Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sowell

Thomas Sowell turns 80 years old today. Over the years I have read the writings of many great thinkers, and none of them can match Sowell's analytical skills or his ability to communicate important ideas in plain English. When I first discovered him in the early 1990's, his columns and books invigorated my mind like a jolt of lightning, and they have continued doing that ever since.

If you are not familiar with his biography, you may want to read this tribute that I wrote when he turned 79. But to really appreciate a scribe, it is best to read his own words in full with recent history in mind, here are my five favorite Thomas Sowell columns from the past three months, in order from newest to oldest:

It's worth noting that the last link was one piece in a multi-part series on race and politics, which was published between April 6th and April 9th. The entire series can be accessed from Sowell's archives either here, here or here. He will never do you wrong.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

No Oil Here

We just got back from our annual Beach Weekend in Treasure Island, FL, which is on the Gulf Coast about halfway down Florida's peninsula. Because Treasure Island is part of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area that has been my home for most of my life, I feel a bit of an obligation to point out that we have not been touched by the BP oil spill and there is a good chance we never will be. This picture of me and Sarah shows how clean the water is:

And this one shows how beautiful Treasure Island is when the sun starts to go down:

I understand why tourists have been hesitant to make reservations for the Florida beaches, and since none of us can promise that they will still be clean months from now, I will not try to talk anyone into spending their money on plans to come here far in advance. But as of today, you would have to drive 420 miles from here to reach the nearest place that has seen even a tar ball from the spill. A trip to these parts is a very safe bet for the foreseeable near term, so if you are planning to take a vacation in the next few weeks and haven't decided where to go, come on down.

One benefit of the spill is that you may be able to get a good deal, because fewer people are making reservations this year. And maybe while you're in the water, you will have the good fortune to see a manatee swim right by, like happened to us on Saturday. Hopefully you will enjoy your trip as much as we enjoyed ours.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Reading

Because most adults have jobs, and most jobs make free time just as scarce in the summer as it is in other seasons, I have always found it silly that newspapers and magazines publish “summer reading lists” for adults. But with our long Beach Weekend kicking off today, I am thinking about how summer-specific it is to lose yourself in a good read while sitting by the sea…so I figured, why not recommend five of my favorites, call them a summer reading list, and hope people take advantage of them whenever they can? So here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson

You don’t need to have spent a lot of time in the outdoors to enjoy this one, in which Bryson chronicles his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. He does so with lots of humor and with keen observations of nature and humanity. Although he did not finish the trail, he did complete more than 800 of its 2,000 miles, and that means he walked up and down mountains across a distance greater than that between New York and Chicago. To Bryson’s credit, A Walk in the Woods rarely gets sidetracked into the kind of preachy environmentalism that infects most adventure books; and while it should be noted that several of the environmentalist “facts” he does mention are not true at all, it should also be noted that this was a result of faulty sources and not of him being dishonest.

The Afghan, by Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth published The Day of the Jackal the year I was born, and for my money he has been the world’s greatest espionage novelist ever since. Having been a pilot in the RAF and a diplomatic correspondent for BBC, he has a wealth of knowledge about the way things get done “in the shadows,” and he uses it to strengthen his yarns. The Afghan tells the story of a covert operation orchestrated by the U.S. and U.K. after they learn that a major terrorist plot is being hatched. They know nothing about the plot except its code name, but that name alone makes it clear that it must be stopped, so a retired British soldier poses as a Guantanamo escapee to infiltrate Al Quaeda. His perilous attempts to identify the plot and relay information back to the West will have you on the edge of your seat.

Hawaii, by James Michener

The epics written by this late author are historical fiction at its finest. In each of them, he takes a piece of land and spins a story about the things that happen on that land from prehistory to the year the book was written. After describing how the Hawaiian islands were created, this novel begins with ancient people from Bora Bora sailing canoes across thousands of miles of ocean and arriving in what would later be called Hawaii. Subsequent chapters see American missionaries come to the islands, and then hard-working immigrants from Japan and China, all of them contributing their different perspectives and values to the evolving culture. These people interact, and as the years pass and they die off, their descendants become central characters as well. Hawaii doesn’t just take you to a different place and time -- it takes you to many different places and times, and remains cohesive in the process.

The Source, by James Michener

One good Michener epic deserves another, and in days like these, when Israel is under siege and nobody is standing beside her, it is important to read The Source. Spanning an arc of time that begins with a caveman named Ur and concludes in the 1960’s with an archaeologist named John Cullinane, The Source depicts the admirable history of Jewish people in the Holy Land, with several nods to Christianity plus a clear-eyed look at early Islam. With vivid tales of Roman conquest, the Crusades, and the post-World War II establishment of modern Israel, it will leave you mesmerized. Much of the novel takes place in a town that ceased to exist after the thirteenth century, and much of it is told in flashbacks as Cullinane’s crew unearths the town’s artifacts during a twentieth century archaeological dig.

The Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell

I have written before about the immense respect I have for Sowell’s American genius. This book is perhaps his greatest, explaining how the respective opinions of conservatives and liberals derive from the starkly different ways each of these groups view the world; and how those ways of viewing the world mean that even if a brand new issue were to arise, which no one had ever heard of before, conservatives and liberals would still have opposite opinions about how it should be handled. The Vision of the Anointed was written 15 years ago and the points it makes have only gotten stronger. Sowell is best described as a libertarian with conservative sympathies, and therefore his opinions may not sit well with liberals...but I dare anyone to read this book and say he is wrong.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

In my post at the beginning of winter, I suggested that those who curse the cold should learn to appreciate everything that is beautiful about winter.

Now it’s my turn. Because I do not like hot weather, summer is my least favorite season. But there are still things I enjoy about it, and surprisingly, some of them are specific to this sweat-soaked state in which I live. So here are some thoughts on summer’s first day:

I love opening the season with our annual Beach Weekend.

I love Independence Day.

I love that there is one time of year when I am able to prefer chilled white wine over room temperature red wine.

I love when evening breezes carry the sweet scent of orange blossoms across Florida.

I love watching swallow-tailed kites, one of my favorite birds of prey, as they soar in the air and seem to stay up there forever without flapping their wings.

I love watching fireflies illuminate the woods at dusk.

I love the dramatic pulse of Florida’s afternoon storms, when black clouds darken the sky and spew lighting and thunder and unleash torrents of blinding rain – only to blow away and be replaced by sunny skies in less than an hour.

And finally, though this would be true any time of year, I love San Diego.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spring re-cap

I think it is always good for people to think about the happy times in life. Near the end of every season I find myself making a mental list of things I did that season, and with one week to go until the official start of summer, my mind is at it again.

Spring of 2010 opened with us having a fantastic time at the Suwannee Springfest Musical Festival, which I already wrote about. Then, in April, we made a few visits to Busch Gardens and Sarah tried to get too friendly with a flamingo.

We took a tour of Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and while we were there Sarah and I had one of my all-time favorite conversations. She asked, "Daddy, in the old days did they have football fields?" and I responded by saying, "That depends on what 'old days' you're talking about" -- to which she responded by saying, "I'm talking about the 1970's."

The weekend before Mother's Day, Sarah and I visited a do-it-yourself pottery place so she could make her own Mother's Day present for Erika. She chose two small statues (a Chihuahua and a giraffe) and painted them without any help from me. She enjoyed the project even though she was sick that day. Because she was obviously not feeling well, I chose not to fight it when she didn't want to brush her hair, and as a result she sported a bit of a Crystal Bowersox look.

We all went blueberry picking one afternoon, and I took this picture of Erika and Sarah on the farm:

And we enjoyed a birthday party for Sarah's friend Brady. It was held at a wildlife rescue known as Nanny's Educational Zoo, and while we were there, Sarah bonded with a baby opossum.

And we had fun "raising" butterflies after Erika ordered caterpillars by mail. The caterpillars fed for several days and then spun cocoons, which we hung in a mesh cage made especially for that purpose. Several days later, five butterflies popped out of the cocoons in a 24-hour span, and two days after that we let them go free.

And, last but certainly not least, Sarah graduated from preschool.

This spring has been very difficult in a number of ways. But as usual, the joys have outweighed the pain, and it is the joys I choose to focus on. Abraham Lincoln observed that "most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be." If you keep that observation in mind, you will find yourself embracing life and seeing the brightness even on your darkest days.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


66 years ago this morning, human beings from the naval forces of eight Allied nations laid their lives on the line in ways most of us can hardly fathom. Two-thirds of them were from the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Traveling in ships and amphibious vessels, they set sail from England in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, bound for the Normandy beaches of Nazi-controlled France. It was the first time since the 1600’s that any invading military had crossed the perilous waters of the English Channel, and as day broke tens of thousands of troops disembarked from their landing craft and plunged immediately into Hell on Earth.

Slogging first through waves and then through sand, they were sitting ducks for the Nazi gunners positioned on shore. Bullets rained down on them amidst a cacophony of explosive reverberations. The men at the fronts of the landing crafts were the first ones to step on the beach, and they stepped onto it knowing they were likely to get shot. Each of them was acutely aware he might be entering the final seconds of his life.

Approximately 10,000 Allied men were killed or wounded that day. However, in bearing that brunt of brutality, those who were first on the scene helped clear the way for 100,000 of their fellow soldiers to reach shore and advance against the enemy, freeing occupied towns as they went. By the end of the month more than 800,000 men had done so, and the war’s momentum had swung in the Allies’ favor. Within a year the Nazis surrendered unconditionally.

In military parlance, the phrase “D-Day” refers to the first day of any operation, but in the public’s mind, it will always refer to the events on the beaches of Normandy. And now, the men who braved the bullets on those beaches are dying away at a rapid rate. Let us always appreciate their valor, and always understand that we would not be free without them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Real Outrage

If your only source of news is the front page of your local paper, or the updates played during commercial breaks on the radio, you might be under the impression that charitable do-gooders from Turkey were recently attacked by a bloodthirsty regime from Israel.

But that is not what happened this past weekend. Not even by a longshot.

At least as far back as 2008, the Palestinian terror organization Hamas has been launching missiles into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Those missiles have not been aimed at military or government targets, but have simply been lobbed into populated areas with the intention of killing whoever happens to be in the area where they land.

Israel eventually responded with a blockade, which was designed to prevent weapons from being delivered to terrorists while not preventing food or other staples of life from arriving in Gaza. Each week Israel itself delivers humanitarian aid that is measured in tons, and foreign aid groups do the same; the latter just have to stop in Israel first, so that their deliveries can be checked to ensure they don’t include weapons.

When the organizers of the Turkish flotilla announced that they intended it to deliver aid to Gaza, Israel’s only request was that the flotilla stop at an Israeli port for the same weapons check that other deliveries undergo. But the organizers refused.

Subsequently, the flotilla sailed toward Gaza, and as it approached, Israeli naval vessels repeatedly broadcast instructions for it to stop and follow them to port for inspection. Each time, those instructions were ignored, and therefore Israel authorized its commandos to board the flotilla. When the commandos arrived on deck they were attacked with baseball bats and metal poles, forcing them to fight back in self-defense.

Yet the MSM depicted Israel as the aggressor. MSNBC’s headline screamed “Bloody Israeli attack on flotilla sparks crisis,” and CBS’s proclaimed “Israeli Commandos Storm Aid Flotilla, 9 Killed.” The headline in the New York Times said “Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation.” But there was not a peep made about the flotilla refusing to show that it was really delivering aid instead of weapons; and thus there was not a peep made about the fact that this deliberately provocative behavior is what necessitated Israel’s action.

Then the United Nations and European Union condemned Israel, but could not bring themselves to criticize the actions of the flotilla or its organizers. And of course they couldn’t bring themselves to say anything bad about Turkey, a nation in which Hitler's autobiography recently became a best-seller after the government subsidized its republication.

Israel has always tried to protect the innocent. Conversely, its Islamist enemies always try to suppress and murder the innocent. The flotilla incident was par for the course because Israel acted with conscience and did nothing wrong. However, “the international community” once again ignored the truth and chose to side with merchants of destruction. That is the real outrage.

At what point are people going to start asking if the world today is just as anti-Semitic as it was during the Third Reich?

Update, 6/2/10: In an update that should not surprise anybody, it has been learned that many of the people on the "aid flotilla" have ties to Islamist terrorist groups (including Al-Qaeda) and many of them were traveling without identification.

Update, 6/4/10: Above, I wrote that Hamas has been launching missiles from Gaza into Israel since "at least as far back as 2008." That was based solely on memory, but I have since researched exact dates and feel it is important to mention that the missile attacks started all the way back in 2001.

Update, 6/4/10: And in case you haven't heard, pro-Palestinian activists are currently sailing from Ireland to Israel and have declared that their intention is to breach the blockade. Hopefully somebody will stand beside the Jewish state this time.