write about how thankful we are to have Sarah.

Part of me wants to write about how we now have an even greater appreciation for the miracle of life, having experienced first-hand how many things must go precisely right just to conceive, and how many more must go precisely right to carry a child to term.

But another part of me seethes with anger over the knowledge that while we do everything right, countless crack whores seem to get pregnant at the drop of a hat.

There is no way to put any of this into words. The feelings are a tangle of contradictions that ebb and flow erratically, and there is no way to make sense of them -- which presents a problem, because for me, putting things in a way that makes sense is the whole purpose of writing.

All I know is that as much as I want to have another child for its own sake -- and to experience anew the thrills of seeing that first smile, watching that first crawl, hearing that first word -- the most important reason I have for wanting another one is so that Sarah will not be an only child. I have a brother and sister, and can not image having been the only non-adult in the household as the years of childhood peeled away. The very thought feels lonely. I think of how horrendous it would be for Sarah if something were to happen to me and Erika, leaving her all alone with no sibling on whom to lean or with whom to share memories of us late at night.

I have no doubt that the universe is the work of a Creator, and no doubt that there is a plan behind this material plain on which we live. I am also certain that each of us has a role to play towards fulfilling that plan, and that we are responsible for finding our role and playing it. The certainty does not, however, make the task any easier.

Tomorrow morning we return to the doctor’s office, bearing questions. And wondering whether that is the right place to seek the answers...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time Out

Since I last posted, some personal things have been occupying large parts of my mind and consuming lots of my attention. They came to a head today, and it will be at least a few more days before I am ready to post again.

But I will be back. And I will be just as opposed to interventionist government as ever.

In the meantime, to all of you who are taking to the streets and town hall meetings to oppose Obamacare: Keep it up! Your brand of grassroots, back-to-the-founding activism is the most inspiring (and potenetially most important) thing to happen in American politics in years.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

V-J Day

64 years ago today, the bloodiest war in human history came to an end when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The announcement of Japan's surrender set off celebraions around the globe, including the one in Times Square during which this iconic picture was taken.

After six years, during which more than 60 million people from 27 different countries were killed, World War II was finally over. In the United States, August 15th came to be known as V-J Day, for Victory in Japan Day, since our European enemies had surrendered three months earlier.

Despite the fact that America was brought into the war when it was bombed by Japan, and despite the fact that atomic weapons were used to hasten the war's end, and despite enormous cultural differences, the two countries became strong and lasting friends whose alliance is now one of the most dependable on earth.

That is a direct result of the respectful and helping way America dealt with Japan after the war ended. One of the reasons we are unique in world history is that as conflicts conclude, we always seek to befriend our antagonists and to better their lot as well as our own. That fact needs to be burned into the hearts and minds of those who believe America is always the aggessor.

In my younger days, V-J Day was noted on calendars. Today it is not. This is not how it should be.

The Greatest Generation is rapidly passing to the other side of eternity's veil. Before its members are gone, may the rest of us thank them for the freedom they transmitted to us. And may we resolve that their sacrifice shall never be forgotten, and that it shall not have been made in vain.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Medical Care: Part II

This is the second in a series of posts about American medical care and the government’s attempts to meddle in it. Posts about other topics may appear between them.

My first post in this series pointed out that among the people who want to do away with the way medical care is delivered in America, most of them cite Canada and the U.K. as models we should follow. Then, it recited some important facts about medical care in this nation versus medical care in those nations, showing that things are better here. Finally, it closed by asking why we should abandon our system and follow theirs.

But few Americans really want to “abandon our system.” Polls repeatedly show that 75 to 80 percent of us are happy with our coverage and our care. What most people do want is to find a way to accommodate those who are faced with hardships that genuinely prevent them from receiving medical services.

But the percentage of our population which falls into that category is small, and finding a way to accommodate them does not require that we eradicate the entire apparatus by which our care is delivered.

Obama has breezily claimed that 47 million Americans are uninsured, but nobody who analyzes the census estimates concurs with him. Sure, for 2007 (the most recent year for which census estimates exist) the stated number of uninsured was 45.7 million. However, after you back out the number of non-citizens -- and the number of people who already qualified for existing public care -- and the number of high earners who chose not to buy insurance because they could afford to pay for whatever treatment they needed -- and the number of people who were temporarily uninsured because they were between jobs, or were simply waiting to meet their new employer’s waiting period before they could be eligible for benefits -- the number plummets to anywhere from 8 to 15 million, depending on who’s doing the estimating.

And that is a relatively small number that should be easy to deal with. There are many things (to be discussed in a future post) that Obama & Co. could do to help those people without jeopardizing the care everyone else receives. However, those things are not even being discussed because the government’s goal is not to help people, but to control them.

On many occasions, Obama has said that under the proposed legislation you can keep your current plan if you like it and keep your current doctor if you like him. This is not true. The House bill would assess a fine, equal to anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of payroll, on employers who do not provide medical insurance to their workers. What Obama & Co. choose not to tell you is that for most employers, the amount of money they are already paying for medical insurance is much higher than that -- usually around 15 percent of payroll. Therefore, the fine will actually incent businesses to drop their insurance. In a competitive environment, what business owner would not choose to pay 2 to 8 percent to the government over paying 15 percent to an insurer.

Worse, when you look at page 16 of the bill, you will find that after your employer drops your insurance, the so-called public option will be the only one available to you because purchasing private insurance will then be illegal.

Further, the bill forbids anyone who does keep their private insurance after the legislation goes into effect from ever making any changes to it...so if you (or your employer) want to do anything like change your deductible or your prescription co-pay, or opt out of maternity coverage, you must either 1) forget the idea, or 2) lose your coverage and be forced into the public system since new private insurance will not be legal.

If the president and his minions were honest, they would stop referring to their plan as a public “option” and call it what it is: a dictate from on high that has everything to do with seizing power and nothing to do with saving lives.

Information used in this post was obtained from Investor’s Business Daily, the Chicago Tribune, the Lewin Group, and the Schnitt Show.